Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Ground Zero at Five Points

1950 Durham A-Bomb blast map (Duke University Libraries)

This is one of my favorite Durham maps and I'm quite upset that I couldn't get my hands on a large format scanner to display it online in all its glory.[2011 note: a high-res scan of this map is now available at Digital Durham]. My bad photography does not do it justice. The map was created in 1950 by the Durham public works department only a year after the first Soviet nuclear test. I've transcribed the on-map text describing damage in each of the concentric rings as the images are less than clear:

1950 Durham A-Bomb blast map detail - not as blurry as above

" This map is marked in zones of 3000, 6000, and 12000 feet from Ground Zero at Five Points. Sources, William L. Laurence's digest of "The Effects of Atomic Weaponds" published this month by the AEC (The New York Times, August 17 and 18, 1950)
3000 feet - edge of the East Campus to the bus station. Virtual complete destruction of all buildings. Initial nuclear radiation fatal to those not protected by 12 inches of concrete. Blast and heat are so serious that "radiological injury does not need consideration." In other words, almost everyone will be a casualty.
Fire stations, marked in red, are all in, or very close to this area."

" 6000 feet - rest of the East Campus to Lincoln Hospital. Most buildings damaged beyond repair. Serious flame and flash burns, especially from the fire storm resulting from the high winds which will blow into this area. Most fire equipment will already be destroyed. There will be no water pressure. In most American cities there will be 80,000 surviving injured, half of them stretcher cases.
A third of these stretcher cases (12,000) will die within twelve hours from shock unless treated treated immediately with blood plasma or substitutes. "They are the largest group of preventable fatalities." The next most urgent problem is getting all the stretcher cases into hospitals within 72 hours. Those who will get radiation sickness are likely to remain well from seven to ten days. Then those exposed can be treated "in orderly fashion."
Total hospital beds in North and South Carolina (1948- The World Almanac, 1950) are 38,924. Total in this county at that time were 1142. Duke Hospital then had 558 beds."

" 12000 feet - Blast damage to most homes. Very severe fire, window and plaster damage. None of these homes will be fit for occupation. In a typical British city, there will be 100,000 refugees to be provided for. Thermal radiation burns for all those who were outside in this area; most people also subject to radiation, though not in lethal quantities. All overhead power and telephone wires will be down in this area. Hospitals marked in purple."

" Limit of light damage - windows and plaster damage and some fires - will be eight miles or more, depending on the
This eight mile radius includes a little more than half of the county. It would take in Hope Valley, Lowes Grove, Braggtown, Gorman... It would extend to the flat land right below Chapel Hill and about two miles...road to Raleigh."

I would love a clear scan of the map and am curious if anyone out there has one.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


*Updated - sorry that was really hard, this should make it easier*
*Solved! - contemporary view now below*
I'm swamped with work this week so I had the inspiration for a cop-out map quiz. I'm delighted that folks are taking what they learn from the site and doing their own research and making their own maps (see Hickstown post comments). I just came across a really surprising image on the sanborn maps site and figured I'd throw it out there as a challenge. Where is this Durham
intersection today?:

1937 Sanborn map image (Copyright SBC)

Site today - soon to be site of new 9th street north development (Google maps)

The image is oriented like the original with north to the top and the street layout is exactly the same today minus the stream and wooden bridges for traffic. Many readers have probably passed through the intersection at some point but I'm sure it will get more notice now that it's been in the news and in neighborhood debates the several weeks. Good luck!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Hickstown part II

Hickstown looking west from near NCRR (from DOT report)

While the picture above was most likely taken in the late 1970s or early 1980s it probably doesn't differ too much from what the area looked like in the 1950s (except for the VA hospital in the background). Most roads in the community were unpaved like the one above (Barnum?) and many of the lots from the plat on the previous post remained vacant throughout the period.

1953 Sanborn Map (click to enlarge)

This Sanborn map from 1953 only shows the section of Hickstown to the west of the tracks but the section to the east has kept its general street pattern and some original dwellings. Notice the number of streets listed as unpaved as well as the Hickstown School to the extreme left on Crest st. From what I gather there had been a school for the black children of Hickstown on that site for several decades before it was rebuilt as part of the Rosenwald school plan (note the description "heat-stoves"). It was later rebuilt after integration as Crest st. Elementary and is still there today in the form of a senior center. Just off the map to the west next to the school was the Hickstown cemetery where over 1000 mostly black members of Hickstown and Durham were buried.

Hickstown Cemetery plan (illegible in original- list of graves)

However the cemetery is now no longer there and the majority of the houses and streets in the 1953 plan have been completely destroyed. Most people are probably familar with the story of the destruction of Hayti in the 1960s and 70s but the saga of the Durham freeway didn't end once it got to Chapel Hill st. Highway plans called for a linkup between the freeway and I-85 and the chosen route went directly through Hickstown. However, those who do know the history of Hayti will be suprised by the outcome of the confrontation between Hickstown and the transportation department. The best description of how the residents of Hickstown managed to reach an accomodation with the state and federal governments and shape their own relocation is in this official summary. While it is a bit of a triumphalist account I think it gives a good sense of the enormous amounts of time and energy that went into the accomodation. It also serves as an important reminder of the power of tightly knit neighborhoods in the face of seemingly inevitable state plans. I'd also add that if you're ever in need of a good trivia question - I believe that disputes over attorney's fees in the moving of the neighborhood led to the most recent appearance of a Durham issue in the US Supreme Court.
Hickstown top and Crest St. Community Bottom (from DOT report)

As you can read in the report various government agencies paid to rebuild Hickstown as the new Crest st. neighborhood. All but two original Hickstown structures (see map) were destroyed and entirely new culs-de-sac, houses, and facilities were built to the west of Fulton st. The massive Hickstown cemetery was completely disinterred (google earth overlay of the cemetery on today's map) and some graves were moved to a cemetery further out in Durham county while the bulk were reinterred just across the highway at New Bethel memorial gardens. I've been to through Crest st. a number of times and talked to a couple of folks there including the very hospitable pastor of New Bethel church and it seems like the intense neighborhood pride and tight network of social connections remains to this day. My one complaint with the layout of the neighborhood neccesitated by the highway is how the neighborhood has been sequestered in a corner of development with pretty much only two ways in or out. All in all, Hickstown's story is definitley worth sharing and I'd like to see its narrative more part of discussions on Durham's history. I know there are hundreds of stories about Hickstown floating around and I'd love to hear what people know.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Hickstown part I

As I mentioned before I'm going to post on Hickstown over the next several days. Most people who have lived in Durham for more than a decade or two will probably know of Hickstown but being relatively new to the area I had no idea there was such a place until I saw it on this map below some months ago (now helpfully available online at UNC)

1895 George F. Cram Atlas (from UNC-CH maps)

Some of the historical basics about the begginings are in Jean Anderson's book but I'll summarize a few. According to Anderson, Hickstown was incorporated as its own town in 1887 in the wake of the city of Durham going dry. There were protests against its incorporation and while I don't know when it un-incorporated, its post office closed in October 1890 (anyone have any old Hickstown, NC postmarks floating around?). The settlement was named after Hawkins Hicks who lived near the NCRR tracks in a residence awarded her in court as the common law wife of Jefferson Browning who was one of the many Browning land owners in what is now western Durham.

Section from 1920 soil map (using 1914 data)

From looking at the 1910 census it looks like the above map underestimates the number of dwellings in Hickstown (two clusters of Hickstown houses highlighted above) but I would point out that on a clearer version of this map you can see a + in that northern cluster which I believe indicates the original New Bethel Baptist Church which is today on Crest st. It was built in 1879 and moved to Crest st. around 1930 with several local black landowners as its first members (and has been at the heart of the community ever since.

Some snippets on early Hickstown seem to suggest that people regarded it as a new pinhook filled with debauchery and drink as well as both black and white residents. While I don't have a good picture of early Hickstown based on the sources I have available, I think it may have been less integrated than suggested. Certainly by 1910, the federal census shows that people who lived on the primary streets of Hickstown were mostly enumerated by the white census taker as black or mixed race. This is not to say that many white families including that of Hawkins Hicks (living on today's Main street near the Food Lion) didn't have houses within close proximity to black families, it just seems to me that Hickstown as a separate entity grew up particularly as a settlement of post-civil war migrants, largely ex-slaves and their families, from elsewhere in North Carolina. This is confirmed both by the report on Hickstown's relocation (which I'll get to in the next post) and in an interesting (though dated) article on the geography of post civil war population movement. The author calls Hickstown "a former Negro agricultural village" and while I'm not sure where he got the "agricultural village" idea,I think he was probably on to something. There was a surge of small farm buying by newly arrived black families in the 1870s and 80s in various areas on the outskirts of what was then Durham and which is now well within the city limits.

1910 plat of the eastern part of Hickstown (click for GEarth overlay). Today largely a parking structure.

However, in a transition that I'll write something about someday many of these black farm owners sold their land around the turn of the century to white landowners and speculators. Some white landowners like W.T. Neal and J.W. Markham had evidently acquired property in the Hickstown area and in 1910 they parceled up some of this land to the west of the NCRR and to the south of the old New Bethel church. Some of the Hickstown street names you see above (and below) have always seemed a bit odd to me (e.g. Cycle, Barnum, Baily) and I can only think that the nearby circus grounds (near where the Kroger on Hillsborough is now) inspired the naming. I don't know the racial politics surrounding the above lot division but I would be more than a little surprised if the Clements land company was interested in selling lots to non-whites.

From 1937 public works map of Durham

While the parceling up of land for houses in 1910 suggests the beggining of the shift, by the time the map above was made agriculture had been replaced in Hickstown as a primary occupation (though farming undoubtedly continued part time on small plots) by industrial and service occupations in rapidly expanding Durham proper. I'm not sure what the state of land tenure was in Hickstown at this point but I imagine it to be concentrated in the hands of landlords as in 1980 only 22% of dwellings were owner occupied. I'll continue soon with some more maps and overlays bringing the story up to the present as well as some discussion of the well covered relocation and transformation of Hickstown in the early 1980s.