Monday, September 8, 2008

NC RR Survey Maps 1850

It's hard to live in Durham and not notice the train tracks and the trains, at-grade crossings, and occasional deafening horn blasts that come with them. Most people probably also know the basic facts about Durham being founded as a depot on the new North Carolina Railroad in the early 1850s - the railroad needing a water and fuel depot somewhere between Raleigh and Hillsborough and Dr. B.L. Durham willing to give up some land to the company. The story has been told a number of times but it's worth reading Jean Anderson's account or Gary's at Endangered Durham. What seems to circulate less widely are the railroad survey maps made when the course of the track from Goldsboro to Charlotte was being planned. By far the definitive account of all things NC RR related is Allen Trelease's The North Carolina Railroad, 1849-1871, and the Modernization of North Carolina which has good chapters on both its founding and the process of surveying and building it's length. Engineer John McRae was in charge of the part of the survey that went through today's Durham and his surveyor's and draftsmen as well as those of the other sections of the RR produced a set or really extraordinary small scale maps of every foot of planned track with local watercourses, buildings, and property lines. The original maps are held at the state archives in Raleigh and are fairly easy to request if you take a trip down there. The best high resolution image of any part of the Durham segment that I know of is in Jean Anderson's book and shows the planned Durham's station depot as well as a few scattered buildings in the immediate area.

I was in the Raleigh archives a few months ago and figured I should take some photos of all the maps which cover today's Durham. I was lazy however and after I stopped after a lot of odd looks from other archivists and other researchers for standing on a chair trying to get all of each map in one photo (the maps are really quite large). As a result the maps aren't as high resolution as they might be (though every word should be readable) and more importantly some of the edges are cut off - I haven't cropped them or prettied them up so you can see the full layout and where the edges should be. Nonetheless I've put together a tentative google earth overlay of the survey maps from downtown Durham to the west past Pinhook. I've done my best but since I missed small bits of the maps in photographing and because I took the pictures from an odd chair-standing sideways angle they aren't quite at perfect scale. Mostly I'm just making excuses for why I just couldn't get them to fit on today's map as seamlessly as I wanted. I've posted the three maps below with the four overlays linked underneath and you probably get the best effect if you have them all open at the same time (the Durham's station bit gets chopped in two for the overlay - don't ask).

Planned Durham's Station depot (overlay1, overlay2)

Pinhook area west of the station (overlay)

Hickstown - West Durham (overlay)

Besides establishing me as one of the worst archival photographers in the state, these maps help to show how much Durham grew within just a few decades (compare 1881 map here). Families like the Turners and the Hicks remained in Durham for the duration but property lines shifted with the growth of the town (Pratt's illegitmate children also remained important in Durham politics into the 20th century - more on that in future postings). J.R. Green, one of the creators and first marketers of Bull Durham tobacco bought (at least part of) Andrew Turner's farm before the civil war and William Pratt's land was split up after his death in 1867 (see post below). Pinhook ceased being the raucous site of naked whiskey racing by the late 19th century(I hear there is a new bar called Pinhook in the works for Durham that seems like it may live up to that legacy), more and more people and businesses business built on this ribbon of land around the NCRR, and by the creation of Durham county in 1881 the surveys above would have been unfamiliar to most newcomers.

1 comment:

John said...


Love the overlay of old map of Pin Hook over Google Earth image today!

~John Schelp