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Like a good neighbor: Durham Rescue Mission and North-East Central Durham try to make plans together

A major player in North-East Central Durham got together with its neighbors Tuesday evening to start collaborating on a shared vision for the area’s future. 

While nothing was finalized at Tuesday’s public input session, it seems something important may have been decided by its end. Both sides — the Durham Rescue Mission and North-East Central Durham residents — proved themselves willing to listen to each other in charting a course for the mission’s expansion. 

Gail Mills, a co-founder of the mission along with husband Ernie, was among the presenters at the session, which the nonprofit group Durham Area Designers convened. 

“We have spent time envisioning how can we create a model campus on the men’s campus to meet the needs of not only the men that come to the Rescue Mission but the community around us as well,” Mills said. 

“We’re hoping to make a glittering gem on this corner, to make it something attractive, something that people would like to look at,” the Rev. Robert Tart, another Rescue Mission official, told a group of about 40 people who gathered in the city of Durham’s Neighborhood Improvement Services conference room at Golden Belt Arts. 


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The mission opened a modern, comfortable women’s and children’s campus, the Good Samaritan Inn, on East Knox Street near Interstate 85 a few years ago. Now the mission’s attention has turned to its men’s facilities in the organization’s original neighborhood, North-East Central Durham. 

The big challenge is a lack of space for both regular activities and special events, the Millses and Tart told listeners. The average number of daily residents at the mission has risen from 150 in 2008 to 206 last year — a jump of one-third. The men’s campus kitchen, which prepares three meals a day, has only 150 square feet. The dining room seats just 70 people at a time, less than half of the needed capacity. 

Moreover, mission officials want expanded housing for three types of clients — those in need of emergency shelter, those who are in transitional housing while they study, work or get medical treatment, and those who are nearly ready to live independently. 

But the organization also stages four annual events — for Easter, the start of the new school year, Thanksgiving and Christmas — that can draw around 4,000 people each. These events are geared toward the community, especially the working poor, and involve giveaways of food, clothing and (in August) backpacks and school supplies. Attendance has been so large that mission leaders have grown concerned about safety. 

“We need more room, not just to feed people. We need more room for these people to move and if you will to play,” Tart said. “If you will, to conduct the activities that we do at these events. And under our current setup, it’s extremely difficult.” 

It’s worth noting that by the mission’s own calculations, it provided $7.9 million in value to the community in 2010 by providing shelter, giveaways, classes and other services. The mission does not receive any government money, Gail Mills said. 

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The mission is raising funds for a new Center for Hope that would help meet its needs. Officials hope to secure $4.5 million in the first phase of their capital campaign, aided in part by a 1:1 matching grant from the Stewards Fund of Raleigh. If the mission can collect $400,000 by Oct. 31, the fund will double that amount. 

Those numbers, however, weren’t part of the presentation Tuesday. Nor were other specifics given. 

At the end of the meeting, mission leaders were asked for additional details. “We haven’t come up with a whole lot because we wanted to get the input from the community first,” the Rev. Ernie Mills replied. 

Still, mission officials seemed amenable to providing at least a partial description of what they want to build by July 30. On that morning, at 8:30 a.m. at the Eastway Elementary School library, Durham Area Designers will lead a session at which community members will try to make plans that fit their needs as well as the mission’s. 

That spirit of cooperation, and the determination at least to check with residents before drawing up construction documents, is helping to set up a process that has a chance to leave both sides satisfied. 

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As the old saw goes, of course, it takes two to tango. Neighbors, for their part, are willing to be consulted — and to listen to the mission’s desires. 

Which isn’t to say that everyone’s happy about what the mission is contemplating. 

For instance, resident John Martin took issue with Tart’s saying that the mission wants to close parts of Morning Glory and Worth streets in order to expand the campus. 

“I was hoping that you’d leave those streets open so that we’d have connectivity in the neighborhood,” Martin said. “I think that’s something that’s important.” 

Gary Kueber is the chief operating officer of Golden Belt Arts owner Scientific Properties, which has rehabbed and even built houses near the complex. He tacitly agreed with Martin’s concerns about connectivity. 

Referring to designers of the nearby Few Gardens complex, Kueber said: “They created a superblock that was entirely inwardly focused. That was — that has failed. That method of blocking off communities, blocking off streets, creating dead ends, et cetera, has failed in these neighborhoods.” 

The recently reconstituted Franklin Village, to the north of the rescue mission’s properties, reconnected residential streets, Kueber noted. 

It was suggested that the mission hold its four annual events not on its property but at Eastway Elementary, which has a big parcel and is across the street from a city park. Such a move might obviate the need for street closures. 

Resident Chloe Palenchar said that she wanted the mission’s overhauled campus to be open to the community, at least visually. 

“When I’m in West Durham, I can go on Duke campus so easily and see across their two- or three-foot walls to their gorgeous campus,” she said. “I mean, that’s such an asset to West Durham. If you guys can put that in my community, I would thank you. I would really thank you.” 

She also expressed the hope that North-East Central Durham might get a garden similar to the one at Good Samaritan Inn. 

DeDreana Freeman pointed out that the scale of most of the houses in Golden Belt’s old mill village, to the plant’s east, are similar. And there are just four styles of homes in the area, she noted. 

Others pointed out that lot sizes in the area tend to be similar, although different streets have different setbacks from the street, and only some have sidewalks. 

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Architect Steve Gaddis of Durham Area Designers led perhaps the most interactive part of Tuesday’s meeting, in which a panel of residents and members of the audience discussed the neighborhood’s future. That was the segment in which Martin, Palenchar, Freeman and others aired their views. 

While fielding the comments — which included a desire for more commercial storefronts — Gaddis boiled them down to three statements. Residents and mission leaders will try to apply these guiding principles on July 30 when they hash out some more specific plans. 

And those principles? In no particular order, that the neighborhood’s historic architectural stock should be preserved; that neighborhood connectivity should be maintained or increased; and that community safety should be improved. 

“I think we have at least a fruitful start to our effort,” Gaddis said when the time came to wrap up the meeting. 

Which isn’t to say that working out a mutually acceptable compromise will be easy — after all, the Rescue Mission wants to increase its presence in the neighborhood substantially, bringing more residents who are by definition troubled. The ability of existing single-family homes to serve that group, and the extent to which the mission and community value separation of such residents for security’s sake vs. integration of them for community’s sake, could require significant discussion. 

Interestingly, the major upcoming construction project that drew heated criticism was not the mission’s growth (which, after all, has yet to be charted). Instead, it was the planned Alston Avenue widening, which has been ruffling feathers in the area for years. 

As Melissa Norton, a Golden Belt resident and the government relations director for Downtown Durham Inc., said: “Alston Avenue is really bad. The way that it’s designed now is creating a lot of problems for people getting through and around these neighborhoods.” 

By contrast, there was no overt opposition to the Rescue Mission’s growth — although that may change as the process moves forward. 

For now, though, there’s a spirit of partnership that could serve both sides well. Here’s hoping that it lasts. 


John Martin

Thank you for the attention you have given this project. How it is designed will be critical for this part of Durham. But I would like to elaborate a couple of points.

1. Golden Belt, the original mill buildings and mill village, is a National Register Historic District, and has been one since 1985. All of the properties owned by the Durham Rescue Mission within the historic district were purchased by them long after 1985. They knew they were buying historic properties, and it is the hope of the neighborhood, that they will preserve and protect those properties.

2. There are two parts to this project. One is to build a "multipurpose building" behind the existing church at the corner of Main and Alston. (This block is not part of the historic district). They required a minor special use permit for this building, and the Golden Belt Neighborhood Association supported the issuance of such a permit at the Board of Adjustment hearing. This multi-purpose building will have a dormitory that will provide more emergency housing, a much larger dining room, and a commercial kitchen. This should go a long way towards addressing their needs for additional housing, as well as hosting their special events since three of those events are meals (Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter). Should they need more outdoor space, it is easy to get a city permit to close streets temporarily for special events.

3. The other proposals that the Rescue Mission submitted to the planning department (and then withdrew) are far more problematical. Basically, they proposed to:
a. Close the 1200 blocks of Morning Glory and Worth St, with those public streets becoming the private property of the Rescue Mission. This would create a "superblock" stretching from E. Main to Franklin St.
b. Tear down all of the existing properties, including 11 contributing structures to the National Register Historic District. The Historic District would cease to exist east of Alston Ave.
c. Build "townhomes" around the perimeter of this superblock with a huge parking lot inside.

(For a visual representation of how this would look, see Endangered Durham:

Interestingly enough, they only proposed to build 27 townhomes on the carcass of the historic district. They currently own 11 historic houses and 8 other properties (either vacant lots or newer properties.) So, if they simply restored what they already own, and built new duplexes on the vacant properties, they could reach their goal of 27 units without destroying the fabric of the neighborhood and the historic district. All they would lose is a parking lot.

I hope that the charrette on July 30 will help them find a better way to meet their needs. Our neighborhoods want that. I would urge design professionals from throughout Durham to attend this charrette, and help us all find a solution that works.

Charles Gibbs

I don't know how it's assumed or condidered that the church "building" housing the DRM and the "block" where it's located is "not part of the historic registry district"....a self-proclaimed status assumption of a lot of the residents/stakeholders of this area and others around Durham as well. There seems to be a desire to re-identify some historical significance according to a gentrified(sic)view of "their" neighborhood. When in fact the Golden Belt area, parts of NECD are actually part of the area that is
historically and factually..."Edgemont".
It is disingenuous be so concerned about historical houses and such but then disregard the actual name of the neighborhood that they all reside in.
The "boundary" separating "Edgemont" from "East Durham" began roughly on the east side approximately where the west boundary of "East Durham" was (Blacknall St.+-) (this boundary was somewhat softer than a street or other physical limit). The western edge of Edgemont went to the railroad tracks at E. Main
Street (including Golden Belt. and another mill, across the Park,on Angier Ave.(that was used as an armory during WW2 deployments) and to the south extended somewhat to the railroad tracks on Alston Ave. The northern boundary was more or less at Liberty St. or to Long Meadow Park ? maybe the area in between. I don't know how that area boundary was considered.
But my point is that I haven't heard nor seen mention of Edgemont in any conversations, reporting, etc. But it was a separate community.

There was Edgemont School (E. Main St). Edgemont Market and several businesses that comprised the main commercial sector at the hill along East Main St. at this western border. There was an Edgemont
drugstore (corner of Alston and Angier) - one of the first air-conditioned businesses, 3 churches (one is now Durham Rescue Mission, another is
"original" Edgemont Freewill Baptist Church), a couple service stations, a bootlegger or two (to complete the community.), and miscellaneous other
small businesses on Angier Ave. and Adams Barber Shop on Alston Ave. - that was an experience! ). Many small houses within the area housed some workers at the Golden Belt Cotton Mill and others. Many larger houses on E. Main Street also existed.
3 or 4 small community stores scattered around the area - forerunners to "Kwik-Piks ?
I don't know if Edgemont Community was "incorporated" and thus documented on City
plat plans but there undoubtedly are old maps that would define the area.
But Edgemont was and is a real place, and deserves, requires, the historical preservation of the co-existence of these two communities that's afforded
other areas of the City that have been designated as "historical".


Gary has a post on Edgemont- and identifies it as a separate (from Golden Belt/Morning Glory) mill village south of Main St: I don't know if Gary just got his history wrong, or if the neighborhood grew over the years. (Sort of like NECD becoming a name for a large area that is many different neighborhoods.)

The discussion of Golden Belt and East Durham as historic districts is not just: "a self-proclaimed status assumption of a lot of the residents/stakeholders of this area and others around Durham as well" or "... a desire to re-identify some historical significance according to a gentrified(sic)view of "their" neighborhood." They are actual, registered historic districts:

Anyone can submit a nomination for a neighborhood to be a historic district. The nomination does have to include historical information about the houses and the neighborhood. I'm not sure who wrote the docs for East Durham or Golden Belt, but hopefully whoever did these nominations got their history right. (I think someone within Preservation Durham wrote the nominations for each of these neighborhoods)

While some neighborhoods have had someone do the hard work to get the "official" certification of a neighborhood as historic (which opens up the opportunity to get tax credits for renovations of the buildings), I certainly don't think the letter of certification from the government truly makes those neighborhoods somehow more important or worthy than all the other great neighborhoods in Durham. And it's not too late for other neighborhoods to get their certification either. Burch Ave neighborhood was recently applying (and may have gotten) their certification. And East Durham was only registered as a historic neighborhood in 2004-ish.


Golden Belt is the actual name given to the National Register historic district that was - I believe - nominated by the city back in the mid 1980s - perhaps with the help of HPSD - I'm not sure.

Originally, only the mill housing associated with Durham Hosiery Mill No. 1 (south of E. Main) was called Edgemont by Julian Carr. It isn't clear whether the separately constructed mill village north of East Main originally had a name, but Carr built it as distinct from Edgemont, and did not term it part of Edgemont.

Businesses/Churches/Schools located along the East Main commercial strip - not really part of either mill village, but serving both - took the name Edgemont in their descriptors (Edgemont Baptist, Edgemont Free Will Baptist, Edgemont Graded School, Edgemont Market, etc.) Thus the area more generally became lumped together as Edgemont by the 1910s-1920s - particularly as defined by other neighborhoods. (Rivalries certainly existed between the kids of West Durham, East Durham, and Edgemont - as defined by Charlie.)

Where the decision came from to term the now-Golden Belt neighborhood "Morning Glory," I don't know. The Durham Historic Inventory from 1980 implies that the city might have come up with that name to distinguish it from the original Edgemont during the 1970s. 5-10 years later, they were referring to it as "Golden Belt." Using "Golden Belt" in the nomination with the National Park Service likely had to do with the inclusion of the factory as a contributing structure in the district - rather than an individually nominated set of buildings, and that the mill housing that was the original Edgemont - south of E. Main - was in worse shape, and the city planned to tear most it down. Whether NPS would have balked at approving a historic district called Edgemont that didn't include any of the original Edgemont, I don't know. But it seems to follow.

"Golden Belt" is also tied to the legal (county) description of the now-historic district, as the housing was all owned by GBMC until 1953 - thus "Golden Belt" appears as the subdivision name and in the legal definition of the property, as it was legally one big GMBC parcel prior to that time. (You can look at Plat 28A Pg 16 if interested.)

So the National Register Historic District of "Golden Belt" is codified with the National Park Service and State HIstoric Preservation Office. This is the historic district to which John refers. It doesn't reflect all of the historic buildings remaining in the area, particularly since SHPO/NPS prefer a contiguous set of structures that form some historic whole and balk at piecemeal inclusion that stretches across parking lots, etc. Thus when John refers to an area that isn't "part of the historic district," he's being literal - the housing stock in the first block of East Main had been chopped up enough that it was excluded from the National Register district.

Charlie, I agree that it's unfortunate that the name Edgemont has generally faded from the lexicon, and the cohesion between the areas south and north of E. Main and east and west of Alston has been fractured. Much of that has to do with there being nothing historical other than DHM No. 1 left south of East Main St., and the rise of Alston as a highway. But it isn't disingenuous or a novel creation by current residents to refer to the area roughly bounded by the RR tracks, E. Main, Holman, and Taylor as the historic district and as Golden Belt - that's its legal designation as a historic district, which determines eligibility for historic tax credits and provides some (weak) protections against the use of Federal funds to demolish structures in the historic district.


John Martin

@GK 4:01 a.m.? Are you "he who keepeth Israel and neither slumbers nor sleeps?" (Psalm 121)

@Charles Gibbs
Since moving into this neighborhood, I have met several long-time residents, and others who grew up in the neighborhood, and I'm struck by what strong feelings they have for the Edgemont that once existed. Unfortunately, as Gary points out, a lot of that has been destroyed by bad urban planning. I would like to help restore and revive what's left.

It was not my intention to suggest that the former Fuller Memorial Church (now the Durham Rescue Mission Church) or the block it is located on was less historic than the Golden Belt mill village. I was simply making the point that some structures and parts of the neighborhood have been recognized by the federal government as having historical significance. The neighborhood wants to protect our historic heritage. We are NOT simply looking for an excuse to thwart the Rescue Mission. We're perfectly happy to have them here, and to have them grow, as long as they are willing to be good stewards of the historic properties they have purchased. And that's a standard that ought to be observed by everyone who owns property in Edgemont.

Charles Gibbs

There's no issue with applying for historical designation of any neighborhood - I just have a sensitivity for preserving their "historical identity". Personaly speaking.
Thanx GK for an explanation of how the Historical designation has evolved to save structures and recv advantages of tax-breaks, etc. That has helped across-the-board to help preserve qualified historic bldgs., etc.
The original area I tried to describe was/is (at least considered to be by residents, and others from around the City, in past times) Edgemont. But, again I don't know how or if the area had "defined boundaries" described in City plats.
It is unfortunate that the name Edgemont is getting lost by the fragmentation into several neighborhoods that made up the original area.
I really don't see why the GB/Eastway Village/etc. neighborhoods weren't designated as part of the greater Edgemont area... just to reference to some degree the sense of its actual "history". Could still be called GB Neighborhood, etc.
Alston has always been there as part of the neighborhood-and wasn't much of a contributer to dis-conectivity until DOT (or the City)started widening it.
I guess I would have to reiterate and stand firm my position on the full existence of historic Edgemont- mills, commercial district, houses and all. cag

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