Places in Peril 2012: Golden Belt Mill Village

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goldenbelt mill village

Mill village of Morning Glory, courtesy of Open Durham

Why It’s Important:
The Golden Belt mill village extends from the east end of the factory complex to Holman Street and includes housing stock built in the early 1900s for Julian Shakespeare Carr’s Golden Belt Manufacturing Company. The blocks of similarly-detailed houses were listed to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984 and in 2011, residents petitioned the city to create a Local Historic District. In recent years, the homes’ uniform appearance is starting to evolve as owner-occupants make their mark.

In the last decade, millions of private and public dollars have poured into the area to revitalize the mill buildings and homes and to construct new developments bordering the village. In 2003, the Durham Housing Authority demolished Few Gardens and spent $155 million to build a new development bordering the mill village. Other nearby projects include the Golden Belt mill complex itself, Holton Center, and Calvert Place. All of these projects have traditional street patterns and were built to encourage walkability and connection with downtown Durham.

Why It’s Imperiled:
A number of structures have been lost since the National Register listing, but the integrity of the community remains intact. The Durham Rescue Mission, located on the east end of the neighborhood, has started the first phase of a master plan which calls for removing more than a dozen historic structures east of Alston Avenue and closing the existing streets to create a walled campus.     The Golden Belt neighborhood, already suffering from the future widening of Alston Avenue, will be even further disconnected from East Durham by the plan. The proposal will break apart the traditional street grid and stymie the burgeoning investment in the surrounding neighborhood by creating a three-block-long superblock, separating the Durham Rescue Mission from the revitalizing community and creating a barrier to further neighborhood development.

What’s Needed:
Traditional neighborhood design increases a neighborhood’s safety and livability by keeping eyes on the street and by encouraging cohesion; Preservation Durham strongly encourages the Durham Rescue Mission to work within the existing street grid and to maintain an open dialogue with the surrounding community. Moving historic structures to vacant lots in the neighborhood – instead of demolishing – will add to the city’s tax base and contribute to the historic character of the district. The ongoing revitalization of the area should receive the support of the City of Durham, through the creation of a Local Historic District and a thorough evaluation of Durham Rescue Mission’s proposals with the traditional street grid and neighborhood design firmly in mind.

UPDATE: As of June 2012, discussions between Preservation Durham and the Durham Rescue Mission have yielded an agreement both to delay any further demolition of residential properties for at least 1 year and to work with Preservation Durham, the neighborhood and others to try and relocate any of the historic properties that need to be moved in order to complete the DRM’s master plan. Preservation Durham is in discussions with potential partners who could help identify land and other necessary resources for moving the historic houses.