Photo credit: Julien Tolani
Durham has a rich and fascinating history. Long ago, the Great Indian Trading Path ran through what is now the City of Durham. In 1701 the explorer John Lawson called the area “the flower of the Carolinas,” and the town was settled in the mid-1700s.
Plantations dotted the countryside in those days, and Stagville Plantation, one of the largest pre-Civil War plantations with about 30,000 acres in its prime, is now open to the public as a state historic site and an example of slave life in North Carolina.
The City of Durham began as little more than a railway station in 1849 to carry goods between Raleigh and Hillsborough. The town was originally called “Durham’s Station” after Dr. Bartlett Durham who donated land for the depot. One could say that the Civil War was lost in Durham since the terms for surrender were negotiated at Bennett Place, a farm which is now a historic site on the northern side of Durham.
Durham grew quickly once the tobacco industry took hold there, and at one time there were five separate tobacco companies in downtown Durham. One tobacco tycoon was Washington Duke, whose son James Buchanan Duke donated funds to create the University that now bears its name. All of the tobacco companies are gone now, but the warehouses have found new life as Durham’s cultural center.
Durham gained fame in the early 20th century as home to one of the most successful African-American communities in the nation, including a center for commerce called Hayti (much of which was taken by the state of North Carolina when the Durham Freeway was constructed) and a successful black-owned bank and insurance companies on Black Wall Street. In 1910 North Carolina Central University was founded as the first public liberal arts college for African-Americans.
To this day Durham retains its vibrant diversity that makes it unique among southern cities.
Life in Durham
As a center for the arts, Durham offers an unending list of things to do as well as the best restaurants in the Triangle. Besides the historical sites listed above, the Museum of Life and Science presents magical learning experiences for people of all ages, and the Sarah Duke Gardens offers a beautiful park with horticultural delights throughout the year. The baseball games starring the Durham Bulls are a favorite not only among locals but for visitors as well.
The Durham Performing Arts Center is one of the finest auditoriums anywhere, offering a range of opportunities from Broadway shows to the Moscow ballet. And every summer the American Dance Festival makes its home in Durham. For shoppers, Southpoint Mall attracts visitors from all over the Triangle and Ninth Street (near Duke’s campus) and Brightleaf Square feature boutiques offering the interesting and unusual.
After many years of neglect, downtown Durham is coming into its own with exciting new restaurants, art galleries and a permanent farmers market installation that attracts the Food Truck Rodeo (a party of over 25 food trucks) now and then.
If you’re looking for a charming older home you will likely be looking in Durham. Lakewood, Trinity Park and the Watts Hospital neighborhoods are perennial favorites and offer a real feeling of affordable old-fashioned neighborhood living, and Forest Hills, the oldest “exclusive” neighborhood in Durham features majestic older homes on larger lots in the higher price ranges and a park that was once a golf course and clubhouse with pool and tennis courts. Hope Valley is another country club community with beautiful homes built from the 1930s and lovely tree-lined streets that meander through the golf course.
Search the MLS for homes for sale in Durham .