Take a walk through Durham Neighborhoods

Coach K gets his hair cut in an old church — between an old grocery store and an old mill pond. The grocery is now a tire store on Hillsborough Road and the mill pond is now Station Nine apartments. Hillsboro Road was Highway 10, the first highway to cross the state. Old NC 10 connected many of the old cotton mills in North Carolina. Its path through Durham followed the ridge between the Cape Fear River basin to the south — and the Neuse River basin to the north.

Folks said you could walk along this ridge, from the settlement of Pinhook to the back country town of Hillsboro — and never get your feet wet. Pinhook was 100 yards southwest of the southwest corner of Erwin Mills No 1. This old traveler’s rest, which was here before Durham, was right across from what’s now the Hilton Garden Inn.

Stand right here, on West Main, and you’re standing in a microcosm of Durham history. The historically white, blue-collar mill village of West Durham stretched from Duke Gardens to EK Powe. Just to the south and west, stretched the old neighborhoods of Brookstown, Hickstown, and Monkey Bottom. Dirt poor whites and African Americans living in homes that were lost to the East-West Expressway. Farther south was the Maples — a 17-room estate owned by the Fitzgerald’s, a wealthy African American family. On the other side of Blackwell’s fairgrounds & racetrack (East Campus) stands Walltown, a historically African American neighborhood where many early residents worked in the tobacco factories. North of the mill village was a band of teachers, pastors and merchants who lived along streets like Englewood Avenue. North of that was Club Boulevard, where shop owners and doctors lived in bigger houses, near the all-White Watts Hospital.

Why do neighborhoods change so quickly in Durham? Take Englewood Avenue. This east-west street crosses several hilltops and creek bottoms. The hilltops offered fresh, cool breezes and bigger houses — while the bottom lands had factory smoke, flood waters and shacks.

Watts-Hillandale was historically white, Walltown was historically black, Trinity Park was white, Allergy Creek (South Ellerbe) was black, Duke Park was white, Avondale was black.

John D. Loudermilk was born in a little bungalow next to a ditch — behind what’s now Monuts. The songwriter told me he had a girlfriend in West Durham, a girlfriend downtown and a girlfriend in East Durham. On his way to visit his girlfriend in East Durham, he often stopped at Walgreen Drugs to pick up a candy bar. The store was having a sale on flowers so, he bought her a rose and a Baby Ruth. And he wrote a song about it in 1958. When radio stations started playing “A Rose And A Baby Ruth,” lawyers from the Baby Ruth Co. sent Loudermilk a letter ordering him to immediately cease and desist. As Baby Ruth sales shot up, though, a second letter arrived saying it was okay to continue. The song zoomed up the American pop charts and went on to sell more than a million copies.

Loudermilk also wrote the song, “Tobacco Road.” As a kid, he lived for a while, in a house next to a creek, on Dezern Street — right across the street from the old church where Coach K gets his hair cut.

Originally published in The News & Observer 3/15/2015

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