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.)
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).
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).
While the property continued to be owned by the Belvin family, in at least the 1980s the business was operated by 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:
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.)
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.
Submitted by Steve (not verified) on Tue, 2/3/2009 - 2:04pm
I was wondering when the "holy grail" of that area was gonna be mentioned! :)
Dang, didn't realize that Fowler owned all three of those gas stations, as they are some of my favorite structures in and around Durham. What is up with people like him?
Thanks for the post!
Submitted by Retro-Grouch (not verified) on Tue, 2/3/2009 - 5:01pm
I'm fairly sure, but not 100% certain, this is the same dude who is putting those annoying as hell digital advertisements to go along with the digital gas price signs at his active gas stations across town. anyone know if this is correct?
(Ninth and Main, Broad and Markham, Main and Morgan)
Catsburg would make a helluva out post for farm produce stand, or a Locopops station, or a tavern, or....
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 2/3/2009 - 5:51pm
Why can't the city go after Fowler for code violations? These buildings aren't safe and fire hazards. Maybe a little pressure and he'd sell to people who actually care about them. And what is his purpose for buying them and then letting them rot?
Agree with Retro on the possible uses of this gem.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 2/3/2009 - 9:09pm
MM Fowler inc. purchased in March 2007 for $185,000. 4.5 acres & a 720 square foot store.
Submitted by wren (not verified) on Tue, 2/3/2009 - 11:12pm
This is a wild idea, and I don't even know if it holds water -- I've been away too long to know the traffic patterns, and I really don't know how such things work. But is it possible this MM Fowler, Inc. holds onto these properties with the idea that the roadways they adjoin eventually will be widened and the city/county will pay $$$ to acquire the land? Or is that just too far-fetched? I just can't think of any other reason to acquire corner properties and let them fall down into ruin when there is interest in rehabbing them. Maybe I'm not underhanded and greedy enough to think that way. :)
I don't suppose a well-orchestrated public humiliation compaign could have much effect on a company like MMF, Inc.
Gary, totally OT to Bragtown, but would the old Peggy Mann mansion be on your list of future posts? That might be a fun one if any clips of her tv show still exist.
Submitted by BarryN (not verified) on Wed, 2/4/2009 - 1:48am
MM Fowler is the reason Durham has such high gas prices ! Not a particularly good team player at all !Has a monopoly on most of the gas stations in the area.
Submitted by libby (not verified) on Wed, 2/4/2009 - 2:27am
lovely photograph, gary!
Submitted by Tar Heelz (not verified) on Wed, 2/4/2009 - 4:25pm
Well, why didn't one of you buy the Catsburg store? $185K for 4.5 acres isn't exactly a king's ransom.
We all expect (me included) that guy, "someone else" to take on the expense and risk of historic preservation.
PS - Having met him twice, MM Fowler is an affable gentlemen. Who knows? Something might be able to be worked out.
Submitted by Gary (not verified) on Wed, 2/4/2009 - 4:52pm
I think there are people more than willing to buy the three properties I reference from MM Fowler. I can attest in particular to the gas station on the corner of Geer and Foster; I know of at least 5 people who have called regarding acquisition of that property and not had their calls returned. It's a common salvo I hear - "why don't you fix it up?" That's rarely if ever the problem, at least in Durham, with abandoned property. In 12 years of working on this issue in Durham, I can say that ~ 2/3 of the time, the owner refuses to sell the abandoned property, and ~1/3 of the time, they have a non-reality-based opinion of the property's actual economic value.
Submitted by Michael Bacon (not verified) on Thu, 2/5/2009 - 9:12pm
There are at least a dozen developers who have tried everything they know to buy the Foster/Geer gas station from him. He won't even return phone calls. Tar Heelz, if you've met him, please try to talk some sense into him.
Submitted by Marsosudiro (not verified) on Tue, 2/10/2009 - 9:19pm
"~ 2/3 of the time, the owner refuses to sell the abandoned property, and ~1/3 of the time"
Dang: the math on this says there's only the tiniest fraction of a space for someone to do something good. Dang.
Regarding Catsburg: in the background you can see the old Mitsubishi Semiconductor scoreboard that was put up sometime in the late 80s.
My dad was employee number ~10 at the company which started in UDI before building several plants around the corner from Catsburg. The first plant went up in ~1986 and many of the staff went down to Catsburg after work to drink beer and play ball.
I seem to remember that scoreboard conversation between the then-Catsburg-owner and the then-Mitsubishi management wasn't exactly smooth. My sense was that in exchange for buying the scoreboard, Mitsubishi wanted to get a lot more branding than Catsburg wanted to give.
But who would have thought that Mitsubishi would still get brand exposure ten years after the plant closed?
Submitted by Caroline (not verified) on Mon, 11/5/2012 - 3:53pm
In reply to "~ 2/3 of the time, the owner by Marsosudiro (not verified)
I also worked at Mitsubishi from 89-95. Night shift. Spent many a mornings drinking beer in the parking lot behind store and beside field. Good times! I'm sure the store was open 89-90 but closed sometime before 95. My kid goes to school at Little River so I still ride by there every afternoon from RTP to Snow Hill. Love that place.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 2/15/2009 - 10:34pm
Am I mistaken in asserting that MM Fowler is a corporation and that Marvin L Barnes, CEO of named corporation is the dude behind the blight? http://www.manta.com/coms2/dnbcompany_5wjdb
300+ million revenue per year. I think they are waiting for local values to raise their opportunities to develop "Family Fare" stations on this and other old buildings. Maybe they have an ax to grind with the state...
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 2/20/2009 - 2:44am
I am glad you finally got up to the Catsburg store area because I have questions. I live in a house about a block away. I went to the helth dept to find out where my septic tank was and they had direction to my house on the car "so many yards form the rr track" what rr track. then my neighbor told me there was a rail station there. The tracks are gone now but she said the train went to VA. Also behind the catsburg store there is a foundation of a building. what was there? How can you get other pictures of this area? My house was a log cabin on Hamlin but the logs have since been covered with siding. VERY interested in seeing photos of this area back in the day. Oh yeah and my neighbor said that people used to come to the catsburg store on horses and tie them up to the posts where the gas pumps were.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 6/15/2009 - 5:01pm
I remember playing little league baseball games there during the late 80's to early 90's. We even played in the championship game there. That was my favorite field.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 8/6/2009 - 2:08pm
I am interested in knowing more about the train depot in that area. Was it at the Catsburg store or was it at that structure on Old Oxford HWY just past the Catsburg store. I noticed it kind of hidden in the trees the other day.
What newspaper was around in the 40's? maybe information can come from there?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 6/2/2010 - 6:15pm
Catsburg store was for sale for at least 10 years with no buyers. It was seriously over priced, at about double the going rate for similar land in the area. The property didn't fall into disrepair because of the current owner, it happened before they bought it, while it was still owned by sherif Belvin's children/grandchildren.
As for the current owners intensions, I suspect since the plans by the county has been to extend Carver thru to Hamlin, making that a mayor intersection, having property that is already zoned for a gas station at a busy intersection would be attractive investment.
Submitted by J. Allen (not verified) on Tue, 11/23/2010 - 5:20am
I just Ran across this .... I used to go to this store when I was a kid. Behind it was a very tall garage that specialized in working on big rigs ....I remember the train and tracks near by .....there was also off thompson road ...before you get to the store commong from roxboro rd ...a cabin in the woods right before what was the rail road track crossing (on thompson) and a very old woman living in a cabin. basically behind the giant white house. I dont think she had power but she would walk to the store every day. this was the very early eighties. but maybe it will help some remember ...and answer some questions from earlier posts
Submitted by cherylann (not verified) on Sat, 2/26/2011 - 7:49pm
my papa used to own that store and most of thompson road. the old lady referred to in the last post may be my great granny,
Submitted by Donald (not verified) on Mon, 2/28/2011 - 12:06pm
I recall my baseball days in the mid 60s there. the bleachers had an overhang, the outfield was spacious with towering light poles, and the infield surface consisted of what was called then, still may be, "chapel hill gravel". you dared not slide for fear of a strawberry rash to your hine quarters. our oak grove team competed against bragtown, holt school, stem, bahama, club blvd school, maybe more.
Besides games, for me catsburg store is best remembered for the footlong grape bubble gum, fireballs, milky ways and more sugars. I suspect 90% of my fillings are a result of catsburg store....those were some good days
Submitted by J Allen (not verified) on Mon, 3/14/2011 - 3:30pm
Cherylann ..I also remember they sold Ice scrapers around 1986 referencing the old lady .....I wish I had one now. She was a part of the community and very well known. I cant seem to see the cabin anymore I dont know if its overgrown with trees or was demolished ....if you turn on Thompson from Old Ox. It was right before the RR tracks on the left side. still looks like the path is still there. Anyway everyone called her something I cant recall but If i heard it I would remember.
Submitted by J (not verified) on Thu, 3/8/2012 - 4:33pm
the reason you no longer see the log cabin that was back there is because it has been renovated like mines has and the logs are covered up. My house was also a log cabin it is the first house after the church. The two houses were owned by family members and were exactly the same house. I have photos of both of them when they were log cabins. Georgia Gates owned my house. I also have photos of the Thompson st/rd house when it was a log cabin and photos of the Gates in my back yard plowing the field with a horse and plow and the wife on an old old tractor.
a little further down Hamlin Rd (maybe the 4th house from the church) is a little cinderblock house. That was also a store owned by the Parrish's. Had a pool table in it. There are a couple of people who still live in the area who have a wealth of knowledge on the area. I wish someone would document it before it leaves with them. My neighbor used to live upstairs in the Catsburg Store. She has passed on though.
the street (Hamiln Rd) was originally Fish Dam Rd (or old fish dam rd), then it was changed to route 5 then Hamilin Rd. okay I am done now :-)
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 9/16/2011 - 2:00am
Her name was Mrs. Kitty Reagan.
Submitted by Heather (not verified) on Fri, 6/1/2012 - 2:20pm
My Grandmother was a Thompson and her parents lived near the old pond on Thompson rd. I believe, but am not certain, that the original owner of the store was a Great Uncle. My mother and I used to walk the railroad tracks past the cabin to Catsburg to get sodas. My uncle Bobby Thompson used to work there in the 80's. Another uncle used to own the old mansion that was near catsburg. It was in horrible state last time we saw it. It was sold before the 90's and I think there were plans to level it. I have many memories of Catsburg.
Submitted by Dev Guy (not verified) on Sun, 10/7/2012 - 3:44pm
With all the development in that area, a specialty store (Frozen Yogart, Hot Dogs, Burger and PopCorn) would go well with Baseball. Add a couple of gasoline pumps and they would surely make a great profit.
Submitted by Murphy (not verified) on Sat, 9/28/2013 - 11:53am
I just moved to NC from Alabama. You have so much rich history here, like the Catsburg store. Don't forsake your past. I love seeing and reading about that old store. I would have loved to have known Mrs. Raegan, she must have like another great person in our past name Raegan!
Submitted by D. Baker (not verified) on Fri, 2/8/2013 - 9:14am
I am told the area was called "Catsburg" for "Cat Belvin" he was either the Sheriff of Durham County or the brother of the Sheriff. Will do more research.
Submitted by D. Baker (not verified) on Fri, 2/8/2013 - 9:17am
Ms. Reagan's daughter still lives close by.
Submitted by WhiteBreadLife on Fri, 3/21/2014 - 10:21pm
First Day of Spring 2014
Submitted by Adams (not verified) on Wed, 2/27/2013 - 10:43am
I used to live on Fellowship Dr. as a kid and my house backed up to Mrs. Raegan's property, her pond was just a short walk through the woods.We asked permission to fish and she was OK with it. I spent many summers riding my bike to Catsburg to get a candy, drinks, and a bucket of minnows to go fishing. Its such a shame to see the store like it is. It was in need of major repairs when I was a kid in the early 90s. I do miss that sinking floor and the jar of pickled pigs feet on the counter, not that I ever ate any.
Submitted by Jim (not verified) on Sun, 3/23/2014 - 8:54pm
Loved that old store from way back.
I believe Fowler is run by Marvin Barnes, I think he is Fowler's son-in-law or so I have heard someplace.
I am sure this property is a business investment. I wouldn't expect any decisions about that property that doesn't benefit MM Fowler.
It is after all just another heartless greedy corporation.
Submitted by becky (not verified) on Mon, 6/16/2014 - 10:31am
Does MM Fowler still own the Catsburg? I know someone who is interested in it.
Submitted by llambros on Wed, 10/4/2017 - 7:40pm
Anyone know if this historic store is for sale? I am interested
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