Amid newer developments on campus, students still encounter traces of Duke’s long-established history each day. Familiar spectacles include the grandiose and breathtaking Chapel, completed in 1935, and the Sarah P. Duke Gardens, which will celebrate its 75th anniversary next April.
Unbeknownst to some students, a small cemetery wedged in between two parking lots in the Blue Zone also speaks to the University’s historic presence in the South.
Enclosed within low stone walls, the Rigsbee Graveyard consists of nine tombstones as old as 1861. Former university archivist Tim Pyatt said the Rigsbees were a wealthy and extensive family in Durham, who sold their land to the University Feb. 5, 1925.
Two-hundred acres of what makes up West Campus and the Blue Zone today used to consist of Jesse and Mary Rigsbee's farmland and home. The cemetery was first formed after the death of their son Jack, who was killed in battle during the Civil War. Researcher Gary Keuberis of the online archive “Open Durham,” identified the four rough stones in the back of the cemetery as unidentified bodies of Confederate Soldiers.
Since 1925, the Rigsbee family's presence on Duke’s campus has been reduced to this quaint graveyard, which Keuberis said is still privately owned and maintained by the family.“The whole situation seems a bit strange,” said senior Rachel White, who has passed by the graveyard a few times while parking in the Blue Zone. “Was there no better way to build a parking lot than around a burial site of people's ancestors? I guess it remains an interesting reminder of the collision between Duke's past and present.”