Unlike some New South cities, Durham has retained — and enhanced — its heritage. The city, founded in 1881 when Dr. Bartlett Durham donated four acres for a train station in what today is downtown Durham, is a vibrant city of 210,500 residents, accounting for most of the county’s population of 250,000.
While high-tech businesses and healthcare facilities have brought the city firmly into the forefront of 21st-century cities, Durham has refurbished old mills into lofts, offices and restaurants, and renovated beautiful old homes into modem living spaces with true Southern charm. The city has a sparkling skyline as well but is best loved for its love of history.
Durham got its first boost following the Civil War when entrepreneur Washington Duke and Sons built lucrative cigarette factories. These endeavors led to a vast family fortune and the eventual establishment of the Duke Endowment, with enormous financial impact throughout the state and region. The Dukes also founded Duke University, one of the most prestigious universities in the nation. The presence of Duke’s world-renowned health system and the Research Triangle Park has led Durham to become known as the City of Medicine.
The city also was once a booming textile hub, becoming among the first to produce denim in mass quantity. Mill villages still exist, with cozy bungalows bumping up against upscale mansions.
In the heart of downtown, the American Tobacco Historic District is considered one of the region’s greatest redevelopment projects. When completed, the mixed-use redevelopment of the former American Tobacco campus will include retail shops, residential units, office and meeting space, a YMCA, a courtyard with an amphitheater and a waterfall. Among its tenants are administrative offices for GlaxoSmithKline and Duke University. The campus served as the headquarters for American Tobacco from 1874 to 1987 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The city is also a transportation center. Major roadways — including easily accessed Interstates 40 and 85 and the convenient N.C. 147, the Durham Freeway — quickly take drivers to Research Triangle Park and other destinations. Raleigh-Durham International Airport busily serves both major and regional airlines.
Bus and rail service are available through Greyhound and Amtrak. The city operates the Durham Area Transit Authority (DATA) with more than 50 buses making more than 13,000 daily trips. The Triangle Transit Authority provides regional bus and shuttle service, transportation options for persons with disabilities and service for vanpools and carpools.
People who prefer foot power to gasoline also have options. Durham’s miles of trails and walkways make it easy to get around town, particularly on the 11-mile American Tobacco Trail, which stretches from downtown to N.C. 54.
Education is key in Durham. More than 40 percent of adults over age 25 have attained at least a bachelor’s degree. The city is home to Duke University, North Carolina Central University and Durham Technical Community College to top off its progressive Durham Public School system and numerous private K-12 schools.
Living in Durham provides the newcomer with a wide range of options. Neighborhoods range from the historic to the ultra-modem, from converted loft apartments and condos to historic districts to planned communities and suburbs. Home prices and rents range from modest to majestic.
Recreational and cultural opportunities abound. The Triple-A Durham Bulls baseball team makes for a favorite family outing, and college basketball fans are sure to love their proximity to Duke Blue Devils and UNC-Chapel Hill Tar Heels games.
Shopping is abundant at malls such as The Streets at Southpoint near RTP, which opened in 2002 and offered the first Nordstrom’s store in the state. Dozens of smaller shops and boutiques, as well as loft housing, can be found in renovated mill space downtown now known as Brightleaf Square and throughout the city.
Among housing choices, Durham offers it all. Treyburn is a country club community in northwest Durham centered around a Tom Fazio-designed 72-par golf course. Thriving Treyburn Corporate Park, home to global technology and pharmaceutical companies, is nearby. The Eno River area, also on the north side, offers neighborhoods from upscale planned communities to single-family homes on large parcels. On the whole, housing densities in the area are strictly limited, providing those who prefer a rural atmosphere room to breathe, yet are located only minutes from downtown.
Central Durham and downtown offer historic homes, apartments, shopping and office space. The Watts Hospital-Hillandale neighborhood includes some of Durham’s finest historic homes. Built in the 1910s and ’20s, the area grew rapidly and features many homes with wide wraparound porches.
Watts Hospital closed in 1976 and is now the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, the state’s only public boarding high school. Eleventh- and 12th-graders from nearly every county in the state attend this unique school, where average SAT scores top 1330. Trinity Park runs along the eastern and northern sides of Duke University’s east campus and tips its hat to the old Trinity College that became Duke.
Southwest, the fast-growing Hope Valley area, is home to Durham’s oldest country club community The area also offers a variety of housing options in several newer, more affordable, planned communities.
The area offers many cultural and recreational amenities, including museums, the beautifully restored Carolina Theatre, the annual CenterFest downtown, Duke University’s Sarah P Duke Memorial Gardens and Eno River State Park.
All in all, Durham is a great place to live and work.