717 Holloway St. - Calvin O'briant House

35.994705, -78.888118

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One of the oldest houses, if not the oldest house remaining in central Durham is the house at 717 Holloway. The house was built sometime before 1865 as a farmstead for Calvin O'Briant and his family. According to the Architectural Inventory, O'Briant moved to the area from Person County around 1860 and owned a tract of land extending north to Geer St.

Above, a section of Lewis Blount's map of Durham as it appeared in ~1867 (drawn from memory by Mr. Blount in 1923)
(Courtesy Durham County Library)

In addition to his farm, Mr. O'Briant owned and operated a brickyard nearby at the bottom of the hill to the east (along Holloway) - presumably near Alston Avenue.

The house remained in the O'Briant family until 1965.

O'Briant House, 1970s.

The house has, sadly, fallen into further disrepair and appears to be boarded up. It would be tragic if one remnant from the earliest days of Durham still in existence ended up torn down.

Looking northeast, 2007

As of 2012, the porch enclosure has been removed, the house has been painted, and it's for sale for $75,500. Per the Realtor, "All four original mantels remain. The stairs are intact. Some interior doors and casings are original, but majority have been lost. Original flooring has not survived."



Thankfully, the house is under renovation as of 2014. Thrilled to see one of the oldest structures in Durham being restored.







I'm guessing "Eleby Creek" on Mr. O'Briant's map is yet another spelling for Ellerbe(e) Creek?

Good catch, Joe. Below is some creek history I wrote, with help from David Southern.

It's also interesting to see that Main Street was called Hillsboro Road, through downtown and out past Prattsburg. (Much of this route eventually became Old NC 10, the first "highway" to cross North Carolina.)

Sad indeed to think that someone might tear down the O'Briant house. Thanks to Gary, the more we learn about these historic places, the better chance we can save more of Durham's history.

~John Schelp

From Allibay and Watery Branch to Pinhook and Allergy Creek, the history of Ellerbe and South Ellerbe creeks is long and colorful. During his 1701 trek through the wilderness of the Carolinas, John Lawson headed east from Occaneechi Town (near what is now Hillsborough). Lawson wrote of hiking 14 difficult miles, "a sad stoney way," to the next village, called Adshusheer.

One local theory holds that Ellerbe Creek might have been "the pretty rivulet" that Lawson crossed -- just south of the Duke family's homestead in Durham County.

In the earliest grants and on the earliest maps, Ellerbe Creek was spelled "Allibay." That spelling led a few scholars to theorize that Ellerbe might be of Native American derivation. When the Europeans arrived, the North Carolina Piedmont was dominated by Sioux-speakers such as the Eno, Occaneechi, Saponi, Sissipahaw, Tutelo, and Shoccoree.

Different European ears heard the Siouxan consonant that had a sound somewhere between an R and an L. Thus, there is much speculation about Ellerbe Creek's oldest name. In the days before standardized orthography, the creek carried a variety of names including, Allibay, Allibay's, Eleby, Ellerbee, Ellerbie, and Ellerbe (we use the state's spelling).

According to the The Colonial Records of North Carolina (1886-90), John Ellerby (Allaby), who received land grants in what is now Anson County, may have first taken up land in present Durham. Historian Jean Anderson opines that Ellerbe Creek took it's name from that family.

In 1737, surveyors traveled up from New Bern looking for "the Enoe fork." The last creek the surveyors found on the west side of the Neuse (before the Eno River) was "Deep Creek." Today, that stream is called Ellerbe Creek.

Before 1752, when this territory was still part of Granville county, some landgrants referred to Ellerbe Creek as "South Eno." In the late 18th century, South Ellerbe Creek was called "Watery Branch."

Old maps... http://www.owdna.org/History/history29.htm


As John has already said, indeed it is.


Thanks for the additional history. Main St. was, indeed, the Raleigh Road or the Hillsboro Road - I guess depending on which way you were going. This map is absolutely fascinating - I only displayed the eastern portion of it, but the numbers correspond to a legend, and it covers area. Amazing that Mr. Blount could remember all of this ~60 yrs later.



Personal curiosity, off-topic note here: it looks like the image of that map crops off a fair bit of it, particularly to the west. Does it show any sign of what is now 909 Iredell St., which might have been 8th St. at the time (or maybe nothing at all)? It's a similar, two-story straight-up farmhouse style, and I've often thought it was probably one of the oldest houses in the west Durham area. I lived next to it for 5+ years, including during a time when it was a drug house. It's not in great shape, although I think its current owner does at least moderate repairs on it.

Is there a fund or group raising money to purchase the O'Briant house. Please advise,
Bruce Griffin
Clemmons NC

Hi, I enjoyed reading about the history of Holloway. Quick question. I own the 721 Holloway Street house and I have seen the Calvin O'Bryant name on all of my documents! Any idea about what he would have done with my house in addition to the 717 house?
BTW there was a "deal" to buy the 717 house for 20-30k. But afterward the guy just disappeared!

I went into the house last week, and was disappointed by how little remains on the interior.  the stairs may be in their original location, but railings and newels are new.  I spotted one original door, and that's about it.

this one will take some blind passion to put back together.

The home has been foreclosed on by the bank. It is for sale. With all that is going on on Holloway it is a good opportunity for someone wishing to build a home. It needs a great deal of work.

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