Thursday, September 25, 2008

University Heights

Moving eastward from Funston back towards Durham and before I launch a longer series on Hickstown I thought I'd pause briefly at University Heights with some cautionary notes about maps. I recently came across plats of the great neighborhood of "University Heights" and was quite excited because it appeared to be located in a part of western Durham that I'm quite curious about. Here are the plats of the north and south portions with Google earth overlays linked below.

North section (GEarth overlay)

South section (GEarth overlay)

Like most people in Durham I know this area as home to two contrasting but neighboring large apartment complexes: the Belmont, and Duke Manor. I was immediately curious about this large (hundreds of lots) subdvision created in 1925 with a whole network of streets I was unfamiliar with. Maps are dangerous in that they create geographies of their own whether or not they exist on the ground. The maps above not only map out planned space but also dictate how spaces are referred to in the future. Vizt. several deeds to property in the area today including a couple of Duke deeds have references to particular lots and streets in University Heights. I looked next to my trusty 1946 Durham street map made by the city of Durham for municipal and planning purposes.

1946 road map of Durham (from the NCSA)

Look the roads are there in a kind of funny and unnatural waffle pattern disappating into nothing but there nonetheless. Excited about this lost neighborhood and wondering about its connections with Hickstown I checked the USGS topographic map from 5 years later.

1951 USGS map of the Hickstown area

MMM...well you can clearly see what became Lasalle st. including the straight section as it crosses south of the tracks labeled as Sprunt st. in the University Heights map. The rest of the neighborhood is gone though, no streets, and just three scattered buildings in the far northwest part of the planning maps. Did the neighborhood go under in just a few years - what happened? I'm fairly confident there never was a University Heights on the ground beyond the surveyors marks. The plats above were made in June 1925 at a fortuitous point in the history of that part of Durham. In Spring 1925 newly named Duke University had just finished most of the purchasing of land for what would become west campus. With the cat out of the bag for the new university location it looks like land speculators jumped on this tract just to the north of the (yet unbuilt) university and attempted to turn it into the next Hester Heights or Club acres. They failed. The land remained largely overgrown though there are clearly buildings and houses in the SE segment of the plats but those are probably part of greater Hickstown.

1955 USDA aerial photo (from Duke University libraries)

I believe those white lines running vertically down the center of the photograph to Erwin road are Third (today's Douglas st/Research dr.) and Fourth streets from the plats. I will use this picture when I talk about Hickstown but for now I've highlighted the two large cemeteries in the area (there's a 3rd smaller one I haven't highlighted) which are noted on the plats above. Being somewhat of a Durham cemetery buff I'll post more on the New Bethel Cemetery (Hickstown cemetery- towards the middle) and let John Schelp's OWDNA website tell the story of the West Durham cemetery (top).


John said...

A fascinating post! Lots to absorb.

Here's some additional background about the area...

When we helped Preservation Durham move an old house from LaSalle to Lawndale, I did some research on the ca. 1915 house (ie. the Blackman House).

According to long-time West Durham resident Duncan Fisher, the house was originally built by the Blackman family on Erwin Road (near where the new Duke Eye Hospital now stands). The Blackman House was built 'out in the country' (sometime between 1910 and 1920). The one-story frame had a white rail fence and stood across Erwin Road from the Fisher Riding Academy.

In the early 1960s, the Blackman House was moved to LaSalle Street (alongside two other Fisher family homes). Fisher remembers when LaSalle was called Holeman Road. Much of the property along Holeman Road was owned by the Holeman sisters.

In the early years, Holeman Road was really just a set of wagon tracks which ran south from Hillsboro Road, across the rail road tracks, ending at the Blackman House (you couldn't get through to Erwin Road).

In the 1950s, Holeman was renamed LaSalle because here was another Holeman in East Durham (near where the Morven Cotton Mills once operated).

Photos of Blackman House being moved...

~John Schelp

Anonymous said...

I agree with John Schelp. A facinating post.

Mr. Bryant of Friends of Geer Cemetery has some info he has shared in the past about an Af. Am. Cemetery that was moved from the Crest Street Neighborhood for the Freeway. I made a short note of this in the Minutes of Friends of Geer Cemetery 6/7/04. Mr Bryant has a lot more to share. Hope you will get in touch with him.

"Finally, there was a discussion of other Black Cemeteries in Durham which have not been preserved. Crest Street Cemetery Which was moved for the Durham Freeway, and is now located near the Erwin Mills Cemetery in Old West Durham. Remains were moved in small boxes and the lay-out of the original Crest St. Cemetery was not preserved. Other locations were mentioned."
--Jessica Eustice

Mitch said...

Thanks Jessica - I will definitely try and get in touch with Mr. Bryant. I think my next post will be about Hickstown proper and will include something about the moving of the cemetery. I actually have a plan of the grave layout at that cemetery which I will post though it's of rather poor quality.

John said...

Several years ago, a stranger in Virginia emailed me an obit that said his father was "buried in Erwin Mills cemetery" in Durham.

I had never heard of this cemetery and went to sit with Mr McDonald in the back of his drugstore.

25 clean-ups later, the cemetery has become an important part of the neighborhood.

When I first drove along West Pettigrew to see the place, I passed a beautiful oasis of trees and then arrived upon the cemetery.

Turns out that was the New Bethel cemetery -- which is still used today.

I had driven right past the Erwin Mills cemetery (aka Cedar Hill) and didn't even know it was there, under the trees.

More info


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