For the former, it's an architectural nicety that surrounds the one-time Trinity College's Georgian buildings designed before the arrival of the newer West Campus.
For the latter -- well, you don't have to be in Durham long to hear the jokes about Duke's desire to find a way to somehow fence itself off from Durham, to make that wall a bit higher. (The fencing-off joke, to my mind, understates by a good measure the university's commitment to a better Durham, something that the Big U doesn't help itself to demonstrate through errors like Maxwell/Sumter.)
Still, the wall touches both worlds, fitting in that its 1916 construction came about "as part of a joint effort by the college and the City of Durham to beautify the neighborhood," according to Duke's archives.
Well, a tenth-of-a-mile stretch of that wall is about to get taken away, but don't look for either town or gown to be particularly thrilled about it.
The culprit is something known as TIP No. B-3638, which in NCDOT jargon-speak means that the state's gonna step outside its North Duke St. Division Five office and build somethin', dang it! And that something would be the replacement for the unimaginatively-named Bridge No. 316, which carries U.S. 70 Business traffic along Main St. over Duke's own Campus Drive.
If you've not spent time on the Duke campus, it's kind of hard to tell that you're going over a bridge in the first place driving along Main St., but there it is, just to the east of the entrance to East Campus. Three bridges -- one for Main St., one for the railroad, and the old Pettigrew St. bridge that neighborhood activists have favored as part of a future renewed pedestrian connection to downtown -- actually cross Campus Drive at this point.
Well, the Main Street bridge has apparently been falling into disrepair for some time, which is where NCDOT comes in. In their best bureaucratic fashion, they've issued a particular document known as (we are not making this up) a "Notice of Intent to Prepare a Memorandum of Agreement," a notice which informs the general public that to build this bridge, a chunk of wall is going to have to go:
In discussions between NCDOT and [the State Historic Preservation Office], both parties agreed that as part of the planning of Bridge No. 316's replacement, NCDOT will develop stipulations to mitigate the adverse effects of the bridge replacement project on historic district.... As part of the project, the stone wall will be reconstructed up to the end of the replacement bridge rail. Other protective measures are under consideration.
From this description, it sounds like much of the 500' of removed wall will be gone forever, with NCDOT documenting existing conditions and replacing what of the bridge it can, though apparently only up to the "end of the ... rail" of the replacement bridge.
A fuller description of the project is apparently available in finding of adverse effect documentation required by Federal historic preservation statutes. (East Campus was placed in an historic district by NCDOT, in fact, after a 2000 survey of its architecture.)
That finding document is said by NCDOT to be on-file at the Durham County Library, though staff couldn't locate it there on Sunday. We'll update the matter when there's more news.