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Blacknall Memorial Presbyterian, 1924

The Blacknall family, both Richard, Jr., who, with his father, Dr. Richard Blacknall, had organized Blacknall's Drugstore and his brother James, who was the first sheriff of Durham County, started the Presbyterian congregation in West Durham in 1892 as a mission, based from First Presbyterian downtown. The elder Blacknall had been instrumental in the formation of First Presbyterian after he moved to Durham in 1860; after his family settled in West Durham, they pursued the establishment of a congregation there as well.

West Durham Presbyterian Church was constructed on 13th Street, then called Presbyterian Street, in 1905. In 1916, the church renamed itself Blacknall Memorial Church in honor of Richard Sr., who had died in 1881, and Richard (Dick) Jr., who died in 1900.

A new sanctuary was built at the corner of Perry and 8th Streets in 1923. During the period of streetcars serving West Durham, the streetcar would travel from 9th to Broad Streets via Perry (Hillsboro, at that time) before making a left onto Broad to serve Watts Hospital/Club Blvd.

Aerial view of the intersection of Perry and 8th (Iredell Sts.), ~1950.

An educational building was added to the structure in 1964. The church planned to demolish its original sanctuary in 1970 to build a new church; however, per the historic inventory: "plans were halted when a study demonstrated that a new building would not be as sturdy [or] accommodate as many people." Someone actually did a cost-benefit study before proceeding with demolition in Durham?? My kudos.

Funds were instead allocated towards renovation of the existing sanctuary.

The church has been added onto several times since - in 1990, and in 2008. It remains an active congregation.

Blacknall Memorial, 04.04.09.

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  • Submitted by St. Izzy on Friday, July 31, 2009 - 12:49pm

    It is also worth noting that BMPC was the first white church in Durham to allow blacks to join, and that the church remains active in racial reconciliation.

  • Submitted by Former Durhamite on Friday, July 31, 2009 - 1:55pm

    One of my best buddies goes to this church. So cool to see it profiled, and complimented, in ED.

    As a former Durham resident, I appreciate ED immensely. Thanks!

  • Submitted by Lesley on Friday, July 31, 2009 - 3:28pm

    I attended this church as a Duke student. It was especially convenient from East Campus, and a nice church home away from home. Thanks for the memories!

  • Submitted by retired English... on Friday, July 31, 2009 - 11:37pm

    Even though I grew up in Holloway St. Baptist, as a young woman in the mid to late 1970's, I visited Blacknall with friends who had recently moved to Durham and were searching for a church home. Blacknall had the reputation then of being a church where the people were smart, and the sermons appealed to the intellect of its congregation. Maybe it was the Presbyterian influence or the effect of Duke so nearby, but I remember being very impressed with what I heard from the pulpit.

  • Submitted by Anonymous on Saturday, August 1, 2009 - 2:58am

    great post- thanks for sharing this!

  • Submitted by J Harton on Tuesday, August 4, 2009 - 2:18am

    This was my church for seven years of my early life. I moved to a different state while they were planning the most recent major addition. When I was there it was a great church, and while the reconstruction really saddened me (I remember fondly the way it used to be), I'm sure that the church is still wonderful. Preaching to the intellectual, and to the thinkers is almost certainly a Presybterian thing.

  • Submitted by Anonymous on Tuesday, August 4, 2009 - 1:26pm

    And amazingly, the church has thrived without acres of surface parking all these years. Go figure.

  • Submitted by Michael Bacon on Wednesday, August 5, 2009 - 3:38am

    I don't know if this is historically the case, but recently the church has embraced "evangelical Presbyterianism" (from their website). The services I attended there six several years ago or so certainly fit this description.

  • Submitted by Anonymous on Friday, August 7, 2009 - 7:24pm

    I had always heard that it was, in fact, two of the ladies in the Blacknall family who were instrumental in leading first an outreach and then a Sunday School in West Durham. The men of the family followed later.

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