Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Trinity Park/ Markham property

I'm still recovering from doing that Nancy Warren post so this one will be pretty brief. I wanted first to say thanks to everyone who emailed and commented about the Watts st. cemetery. I've heard from a few family historians who really have a vast knowledge of the Warren and Shambley families which is exciting to see. They've pretty much convinced me that there were two cousins both with the middle name of Kinchen and last name Shambley and both born within a year of each other and that Jesse was the other Kinchen from the one most proximate to Nancy on that 1860 census. I also wanted to mention one other detail that I've heard from a few sources over the last week - according to a cemetery survey done in the early 1980's and the original archaeological survey done last year there used to be a pair of very large trees straddling the entrance to the cemetery. One reason Nancy's body was missed is that it was partially buried under a part of one of the trees. Obviously those trees were torn down in the building over the past year and with them the last markers of its original use.

I promised to post the 1911 property map of the Markham estate which became much of the northern half of today's Trinity Park. I have it as a google earth overlay so you can see it fit pretty nicely on the grid of today's streets as well as below.

Notice the earlier proposed street name for Gregson - "Hated" st. The story goes that this naming choice came about because of the mutual dislike evident between Watts and Brodie Duke. Hence reading the street names Watts hated Duke and vice versa. Though in this map today's Watts st. is rendered as Hospital st. after the original Watts hospital due south near Main st. This planned subdivision map is also a reminder of how misleading property maps can be. If you look at the Sanborn fire insurance maps from the post below you can see that many of these lots were not built on or even subdivided for decades thus rendering this map totally unfamiliar to anyone standing on the corner of Urban and Watts in 1915.

(From Digital Durham- 2008 street name additions my own)

It is interesting to note the area right near the cemetery and the boundary between Durham and the former city of West Durham. You can plainly see on the 1911 property map where the property line veers east away from Guess rd./First st./Buchanan on a diagonal which was the city boundary as it was the former property line dividing Markham's land from the Durham land trust and improvement company. Over at Digital Durham there is an 1890 map of the area just to the west of the Markham land (mapped above) where you can see the planned course of two separate streets running north away from Trinity College's campus - First st. to the west and Guess to the east along the property line. That diagonal split never happened in practice and we are left with a only slightly crooked Buchanan today.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

RIP Nancy Warren (Oct. 1842-Jan. 1900)

I'm going to interrupt my series on West Durham neighborhoods for a closer look at one historical story behind a recent hot topic in Durham history. The discovery and subsequent exhumation last winter of two bodies from an old family cemetery on Watts st. in Trinity Park resulted in a newspaper article and a slew of emails and blog posts as well as a lot of neighborhood discussion about the importance of history and historical preservation. While many thought the issue was over done with once the exhumations took place it appears that continued building activity on the site threatens the remaining graves there. While I know neighbors and community members are getting involved in a discussion about contemporary homebuilding policy and cemetery law centered around this case, I thought it would be useful to provide some historical background on the women disinterred and the cemetery itself. I'll proceed in chronological order from the 19th century after a brief recap of what happened over the winter.

Part I: 1009 Watts st.

In April 2007 a small parcel of land on Watts st., known locally as the site of an old family cemetery, was sold by the last in a long string of Markhams to own the land. In the year since, this seemingly vacant lot to the left of 1013 Watts has become part of a bustling building site as well as the center of a growing controversy about land use and history. Over December-January 2007-08 the owners and a local archeology firm disinterred two bodies from the construction area and relocated them to a Durham cemetery (my understanding is that this archaeology firm no longer works with the owner). For an account of these events from several sides (including those of the archaeologist and the owner) see the comments on the relevant Endangered Durham post . What struck me from that initial discussion were the photos posted of several grave stones and footers which were unearthed in the process. From my understanding of the situation the only legible of these stones originally stood over the grave of one of the women disinterred:

Courtesy Endagered Durham - click image for more detail

As you can see the name on the grave is damaged and missing its first few letters but the stone does give a husband's name and a birth and death date. Pursuant to NC law the archeology firm published a public notice in the Herald Sun once a week for four week informing any relatives "known and unknown" of the discovery and pending re-internment. The notice included the quite reasonable speculation that the woman's name was "Lucy E. Chamblee." After receiving no responses to the notice "Lucy" and the even more unknown woman were reburied at Markham Memorial Gardens. But who was Lucy and how did she come to be buried in Trinity park?

Part II: Nancy Warren

In 1842 what is now Durham was part of Orange county and a quite disreputable part of it to boot. The railroad had yet to come through and bring with it Dr. Durham's name. Farms, small holdings, brothels, and taverns dotted the area between Hillsborough and Raleigh. Somewhere in this region lived Thomas Warren a cooper with his wife Betsie, new-born daughter Nancy, and several other children. It seems likely that Thomas died sometime between 1842 and Nancy's 18th birthday in 1860 and he does not appear in the 1860 census. Though it's unclear where the Warrens lived in 1842, by 1860 Nancy, her mother, and her younger brother James were living in what is now the greater city of Durham. Their neighbors in the census include such long-time Durham families as the Dukes, the Pools, the Coles, and the Brownings. Oh and one other North Carolina family of long standing living practically right next door - the Shambleys.

1860 Federal Census - Orange County (click image to enlarge)

But wait - what's this - those with sharp eyes or who click on the image will surely notice the new trade that Betsie and Nancy have taken up. Most likely due to the economic hardship of the loss of Thomas' tradecraft, Nancy and Betsie have the honor of being among the very few women enumerated in the federal census as prostitutes. Victoria Bynum, a historian who has written on "unruly women" in this period (including a footnote on Betsie and Nancy) speculates that white women who engaged in prostitution only with white men were rarely brought into court (prostitution of course being a crime), prosecution being reserved for those women who crossed race boundaries. Durham was a bit of a seedy place at the time (David Southern tells a story about 19th century UNC students making the trek to Durham for a good time and never making it back) and prostitution was surely not uncommon. Though I'm sure good archival work would turn up more on Nancy in this period I'm afraid this is the extent of what I can easily get at for the 1860s.

Part III: Nancy Chambley

If you look up at the 1860 census above at the James W. Shambley family you'll notice an 11 year old boy named (apparently) Kinchen. Fortunes appear to have taken a bit of a turn for Nancy by 1880 as we see her in that year married to her former neighbor seven years her junior and now named Nancy Chambley. On the 1880 census she and Kinchen don't appear to have any children of their own but there's no escaping mom - 68 year old Betsie Warren is listed as living in the house as well as Nancy and Kinchen's nephew Charles Warren. The family still live in Durham by now only a year away from becoming its own county. Also in the Durham area are fistfuls of Chambleys and Warrens and one can only speculate that most people in the community knew Nancy's story and had decided opinions one way or the other about her and Kinchen. Though people may have had strong opinions about Nancy she doesn't appear to have left a large impression on the written historical record after 1880, the last year I can say anything for certain about her life. That she lived another 20 years seems clear from her tombstone but it seems unfair to leave such a blank space in her story especially when the spectre of her past looms so large. These were probably good years for her though as Kinchen's fortunes seem to have improved dramatically, by 1900 he owned and farmed many acres on what is now Guess road at the intersection with Fish Dam road (today's Carver st.). His neighbors included several Warrens such as James Warren (jr.?) probably Nancy's nephew and a few other Chambley's and there was even "Chambley School" nearby.

1910 Durham property owners map (Duke University Libraries)

In all this I am making the critical and I think reasonable conjecture that Kinchen's full name was Jesse Kinchen [Chambley/Shambley/Chamblee]. I've come to this conclusion mostly because of the lack of evidence for any other Chambleys born around 1850 or any male Chambleys that remotely fit for Durham in this time period. The name Jesse Chambley doesn't appear in any census records until 1900 by which point he was a respectable farmer and perhaps had the wherewithal to make the census taker write down his full name. And not to get ahead of myself here is the kicker:

This is Jesse Kinch[en] Chambley's tombstone at Mapplewood cemetery in Durham, a much classier resting place than the much perturbed Watts st. lot. In what is surely an age-old story Kinchen, now the reputable Jesse K. Chambley, married neighbor Malissa Proctor(or possibly Riley) in 1900, the year of Nancy's death. As you can see on the tombstone Malissa went on to outlive Kinchen by many years and it wasn't until 1939 that their farm and homestead on Guess were sold off (click for homestead plat). As to why Nancy was buried on today's Watts st. it's still a mystery to me but I imagine her Warren kin or other family may have had some connections with the cemetery there. Her years as a prostitute might lend some credence to local lorethat the families of those buried in the Watts st. cemetery moved all of their relatives except one unloved aunt though I've yet to see any evidence that bodies were removed from the cemetery till now.

Part IV: Markham-Christian Cemetery

If you read the Endangered Durham post on the cemetery controversy then you know that the cemetery on Watts where Nancy was buried was mentioned on the tax record and on Allen Dew's excellent cemetery census site. After searching for a bit I still can't find much information on the cemetery itself and am hoping readers can help fill in some details about its age and original burials. I do know that neither the archeology firm or I have been able to find any plat or map showing the exact bounds of the cemetery. There is some anecdotal evidence that there used to be a fence around the graveyard though any trace of this was gone by at least the mid-1970s. The land on which the cemetery stands was owned by the Markham and Christian families going back into the 19th century (hence the cemetery name - it's unclear to me how many or if any Markhams and Christians were buried there) and the wider tract it is part of has a rather convoluted history. The simple story is that when John W. Markham died around the turn of the century some of his land was parceled off and planned as a northern extension of Brodie Duke's Trinity Park subdivision (I'll post the maps of this larger development some other time as this post is already image heavy and overly long). Building in this development moved slowly and some of the Markham heirs retained some of the land - as was the case with our cemetery tract.

1913 Sanborn fire insurance map - X marks my reckoning of the cemetery location

Even after the land north of Urban st. was subdivided in 1911 the large rectangular tract that had been part of the Markham farm now sandwiched between Guess (Buchanan) and Watts st. (note that Markham doesn't go through for several decades). It's also worth noting that the cemetery is almost directly on the border between the city of Durham and the city of West Durham though I'm not sure what this means practically.

1933 plat of building lots (first st. is now Buchanan)

1950 Sanborn fire insurance map showing a more familiar street plan

By the 1930s some of the land in this rectangle was lotted off for the building of houses (above) but not the tract with the cemetery. It remained in the Markham and then Neal/Beavers/Markham/Thompson families until April 2007 (my impression despite sales amongst each other in the 1950s,60s, and 80s is that all of these families are related). When the 'of grave concerns' archeology firm was hired to survey the cemetery they found it in the test trenches they dug to the far northwest of the site. In this portion of the site they found at least two burials mapped them and let them be. Below is a map of the site from the required disinterment filing - I've put together a google earth overlay of this map but I caution that it is no way usefully precise.

Nancy was buried just to the east of the test trench (disregard the names "Joyce" or "Lucy" and the death date of Dec. 1900) along with an unknown female who John of the archeology firm tells me was in at least her 50s with incredibly bad arthritis. When Nancy was reburied her tombstone went with her and is now buried under a brass plaque noting her re-internment (Markham memorial gardens forbids above ground markers - lawn mowing and all). Though I won't be in town for a bit I encourage you to visit her in Lot 292 Section D #3.

Discussions are surely pending on the fate of the graves still un-moved given events of the past few days and hopefully knowing a bit of Nancy's story will help bring to the issue something more than land rights, law, and neighborhood politics.

I would love to hear people's stories about the cemetery or any other information people have. Thanks for your patience in reading this and I anticipate updating it as I get more details.Thanks to Gary, John of 'of grave concerns,' D. Stoddard, and J. Borbely-Brown for their willingness to share what they knew.

Monday, August 18, 2008


I just want to say thanks to all those who've sent me email and made comments, I really appreciate the encouragement and it's great to see how many people have a real interest in Durham history. Unfortunately I don't have Gary's super-human blogging ability over at Endangered Durham so I'm aiming at putting up just one new post or related group of posts every week. I figured I'd continue by putting up the other survey maps for the subdivisions of Hester's property to the north and east of Hester Heights. I should say that both the Old West Durham Neighborhood Association website (link to the right) and the Watts-Hillandale historic inventory have great background on this area and do a much better job at conveying a feel for the neighborhoods involved than I can do here.

To the immediate east of Hester heights off Alabama/Clarkson/Adams ave. is the Englewood subdivision also laid out in 1912. Unlike Hester Heights, this tract of land was owned by J.S. Hill and his Durham Land and Trust Company which developed much of the Club area. This area seems to have developed much faster than Hester Heights and had a number of houses already built by the early 1920s (See historic inventory p. 8 for details).

1937 Sanborn Fire insurance map (click image for full size)

Monday, August 11, 2008

Hester Heights Part III

[Continuation of posts below] While houses closer to Club on Englewood sprung up quite fast building continued to be slow in some areas of Hester Heights towards Hillandale. The Sanborn Fire Insurance map below shows the neighborhood in 1937 with a number of empty lots remaining.

1937 Sanborn Map (apologies for the distortion from manual stitching of 3 different maps)

Today's Hester Heights likewise lacks this westward section which has been whittled away by the growth of the Hillandale/Hillsborough interchange in the wake of various projects including NC-147. Perhaps like always the neighborhood still has a kind of a division between the northeastern section bordering Watts-Hillandale/the rest of Old West Durham and the section closer to Hillsborough Rd. in terms of owner-occupancy and the residential/commercial split. The modified cadastral map below includes my own clumsy color-coding of properties into red for commercial, black for non-owner occupied probably rental, and blank for owner occupied. One property on Hillsborough is owned by the Historic Preservation Society and for the heck of it I've colored that blue. The neighborhood as a whole is pretty evenly split with just over half of the non-commercial properties being owner-occupied (the Bob Schmitz management company owns a bit over 5% of Hester Heights properties).

In the future I'll post more about the surrounding neighborhoods of Englewood and Club Acres but I think Hester Heights is one of the most interesting parts of west Durham because of its historical border position between the posher parts of Watts-Hillandale to the North and East and the mill village portions of West Durham and Hickstown to the South and East. I don't think Hester Heights has any cohesive neighborhood identity today (that is if anyone knew that there was such a name for it) and I'd be curious to hear if there is a difference in the way people refer to their neighborhood identity from one part of the neighborhood to another. More than anything though I think this just might show that grouping properties by larger purchase tract often doesn't lead to any sort of neighborhood formation.

Hester Heights Part II

If you're just starting here this is a continuation of a post (below) about the Hester Heights section of West Durham. In the years following his large purchase of 1873, Hester farmed parts of his land while selling off others to now-familiar Durham names like F.C. Geer and John Sprunt Hill. By the early 20th century Hill had bought substantial portions of what had once been Hester land and begun construction on a golf course and club house to the north and west of today's Hester Heights. Between 1912 and 1913 Hester took advantage of skyrocketing real estate prices in Durham and the impending extension of the street car line to the waterworks by selling some of his remaining tracts near Club boulevard to the Durham Land and Trust Company (run by Hill) and the West End Land Company. These tracts did not however include a small triangle of land bordering Hillsboro road (today's US-70 Hillsborough rd.). In February 1913 the partnership of Southgate Jones and R.F. Worth bought this 16.25 acre parcel for $8,125.

The "proposed street" to the east (left) of the plat is now Alabama Ave. and Hester Rd. to the west (right) is now Georgia St.

Jones and Worth quickly subdivided this empty parcel into lots fit for homebuilding and sale and by 1914 had mapped out 73 lots in 5 sections and named the property "Hester Heights" for the first time.

Clarkson St. is now Englewood Ave. and Third st. is now Alabama Ave.

The map above should look quite familiar to readers who know the area today as the basic street layout of the neighborhood has not radically changed except for the extension of Englewood to Hillandale. If you have Google Earth you can download this overlay which juxtaposes the above plan with a contemporary map. Southgate Jones was an aggressive promoter of Durham real estate and his papers at Duke University contain some of the thousands of letters he sent out to real estate agents and private citizens throughout the US and Canada extolling the virtues of owning property in Durham. While some Hester Heights lots were sold to individuals, others were bought by investment companies like the Griswold Investment company or the Piedmont Insurance Trust and then sold again, sometimes after being subdivided into smaller lots. By the mid 1920s individual lots were selling for around $400. It's unclear to me when the first house in Hester Heights was built but the 1920 soil survey map (published in 1920 not necessarily showing 1920 conditions) shows very few buildings and only on the periphery:

The real homebuilding boom seems to have taken place in the late 1920s and by 1937 the neighborhood was well filled in with residential structures. This post is a bit image heavy so I'll hold off some more recent property maps for the next post.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Hester Heights part I

I thought I'd start off with a couple of posts on the Hester Heights section of Old West Durham for no particular reason other than that I have friends who live there and I already have a bunch of stuff handy on the neighborhood.

If you've ever looked on the tax card for a house or property in Durham you may have run across some unfamiliar names identifying the subdivision or section of that property (see Tax Record Search link). One such odd identifier, "Hester Heights" appears on properties near Englewood and Alabama avenues in the furthest west section of Old West Durham.

There are over 80 houses in Hester Heights today as well as the old Strawbridge photo studios "oldest school photographers in the south" (not just old school, oldest school). Its boundaries today are less than intuitive and easier to see on am aerial photo (below) than to describe and it's not clear to me if the label Hester Heights was ever commonly used by residents for the area. It seems much more common to hear people living here to refer to themselves as living in old west Durham or Watts-Hillandale.

Hester Heights today (Google Earth)

This lumping in of Hester Heights with larger neighborhood units is not only easier it's also historically appropriate. Until 1913 Hester Heights was part of a series of much larger farm properties dating back to the Revolution. Though it is difficult to say with absolute certainty, the earliest recorded European landowners for that particular area seem to have arrived in the last 30 years of the 18th century. This first family group of German immigrant farmers owned several hundred acres around the Hester Heights site, largely to the north and west. Likely faced with exhausted soil conditions and poor economic prospects the last of the family moved to Indiana in the 1820s and 30s finally selling the last piece of land from afar in 1844 to William Pratt.

I'll be putting up my series of 1850s Durham maps soon which really show the extent of Pratt's landholdings but Gary's Endangered Durham post on Prattsburg gives one of the best online summaries of his life and legacy in Durham. Pratt bought this parcel of 128.5 acres around today's Hester Heights for $500 and by the end of his life in 1867 he owned well over a thousand acres all around present day Durham. It took years for Pratt's executors to sell off all his land and the Hester Heights property wasn't disposed of until a series of 1872 auctions where a Massachusetts-born business man and speculator snatched up several Pratt properties. Willard had previously been known for financing the first factory in what was then Orange county, now sitting under water to the north of the Treyburn development. Willard consolidated some of his newly gotten land and flipped it the next year at some profit.

Willard's plot in 1873 - x near the eastern edge of Hester Heights

He sold this massive 576.5 acre tract to Simeon J. Hester (1837-1915). Hester was a local Confederate veteran who served in the Orange County Light Artillery for part of the war. He paid Willard $3,459 for the acreage, payable in three yearly installments. Though Hester nearly immediately began selling off some of this acreage, he had certainly acquired a substantial farm. How substantial Hester's property was and the extent to which cadastral lines of the 19th century determine contemporary landscapes can be seen in this edited aerial photo of Hester's purchase:

Note how the eastern boundary jogs around the today's NCSSM (former Watts hospital) and how Hillandale road follows part of the property line south across I-85. In the next post I'll cover a bit more about the subdivision of Hester Heights out of this large parcel and feature a couple of neat Google Earth overlays.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

1951 Durham Topographical Maps

NC State has done a great job of digitizing the old series mid-20th century USGS topographic maps. A Durham county large scale topo map was made in 1943 and subsequent smaller scale (1:62,500) maps were published in 1951. Below are the larger scale 1951 North and South Durham maps. The originals at the linked NC State site require a .jp2 viewer.

Full Size (NC State)

Full Size (NC State)

1937 Durham in Black and White

This 1937 public works map is more than just a detailed street map of Durham after the acquisition of West Durham in the 1920s, it highlights the racialized history of the city through color-coded neighborhoods and public facilities. Note the laconic qualifier on the map's legend "A few white people live in Negro communities and vice versa." Both Hickstown to the upper left of the map and Brookstown towards the center, as well as parts of Hayti near the bottom center have been mostly destroyed by the Durham freeway (NC-147) projects of the 1960s-80s.

1937 Bureau of Public Works map (Duke University Libraries):

[click to enlarge]

1920 School and Soil survey maps

The following maps were made in the nineteen-teens and published circa 1920. One has school district data superimposed on it and the other soil data from the landmark US Soil Survey. The school district map is from the Digital Durham project at Duke which also has several other fine maps. The soil map comes from the University of Alabama's excellent collection of nationwide historical soil maps . To view the full resolution soil map you will need a .jp2 viewer.

Full Size (Digital Durham)

Full Size (University of Alabama)

Early Durham City/County Maps

The maps below are probably the best known early maps of Durham and Durham County and are available at Duke (online at Digital Durham) as well as the Durham public library and the North Carolina State Archives. Durham County was created in 1881 and the first map shows the location of major roads and property owners in the new county circa 1887. Note fish dam road running along the top edge of the detail right past the reservoir which is still there near the contemporary confluence of Berini, Cole Mill, and Rose of Sharon roads. I will hopefully have some time to post on a few of the land owners mentioned below in the future.

Full Size (from Digital Durham)

The map below dates from 1881 and shows streets and property lines in the city at the time. I'm especially interested in cadastral maps like this one and hope to showcase smaller scale property maps in the future.

(Positive from Digital Durham)

Colonial maps of the Durham area

Below are details from two of the better maps maps of colonial North Carolina which show the area where Durham is located today (I've added a very approximate X marks the spot). The first map was published in 1733 by Edward Mosely from real reports and surveys of the colony. The second, published in 1770 by John Collet shows the remarkable transformation of the area in fewer than 40 years. The earlier map features a lot of empty cartographic space in the central and western parts of the state punctuated by a few depictions of wild animals and Native American villages (note Acconechee, now site of Hillsborough) as well as the famed Catawba trading path. By 1770 hundreds of new settlers had come to the central part of the state and set up mills and farms, some of which Collet names on his map. I'll have more on the area before 1800 in later posts but for now this trove of early maps at the North Carolina State Archives will have to suffice.

1770 Collet

Full Size (From the Library of Congress)

1733 Mosely

Full Size (From NCSA)

General Geologic Maps

The Geological Survey of North Carolina
has made a series of quite detailed geologic maps. The general geologic map of the state (detail of Durham below) is quite detailed but easy to figure out though you may need a plugin to use it. The other two maps are less easy for the non-geologist to figure out but are detailed down to the 1:24,000 USGS quadrangle (unfortunately only available now for SE and SW Durham). On the large map note the north-west part of Durham between 15-501/Hillsborough Rd. and the Orange county line where the Durham Triassic basin ends and older rock begins to show.

General Geologic Map

Full View

SE Durham Quad

Full View

SW Durham Quad

Full View

Durham Before People

Thanks to Ron Blakely's website at Northern Arizona I get to show some really neat renderings of what the earth's surface looked like at various intervals in geologic time. I'm not a geologist so I'd love to be corrected on the details and the placement of the X-marks-Durham.

Rendering of the continents about 500 million years ago (mya). Click to enlarge but you can make out the Durham X near the island arc to the lower left.

~350 mya:

When the North American (top) and Euro-African(bottom) plates began to come together around 350 mya they thrust the old island arc onto the American continent. Shown above is the collision, which took place near the equator (imagine it running horizontally through the middle of the picture).

~250 mya:

In the Triassic period, around 250 mya, the two continental plates that had come together to form Pangaea and the Appalachians began to tear apart. This tearing sheared apart the mountain range and created basins including what we now call the Durham Triassic basin.

200-100 mya:

By 180 mya the two continental plates tore apart completely and began moving away from each other to take up their current positionsacross the Atlantic Ocean. Over time, as North America slowly drifted northwest away from the equator, erosion destroyed much of the mountain range near Durham and the accumulating pressure of millions of years of piled sediment turned the bottom of the Triassic basin into mudstone and sedimentary rock of all kinds.