From the Durham Historic and Architectural Inventory description of East Durham, 1980:
The largest, most densely populated of Durham's neighborhoods, East Durham evolved in the mid-19th century [from larger farmsteads.] There are a few houses in East Durham that attest to the early settlement of the area. At the northwest corner of East Durham, Calvin O'Briant built a two-story, one-room-deep house in 1865 on the property that today is 717 Holloway St. O'Briant owned a large tract of land that extended all the way to Park Ave. In addition to farming much of this land, O'Briant operated a brickyard close to his house. Closer to the heart of East Durham, at 1805 Vale St., there is a two-story one-room-deep house with late Victorian details on the exterior and Greek Revival style features on the interior that indicate that this may be a mid-19th-century house that was later remodelled. This house is said to have been the nucleus of the Cheek Farm that once covered a sizable tract in the center of East Durham. Finally, south of the railroad tracks on Scoggins Ave., there is a very modest one-story, one- room-deep house with Greek Revival interior doors and an exterior gable-end chimney that indicate a mid-19th century date of construction.
It was not until the early 1880s that East Durham began to experience any significant development. For many years, Durham citizens had been eager for a textile mill. Elsewhere in North Carolina, such mills were prospering; Durham seemed to be the natural site for a textile mill because of the railroad for easy shipment of goods and because of the ready supply of raw materials. In 1884, these desires were satisfied when Julian S. Carr invested some of his tobacco industry profits in the capitalization of the Durham Cotton Manufacturing Co. Carr was joined in this venture by the Odell family of Greensboro and Concord; together the principals made initial investments of $130,000 in the new mill. W. H. Branson of Greensboro was secured to manage the new venture. In July of 1884, a large crowd gathered for the laying of the cornerstone of the new factory at what is now 2000 E. Pettigrew St. Historian Robert F. Durden, chronicler of the Dukes, describes the attitude of Durhamites toward the new mill: "Unaware of the host of new problems that would come with the 'Mill Village' and its woefully underprivileged white population, Durham rejoiced in its new cotton factory and strove to prove to the rest of the world, and particularly to any Northerners who came through, that a Southern community could indeed keep up with the awe-inspiring progress of the modern world of steam and the factory whistle."
The new mill was a four-story brick building with a six-story tower surmounted by a belfry projecting from the center of the main facade. Ancillary buildings, including a powerhouse, dyehouses and a picker house, were constructed around a main building. By the time the factory commenced operation in 1885, the new village of East Durham had been established around the mill with the construction by the Durham Cotton Manufacturing Company of houses for its laborers. Dozens of identical one-and-one-half-story board-and- batten houses were erected, primarily along the narrow lanes extending south from the mill. The earliest houses had a single exterior gable-end chimney; the majority of the houses built in the 1880s, however, had a central chimney that served both of the rooms opening off of the short central entrance hall. All of the houses had one-story rear ells and were surrounded by large yards with ample space for garden plots.
As the mill expanded its operations in the 1890s and 1900s, the company built many more houses south of the mill, and probably also to the north. These were the typical one-story L- shaped houses and one-story, one-room-deep rectangular houses with simple gabled or triple-A rooflines that also were being constructed in Durham's other mill villages at this time. A few two-story, one-room-deep houses were con-structed close to the mill, probably for factory foremen.
The 1891 "Bird's-Eye View of Durham, North Carolina" includes an inset that depicts the Durham Cotton Manufacturing Company mill and its environs. In addition to the rows of identical company-built houses south of the mill, the view shows buildings along Driver St. north of the railroad tracks, structures along E. Pettigrew St. to the west of the mill, and scat- tered buildings apparently surrounded by fields to the northwest. The various shapes and sizes of the houses along E. Pettigrew St. indicate that they were privately constructed. On the north side of the tracks facing the mill, the frame Carr's Chapel with an ornate corner tower is pictured. Constructed by Julian S. Carr for his mill workers in 1886, the building remained occupied by the Methodist congregation until they moved to their present building on N. Driver St. in the 1930s. The original two-story parsonage survives in a deteriorated state facing Clay St. at the rear of the lot that contained the original frame church.
The Sanborn Insurance Maps reveal that a business district soon developed near the mill. Of course, the earliest commercial building had been the company general store, which was located first in a one-story frame building at the west side of the mill. By the mid-1890s, a row of one-story frame commercial buildings stood to the east of the mill. Facing the mill across the railroad tracks at the south end of S. Driver St., there also was a meat market, a bootmaker, a confectionery, and a general store. Apparently the mill attracted not only merchants, but other industries. A few hundred yards to the west, the Wyatt and Young Planing Mill and the Durham Roller Mills (a flour mill) operated by C. B. Grimes were established in the 1890s.
Shortly after the establishment of the Durham Cotton Manufacturing Co., Carr himself embarked on another textile venture when he and Richard H. Wright founded the Durham Bobbin and Shuttle MiIl about 300 yards west of Carr's first mill. This plant, which first manu- factured wooden supplies for cotton and woolen mills, converted to textile manufacturing sometime prior to 1891. Apparently this enterprise was not profitable for it was soon sold. In 1893, Brodie L. Duke recommenced operations at the plant, which he re-named the Commonwealth Cotton Manufacturing Co. By 1895, it employed 140 workers manufacturing yarn and hosiery. The mill constructed many simple one- and two-story frame houses for its workers along Angier Ave., S. Holman St. and S. Blacknall St.
East Durham's growth continued at a steady pace. Other plants in operation along the rail- road tracks at the turn of the century were the Durham Fertilizer Co., east of the Commonwealth Cotton Manufacturing Co. plant. This company was a branch of the Virginia Carolina Chemical Co. located one-half mile farther to the east, also on the railroad tracks. By 1907, the Durham Fertilizer Co. had been replaced by the Durham Buggy Co. Carriage Factory. Several large lumber mills were established in the first years of the century, including the Chatham Lumber Co. and the W. C. Carrington Lumber Co.
By the first years of the 20th century, East Durham had grown from a mill village to a full-fledged and vital community. Houses lined most of the streets of southern East Durham. The one- and two-story houses with a variety of rooflines and the traditional millwork decoration on porches, window surrounds, and gables reflected the industry and prosperity of the neighborhood residents. Many of East Durham's residents were employed in central Durham, to which easy access was afforded after 1902 when the trolley system was extended to East Dur- ham. Many home builders, such as John Evans, purchased sizable tracts of land in East Durham; Evans constructed his one-and-one-half-story house on S. Driver St. and later subdivided his land into building lots that he gave to his children. East Durham's attraction, evidently, was not so much its rural character as the invest- ment opportunities it offered for most of these early private land purchasers, who eventually subdivided and sold their land as building lots.
Apparently, close proximity to the trolley line was not a prerequisite for moving to East Durham, for many people were building houses along Holloway St. and the north end of N. Driver and N. Briggs St., many blocks from the line, in the early 1910s. Land close to the textile mills was particularly attractive to investors who often subdivided it into narrow lots which they crowded with simple one-story houses rented to mill hands. This appears to have been the case with much of the housing along Liberty and Eva streets close to the Golden Belt Manufacturing Co. plant.
During the 1920s and 1930s, most of East Durham's remaining lots were developed. Bun- galows were extremely popular during this period, ranging in style from a simple one-story hip-roofed version with a full-facade recessed front porch to elaborate one-and-one-half story structures such as the house that contractor Thomas W. Wilkinson built for himself at 510 N. Driver St. Similar to West Durham, this neighborhood of workers constructed few period revival style houses.
The rate of growth in East Durham's business district paralleled that of its residential area. Around 1910, many of the frame buildings at the end of S. Driver St. were replaced with one- and two-story brick structures with decorative corbelled brickwork. By around 1920, however, the focus of the commercial district had shifted away from the area of the Durham Cotton Manufacturing Co. plant to the intersection of S. Driver St. and Angier Ave. Here, blocks of one- and two-story tapestry brick buildings were constructed in the 1920s. The building with a temple-front facade designed by Rose and Rose, Architects, for a branch of the Fidelity Bank is the newer district's most distinguished building.
East Durham continued to grow despite the closing of its major textile mills. The Commonwealth Cotton Manufacturing Co. was out of business by 1913, but in 1922 the plant was occupied by the Morven Cotton Mills, which survived until around 1930. The Durham Cotton Manufacturing Co. also closed its doors around 1930. As the mills closed, their houses were sold, usually to investors who continued to manage them as rental property. As in most urban areas, the industrial center along the railroad tracks that was the initial focus of the community gradually deteriorated as a neighborhood. This process was accelerated in East Durham by the construction of the East-West Expressway which isolated most of the Durham Cotton Manufacturing Co. housing from the rest of the community. Elsewhere in East Durham, particularly north of Angier Ave., much of East Durham's housing is stable. Presently, many of these reasonably priced and moderately sized houses are being purchased by young people who desire affordable housing convenient to their places of employment.