Old West Durham

Published by info@preservationdurham.org on

West Durham was settled as early as the 1850s when the area was known as Pin Hook. By the 1880s, prosperous businessmen were already moving their homes out of downtown and into the country. West Durham began its transformation to a mill village in 1893 when Benjamin Duke and William Erwin opened a cotton mill on Ninth Street, an early southern manufactory of denim. The mill company employed over 1000 workers by the turn of the century, and build 440 houses covering more than fifteen blocks surrounding the mill.


These small but comfortable mill houses contrast with the elegant Queen Anne style mansions that the textile company owners built in the neighborhood. The Neoclassical Revival style E. K. Powe Elementary School was built in 1928, and wings were added in 1949 and 1961. Several handsome churches also grace the neighborhood.

When merchants moved to Ninth Street, the commercial heart of West Durham, they created a business district that still thrives today, and is home to restaurants, bookstores, and boutiques. The historic Neoclassical Revival bank built on Ninth Street in 1922 is now a popular bagel store.



William Erwin was a pioneer in employee relations. He built a park for his workers as early as 1895 and Erwin Auditorium in 1922. The building, now demolished, included game rooms, a library, and even a swimming pool. Although these landmarks are gone, the old Erwin Mill buildings have been adapted into offices and housing, and new buildings, including a gas station and office buildings, have been designed to fit into the ambiance of this thriving neighborhood.

West Durham was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986.



Old West Durham Links