[Durham INC] Upcoming talk on West Durham Mill Village @ library (Sun, Nov 8)
bwatu at yahoo.com
Fri Oct 30 10:53:58 EDT 2009
Kindly join us...
West Durham Mill Village
Sunday, November 8 at 3:00 pm
Main Library, 300 North Roxboro Street
"John Schelp, president of Old West Durham Neighborhood Association, will discuss the history of West Durham as a mill village. From the construction of Erwin Cotton Mills in the 1890s to the Mills' closure in the 1980s, Schelp will describe how Erwin Cotton Mills were the driving force that made Old West Durham what it is today."
"This program is in conjunction with the performance Piece Work at Durham Technical Community College on November 10 at 2:00 pm. Piece Work is Touring Theatre of North Carolina's original adaptation of NC writer Barbara Presnell's work of the same name, that celebrates people who work in industry, specifically textiles." (from Library website)
During the month of November, the library will have a display of artifacts from local cotton mills, including Erwin Mills, in the lobby outside the North Carolina Collection (3rd floor).
Info :: Marian Fragola at mfragola at durhamcountync.gov
Library events :: http://www.durhamcountylibrary.org/events.php
West Durham History :: http://www.owdna.org/History/history.htm
1892 -- Blue Denim & Blue Devils: The year that brought the mill and Trinity College forever changed 'Pin Hook' and Durham
By John Schelp, Herald-Sun, 28 April 2007
Before there was Durham, there was Pin Hook.
Pin Hook was located on the ridge between the Neuse and Cape Fear basins in what's now called Old West Durham (100 yards southwest of the former Erwin Mills area off Ninth Street). It served as a traveler's rest between Hillsborough and Raleigh.
According to historical lore, Pin Hook attracted the shiftless of society, addicted to all sorts of vices and attracting others of their ilk. The settlement included a lodging house, camping grove, brothels, and grog shops for travelers.
One hundred years ago, W.S. Lockhart wrote that Pin Hook was, "known as a place of brawls and rough-and-tumble fights, drinking, gambling and other forms of amusement, where the natives and visitors met to have a rough, roaring, and to them, glorious time."
Then came 1892 -- the most important date in the history of West Durham. It marked the twin arrivals of Erwin Cotton Mills and Trinity College.
Pin Hook, and Durham, would be forever changed.
Up on Mill Hill, the steady noise of the cotton looms hummed throughout the tidy mill village. Making denim and sheets, the mills discharged its hot, soapy water into the creek, leaving the entire neighborhood smelling like a Laundromat. When the noise stopped on Sundays, West Durham seem unnaturally still.
Mill managers, like William Erwin and E.K. Powe, walked through the mill village and stopped to talk to the workers in their yards and on their front porches.
Folks were invited to band concerts in Erwin Park.
Workers were given rose bushes to plant in their yards, and many still bloom in Old West Durham.
Neighbors watched the mills baseball team beat its cross-town rivals at the old ball field at West Main and Broad (where Mad Hatter's is today). Then they'd sit on the porch until it was cool enough to retire.
In the distance, you could hear the train whistle.
Times were booming.
Meanwhile, Trinity College president Braxton Craven was arguing strenuously for moving his struggling school from Randolph County to an urban center.
He acknowledged the presence of "bawdy houses in the city" but said it was worse back in the village of Randolph County. Craven appealed to the Methodist Conference to "deliver Trinity College, this child of Providence, from the bondage of its birthplace and thus lead it out into the open world of grander opportunity."
According to William K. Boyd, Duke professor of history, the "college was in bad financial condition, and there was talk of closing its doors" in the late 1800s.
By 1892, Trinity's new president John Crowell shared the belief that if the school were to survive the rapidly changing conditions of the new South, it had to move from its old campus -- which was at least five miles from the nearest railroad, telegraph, and telephone.
Durham resident Julian Shakespeare Carr was one of those who "came to the rescue." Carr was perhaps the most important person in the early history of the college. In fact, Carr, along with two men from Winston, "assumed entire financial responsibility for the institution."
"In such a way," wrote Professor Boyd, "the institution was saved from complete collapse."
In 1892, Carr donated his racetrack and park for what is now East Campus. Durham resident Washington Duke donated money.
Thus, Trinity College arrived in Durham in a railroad car carrying the old college bell, clock, office safe, and several books. A handful of students and faculty also made the trip. The college’s cow arrived later (on foot).
Had the little school remained in Randolph County, it would likely not have survived the unexpected national economic depression of 1893. With a "newer outlook" and the generosity of Durham residents, the college grew. Its monetary value easily increased over ten times after its relocation.
After the move to Durham, the editor of the Trinity Archive wrote of the college's "incomparably greater advantage to all concerned than ever before."
Indeed, the faculty and student body expanded. As the college grew, Durham citizens took up a collection to pay for Southgate dorm, in memory of the Durham businessman.
Then, in 1924, another Durham citizen, James 'Buck' Duke, gave the college $40 million. The college changed its name to Duke University, bought the Rigsbee family farm (south of the Erwin Mill village), and started building West Campus.
Many of the Italian stonecutters who built Duke Chapel lived in West Durham. And the ravine where the Rigsbee's kept their pigs is now Duke's football stadium -- site of the 1942 Rose Bowl.
Near the college was the African American settlement of Brookstown, with some residents working in the tobacco factory and Erwin Mills while others worked at the Fitzgerald family brickyards – one of Durham's largest Black-owned businesses. Many of Durham's factories and mills were built using Fitzgerald bricks.
Thirty years ago, the mill village that surrounded Erwin Mills in Old West Durham began to fall on hard times.
In the 1970s, a number of businesses in the shopping district closed. The new expressway and Duke's new Central Campus destroyed 450 mill houses and the neighborhood's two parks. In 1986, Erwin Mills, the economic engine of the community, shut its doors. The neighborhood had hit rock bottom.
But today, Old West Durham is enjoying a steadfast renaissance that still respects its history. Ninth Street is now home to an eclectic assortment of local shops and restaurants.
Neighbors are getting sidewalks, street lights and traffic circles built, saving old mill houses from being torn down, and working closely with developers on quality in-fill projects that don't undermine the community.
There have been several clean-ups at the old mill cemetery where white and African American workers are buried side-by-side -- and where three children, who died when Duke Chapel was being built, are buried under markers made of Duke stone.
Old West Durham, once known as Pin Hook, is a place where you actually know your neighbors -- and where you can stroll out your door for a cup of coffee and bump into Doug Marlette, Michael Jordan, or Madonna.
With its colorful past, it's still a place where the front porch is used for visiting with neighbors, where you can still hear a train whistle -- and Blue Devil football games -- and where the roses still bloom.
Notes: The Boyd quotes are from his book, 'The Story of Durham' (Duke Press). The Trinity Archive quote is from 'Trinity College' (Duke Press).
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