The Museum of Durham History will soon have a place to call its own.
On October 12, the Durham History Hub will open on West Main Street to provide the Museum of Durham History with its first operational space. The Hub, located a mere 15 minutes from East Campus, will feature a changing selection of displays and exhibits highlighting different aspects of Durham’s past, a children’s area and a place for locals to come in and tell stories of their own personal histories.
The museum, previously described by its executive director Katie Spencer as a "museum without walls,” has been working on the Hub for a year and a half with local businesses and volunteer contractors and electricians. She hopes that the new space will help make the long history of Durham more accessible to locals who might not be aware.
“There is a lot to draw inspiration from and a way to understand where we are today,” Spencer said. “Downtown Durham is bustling. It’s so vibrant with more projects popping up every day. I think people are missing the ability of the past to explain [Durham’s] present and future.”
Before the Hub, the museum operated much more ephemerally, showcasing brief "pop-up" exhibits on the streets of Durham to provide an interactive and educational experience to passers by. Spencer added that Duke first-years have, on multiple occasions, assisted in constructing these impromptu mini-museums. Although the 1,500 square foot space is not much, it is still a departure from having no space at all.
“It’s bite sized but a great place to start,” she said.
According to a press release from the museum, the grand opening in October will feature a full day of activities and events including jazz groups, salsa dancing and other performers. The opening event, like the Hub itself, will be free to attend.
A history parade will also be part of the celebration, and will feature historical re-enactments, a women’s roller derby team, high school bands and bagpipers, among others.
Spencer said she hopes that Duke students will also take the time to come to the Hub to gain perspective on the long history of Durham that led to its current state.
“I would love for them to come because college is such a unique experience—you become a local and learn about the place where you are to complement the rest of [what you learn],” she said.
Duke has offered courses on Durham history in the past, including a freshman writing seminar called Walking Through Durham's Past, which took students on walking tours through historical districts of the city to study the Civil Rights timeline and development of Durham's booming tobacco industry. Sophomore Rebecca Passman, a Trinity sophomore, also noted that Education 101 covered Durham and North Carolina history to gain knowledge of the current educational and economic state of affairs.
“There is a service learning component to [knowing] how the schools came about—knowing the economic status of students so you can be a better teacher,” Passman said. “I think because I live here it’s important to know Durham’s past.”
Passman noted that accessibility and location would be a factor in whether she would visit a museum of Durham’s history.
The Hub will open at 500 West Main Street, about a 15-minute walk from East Campus. It will be open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. In the spring, the Hub open for extended hours on Thursday evenings with live music outdoors.
“I’ve been told it’s pretty accessible from Duke,” Spencer said. “It’s totally free—we want as many people to be able to stop in as possible.”
“We were able to learn all kinds of things and bring people in while fundraising and spreading [the] word,” she said. “We have a board of directors that is very active in Durham and have been in Durham for a very long time. They have the credibility and their efforts are a big part of what has made this a success so far. “