1307 West Knox / Walltown Neighborhood Ministries

36.013196, -78.914049

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Built as a grocery store ~1930, 1307 Knox St. was run by Benjamin W O'Neal during the 1930s, and by Walter Gresham during the 1940s. By the 1990s, the store was a haven for drug activity, with a drug-trade-infamous pay phone outside; in 1999, it was purchased by Self-Help, and renovated via a grant from the Duke Office of Community Affairs. The building houses Walltown Neighborhood Ministries, a group of 5 neighborhood churches and students from Duke's Divinity School that formed in 1996 to help advocate for and provide services to the neighborhood.

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Thank you so much for your posts, whether the longer-form ones or these shorter snapshots. They're all educational and I love the variety of buildings you discuss. I see things driving around town and think, hey, I read about that on Endangered Durham! No other local blog pops up as much in conversation and day-to-day life for me.

I have to ask: what made the pay phone infamous?


Thank you so much for the appreciation! There should be a long-form one coming up shortly on Trinity College - thus the radio silence/short-forms of late.

The pay phone was, reportedly, used to coordinate daily drug traffic.


In reply to by Gary (not verified)

Hi Gary, would you mind if I used this photo to help publicize a free guitar and singing class my wife and I are teaching at 1307 W. Knox?

Infamous pay phone?
Care to elaborate?
BTW Why do these places always
end up as down-and-out religious outposts?
Is it some tax-exempt status
that makes it easier to
keep the place going? I'd rather see
old buildings re-emerge as vintage clothing shops or smorgasbords or something creative.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Obviously you are new to the neighborhood. This house was initially purchased by local congregations many years ago to reclaim it from local drug dealers and help Walltown residents live in a more secure, less dangerous neighborhood. Now the area is secure enough that a vintage store might imagine coming to the neighborhood. Walltown ministries provide after school programs for middle school and high school kids, participates in summer theater, work shops, job mentoring and food pantries. It's not just taking up space--walk into the building--no one there is down and out.

Unless something has changed very recently, Walltown Neighborhood Ministries has not operated programs from this site for the past three years. While the sign remained, another non-profit ran GED programs.

If "Anonymous" would like to launch a new business in the community, then we would welcome the effort. Until then, remarks that malign the good work of the only private institutions that have displayed any commitment to the community over time are not only unwarranted but unappreciated. Would knowledge that the progressive and predominantly-white Watts Street Baptist Church of Trinity Park is a founding member of the Walltown Neighborhood Ministries change Anonymous' opinion? Or is his or her bigotry limited only to religion rather than class, race or politics?


"Would knowledge that the progressive and predominantly-white Watts Street Baptist Church of Trinity Park is a founding member of the Walltown Neighborhood Ministries change Anonymous' opinion?"

Actually, no. You'd have to come up with something more than a bunch of platitudes like that to impress me or change my opinion.
You obviously have some sort of chip on your shoulder; I just wondered why so many historical
buildings end up as "Ministries"
or "New Life Spiritual Centers"
or institutions of that type, rather than some business, such as a popular local pub or restaurant, for which Durham in its heyday was so well-known.

I wasn't really trying to impress anyone, Anonymous, but I was curious why one would unnecessarily insult the institutions that anchored this neighborhood at a time when the larger Durham community was content to abandon it to drug dealing and violence. Since I am not affiliated with any of the churches and have only lived here a few years, I don't have any particular chip on my shoulder or history with Walltown Neighborhood Ministries. I just found your comment at best ignorant of the contributions of such groups to neighborhoods like mine or at worst bigoted based on race, class, and/or religion.

It's probably best to distinguish between a community organization formed to help administer programs and services for the community which paired with the rehab of this formerly blighted store versus the proliferation of storefront churches along a stretch such as, say, West Chapel Hill St. I would say the short answer to the actual question about the latter is that retailers/restaurants/etc. don't want to locate in those structures, and thus the landlords fill them with folks that are willing to do so - churches being one use that doesn't mind.

Steven, I wasn't aware that Walltown Neighborhood Ministries no longer operated here -thanks. Any idea if that organization still exists, and/or who might be using the building now?


Was this Knox Street Grocery or butcher shop at one time?I have some memory as a child in the early 1960s of going into a store somewhere near there for him him to see the butcher.

It is a new training center called Jesus Is Lord Enterprises Faith-Based Entrepreneurship Training Center.

From the latest Walltown newsletter:

Learn to pay your bills on-line — Sign up for fall classes NOW! These classes are targeted towards senior citizens, but anyone is welcome.

Start your own business — Now accepting applications for the fall semester. Using faith-based principles for entrepreneurship training.

I understand your question and have often pondered that myself. While I understand, appreciate and respect that such locations are intended to be an effort to assist neighbors and 'clean up' an area, in the long run I fail to see how they end up turning around a neighborhood. They target individuals who need help, and in most cases those people move on to other(better) areas once they are back on their feet. Or....they don't improve their lives. For those living nearby who didn't need the assistance of such a facility, how do they benefit other than a few less derelicts hanging on the corner?

Such facilities do not attract people to the area to live or run a business.

I think Steven pulled the trigger a little quick on judging your comment and question.

Scott, Durham Native

"Such facilities do not attract people to the area to live or run a business."

I disagree whole-heartedly. There are a lot of folks who have been attracted to live in Walltown that would probably not have lived here 10-15 years ago (I am one of them). Businesses on Broad St (which are in Walltown despite what most people think) might not have been as successful before and if another business ever does purchase and inhabit 1307 W. Knox St., it will be because the first steps were taken 10 years ago in efforts like this one.

Neighborhoods don't "turn around" in an instant. If you think this neighborhood store, which by all accounts was a hub of illegal activity in the neighborhood, was going to instantly become a vintage clothing store (and that store would somehow be successful), you're kidding yourself.

Neighborhoods change slowly over time, which is something I have to constantly remind myself when I get frustrated at how slow the change can be (I am referring to crime levels, not demographics).

Besides, while you may not think a neighborhood ministries is a useful thing in YOUR neighborhood - and it may very well not be - it may be a pretty useful thing in a neighborhood like Walltown where a lot of residents attend the local churches and value assistance that takes a religious form. It's also not always about the "down-and-out" - it might be a senior citizen who needs a ride to the grocery store or a single mother who needs help with a plumbing issue.

You, like the first Anonymous poster, are placing your value judgments on another neighorhood that may not match the values of the folks who actually live there. Your version of a "turned-around" neighborhood might be one with vintage clothing stores and yard art made of old cars. But why does a neighborhood have to be completely gentrified to be considered safe and viable (or even "not wealthy, unpretentious, solid, and charming" as Gary wrote)?

As stated before, I understand Anon#1's question about why such places turn into faith based facilities to help the community.

I don't know his views of what should be there and I certainly don't give a hoot about a vintage clothing store. So, please don't judge my thoughts on what this should have been.

Fact: someone interested in living in, buying and renovating in an older established area is not going to be impressed with an area that has multiple locations of 'ministries'.

I stand by my statement. Business owners and buyers of residential property are NOT attracted to an area because of such facilities.
They will be attracted to an area that shows signs of improvement and revitalization. Walltown will get 'there' but it will be because or pricing and value increases in nearby areas that are already 'there'.


I am new to Durham but not new to North Carolina. I am a follower of the Hon. Minister Louis Farrakhan and as his follower I have gained a keen eye to understand racism and the sickness of white supremacy. I was driven to comment on this thread because I have seen throughout Durham a lot of properties with "Self Help" posted on them. Seeing the title I am reminded of my own personal views concerning what my leader teaches me and that is "Do for Self". I also have seen what looks like your headquarters downtown. The Nation of Islam is known to "clean-up" communities all across the US. We once had funding from the government to patrol certain neighborhoods in Washington DC.

I was recently browsing through one of Mathew Leskos books concerning getting funding to start a business. Your organization was listed under Micro-enterprise Loans. This lead me to your website and on the home page I say the link concerning this property. I read all the comments in this thread and I was not sure of why a "knee-jerk" assumption that a person is speaking "bigotry" was posted just from the question of annonymous. Anonymous never made any mention of race whatsoever. In fact the respondent Steven first mentioned race in his reply by stating "predominately white" as if this is significant. In my view, I dont feel Anonymous was given a fair interpretation of his question(s).

I am getting the impression that people feel its big funding that can change a neighborhood instead of big enlightenment. We (The Nation of Islam) have gone into communities with little money and have created change beyond many organizations ability with big funding. We don't need to fight the crusades all over again but if truth be told, drugs existed in this country as a weapon against the masses of the people to keep them dummed down. Mass media keeps the minds of the masses polarized on the topic of drugs and the average American believes the immediate solution to this problem is jail and prison. Because this is just what has been accepted as the common solution. This makes any community with a drug problem fair game to any person or organization who wants to do something with such community even if its not in the best interest of that community.

This is why I am concerned with the question of Anonymous and the way it was responded to. Just because you have big financial backing doesn't mean you are incapable of offending someone. I believe you offended Anonymous in your first reply to him/her. I personally felt offended by your mention of "predominately white" as if this was even significant to be mentioned.

Racism does exist in this country and there isn't much training on how to deal with it and break down its existence because the people who are the decendants of the first to ever have ever been racist have never corrected the effects of it. So this leads to situations like this when someone who is possibly black (Anonymous) makes a question to a financially strong institution which is critical or rhetorical, the answer is that they are being a bigot, racist or religious. The games played against well intended poor people and the slander is running dry. Be an honest broker for community development and give humble replies to the community of Durham. There is no need for arrogance.

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