Catsburg Store, 04.07.87 (Courtesy The Herald-Sun Newspaper)
The Catsburg Country Store was built in the 1920s by Sheriff Eugene Belvin at the junction of Old Oxford Highway and Hamlin Road. The store became an early landmark due to its high front facade with the image of a black cat above the name 'Catsburg.' Belvin, a very popular sheriff, evidently earned the nickname 'Cat' for his ability to sneak up on bootleggers in northern Durham county. (So he was at least popular with non-bootleggers.)
At left: longtime Durham County Sheriff and Catsburg Store founder Eugene "Cat" Belvin (from the online gallery "And Justice For All"); at right: clipping from the Durham Morning Herald for December 23, 1922, describing Belvin and other deputies carrying out prohibition raids (via UNC Library and Newspapers.com).
Belvin also provided the ballpark to the east of the store for area kids, and lived nearby. For at least a period in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Catsburg was also the name of a relatively successful semi-pro baseball club, though it's unclear if they played on the same field (presumably the dimensions would have to be somewhat different than for little league).
At left: report on regional baseball from an August 11, 1958, edition of The Burlington Daily Times-News (via UNC Library and Newspapers.com); at right: view east towards the baseball diamond from Catsburg Store, 1980s (Private Collection, Courtesy of Harvey Wensell).
In addition to the store and the ballfield, an auto repair business operated out of a separate building, closer to what's now the intersection of Old Oxford and Hamlin Road just to the north (the earlier course of Old Hamlin Road is still visible, and would have separated the store and auto shop from the diamond).
Looking southwest from near Hamlin Road, with "Mangum Auto Shop" at right and the rear of Catsburg Store visible in the distance at left, 1980s (Private Collection, Courtesy of Harvey Wensell).
While the property continued to be owned by the Belvin family, in at least the 1980s the business was operated by Harvey Wensell.
At left: 1980s interior of store - No ID No Beer; at right: snow-covered Catsburg, January 1985 (Private Collection, Courtesy of Harvey Wensell).
As an interesting side-note, the back of the polaroid scanned at right above has a handwritten note: "Jan. 20, 1985 went to -7° Coldest in NC." It's not clear if this claim was meant exclusively for Catsburg, but the National Weather Service confirms that this was indeed a record-setting cold snap across the state.
In addition to many of the photos generously provided for inclusion here, Wensell appears to have been responsible for some choice promotional material for this local landmark:
At left: fragment of the "Cat's Meow" newsletter; at right: Catsburg greeting card, both c. late 1980s (Private Collection, Courtesy of Harvey Wensell).
In addition to directions to the "center of the world," the newsletter advertised more Catsburg swag (including prizes for the best cat drawing!) and fishing supplies for those heading up to the Eno, while also providing some light-hearted commentary on the past and present of the place and its environs. Multiple references are made to the expansion of industrial activity nearby, particularly the Mitsubishi Semiconductor plant that began operation just northeast in the late 1980s. The author even waxes sentimental, sharing a roadside storekeeper's perspective on what the place meant to both locals and passersby:
"Catsburg is more than just a place. The Sheriff's old Store (built c 1920) seems to provide a source of pride, spirit, and independence for the local residents. Visitors also seem to sense these values as they wander through the store or as they watch the local volunteer fire departments enjoy softball competition on the same baseball field where many famous players have competed."
The Catsburg store remained in operation into the early 1990s - I'm not sure when it was abandoned. The Belvin family sold the property in 2007. Frustratingly, this building, which is a favorite of many people, is owned by MM Fowler, who also continues to allow two of my other favorite buildings in Durham to fall into the ground - the former gas station at Angier and S. Guthrie and the former gas station at Foster and Geer Sts. (Note - both have since been renovated and re-opened as food establishments.)
Abandoned Catsburg Store, 10.26.08 (G. Kueber)
In 2019, when plans for the redevelopment of the Old Oxford-Hamlin Road intersection became public, Preservation Durham began working with the owner to collect applications from community organizations interested in saving the structure at an off-site location. While that plan remains in the works, contractors began disassembly of the store building in late April 2020, with the objective of storing it for reassembly elsewhere.
Workers dismantling Catsburg Country Store, 4.25.2020 (N. Levy)