Hidden Gems in Durham
From movies to music, Black Wall Street to the City of Medicine, there's no shortage of wonderment in Durham
For decades, Durham has been a popular location for the film and television industry. However, Durham as a subject for Hollywood dates back even further, to a film called Brightleaf, a 1950 Warner Brothers release starring Gary Cooper and Lauren Bacall.
In 1987, the blockbuster Bull Durham, starring Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon, and introducing Tim Robbins, was filmed in various locations around downtown Durham and was produced by Durham native Thom Mount. Many scenes were filmed at the Historic Durham Athletic Park, which still operates as a venue for community events and games. However, the Durham Bulls Baseball Club now plays at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, a 10,000-seat stadium with modern amenities. Ranked as the #1 Greatest Sports Movie of all time by Sports Illustrated, Bull Durham premiered at the Carolina Theatre in 1988 to rave reviews.
The 1981 thriller Brainstorm was filmed in southeastern Durham at Research Triangle Park. It starred Natalie Wood in her final performance, along with Christopher Walken, and Cliff Robertson in a story about a scientist gaining access to other people’s minds.
Matt and Ross Duffer brothers of Stranger Things fame were born and raised in Durham. They began making films in third grade, using a Hi8 video camera, a gift from their parents. Though the Netflix series is set in the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana The Duffer Brothers littered the show with Durham Easter eggs, an ode to their childhood. From street names and county lines to bodies of water, there’s a little piece of Durham in every season.
OTHER MOVIES THAT FILMED IN DURHAM ARE:
- Weeds, starring Nick Nolte and Rick Taggart, which was filmed at North Carolina Central University and Duke University.
- The Handmaid’s Tale, starring Robert Duvall and Faye Dunaway, which was filmed at locations around Downtown Durham, including Duke University and Brightleaf Square.
- The Program, starring James Caan, which premiered at, and was filmed on, the Duke campus.
- Getting In, starring Andrew McCarthy, which was filmed in various Durham locations, including Duke University.
- The Holly Hunter and Richard Dreyfuss film Once Around, which was shot in the Forest Hills residential area and released in 1990.
- Kiss the Girls, starring Morgan Freeman and Ashley Judd, which was filmed here in the spring of 1996.
The Bull City Has the Blues
One of the South’s great musical traditions, the blues, found a special home in Durham in the late 1930s. Since then, the Bull City became the center for the Piedmont blues, a sensitive and delicate form of the blues played and recorded by the likes of Blind Boy Fuller, Bull City Red, Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee, and legendary guitarist Reverend Gary Davis. These and other artists, living and performing in Durham, played on the streets and at the tobacco auctions, as well as in the clubs, gave rise to the term “Bull City blues.”
Like the other blues styles – those played in Memphis, the Mississippi Delta, and postwar Chicago – the Bull City blues helped define its community by contributing to our musical heritage.
Today, the Piedmont blues is enjoyed at Festival for the Eno performances in July, the Blues and Roots Celebration at the Hayti Heritage Center held in October, and various other times and venues around the community, played by contemporary artists such as John Dee Holeman, Fris Holloway, and Scott Ainslie.
More Than Just The Blues
We’ve got something for every type of music lover. On any given weekend you’ll find Broadway performances and major hip hop concerts, or soulful jazz shows and rocking indie bands. From elegant theaters and outdoor venues to internationally-recognized music festivals, there’s plenty for the music-focused visitor to explore in the Bull City. Check out our Music Lovers Guide for more information.
V & E Simonetti Historic Tuba Collection
The Vincent and Ethel Simonetti Historic Tuba Collection is home to 300+ instruments and represent a cross section of the history and development of the various members of the tuba family, from its inception circa 1830 to the present.
The Tuba Exchange
The only store in the nation dealing exclusively in tubas, euphoniums and sousaphones, The Tuba Exchange also boasts a historic low brass musical instrument collection displaying over 200 vintage instruments dating as far back as the 1850s.
Jim Mills Banjo Inc.
Home to the largest selection of guaranteed original, 1930s Prewar Gibson Conversion Banjos and fully original prewar Flathead Mastertones, the Jim Mills Banjo showroom is over 1,000-square-foot dedicated solely to Prewar Gibson Banjos and related memorabilia. By appointment only. Call or email to see, play, or discuss the collection.
Duke University Musical Instrument Collections
While the Eddy Collection consists primarily of instruments and paintings of instruments from America and Europe, Duke University Musical Instrument’s
Hen Collection includes over 200 musical instruments, 100 reel-to-reel field recordings, and 1000 slides of instruments from all over the world. The de Hen Collection together with the Eddy Collection, the Miller Collection, and other individual gifts make up DUMIC.
Black Wall Street
Durham’s African-American Heritage
Durham African Americans fostered one of the nation’s strongest entrepreneurial enclaves, known as “Black Wall Street.” A mural celebrates the history of Black Wall Street at the Heritage Square shopping center in Durham, as do sculptures on Parrish Street, which was the actual street dubbed Black Wall Street.
Durham African Americans are national leaders in education, from Dr. James E. Shepard, founder of North Carolina Central University, the first publicly funded liberal arts college for African Americans in the country; to historian John Hope Franklin, recipient of the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and one-time chairman of the president's Commission on Race Relations; to Ben Ruffin, the first black chairman of the Board of Governors of the University of North Carolina.
Historic Woolworth’s Counter
After a pioneering sit-in at the Durham Woolworth's lunch counter on Feb. 8, 1960, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. continued this form of civil protest in other locations throughout the South to great effect. A portion of this original lunch counter, its seats, and pie rack are now preserved in the James E. Shepard Memorial Library at North Carolina Central University.
Hayti Heritage Center
The original structure of St. Joseph’s AME Church with its grand steeple and elegant stained-glass windows, constructed in 1891 through the efforts of a proud and determined African American congregation and the support of local white philanthropists, has long symbolized the dignity and resolve of a people in what was once known as the most prosperous African American community in the United States. The historic St. Joseph’s Church building, now known as the Hayti Heritage Center, has always been an important monument in Durham. Booker T. Washington stated: “Never in all my travels have I seen a church as great as St. Joseph’s.” The church’s stately architecture was as distinct as the community for which it was built; it exemplified the spiritual nourishment of its members and their pivotal role in the civil rights movement of the era. The historic structure’s role in community development continues today.
Pauli Murray House
The Pauli Murray Center for History and Social Justice resides in the childhood home of civil rights activist Pauli Murray, who was also the first African American woman to be ordained as an Episcopal priest. The home was named a National Historic Landmark in 2017. Murray's grandfather, Robert Fitzgerald, a Civil War veteran, built the home in 1898. Murray worked throughout her life to fight racial, gender, and sexual discrimination.
My Name is Pauli Murray, a documentary from the creators of RBG premiered at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival.
City of Medicine, USA
The invention of B.C. Headache Powders in Durham in 1910 is likely the city’s first step toward the City of Medicine designation, but the opening of Duke University’s Medical School in 1930 was a bigger push. Today, Durham is home to many world-class pharmaceutical research companies and nanobiotechnology centers, as well as six hospitals.
Durham has become synonymous with medicine. Nearly one in four people in Durham work in a health-related field, making medicine a leading industry. There are hundreds of medical and health-related companies and practices with a combined annual payroll in the billions.
The city has a physician-to-population ratio 4.5 times greater than the national average, and a bed-to-population ratio three times the national average. At the heart of Durham’s reputation are six modern hospitals: Duke Children’s Hospital & Health Center, Duke University Hospital, Duke Regional Hospital, Durham VA Medical Center, Lenox Baker Children’s Hospital, and the North Carolina Specialty Hospital.
Durham has also been very inventive in technology and medicine. Durham has led the way with 3-D ultrasound, Alzheimer gene breakthrough, AZT, childproof caps on medicine bottles, digital cellular telephones, and more.
Rhine Research Center
Descended from the Duke University Parapsychology Lab, the Rhine Research Center's Institute for Parapsychology is the world's most famous laboratory studying extrasensory perception, telepathy, psychokinesis, and related mental abilities. Offering a library, exhibits, and tours by appointment.
City of Champions
Durham is a great place for sports, gaining a reputation as the City of Champions.
Sports teams based in Durham include the Durham Bulls, a Triple-A baseball club and affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays; the Duke University Blue Devils, including the five-time national championship men's basketball team; and the North Carolina Central University Eagles, including the Division II national champion men's basketball team.
Many famous athletes have played in Durham, including Baseball Hall of Famers Joe Morgan, who played for the Durham Bulls and Dick Groat, who played for the Duke Blue Devils. Dwayne Washington played in the NFL and Rodney Rodgers, Christian Laettner, Danny Ferry and Grant Hill in the NBA. Some young NBA stars have ties to Durham: both Kyrie Irving and Austin Rivers played for Duke. Roger Craig, the only person to play, coach and manage in the World Series, is from Durham. Duke was also the first school in history to produce four first-round NBA draft picks, and Duke’s Elton Brand was the first overall pick in 1999, selected by the Chicago Bulls. Sam Jones, the first African-American drafted in the first round of the NBA draft, played at NCCU.
Durham has 10 golf courses, seven of which are public or semiprivate and many of which are highly ranked. Durham’s oldest course, Hillandale, celebrated its centennial in 2011 and underwent major renovations the year after.
Triangle Curling Club
Founded in 1995, the Triangle Curling Club is a dedicated curling facility, offering 14,500 square feet of space, including a lounge and four curling sheets for enthusiasts to try the Olympic sport at a dedicated curling facility.
Mid-South Fencers Club
Mid-South Fencers Club offers lessons and camps for fencers ages 7 and up in all three Olympic-style weapons: foil, epee, and saber. It was recognized as one of the Best Fencing Clubs in the U.S. by National Fencing Club Rankings.
Magic Wings Butterfly House
Durham’s Museum of Life and Science Magic Wings Butterfly House is one of the largest Butterfly Conservatories in the world. Visitors are completely immersed in the exhibit as they walk through a 35 foot tall rainforest surrounded by 1,000 tropical butterflies.
Duke Lemur Center
Established in 1966, the Duke Lemur Center is the world's largest sanctuary for rare and endangered prosimian primates. Nestled on 85 acres in Duke Forest, the Lemur Center houses about 250 animals, including 233 lemurs encompassing 15 species, along with lorises from India and Southeast Asia and bush babies from Africa.
Durham Triassic Basin
Containing 300-million-year-old rocks, the Triassic Basin formed by the rifting of Piedmont Rocks during the Mesozoic Era when Pangaea began to break apart and the Atlantic Ocean began to open. The Durham Basin never was invaded by the sea. Instead it filled with sedimentary deposits that formed in lakes, rivers, swamps, and alluvial fans as the climate alternated from dry to humid. The fossils of three new species of dinosaur were discovered in this area, plus the climate creates an environment where unique flora and fauna thrive.
Penny’s Bend Nature Preserve
A natural area owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and managed by the N.C. Botanical Garden, this 84-acre preserve is a peninsula, bounded on 3 sides by the Eno River as it flows eastward towards Falls Lake. Penny’s Bend supports rare plant species, a distinctive type of forest, and human sculpted open space. Some of the rare plant species found on the Preserve include the federally listed Smooth Purple Coneflower (Echinacea laevigata); the regionally rare Midwest Prairie Disjuncts, Eastern Prairie Blue Wild Indigo Baptisia minor var. Aberrans (=B. Australis var. minor) and Hoary Puccoon (Lithospermum canencens); and a large population of Dutchman's Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria), rare in the North Carolina Piedmont
Forest History Society
The only organization on the planet solely dedicated to preserving forest and conservation history, the Forest History Society (FHS) is a 501(c)3 nonprofit educational institution that links the past to the future by identifying, collecting, preserving, interpreting, and disseminating information on the history of interactions between people, forests, and their related resources -- timber, water, soil, forage, fish and wildlife, recreation, and scenic or spiritual values. Through programs in research, publication, and education, the Society promotes and rewards scholarship in the fields of forest, conservation, and environmental history while reminding all of us about our important forest heritage. It is said to be the preeminent organization supporting research and understanding of how people used and interacted with the forested ecosystems of the planet over the log sweep of human history.