Durham History Hub: A museum created by the community for the community


The creation of a museum of Durham history has been discussed since the 1940s, and on Oct. 12, that concept became a reality as the city came together to celebrate the opening of the Durham History Hub at 500 West Main St.

The opening day celebration was a reflection of the museum’s creation, with support and input from a diverse group of Durham residents, organizations, and businesses.

“I am most proud of the number of hands that have touched this project…What excites and energizes me the most is that people want to see this happen and want to see the history museum take off,” said Executive Director Katie Spencer.


Coming Together to Celebrate the Museum

The celebration began with a parade down Main Street reflecting Durham’s past and present, ranging from Civil War reenactors to members of the Hillside marching band and the Bouncing Bulldogs jump rope team.

After remarks from Mayor Bill Bell and other community leaders, the History Hub opened its doors to the public for the first time.

“We are always talking about good things happening in Durham, and today is a good thing happening in Durham,” said Bell.

“We just need to thank all of Durham for what you did because we couldn’t have done it by ourselves,” said Lew Myers, chairman of the board of directors.

The fanfare continued all day with performances and activities from a variety of local groups, including musicians and storytellers.

The goal was to try to involve as many people in the celebration as possible, said Spencer.


A Hub for Durham History

The museum, once a bus station, is called a hub because it gives an overview of Durham history while providing links to the city’s more individualized historical sites, said Myers.

“I think it’s important to have a central place where people can gather and reflect on the past…that’s what’s been lacking in Durham,” said Spencer.

“It’s really astounding because I remember it as a bus station,” said Bell. “The location is great because it’s in the heart of Durham.”

The Hub also hopes to supplement what the schools are doing by bringing in local history, said Spencer.

Owen Bryant, history teacher at Durham Academy, said he looks forward to bringing his students to the museum.

Bryant said students need to know that Durham has an important place in history, like the other places they learn about.

Knowing the history of Durham helps you connect to where you live, said Bryant.

Spencer said, “There is that impact of seeing your city through the lens of history, with historic eyes, that adds this deeper level of going through the city.”


Coming Together to Create the Museum

The History Hub began to move forward in 2004 when Durham’s Cultural Master Plan named a museum of history as one of the city’s highest priorities, said Spencer.

Since then, community input has been involved in every step of the museum’s creation.

In the beginning stages, a feasibility study was conducted with community members to access their vision for the museum, said Spencer.

Raising the $175,000 to renovate and build was a community-wide effort as well.

Money for the museum came from grants, corporate sponsors, and individual donations, said Spencer.

Once the space was secured in July 2012, the museum threw a big party showcasing preliminary exhibit designs and asked those in attendance to critique the plans, said Spencer.

“We want people to walk in the door and see themselves in Durham’s past and feel like what is highlighted is worth while and meaningful to them,” said Spencer.

Now that the doors have opened, the museum still offers opportunities for people to share their own perspective and tell what is left out.

“It makes the process of writing the museum ongoing,” said Spencer.

“We’ve got an opportunity to present history in a new way,” said Myer.

For example, the story room allows people to come in and record their stories of Durham’s past that will be archived in the library and incorporated into future exhibits.

Spencer said the interviewing and writing she did for her community journalism class at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the class that now produces the Durham Voice, drew her into the work of storytelling.

“Stories are significant at a family level but they are also significant at a community level to carry the memoirs forward,” said Spencer. “I hope that we are able to help this community grow and plan by using where we’ve been to inform where we’re going.”