Program – Tom Miller: Preservation Durham

Who would believe a program about cemeteries could be so hilarious and yet informative? Tom Miller of Preservation Durham did just that.  Thanks, Tom.  In his introduction of Tom, Past President Don Stanger pointed out that our speaker had steered Hope Valley’s designation as a National Historic Register site through the rigorous nomination process.

As Tom pointed out, the success of any historic preservation group is measured by how much it can “slow down” the destruction of historic sites.  By that measure it appears to me that Durham began turning the corner by the early 21st century.

Tom Miller was introduced by Don Stanger.

Among Tom’s special interests are Durham’s cemeteries, especially its first public cemetery—Maplewood.  Earlier burials were on church grounds or in family plots.  Established in 1872, Maplewood was indeed the town’s first public amenity.  It was not universally popular.  Some residents probably thought proper streets or public water were more important.  But not recently arrived carpetbagger, Louis Austin, who had been drawn to Durham because its politics were dominated by northern Republican business interests.  Austin agitated for a ball-field instead.  To promote his cause and annoy his opponents he repeatedly fired a canon until it grew so hot it exploded.  Without family or funds, the mortally wounded Austin was interred in an unmarked pauper’s grave.  Diligent sleuthing in the late 20th century revealed its location, leading to the erection of a grave marker.

One of the most handsome and imposing mausoleums in Maplewood belonged to the Duke family.  Early members of that prominent family were initially interred there.  In 1935, shortly after the completion of Duke University Chapel, remains of the foremost Dukes—Washington and sons Ben and Buck—were transferred to the small Memorial Chapel situated to the left of the chancel.  Poor Brodie Duke, Ben and Buck’s older half-brother—and not as temperate in taste or love as they—remained behind in Maplewood.

Other significant individuals interred in Maplewood include Bartlett Durham who donated land on which a train station was built for the North Carolina Railroad and around which houses and business establishments began springing up in the 1850s.  Soon this town would be named for Bartlett Durham.  Another is W. T. Blackwell, the richest man in Durham, whose “Bull Durham” smoking tobacco generated his fortune.  Mail order tombstones, mostly from the early 20th century, are scattered about.

(A Hebrew cemetery would be established a few years later at Beth El Synagogue and in the 1920s the city of Durham constructed Beechwood Cemetery located near White Rock Baptist Church for African American burials.)

Submitted by Allen Cronenberg

 

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