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Children's Museum, Northgate Park at West Lavender Ave., 07.09.46.
(Courtesy The Herald-Sun Newspaper)

The denizens of Northgate Park are celebrating their park's 70th anniversary this week, and thus I'll pop a bit farther west to highlight the original Children's Museum in Northgate Park. The origins of the Museum of Life and Science began with the establishment of a small children's museum on Lavender Avenue in Northgate Park. The museum's website notes that it established in 1946 by a "group of dedicated volunteers." The museum seems to have begun with a particular focus on the natural sciences, and quickly established a small collection of fossils and, it seems, taxiderm-ized animals.

Interior of the Children's Museum at Northgate Park, 07.09.46
(Courtesy The Herald-Sun Newspaper)

It seems that the museum quickly outgrew its original location, and moved that same year to the former Hester House on Georgia Avenue, where it stayed until 1961 - when it moved back to the Northgate Park area, to its current home as the Museum of Life and Science on Murray Avenue.

I was delighted to discover that the original building is still standing in Northgate Park - I don't know what it's currently used for. Seems like it could be a great small community center for the neighborhood.

Former Children's Museum, Northgate Park (404 West Lavender Ave.), 05.23.10

Find this spot on a Google Map.



  • Submitted by Marsosudiro on Monday, May 31, 2010 - 12:09pm

    I have always wondered about that odd little place, and wondered if it's at particular risk of flooding. Drive by, and you'll see what I mean.

    "I was delighted to discover that the original building is still standing in Northgate Park". Isn't it nice to get a pleasant surprise?

  • Submitted by Batman on Monday, May 31, 2010 - 12:43pm

    It appears the structure itself is older. Perhaps a WPA or other Depression-era project? It has that craftsman-campy appearance that typifies their work. Additionally, there appears to be a mature growth of ivy on the chimney in the 1946 picture. I lived in the neighborhood in the '60's-'70's, and its uniqueness stood out then.

  • Submitted by Anonymous on Monday, May 31, 2010 - 6:15pm

    In the late 40s/early 50s the Museum had an exhibit of small (2-3 feet) live alligators in a small fenced pond on the left side of the house. During a particularly bad storm the pond was flooded and the alligators made their way into Ellerbe Creek.

  • Submitted by KeepDurhamDifferent! on Monday, May 31, 2010 - 7:23pm

    reminds me of that weird building in Duke Park at the end of Acadia St (I'm sure someone here knows whether it's used by Parks & Rec, NCDOT, or other).

  • Submitted by Anonymous on Monday, May 31, 2010 - 8:08pm

    I always thought my dad made up that story about the alligators in Ellerbe Creek.

  • Submitted by Anonymous on Monday, May 31, 2010 - 8:43pm

    The house became a youth center after the museum moved. Years later another building was built for that purpose across the street. It burned in the 70s and was replaced by present-day tennis courts.

  • Submitted by Toby on Tuesday, June 1, 2010 - 1:59am

    The property the house is on is listed as owned by the City of Durham on the county tax records website:

    I assume Parks and Rec controls it, which means the maintenance budget has likely been minimal over the years (see Duke Park Bath House).

  • Submitted by katuah on Tuesday, June 1, 2010 - 3:42pm

    The city is currently using the building for "storage." I must assume this is somewhat like they use(d) the Duke Park bathhouse building for "storage." (Wonder whose water bills are in this one?) Several folks have inquired about the possibility of it - or its use in perpetuity - being donated to ECWA for office & programming space, but I'm told the building has a terrible mold problem, which isn't surprising given its location in a flood plain and the lack of attention/maintenance provided to it over the years. Most likely it will be left to rot away and then removed after the next large flood that causes visible damage. Demolition by neglect, public-style.

  • Submitted by cg on Wednesday, June 2, 2010 - 3:05am

    When I moved into a house two doors down from this one in 2004, tennants/renters lived there. They were often outside grilling fish on their barbecue cookers. They moved on and it was abandoned for a bit before being used by the city for storage. My next door neighbor at the time had lived in Northgate Park since the 1950s and she said a community center that had been where the tennis courts are now was burned down in a "race riot" in the early seventies.

  • Submitted by Anonymous on Wednesday, June 2, 2010 - 11:13am

    Can the "race riot" statement above be confirmed? Perhaps someone with access to Herald-Sun archives? I lived in the Northgate area at that time and have no recollection of the fire being connected to any racial strife.

  • Submitted by Batman on Wednesday, June 2, 2010 - 9:55pm

    CG refers to the Barfield Youth Center which burned in the early 1970's. It was a place for people -adults and children- to hold parties. I lived in the neighborhood at that time, and I don't recall anything about a race riot in the area. However, I do clearly recall its burning and walking around it the next day on my way home from school. The brick walls stood for a while until they were torn down. The bare concrete floor was left vacant for a while and later became the floor to the now present tennis courts. There was a wealthy (for his day and location) man named Barfield who lived in the large yellow brick house still standing at the corner of Farthing and Club Boulevard. Not sure of his connection, if any.

  • Submitted by cg on Thursday, June 3, 2010 - 4:45am

    Yeah, I certainly understand how historical works, or doesn't. The late Mrs. X probably misremembered the situation.

  • Submitted by Catwoman on Thursday, June 3, 2010 - 7:26pm

    If I recall correctly, Frank Barfield was the "colorful philanthropist" and tobacco auctioneer who developed Northgate Park. He and his family lived at 101 W Club (the house mentioned by Batman). He died at 60 of cirrhosis of the liver, complicated by diabetes mellitus July 13, 1952.

  • Submitted by Kerry Cantwell on Saturday, June 5, 2010 - 11:11pm

    I also notice that the door on the left side of this building was removed. Does anyone have any details about when and WHY (for the love of God) anyone would invest in such a renovation?

  • Submitted by Freddie on Monday, June 7, 2010 - 6:11pm

    WOW! I always wondered what the deal was with that little house/building...I always though it would be neat to do something creative with it...

  • Submitted by Anonymous on Monday, July 5, 2010 - 12:16am

    My uncle and aunt lived in that house for many years. And yes, they were flooded out many times!

  • Submitted by EWCOPELAND on Thursday, May 3, 2012 - 11:13pm

    "race riot" ? No It was struck by lighting and that is how it caught fire.

  • Submitted by Rasberry on Sunday, October 6, 2013 - 8:58pm

    Hey, Batman, Do we know each other? I lived at 2407 Shenandoah. Played all around there from '54. Did you live near Ricky Maisto?

  • Submitted by Batman on Tuesday, October 8, 2013 - 10:46am

    This is Batman, but someone else snagged my handle. I may not be a contemporary of yours; I don't know the Maisto gentleman, and I knew everyone. :) I was roaming the neighborhood late '60's through the mid/late '70's.

  • Submitted by bcrews on Wednesday, May 21, 2014 - 4:13pm

    the building has been torn down. the chimneys and foundation still remain (at least when I drove by last week)

  • Submitted by Alix on Wednesday, August 20, 2014 - 10:44am

    The building was dismantled in June/July of 2014 leaving only the stone foundation and chimneys. Neighborhood residents tried to resurrect it for a number of community purposes in teh year or so leading up to demolition, but its position in the flood plain prohibited any renovations or commercial use.

    Residents did stage a brief art show before the demolition, including the painting of bluebirds on the exterior. Perhaps someone has a picture?

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