In trying to update Open Durham, add attributions, and link to resources that have been digitized either through its creators' effort or in the years since it started, fragments of aerial photos like the one below keep popping up.
This, it turns out, is an image from the Duke University Archives - a full-resolution copy can be viewed on their Flickr page - but they have not been able to date it. In addition to featuring the school's recently completed East Campus, the photograph is rich with information that we can use to solve this question. Dozens of other buildings, from the edges of the historically-black Brookstown community in the foreground to Trinity Park and Club Boulevard moving up to the middle and background, offer potentially helpful hints.
Though hardly a tour in the traditional sense, this page is designed to consolidate crowd-sourced efforts to identify structures visible in the image - to map what we can see and know about the development of this part of Durham from this single snapshot. A link to this page was posted to Open Durham's Facebook account in early April 2020, and comments posted here, there, or sent to our email (email@example.com) will be incorporated in updates as we find out more.
To start, let's establish what we're looking at with a few contemporary street names:
Now for a few examples of how identifying the structures shown helps narrow the timeframe and flesh out the story a single image can convey, starting with the low-hanging fruit.
Watts Street Baptist Church is a distinctive building visible in the middle-distance. It was built in 1923, so the photograph must have been taken after that.
Watts Street Baptist Church
Directly below the church, at what we've established is the northeast corner of Buchanan and Dacian, the bungalow at 602 N Buchanan can be picked out by its side and roofline. Unfortunately, our information on that house from its blurb in the National Register listing just says it was built in the 1920s - not specific enough to help us narrow down the chronological window.
602 North Buchanan Boulevard
Moving to the foreground, we have an unobstructed view of the East Campus Steam Plant at the bottom right. We know from other photos in the Duke University Archives included on its page that the power plant was built in 1926. Since the work shown from that fall is well cleaned up and trees have leaves, we can safely assume this means our picture was taken no earlier than mid-1927.
East Campus Steam Plant
Moving on to the college campus, there are plenty of recognizable buildings. The Southgate Dormitory, at the left edge with cars in its driveway, went up in 1920 - good to know, but already out of our range.
While that building still stands, the two houses a little up and to the right have been relegated to campus history. Though the further of the two, the Robert Flowers House, survived into the twenty-first century, the nearer President's House holds a more productive clue. Built in the early 1900s, it appears to have been demolished to make way for the Gilbert-Addoms Dormitory - not shown here because the picture predates its 1957 construction.
Another building we can use to narrow the search somewhat is the Erwin Apartments - midway up the right edge of the photograph, at the southeast corner of Buchanan and Trinity. These were completed in 1930, so we're out of the 1920s altogether now.