Hillsboro and Raleigh RoadPosted on September 15, 2015
The Museum of Durham History’s latest installment in the Durham A-Z series is G is for Geography and Growth, on display through October 14, 2015. This exhibit highlights how Durham’s unique geography influenced how and where people travelled and settled in Durham County. In conjunction with the new exhibit, community historian David Southern writes about five colonial and pre-colonial roads that crossed Durham and the surrounding area. These old paths played an important part in shaping the Durham we travel and live in today.
Hillsboro and Raleigh Road
Before the creation of a new state capitol in Wake county, on the high ground between Crabtree and Walnut creeks, the major trails leading east from Hillsborough were the Fish Dam Road and the Ramsgate Road (Cornwallis Road). Neither of these served the new capitol, and a more direct route emerged along the ridge between the great watersheds of the Neuse and Cape Fear rivers. Much of the present city of Durham lay on an ancient seabed we now know as the Triassic Basin, and its brackish clay, poor drainage, and meager fertility impoverished those farmers who tried to eke out a living on that land. Far from the scrutiny of the sheriffs of Orange and Wake counties, there emerged on this highway such communities as Pinhook and Prattsburg, known for saloons, brothels, and boisterous behavior. The former sites of Pinhook and Prattsburg are now within the city of Durham. Traveling east from Hillsboro[ugh], the road crossed the future Durham county line just west of Bennett Place, then followed present-day Bennett Memorial and Neal roads to a junction with present-day Hillsborough Road. On the Bennett Place campus, the old roadbed has been recreated adjacent to the restored house site. At the turn of the twentieth century, when the Good Roads Movement was in full bloom, an “Object Lesson Road” was made from this section, and it was memorialized as “The Macadam Road” on a popular postcard from that era. The North Carolina Rail Road, surveyed by engineer Walter Gwynn in 1850 and opened to through traffic in 1856, shared this same watershed route across the county. Volume 3 of Gwynn’s line survey shows sections of the Hillsboro and Raleigh Road and names the property owners consecutively. Within the boundaries of the city of Durham, bits of Hillsborough Road, Peabody, Pettigrew, Main, and Ramseur streets, and Angier Avenue are descendants of the original track. In eastern Durham county, it followed present Miami Boulevard from Bethesda to NC 54 at Nelson, and from there eastward via Morrisville and Cary to Raleigh. From the Good Roads Movement came North Carolina’s first great motor road east to west, first called the Central Highway and then North Carolina highway 10, both utilizing the earlier Hillsboro and Raleigh Road through Durham county. The present-day successor is US Highway 70 Business.
Originally published in the News & Observer