Day 18: Ellerbe Creek
Ellerbe Creek seems to connect Durham’s past, present, and future, and its natural beauty surprisingly goes unnoticed. Starting somewhere near Bennett Place, branches of Ellerbe Creek flow through Old West Durham, Watts – Hillandale, Trinity Park, under the old Durham Athletic Park, and past countless historic mills and tobacco factories. After the branches join, the creek heads north past Duke Homestead and the Museum of Life and Science before joining the waters of Falls Lake. It is as if Ellerbe Creek is trying to unite Durham and draw a path through its history.
Ellerbe Creek has a much different story than that of the Eno River. It has been diverted many times and while flowing through Durham’s downtown, it is hidden, as it runs through cement tunnels underground. One of the most intimate portions of the creek is a branch called South Ellerbe Creek, located at the bottom of Trinity Park, which runs by the old Pearl Cotton Mill. Here, the creek exits the cement tunnels and is finally wrapped by the tree canopies and the residential neighborhoods that follow the creek to Falls Lake.
Only recently have we begun to understand how important a role this humble creek plays in our lives here in The Triangle. Ellerbe Creek is thought to be a critical tributary to protect as it is the only Falls Lake tributary that flows through the heart of a large population center. As Falls Lake, the source of water for over 450,000 people, becomes more polluted, and as the cost to clean the water continues to rise, so does awareness of where the water comes from. Organized groups have been successful at protecting the creek from sewer drains and paved parking lots by creating natural buffers such as community parks, nature trails, and protected lands. Places such as South Ellerbe Creek, and other parks along this babbling body of water including “The Beaver Marsh” and the “17 acre woods,” are examples of the value and potential Ellerbe Creek holds for the community.
Night 18: Carolina Theater:
Tucked behind the Durham convention center, the Carolina Theater is a glitzy reminder of Durham’s past and wealth. Patrons are welcomed by the Beaux Arts style architecture, grandiose chandeliers, and a historically preserved theater that seats just over 1,000 people. Commissioned by the city as the Durham Theater, it was designed by Milburn, Heister, and Company, and was built at a cost of $250,000. The Carolina Theater opened its doors on February 2, 1926 and is the last of Durham’s 13 original city theaters left standing. By 1930, the theater was known as the Carolina Theater and is still operated under that name.
The Carolina Theater patrons have seen the likes of Marian Anderson in 1927, a Grammy Award winning African American singer who performed to a integrated crowd, Katharine Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story, the original production of Oklahoma, and many more notable stage productions, movies and performances. The dressing rooms and theater walls are said to hold the autographs of many famous performers, such as John Legend, Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Tony Randall, as well as Herbie Hancock. As a city-owned theater, it has always been a central place for the community to meet and have functions and events. Recently, it was the site of the world-renowned annual “Full Frame Documentary Film Festival,” and in the past, civil rights events were held here. Although African Americans have always been permitted in the theater, at one time it was segregated with whites on the main floor and African Americans in the balcony; in the summer of 1963, the theater became fully integrated. The Carolina Theater today, is recognized as Durham’s most valuable historic building for its historical and communal importance.