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Cleveland Street Historic District

The Cleveland Street Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2011, The Gombach Group.


The Cleveland Street Historic District evolved as an extension of the fashionable residential neighborhood that began in the 1860s at the east edge of downtown Durham. It extends from the area that formerly was the core of that premier neighborhood, decimated first by the encroaching central business district and finally by clearance for Urban Renewal projects and thoroughfare plans. Consequently, the approaches to the Cleveland Street Historic District from downtown are broad streets lined by empty grass- or underbrush-covered blocks and blocks that have been cleared and redeveloped with modern buildings.

In contrast to those transitional blocks, the Cleveland Street Historic District is filled with houses shaded by mature hardwoods that form a canopy over the streets and sidewalks. All of the buildings have front yards. The setbacks are fairly uniform and most of the yards are narrow so that the houses are closely spaced. The occasional house set further back from the street usually is situated on a larger tract than its neighbors and thus also has wider side yards. Originally, iron fences delineated many of the yards; only two of the fences survive but many of the very low concrete or brick retaining walls separating front yards from sidewalks and driveways remain. Front walks run in straight lines from the sidewalk to front porches and most of the houses have narrow driveways leading to detached garages in the rear yards.

All of the structures in the Cleveland Street Historic District are on Cleveland Street except for two small houses on Gray Avenue that are part of a large tract containing significant houses on the title street. Cleveland Street curves to the north as it descends a gradual slope away from central Durham toward the little commercial district at the intersection know as Little Five Points, The Cleveland Street Historic District ends in the block before Little Five Points where the building stock has been destroyed or becomes less in keeping with the integrity of the district.

All of the primary structures in the Cleveland Street Historic District are one to two-and-one-half story frame houses dating from the 1880s to the 1910s. Altogether the houses in the district produce a fabric of various forms and roof lines whose texture is enriched by a broad range of applied decoration and sheathings. The predominant architectural style of the Cleveland Street Historic District is the vernacular Queen Anne, interspersed with the early Neoclassical and Colonial Revival styles. No houses were built in the Cleveland Street Historic District after the early 1910s.

Several of the oldest houses in the Cleveland Street Historic District are two-story, one-room-deep basic house types that incorporate Queen Anne features such as applied bargeboard in the gables and segmental arched windows with pointed arched lintels. Although the ornamental bracing has disappeared from the three gables of the Holloway-Hutchins House at 813 Cleveland Street, the segmental-arched windows and entrance transom in pointed arched surrounds suggest its 1880s construction date. At the south end of the Cleveland Street Historic District, the Howerton-Masser House of circa 1890 at 703 Cleveland Street combines the slender Tuscan columns and turned, urn-shaped balusters of the wraparound porch with segmental-arched windows in pointed surrounds and quatrefoil vents in the end gables. Similar treatment of basic house types persisted through the turn of the century, as indicated by the Hicks House at 823 Cleveland Street, a one-story, two-room deep form with decoratively sawn boards sheathing the attic gables and distinctive foliate spandrels at turned porch posts.

Most of the vernacular Queen Anne style houses in the Cleveland Street Historic District exhibit the characteristic asymmetrical form and varied roofline. Several of the two-story houses have hip-roofed cores with gable-roofed wings, often ending in three-sided bays, projecting asymmetrically from the front and side elevations. An example of this popular vernacular Queen Anne house type is the Carver House at 802 Cleveland Street with the typical carved and scrolled pendant brackets at the corners of the gable surmounting its three-sided bay.

The Lawrence House at 803 Cleveland Street may be classified as a Queen Anne cottage. It is in one-story, two-room-deep form with a tall hipped roof, attic gables, and a central three-sided entrance bay. The Lawrence House has a polygonal porch that follows the contour of the main facade and clipped and bracketed front corners.

One of the most distinctive houses in the Cleveland Street Historic District and the only one known to have been designed by an architect — in this case, for himself — is the Shingle style Leary-Coletta House at 809 Cleveland Street, designed by Samuel Linton Leary. Its shingled elevations and ornament integrated into the overall form stand apart from the ebullient Queen Anne, miscellaneous Victorian and period revival styles surrounding it. At the time of its construction in 1891, this house was the only full-blown example of its style in Durham and one of the relatively few examples of the "pure" Shingle style in the North Carolina Piedmont. It survives today, in spite of later alterations, as the best representative of the style in Durham.

The first hints of the Neoclassical Revival and Colonial Revival styles appeared in the Cleveland Street Historic District in the 1890s when classical elements, such as Tuscan columns of the Howerton-Masser House, were integrated with more traditional Queen Anne features. This combination of motifs displayed in the neoclassical style houses continued into the 1900s. The late 1900s Markham House at 801 Cleveland Street is the district's most imposing example of the Neo-Colonial house that forms a transition from the highly eclectic Victorian modes to the Neoclassical Revival styles. Here, the gables above the three-sided bays and the balcony on the main facade are pedimented and all of the porch columns are in the Corinthian order. The Markham House is roughly contemporary with some of Durham's early full-fledged Colonial Revival style houses,

Elsewhere in the Cleveland Street Historic District the Neoclassical Revival style's eclipse of the Queen Anne is evident in the disappearance of sawn ornament, the persistence of pedimented gables, Palladian motifs and other standard classical elements, and in the "regularization" of the basic forms of house built in the 1900s and 1910s. The Murdoch houses epitomize the gradual dominance of the single, self-contained shape, usually hip-roofed and with few, if any, wings. The large two-story house that A.A. Murdoch built for himself at 818 Cleveland Street still has a two-story gable-roofed wing, but it is unobtrusively placed on the side elevation flush with the end of the wraparound porch. The other two-story houses that Murdoch built next door at 820 and 822 Cleveland Street exemplify the ubiquitous Foursquare in their boxy two-story forms lacking any wings and their hipped roofs with a front attic dormer. The porch supports of the Murdoch houses are box posts of uniform width or slightly tapered; most of them rest on brick plinths and some are panelled or fluted.

Today [1984], the appearance of the Cleveland Street Historic District is best described as largely intact but deteriorated. Although some of the houses have replacement porch supports, most of the houses are basically unaltered. In spite of the subdivision of many of the houses into apartments, most of the owners of those houses report that the conversions entailed only the installation of kitchens and bathrooms that left most of the original details intact. The few owner-occupied houses and the rental property owned by district residents are among the best preserved, Most of the deteriorated houses are suffering from the neglect of their absentee landlords. The houses that have been vacant for any length of time, such as the Murdoch houses, have been vandalized. On the other hand, there are plans to upgrade some of the more deteriorated rental property, including the Murdoch houses which recently have been purchased by an investor who intends to rehabilitate them.

The structures, of course, are closely related to the surrounding environment. Archaeological remains, such as trash pits, wells, and structural remains which may be present, can provide information valuable to the understanding and interpretation of the structures. Information concerning use patterns, social standing and mobility, as well as structural details, are often only evident in the archaeological record. Therefore, archaeological remains may well be an important component of the significance of these structures. At this time, no investigation has been done to discover these remains, but it is probable that they exist, and this should be considered in any development of the property.


The Cleveland Street Historic District is among the few surviving portions of Durham's most fashionable late-nineteenth century neighborhood. As the finest early residential expression of the tremendous success of the city's young tobacco industry, the neighborhood began in the late 1860s at the east edge of the downtown area and by the 1880s was expanding down Cleveland Street. The major landholders who spearheaded the development of the district were members of some of Durham's pioneering families. Many of the city's leading industrialists, financiers, merchants, and professionals built handsome Queen Anne and classically derived period revival style houses throughout the district from the 1880s through the 1910s. Since the destruction of the earliest portions of the neighborhood in the 1960s and 1970s, the Cleveland Street Historic District stands as one of Durham's most significant concentrations of architecturally and historically distinctive houses of their day.

The Cleveland Street Historic District stands as a vestige of Durham's most fashionable late-nineteenth century neighborhood, originally known as the Dillard Street neighborhood. Focused initially along E. Main, Liberty, Dillard and Queen streets at the east end of the downtown area, the neighborhood has been recalled consistently through the decades as the greatest concentration of Durham's finest and most architecturally distinct homes of their day. It was Durham's most striking early residential manifestation of the tobacco boom that began after the Civil War and steadily escalated. By the early 1870s, the tobacconists and the other businessmen and professionals benefiting from the rapid expansion of the city's industrial base were exhibiting their recently-acquired wealth by constructing new houses, often convenient to their places of employment. Through the 1880s and 1890s, stylish houses, frequently replacing humbler or outmoded dwellings, were added to the earliest part of the neighborhood which was beginning to expand along Cleveland Street, also developed by pioneering Durham families.

"Gray's New Map of Durham" reveals that by 1881 houses occupied most of the lots on Dillard Street and the 300 and 400 blocks of E. Main and Liberty streets, as well as those on Roxboro and Queen streets (then named Second and Third streets, respectively) south of Liberty Street.[1] Cleveland Street, then known as Person Street at its south end and Roxboro Road at the north end (the end included in the Cleveland Street Historic District), ran from Liberty Street north to present-day Little Five Points just inside the first corporate limits.[2] Its densest development naturally lay along the Person Street portion closer to central Durham, and the area included in the district contained only a half-dozen houses.

Gray's map shows that the May family's farmland reached from the east side of Cleveland Street to the north side of O'Briant Road, almost to the railroad tracks. In 1886, the May family divided this huge tract into four lots, two of which included the entire portion of the Cleveland Street Historic District east of Cleveland Street, except for a portion near the present corner of Gray Street that appears to have been owned by the Murdoch family.[3]

As the tobacco industry prospered and Durham's population grew and diversified, the demand for housing increased. In response, the owners of undeveloped property at the edges of the established residential neighborhoods began subdividing their land into building lots. Naturally, the more elevated and level terrain traversed by the long-established roadways, including Cleveland Street, was the most appealing to individuals seeking lots on which to build their own houses or stylish houses for speculative resale.

The 1891 "Bird's-Eye View of Durham" shows several houses on the west side of Cleveland Street and a few houses on the east side, apparently on lots subdivided from the four May tracts.[4] It is difficult to tell how many of these houses are among those in the Cleveland Street Historic District today. The Sanborn Insurance Maps, which first include the district in the 1907 series, indicate that some houses on both sides of the street were replaced during the late 1900s and early 1910s.[5] This was the case of the old Murdoch homeplace, torn down by the Murdoch family around 1910 in order to build a more fashionable house at 818 Cleveland Street.[6] At least three of the houses shown on the west side of the street in the Bird's-Eye View — the Howerton-Masser House at 703, the house at 807, and the Holloway-Hutchins House at 813 — remain in the Cleveland Street Historic District today.

Those individuals building houses for themselves in the Cleveland Street Historic District during the 1880s and 1890s were among the industrialists, merchants, and professionals whose successes produced Durham's booming real estate market. Undertaker R.T. Howerton, who built his house at 703 Cleveland Street around 1890, established a funeral home which continues today as Howerton-Bryan Funeral Home, one of the largest such concerns in Durham.[7] One of the most interesting early builders was Samuel Linton Leary, the Philadelphia architect who designed the first administration building and classroom building for Trinity College when it moved to Durham, He built the Shingle style house at 809 Cleveland Street for himself and his family, presumably according to his own design, shortly after he moved to Durham in 1891 to oversee construction on the campus.[8] The first of its style in Durham, the house attracted quite a bit of attention locally,[9] but Leary did not stay long enough to learn if the design would enhance his career. Despite the inconclusive evidence as to its cause, the collapse during construction of the tower of the Trinity College building was followed by Leary's dismissal from the job and his consequential inability to make the mortgage payments on his Cleveland Street property.[10] When the lender foreclosed on the loan in 1892, the family moved to Asheville where Leary became a photographer.[11]

The residential real estate market remained strong at the north and northeast edges of downtown Durham throughout the late 1890s to around 1910, the period in which the houses in the Cleveland Street Historic District were constructed. In fact, several of those who built or purchased houses for themselves here were active real estate investors. A.A. Murdoch developed several large parcels of land throughout the city of Durham and Durham County, including more than half of the block in which he built his own home; In the immediate neighborhood, he had the houses at 820 and 822 Cleveland Street and 206 and 208 Gray Avenue built for rental, as well as five houses along Gray Avenue and Roxboro Street in the same block (just outside the district) and numerous houses in nearby blocks to the east.[12] Altogether, the early occupants of the Cleveland Street Historic District represented a wide variety of occupations and interests, of which real estate was just one.[13] Several merchants began their decades-long residence here in the early 1900s, among them M. Freeland Markham who built 801 Cleveland Street and was an owner of Sneed-Markham-Taylor Company, a men's clothing store; E.H. Lawrence next door at 803 Cleveland Street, owner of a wholesale feed business; and grocer W.W. Hicks at 823 Cleveland Street.

By around 1920, the Cleveland Street Historic District was fully developed. Prosperous Durhamites desiring to construct their own houses had to look for building lots elsewhere, usually in the new streetcar and automobile suburbs. By the early 1910s, the streetcar suburb of Morehead Hill, characterized by new architect-designed houses, had become Durham's roost prestigious neighborhood, in turn supplanted in the 1920s by Forest Hills and Hope Valley. Nevertheless, the Cleveland Street Historic District retained much of its cachet for many years. Although some of the early residents chose to move to the more modern and stylish suburbs removed from the increasingly congested downtown area, many — such as the families of Obadiah T. Carver, Frederick L. Hunter, and M. Freeland Markham — remained lifetime residents.

After World War II, the district began to show signs of decline. Some of the large houses were divided into apartments by resident owners who found it difficult to maintain them as single-family dwellings; others were converted to investment property as part of estate settlements. The expanding downtown began to erode the older edges of the neighborhood and, in the 1960s, urban renewal wiped out almost all of the original part of the neighborhood dating from the 1870s. Although Cleveland Street was spared, many of the houses continued to deteriorate, particularly the abandoned buildings targeted by vandals. Some of the most attractive houses, however, have remained continually owner occupied and well maintained. Recent investments, prompted in part by the survival of much of the district's fabric and an increasing interest in Durham's older buildings in general, may signal the stabilization and eventual resurgence of the district and the remainder of its neighborhood.


  1. Jacob Chase, E.E., Gray's New Map of Durham," drawn, engraved and published by W. Grady & Son, Philadelphia, 1881. A copy is in the North Carolina Room of the downtown branch of the Durham Public Library.
  2. Mention of the early street names are found in Durham County Register of Deeds (DCRD), Deed Book 4, page 555, and Deed Book 21, page 256; for information on O'Briant, see William K. Boyd, The Story of Durham (Durham, Duke University Press, 1925), pp.54-55, and telephone interview with Jessee K. Griffins of Durham, February 1981.
  3. This tract probably is the Widow May farm mentioned by Boyd, p.25. For its division into four lots, ranging from 9.57 to 32.5 acres, see plat recorded in DCRD, Deed Book 6, page 374. Information on the Murdoch lots was obtained in an interview with Robert H. Murdoch, Jr., in Durham, February 1981. The grantee index in the DCRD, which begins in 1881, does not list any Murdochs as the grantees of this property.
  4. "Birds-Eye View of the City of Durham, North Carolina" (Madison, Wisconsin: Rugby and Stoner, 1891).
  5. Sanborn Nap Company, 1907 and 19 13 series.
  6. Interview with Robert H. Murdoch, Jr. The 1907 series of The Sanborn Insurance Maps shows the earlier house on this site.
  7. Ramsey's Durham Directory for the Year 1892 (Durham: N.A. Ramsey, Publisher); also, Merchant's Association, The City of Durham Illustrated (Durham, Seeman Printery, 1910), p.32.
  8. DCRD, Deed Book II, page 218.
  9. Interview with Mrs. Mary Pope Slater, February 1981, in Durham; Mrs. Slater, in her nineties, recalls when the house was built.
  10. John Franklin Crowell, Personal Recollections of Trinity College, N.C. 1887-1892, with preface by Charles L. Raper (Durham: Duke University Press, 1939), pp.199-200.
  11. DCRD, Deed Book 12, page 537. Telephone interview with George Pyne, Durham, February 1984.
  12. Interview with Robert H. Murdoch, Jr. Also DCRD Plat Book 2, page 131; Plat Book 3, page 97; and Plat Book 5, page 29.
  13. Ibid.; information on all of the people listed in this paragraph was gathered from city directories.


"Bird's-Eye View of The City of Durham, North Carolina." Madison, Wisconsin: Rugby and Stoner, 1891.

Durham County Register of Deeds. Durham County Judicial Building, Durham, NC.

Sanborn Map Co, "Durham, North Carolina," 1907, 1913, and 1937 series.

† Claudia Roberts Brown, consultant, City of Durham, Cleveland Street District, Durham County, NC, nomination document, 1984, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Cleveland Street Historic District Map

Street Names
Cleveland Street • Gray Avenue

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