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Durham Tour by David Lillington


I decided to begin my tour on East Pettigrew Road; little did I know that this would be one of the most economically depressed areas I would visit. I noticed that I was entering an area less developed than Main Street and its surrounding crossroads, especially after crossing under the train tracks on Roxboro. The entire left side of the street followed train tracks, dead grass bordering the curb up the hill to the train. The right side of the street at Roxboro did have a sidewalk, which I followed past the Venable Center, seemingly a tobacco building recently converted into office space. I felt alone but rather safe in this area. It was not until I crossed the intersection of the on/off ramps of Highway 147 that I felt the area changing. The road became more beaten up, probably due to the fact that large transport trucks use Pettigrew as their route (denoted by signs) and houses built along the highway seemed neglected. I walked past a house (one of many) that had been boarded up and whilst vacant had been vandalized with a BB gun (Appendix A1). It was perched on stacks of brick (Appendix A2); perhaps it was a mobile home, where grasses and plants had begun to grow in the area where a porch had once existed. Yards consisted of patchy brown and yellow grass that faced the train tracks on the opposite side of the street. At some point a train came tumbling down the tracks blaring its deafening horn – this would not be a comfortable place to own a home. Based on conditions of homes and types of businesses in the area, I could hypothesize that this was a low- income area of people of color. Businesses included a hair salon, possibly closed forever, named “Chloe’s too – a little touch of soul”, a tattoo shop named “The Inkwell – Tattoos that Hurt So Good”, a tire shop, “Llanteria Padilla – New and Used Tires”, and a taquería. The only people I had seen were two African American women walking a baby in a stroller, two Caucasian men cutting a tree branch way from power lines, and three African American men smoking outside the Brenntag building.


Just before Maple St on E Main a shorter African American woman approached me and said “Sir, can I ask you a question? Do you have any spare change? A dollar?” Admittedly I could not understand her well. I turned on Maple and noticed that the houses were nicer compared to those on Pettigrew, with paved roads in the neighborhood instead of dirt. Roofs were thin, in many cases sagging, and drainage in the street was poor – sidewalks were still mudded from the rain the day before. The speed limit sign on the street was covered with a trash bag and many houses were boarded up or empty. One retaining wall was falling down and one house had a notice from the city

to clean their lot of debris. Cars were mainly old trucks and sedans. I did see one early 90s sedan that had a hydraulic system installed (Appendix A3), or was raised, and had been painted Tar Heel blue and had UNC flags flying off its windows. An African American man rocking on his front porch stared at me as I walked up the street. Another yelled something incomprehensible at me as I walked past him. I passed a two bedroom, one bath, 865 square foot house for sale on Liberty and Maple at $35,9001. Spruce Street felt much the same as Maple, though one might say the homes were a fraction nicer. A large church, the We Church, owns a stretch of the left side of Spruce Street, giving a sense of more space that Maple did not possess on this particular block. The houses that existed on the whole stretch of Spruce, however, were quite close together. I did not see any construction/remodeling of houses in this neighborhood. It seemed to be a lower-class African American neighborhood.


This had to be one of the most interesting neighborhoods I had visited on my tour. A friend’s girlfriend lives in this area and she had told me that gentrification was occurring. House prices ranged from $14,100 (610 Canal St., right on the other side of Elizabeth) to $299,900 (604 Primitive St., originally $315,000 and two blocks from 610 Canal St.)2 and there was construction/remodeling on a good number of houses (Appendix A4). The neighborhood consisted of more raised foundation, older homes placed close together much like those on Maple and Spruce, however these seemed to be kept in better condition. I saw a mix of older African Americans and younger Caucasian residents; perhaps this is an area transitioning from a lower income, uneducated neighborhood to one that is more educated.


On Geer Street houses were a tad more spread out than the other neighborhoods I had been in, but they were still of the craftsman or Tudor style. On most of Geer St I saw many signs for businesses in Spanish. The area consisted of a mix of craftsman and mid-century modern homes in okay condition. At the corner of Roxboro and Geer I noticed a mini-mart that advertised that it accepted food stamps, suggesting that this was not a high-income neighborhood. Cars were older, mid-range brands and there was a mix of all races from what I could see. Nearby there were three identical homes boarded up, all next to each other. Arriving near Washington Street I noticed a Latino market on the right, soon after Motorco on the left and a crossfit gym further down. It is clear that this stretch of Geer closer to downtown has been commercialized and gentrified.


I felt as though this area had been gentrified, because although it was bordered by a lot of apartment buildings on Trinity Avenue, most of the older homes were in relatively good shape. There was the occasional house that was falling apart and in need of redoing, but for the most part it seemed that most homes had been renovated. On the corner of Trinity Avenue and Washington Street an African American woman stopped me and asked me for a bite to eat (again I could not understand her the first time). I entered into the west part of the neighborhood at this point and houses were very small on small lots. Despite the area’s name “Old North Durham” the houses on the west side seemed newer, perhaps from the 50s, 60s, or 70s. It was a quiet, treed neighborhood without train and highway noise. I saw a younger Caucasian man walking his dog here. Cars seemed to be mid-range, older sedans for the most part. It was not until I made my way over to Mangum Street that I encountered the more stately southern Victorian and craftsman homes. These were intermittently mixed with smaller homes. It seemed to me that an educated, lower middle class population and/or a middle-class population inhabited this neighborhood.


Weaver Street at its intersection with Cornwallis Road began with apartment complexes spread out far from each other by grass lawns and parking lots. They seemed to have been built anywhere from 1950 to 1980 and seemed to have an African American population, based on my observation of three African American people. Cars in the parking lots surrounding apartment buildings were older mid-range sedans. After passing this group of apartments and a stretch of woods I came upon a development of split-level homes that seemed to be built around the same time as the apartment complexes down the street. These houses were of medium size on larger lots and tended to be rather colorful. I noticed again that many residents were African American and that cars tended to be middle of the road and of varying size. Some roofs were in need of work as they were sagging, and I did notice an older house that had been boarded up. The street came to a dead end and backed up to a forest, allowing the last residents on the street breathing room. Perhaps people of the lower-middle class inhabited this area.


The majority of buildings on campus were very new, perhaps built within the last ten to fifteen years. The campus was spotless: buildings were very well maintained and their large glass windows were kept clean. The grass lawns were also green relative to those that I had seen in other neighborhoods. There was a large, beautiful football field and track fenced from the outside road (as is the entire university). Cars seemed to be newer mid-range sedans, coupés, or older luxury sedans. I noticed a very large African American population at the university. I visited on a Friday when classes were in session with plenty of students to be seen and I counted three Caucasian students during the time I spent there. Houses surrounding the university were simple but in good condition. I noticed a mix of craftsman and mid-century architectures. I would guess that the population here consists of perhaps a lower-income, educated population, such as students.


South Street was rather close to NCCU’s campus, however there was quite a large change upon entering this neighborhood. I saw four individuals in this neighborhood, three of which were Latino. The houses were older and run-down, some even had bars protecting their windows and doors from break-ins, and others were boarded up. As my friend drove me up the street, she pointed out a broken umbrella hanging from power lines outside of a duplex (Appendix A5). Being from Los Angeles, I had seen objects hanging from power lines many times and I was told that it meant that either a drug dealer was nearby or that it was gang territory. There were small single family and multi-family homes that were placed close together. Most cars were older low to mid- range sedans. South Street abruptly ended just before University Drive due to construction. Professor Becker added that is an area about to transition to a more stable lower-middle income community. This will be done through a project that encourages home ownership.


East Forest Hills Road was by far the most beautiful street that I had visited. Secluded, large homes sat on well-maintained, big lots; even the street wound in such a way to provide privacy to residents. Cars in the area were new mid-range or luxury sedans and SUV’s and some houses had one or more sitting in the driveway. Note this was on a working day, Friday, around 1:30 pm. Perhaps this is a community of families or couples that is wealthy enough for only one spouse to have to work. Houses were perched above the street, giving a figurative message of being upper middle class. I saw one person in the neighborhood, a blonde, Caucasian, young woman decked out in exercise gear. She was walking along the street. Despite being very close to South Street, this community had a completely different feeling. There was also a park that separated the neighborhood from the main street.


Kent Street continued the theme of larger wooded lots, however the houses were much simpler and smaller. I noticed ranch and split level homes most likely from the 50s. There was no sidewalk in the neighborhood and I did not see any residents out. These houses were set back from the road thus giving privacy to residents. Based on the newer mid-range cars that I saw and good condition of houses this neighborhood seemed to be inhabited by middle class residents. Speed bumps slowed down drivers on the road and kept the roads safer, suggesting that residents might have younger children living with them.


I found Kent Street to be a dividing line of Bivins Street. The west side did not have the bigger, more private lots that the east side of the street had. The houses also became larger as I headed farther east. Homes on the west side were quite small and some were even run down. A large modern home stuck out amidst the smaller bungalows. Some yards were overgrown and others were kept nicely. I saw two older Caucasian women walking a dog on the west side of Bivins turning on Kent Street. Most cars were a mix of old and new mid range cars. I did see one BMW X3 SUV. A strikingly new development of houses on the west side could be seen up a small cul-de-sac and did not really blend in with the neighborhood. Professor Becker added that this is a racially mixed neighborhood that has been gentrified over the past few years.


“1108 Liberty Street”. Realtor.com. Accessed January 15, 2014.

“Area in 502 Gray Avenue”. Realtor.com Accessed January 15, 2014.


A1. BB gun bullet holes in siding of vacant house on Pettigrew Street. Author’s own.

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A2. Home sitting on top of stacked bricks on Pettigrew Street. Author’s own.

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A3. Car on Maple Street with hydraulics and UNC flags. Author’s own.

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A4. Victorian house being remodeled in the neighborhood between Roxboro, Geer, Elizabeth, and Holloway. Author’s own.

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A5. Broken umbrella hanging on power lines on South Street. Author’s own.

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1 Comment

  1. David, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your Durham Tour paper. The way you framed Durham through your personal experiences in the first two locations made the rest of the paper more fun while also painting you as a knowledgable author who has put much thought into what he saw/wrote. Your paper gave me more insight to the places I visited, and your descriptions of the other locations taught me a bit about other parts of Durham.

    East Pettigrew was also the first place I visited. I found the area to be quite desolate. I was the only car driving around at the time, which indicated little traffic in general, but the large pot holes in the street pointed to frequent truck passings. I had a bit of difficulty shifting my perception of Durham after this first observation. I wonder if you had similar issues in discerning low-middle-high income households for the next few locations.

    Your description of NCCU closely followed mine. I felt that NC Central’s campus was much more modern than Duke, and the surrounding area seems to have slightly better housing. However, the campus has multiple roads splitting up the campus in comparison to our East, West, and Central campuses connected by Campus Drive. I wonder if the higher traffic (and noise from students) becomes a negative externality to the houses nearby, or if students live in those houses, which would decrease distance to school thereby negating the negative externalities.

    The new houses you mention in the description of Bivins was one of my favorite parts of Durham. The colorful houses did seem a little strange in comparison to the houses crowded with shrubbery down the street, but this shows the constant change and gentrification that is unique to Durham.

    Overall, I enjoyed reading your perspective on the different neighborhoods. Your pictures also added a great deal to your paper. It was clear that you were keen in your observations, as shown in the BB gun bullet hole picture. Thanks for sharing!

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