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«Users Guide to the American Tobacco Trail by Tony Reevy reevys August 2004 [ Sidebar ] ATT: A Work in Progress Still under construction, the ...»

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Users Guide to the American Tobacco Trail

by Tony Reevy


August 2004

[ Sidebar ]

ATT: A Work in Progress

Still under construction, the American Tobacco Trail currently does not have a

complete set of mileposts, but some sections do have established mile markers:

the fully developed portion of the Durham County section, miles 0-6.5, and the

developed Wake County section, miles 18.5-22, The Durham mileposts run from

north to south; the Wake mileposts travel opposite, from south to north, so that trail miles 18.5 south from Durham to 22 are Wake County trail miles 0 north to 3.5.

The reason for this was that Wake County Parks management felt that users would mistake mile markers that indicated, for instance, that Mile 20 would indicate 20 miles of completed trail ahead, when in fact much of the middle sections of the ATT still need to be constructed.

Until matching mileposts are installed all along the trailmileages shown below are approximate and are derived from railroad records and various maps.

The mileages shown for the N.C. 54 to Chatham County line section are especially uncertain, as the routing of the I-40 bridge and around the development that breaches the trail corridor there will affect them dramatically.

The trail is paved from mile 0-6.5, 7.6-8.0, and the entire Riddle Road Spur trail in Durham, a total of about 1.5 miles. It is on a railroad mostly abandoned in the early 1980s, with a portion that survived into the early 1990s.

History and Trail Features Overview For a history of this rail line, owned by the New Hope Valley Railroad / Durham & South Carolina Railroad / Norfolk Southern Railroad-Railway / Southern Railway System / Norfolk Southern Corporation (in succession), see the TRTC website-- www.triangletrails.org/ATT.HTM. The original Durham-Bonsal segment dates from 1905/1906, the Bonsal-Duncan segment from circa1917, and the American Tobacco factory spur from circa 1925. The relocated portion of the branch [south Durham (railroad name Penny) to Bonsal] dates from 1977.

The Durham County section of the American Tobacco Trail is open from sunrise to sunset. Parking is allowed along Scott King Road under the power lines in the natural surface section of the Durham portion of the trail (south of mile 8.5). The urban section of the trail, from Mile 0 south to Mile 8.5, will be paved when complete. The rural section, from Mile 8.5 to the end in Wake County, will have a surface of granite screenings.

Many of the road crossings and trail heads on Mile 0 to 6.5 in Durham County have fixed trail maps and street names posted at crossings. There are two trail information kiosks at Mile 0, Morehead Street, and at the Southpoint Crossing Shopping Center trailhead near Mile 6.5. These now have trail information brochures provided by TRTC and/or Durham Parks and Recreation.

All trail heads in Wake County have notice boards, fixed trail maps and free trail brochures.

Mile 0 The American Tobacco Trail begins at a large trail head just south of the former American Tobacco factory complex in downtown Durham, N.C., and under the Durham Freeway (NC 147). The parking area is accessed from Morehead Avenue and Blackwell Street. No bathroom facilities are currently available.

This portion of the former Norfolk Southern Durham Branch, three miles south to former Keene Yard (where Fayetteville Road, Cornwallis Road and Riddle Road intersect) was built by Norfolk Southern circa 1925 to reach the American Tobacco factory in what was then and now downtown Durham.

Amazingly, the branch that provided the main rail service for the complex, hauling in coal and unprocessed tobacco and hauling out finished tobacco products, did not intersect with the important Southern Railway (North Carolina Railroad) line running east-west just across Pettigrew Street from the factory.

The American Tobacco complex was the Durham Branch’s main customer.

Business was so brisk that, for many years, a switch engine was based here to serve the factory. The factory closed in 1987, but is currently under redevelopment for mixed uses.

The trail parallels Blackwell Street, then crosses Lakewood Avenue (U.S. 15-501 Business) on a long bridge newly built for the trail. It replaced a wooden pile bridge that was a familiar sight for Durham residents driving to the many businesses, such as the Rockwood Filling Station and Yorktown Theatre, formerly located along University Drive just southwest of this point. South from this point, the trail runs just to the east of the Forest Hills neighborhood, crossing Enterprise Street and going under Apex Street.

Mile 1 The granite Mile 1 Marker is located 490 feet north of the bridge over South Roxboro Street. After multiple measurements, however, it was determined that this marker was installed incorrectly. It should actually be located some 278 feet north of the edge of the bridge. While Durham Parks staff are aware of this discrepancy, the marker has not yet been moved to its correct location. All subsequent markers are properly located.

The trail crosses South Roxboro Street on another bridge, then Otis Street. The ATT then runs due south in a valley between the houses along Atlantic Street to the east and Pilot Street to the west, crossing a small creek with a bridge.

Mile 2 The Mile 2 marker is located 420 feet south of the Fayetteville Street crossing.

This crossing is controlled by a traffic light. Trail users can press a pole-mounted button to force the light to change, allowing safe crossing of this busy street.

The ATT then parallels Fayetteville Street, and later Fayetteville Road, for many miles. This is one of the most historic points along the trail. North from this point is North Carolina Central University, one of America’s finest historically black colleges and universities. Founded by the Reverend James E. Shepherd in 1910, NCCU became National Training School in 1916, transferred to the State of North Carolina in 1923 and became the North Carolina College for Negroes.

North of NCCU is Hayti, one of the most historic African-American neighborhoods in the South. Much of Hayti was destroyed by the construction of the Durham Freeway in the 1960s.

As you proceed south on the trail, look to your left. The parking area and business there are on the site of an African-American cemetery that holds the unmarked grave of Blind Boy Fuller (Fulton Allen), 1907-1941. Fuller was the principal figure in an historic Durham Piedmont Style blues scene that centered upon the warehouse district (now called Central Park), Hayti, and street busking at places like Five Points downtown. Fuller is considered by many to be the finest Piedmont blues artist. His lonely resting place, marked by a surviving tombstone, seems an end pulled directly from a mournful blues song. A commemorative marker honoring Fuller and other musicians is 460 feet down the trail on the left as you travel south.

From the Durham blues marker to Mile 3, the ATT runs through another valley bounded by residential areas to the east and the west, and crosses Rocky Creek.

Just before Riddle Road, it crosses the entrance to the new Hillside High School, which lies just west of the trail here. Northwest of this point, at the corner of Fayetteville Street and Cornwallis Road, is White Rock Baptist Church, site of a famous visit and speech by The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.

Mile 3 At Mile 3, the trail crosses Riddle Road and divides. The corner of land along the trail between Riddle Road and Cornwallis Road east of Fayetteville Street, once housed the engine facilities for Keene Yard, the operating center of the Norfolk Southern Durham Branch. Structures surviving here in recent years were a caboose yard office (just south of the Cornwallis crossing), three yard tracks (between the Cornwallis and Fayetteville crossings), and the engine servicing area with a sand bin, fuel supply box, and a fuel pump house. The fuel supply box, with its pipe, survives in the woods between the trail and the Brackett Foundation Systems building. A water tank stood here during the steam engine era.

There is some parking in this area, and also great barbecue, drinks, and bathrooms at Dillard’s Bar-B-Que (3921 Fayetteville Street), which is very close to the trail. Dillard’s is considered one of Durham’s best barbecue places.

A Branch Trail – The Riddle Road Spur From Mile 3, a branch, the Riddle Road Spur, of the American Tobacco Trail runs east to the CSX (formerly the Durham & Southern) line from Durham to Apex, North Carolina. This was the track the Norfolk Southern used to interchange with the rest of Durham’s railroads (the Durham & Southern, Norfolk & Western, Seaboard Air Line and Southern), reaching them by using the Durham & Southern tracks into downtown.

In very early years, the branch had a passenger service, trains 200/201, which, in 1929 for example, left Duncan, N.C.,at 1:15 p.m., arriving in Durham at 6p.m.

(an average speed of less than ten miles per hour!) and then left Durham at 9p.m., arriving back in Duncan at 2a.m. The passenger service used this line to reach Durham Union Station, which was located on a site taken in the 1960s by the Durham Loop and a municipal parking garage near Corcoran Street downtown. Durham Union Station was considered the most significant railroad structure in the state and one of the most significant in the South.

The Norfolk Southern, the fifth of five railroads to enter the Durham market, was always far behind the other Durham passenger railroads and discontinued its passenger service very early. The other important stations for trains 200/201 were Farrington and Bonsal, N.C. After passenger service ended, the Durham Branch was served by a daily freight until Norfolk Southern’s merger with Southern Railway System in 1974.

Spur 0 The Riddle Road Spur runs due east from Keene through a residential area, passing an access trail to Hillside High School, then crossing Alfred Street and Riddle Road (be careful here — this is a busy road with no light!) at grade [ i.e.

both corridors at the same level].

Spur 1 Just after Mile 1, the Riddle Road Spur crosses N.C. 55 at grade.

Riddle Road Spur at NC 55 a very busy intersection that, fortunately, has a light. Glenview Cemetery lies along the trail to the north. Just past N.C. 55, to the south of the trail and across Riddle Road, is Durham Fire Station 4, a source of emergency assistance. The trail then crosses Alston Avenue and dead-ends at the west side of the former Briggs Avenue crossing, about 1.5 miles, just before the former rail connection with the CSX Durham-Apex line.

The railroad called this point D&SC (Durham & South Carolina) Junction or Sheb [ need to explain what ‘Sheb’ stands for, if you can ]. The trackage from American Tobacco to the CSX interchange and in the Keene Yard area a short distance south of this was the last portion of the Durham Branch to survive — it was abandoned in 1993.

Back to the main American Tobacco Trail From Mile 3, the trail crosses busy Cornwallis Road (be careful!), then it parallels Fayetteville Road closely for one mile through a mixed commercial and residential area that was once the site of the yard tracks of Keene Yard.

Just south of the Cornwallis crossing, a door or hatch that may be part of the old caboose yard office survives in the woods just west of the trail, as does a pile of railroad brake shoes. The trail crosses the new Martin Luther King, Jr., Parkway at about Mile 3.7, jogging to the west on sidewalks to cross the parkway at the light and crosswalk located at its intersection with Fayetteville Road. NCDOT dictated the trail follow this circuitous route because the trail would cross too close to the very busy Fayetteville Road intersection for safe use. While inconvenient for some trail users, this minor detour pays dividends in trail safety.

Mile 4 The trail crosses United Drive and then Belgreen Road, then turns sharply to the west, crossing Fayetteville Road (again, be careful) at grade. There is a polemounted traffic light activation button installed here. Use it to safely cross Fayetteville Road.

To the northwest of the trail at this point is Durham’s Carolina Solite Park, once the site of a Solite Company plant that received loads of stone and clay on a siding here and used it in the manufacture of cement blocks. The Solite Company was a major Norfolk Southern customer, with a large facility on the Norfolk Southern mainline near Aquadale, N.C. The plant at Solite Park was probably the second-largest customer on the Durham Branch.

Solite Park offers parking, a picnic shelter, a playground and bathrooms. At the time of this writing, Solite Park is also the location of Tobacco Trail Bicycle Rentals, 919-796-4659, currently the only bicycle rental service located directly on the American Tobacco Trail. Operated by Sid Smith ssmith.svi@att.net the company offers all sizes of bikes and bike trailers for rental by the hour, half day and full day.

From Solite Park, the trail curves in a long southwestern arc paralleling Fayetteville Road, running past several new developments and crossing Pearson Drive and Juliette Drive at grade.

Mile 5 The trail crosses Cook Road at grade at Mile 5. At this point, it is running almost due south and still paralleling Fayetteville Road, which is about 200 feet to the east.

Near Cook Road At about Mile 5.3, the trail enters the Woodcroft property, which was developed in the early 1980s as one of the state’s first mixed-use developments. Soon after this, about mile 5.5, it crosses Woodcroft Parkway at grade. A convenience store here is another source of drinks, snacks and bathrooms.

From here to N.C. 54, the trail runs along Fayetteville Road just to the east of new houses and west of commercial properties. The railroad called this point South Durham.

Mile 6 Near mile 6, the trail crosses Dunhill Road at grade and runs on a low ridge just east of a shopping center, Southpoint Crossing, located at the corner of Fayetteville Road and N.C. 54. This portion of the trail was constructed by the builders of the shopping center, three years before the rest of the trail north of Dunhill was constructed. Thus, because it was built before the construction standards were developed for the rest of the ATT, the trail from Dunhill south to NC 54 has neither gravel shoulder nor painted center stripes.

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