16th and 17th centuries – The Eno and the Occaneechi, Native American farmers and hunters, settled along trading paths where they first encountered European explorers and settlers.
Post office was established at Sims Mill, one of the 32 or more watermills on the Eno River. The post office, mill and surrounding community of 200 people were named West Point. A half-century long stretch in the 19th century under Herbert Sims and his family marks the hey-day of West Point mills.
The railroad company gave this area its first name, Durhamville, when country doctor Bartlett Durham donated four acres of land for a station. The name was later shortened to Durham.
Over 900 enslaved people lived and worked on the Cameron Plantation. The plantation was one of the largest in the state, encompassing 30,000 acres, including land in present Durham County at Stagville.
James and Nancy Bennett’s small farm north of Durham Station was the backdrop for the largest troop surrender of the Civil War. The troops encamped in and around Durham raided storehouses and developed a taste for bright-leaf tobacco.
Margaret Faucette and Mollie and Edian Markham established Hayti as an African American community south of town by building homes and founding religious congregations.
Durham began to boom when tobacco entrepreneurs built factories near the railroad. The town incorporated in 1866 and again in 1869, after the U.S. Congress voided legislation by Confederate states’ legislatures.
By the 1870s, Durham’s growth had created a pressing need for a town cemetery. In 1872, land was purchased to the west of the town limits to establish Maplewood Cemetery, the first public cemetery in Durham. Prior to the establishment of the cemetery, Durham residents had been buried in church cemeteries.
William T. Blackwell, who acquired Green’s tobacco company after his death, built a prominent factory with partners James R. Day and Julian S. Carr. Carr’s aggressive advertising would put the company on the map.
1860s - 1890
1860s – 1890
The Dukes built their tobacco empire from humble beginnings. By 1890, W. Duke Sons & Company acquired most of its competitors to form the American Tobacco Company, which produced 90 percent of cigarettes in the U.S. that year.