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Tour Guide Notes

Are you planning to discover Durham on foot or by car on your own?

We’ve pulled together some interesting facts, points of interest, things that will blow the group you’re touring away.

Durham Quick Facts

  • Durham is home to Research Triangle Park, as well as Duke and North Carolina Central Universities. It maintains a position as a global leader in technology, innovation and entrepreneurism.
  • Durham is the pinnacle of North Carolina’s Research Triangle region. It is linked to Chapel Hill to the south and west and Raleigh and Cary to the south and east.
  • Durham is the fourth largest city in North Carolina and is located in the 17th smallest county – a compact, single-city 299 square mile community and one-third to one-half the size of neighboring counties. It is 16 miles across, 25 miles long and 28 miles from corner to corner.
  • The Eno River cuts through Northern Durham as a natural greenbelt. Along its path are state and city parklands and historic sites offering backpacking, hiking/walking trails, camping and wildlife.
  • While Durham was born from tobacco and textiles it now draws its breath from research, education, medical centers and high-tech industries.
  • Durham County’s population is around 290,000 residents, with a job force of over 160,000. Another 116,000 people commute from bedroom communities to work in Durham.
  • Downtown Durham was North Carolina’s first commercial district on the National Register of Historic Places and is now a regional center for arts, entertainment and dining.
  • The southeastern part of the City of Durham encompasses the world-famous Research Triangle Park (RTP), which is four miles from downtown, two miles from RDU International Airport and roughly midway between Raleigh and Chapel Hill.
  • RTP, one of the largest research and development centers in the world, was created from southeastern Durham pinelands and farmland in 1959, and is now 7,000 acres, eight miles long and two miles wide. RTP is a private, nonprofit entity owned and operated by the Research Triangle Foundation in a Durham County “special research and production district.” A portion now spills into Wake County toward Cary and Morrisville.
  • The name "Research Triangle" comes from the park's proximity and affiliation with Duke University in Durham, the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, and North Carolina State University in Raleigh. The universities form the points of the triangle.
  • Durham is believed to be the site of an ancient Native American village named Adshusheer. The Great Indian Trading Path, later a famous wagon trail, is traced through present-day Durham by Snowhill, Mason, and St. Mary’s roads.
  • William Johnston, a local shopkeeper and farmer, forged Revolutionary ammunition, served on the Provincial Capital Congress in 1775 and helped underwrite Daniel Boone’s westward explorations.
  • In 1865, the Union Army’s General Sherman and the Confederacy’s General Johnston negotiated the surrender that effectively ended the Civil War at Bennett Place in Durham, 17 days after Lee surrendered his army at Appomattox.
  • Trinity College moved from Randolph County to Durham as the 1800s came to a close. Washington Duke donated $85,000 to facilitate the move, and Julian Carr, a tobacco and textile executive, donated the original plot of land. Following a $40 million donation by Washington Duke’s son, James Buchanan Duke, Trinity College was renamed Duke University in 1924.
  • Dr. James E. Shepard founded North Carolina Central University, the nation’s first publicly supported liberal arts college for African-Americans.
  • In the late 1950s, Reverend Douglas Moore, minister of Durham’s Asbury Temple Methodist Church, along with other religious and community leaders, pioneered sit-ins throughout North Carolina to protest white-only lunch counters.
  • Durham has more than 1,400 working artists and a strong arts presence for visitors, including more than 90 sites with outdoor sculpture and murals, as well as dozens of museums, galleries, or public indoor places where art is on display or for purchase; many outdoor plazas or formal gardens; a number of places to shop for antiques; and nearly 20 performance halls or theaters for concerts and plays.
  • Durham has more than 500 wonderful restaurants, more than three dozen of which have received special recognition in regional and national press, including Southern Living, The New York Times, Food and Wine, Bon Appétit, Esquire, and Gourmet. It was named the South’s Tastiest Town in 2013.
  • Durham is home to many of North Carolina's nationally famous chefs and restaurants. Whether it’s fine dining, food from a truck, or some point in between that people seek, Durham has great options for all.

A Fortunate Marketing Mistake

The origin of Durham’s nickname as the “Bull City” has nothing to do with cattle! It was the result of a strange marketing mistake that would turn into one of the most lucrative gaffes in history. John Green of Blackwell Tobacco Company named his product Bull Durham Tobacco after Coleman’s Mustard, which used a bull for its logo, and which Green mistakenly thought was produced in Durham, England.

By the time James B. Duke formed the American Tobacco Company in 1890 from Blackwell and four other large producers, Bull Durham was the most famous trademark in the world. The name has sparked such popular Americanisms as “bull pen” (from a Bull Durham ad painted behind the Yankees’ dugout), and “shooting the bull” (most likely from chewing tobacco).

James B. Duke put his own fine touch on the mechanized tobacco industry. Duke’s highly innovative and aggressive marketing strategies propelled American Tobacco into striking international prominence. He put cigarette cards into each pack. By the 1930s, these were hugely popular and are now sought-after collectors’ items.

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.

The North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, located in Durham, is the nation’s first residential high school to prepare tomorrow’s leaders in the applications of science, mathematics and technology, ensuring that Durham’s reputation will continue into the future.

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.

Durham as a Movie Location

For decades, Durham has been a popular location for the film 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.

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.

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.


  • 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.

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 gained national attention by pioneering the Piedmont blues, which are also called the Carolina blues. Then came Clyde McPhatter, founder of the Drifters and a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Today, the musical and artistic influence is much more varied and intense from those either living in or hailing from Durham: decorated artists like Hiss Golden Messenger, Slyvan Esso, and 9th Wonder; Grammy nominee and Emmy Award-winning jazz artist Nnenna Freelon; internationally acclaimed Grammy-winning saxophone player Branford Marsalis; global fashion icon Andre Leon Talley; and 11-time Grammy-winning gospel singer Shirley Caesar. The late artist Ernie Barnes was an official artist of the Olympic Games, too.

Booker T. Washington declared Durham “the city of Negro enterprise,” saying, “of all the Southern cities I visited I found here the sanest attitude of the white people toward the black… I never saw in a city of this size with so many prosperous carpenters, brick masons,…among Negroes.” Durham is also home to NC Mutual Life Insurance Co., the nation’s oldest and largest black-owned insurance company, and M+F Bank, one of the nation’s first African-American-owned banks.

Durham African Americans are national leaders in education, from Dr. James E. Shepard, founder of NC 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.

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.

Group experiences in the City of Champions include the Duke Basketball Museum and Sports Hall of Fame, Durham Bulls baseball games, Duke Blue Devil men’s basketball games, and more, and can be one-of-a-kind memories that last.