Durham Then & Now

We asked Erin Gallagher, a teacher, Durham resident and MoDH volunteer, to write a guest post about a program created for the Durham Arts Council Afternoon Adventures summer camp. The program was made possible by some incredible volunteers and some incredible Durham resources, e.g. Open Durham and the Durham County Library’s North Carolina Collection. We’re hoping to expand the program for middle and high school students.

Last week, I took part in the Museum of Durham History’s very first education program. The mission: middle school campers from the Durham Arts Council would take a then-and-now tour of downtown, using photos of old buildings to identify current structures, snapping new pics, and learning about the history of their city.

We stopped at the History Hub, where the students were excited to get a sneak peak before the building opens to the public.  As one student shared ideas for future concerts in the outdoor bench area, we set off on our hunt for some buildings!

The first stop was an unassuming courtyard on Main Street.  Students had plenty of guesses about what the now-departed ornate brick building in the 1912 photograph used to be (Church! Castle!) before they heard it was a fire station.  I think their favorite part was learning about Frank and Ben, the two horses that pulled the fire rig in pre-car days.

Another highlight of the tour was the former Chesterfield building, mysteriously chopped from four floors to two in the years between the old photo and today.  The Durham Arts Council building, which many campers immediately recognized in their pictures, proved most intriguing of all.  As the students took turns posing in front of the facade with their photos and friends, we chatted about how it had changed over the years, from a segregated school, to City Hall, to its current use as an arts center.

On the walk back, one student summed up the whole point of the field trip by asking, “When will the museum be open for me to come back?”  He wanted to know more.

What about you?  Are there any Durham buildings that catch your eye?  Are you or your children curious about the history of the structures and spaces you see every day?

Check out photos from the program.

Photo of old fire station on W. Main St. taken by Durham Arts Council Afternoon Adventures camper Ayanna. Photo courtesy of Durham County Library.

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