Alston Avenue is named for Absalom Alston; Jean Anderson recounts that Alston owned a large tract of land in the area now east of downtown Durham. In 1819, he sold 450 acres of land to William Dilliard, centered on the crossing of the Raleigh-Hillsborough Road and the Roxboro-Fayetteville Road.
On Lewis Blount's map of Durham in 1865, Alston Avenue exists only south of the railroad tracks, and is termed "Neighborhood Road, now Alston Avenue."
North Alston Avenue didn't exist to a significant extent until the mid 20th century; in 1913, it was only one block long, extending between East Main Street and Morning Glory Avenue (essentially stopping at the Golden Belt Mill Village.) By the mid-20th century, it had been extended northward.
See also South Alston Avenue.