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Advice about moving to Durham, North Carolina

I put the following information together two years ago when we moved to Durham, NC to start the Th.D. program at Duke Divinity School at Duke University.  (If you are interested in the Th.D. program, see my post Advice about Duke Th.D. and Ph.D programs in theology).  I have gotten questions from some friends about house-hunting here recently and so I thought I would post this information.  My advice is geared primarily to people who are moving here to go to school at Duke Divinity School and my advice is also oriented toward families.  This advice is more or less a compilation of advice people gave us.  It is just to get you started in your research so that you will be able to ask better questions.  Please post comments and other resources in the comments.       

Neighborhood information:

  • People talk about "north Durham" and "south Durham" (though these are not technical neighborhood designations) with Duke University being the dividing line.  If you are north of Duke's campus, you are in north Durham and if you are south of it, you are in south Durham.  Duke University consists of a huge swath of land.  It includes East Campus (where the freshmen are) and West Campus (where the Divinity school is located) which are connected by a shuttle bus route.  
  • Ideally, I think it would be fun to live in the area near 9th Street.  9th street is kind of retro, hip and artsy.  From there you can walk to East campus and take the bus to West campus where the Divinity school is.  However, this is an old area so either the houses are beautifully restored and 300K or they are badly run-down and sell for 50K.  But, you can find some in the middle if you're lucky.  But some of the reasonably price homes have been "flipped" - bought for 60K and sold 6 months later for 160K.  Cosmetic work has been done but major underlying issues may have been covered up so beware.  The "neighborhoods" that are near 9th Street are Old West Durham, Watts Hillandale, Trinity Park, and Walltown.      
  • Some people also suggest Northgate Park which is north of Walltown. 
  • There is also an area of town near Burch Ave (27701) that was traditionally not a great neighborhood but is being improved.  It is very close to Duke Div School (1.2 miles). 
  • The homes in south Durham are appreciating more because of access to the gorgeous The Streets at Southpoint mall, access to Chapel Hill (where University of North Carolina (UNC) is located) and Research Triangle Park (RTP).
  • We ended up in north Durham because it was more affordable.  We are on Candlewick Way, Durham, NC.  Move near us!  It is very close to the great children's museum The Museum of Life and Science.  We have a great large Starbucks at the corner of Guess Road and Horton Road (3801 Guess Road) where Amy and I study.    

Location of Duke Divinity School:

I had trouble finding a physical address for Duke Divinity School since all of the literature simply has a post office box.  I have begun using this address for directions to Duke Divinity School: Chapel Dr, Durham, North Carolina 27706  Here is the Google link to that location. You might also use W Main St & Campus Dr Durham, NC 27701 for East Campus (where you can pick up the bus to go to West Campus).  If you want to visit, Duke Divinity School, you need to park in the Bryan Center Parking Garage off Science Drive, Durham, NC.   

Where professors live:

In April 2007, I looked up where 13 Duke Divinity school professors live  I got their addresses from and what their house Tax Assessor's Value from  Basically this helped me to learn that

a) professors live all over the place.

b) all the professors live between 7-20 minutes from Duke Divinity School (according to Google Maps directions).  One lives in Chapel Hill and lives closer than some others who live in Durham.

c) In April 2007, the 13 houses ranged between $155,000 and $500,000.  (The high and low two in 2009 are now $192,000 and $548,000.)

Here are some comments from some other Duke people about neighborhoods:

  1. A Duke Business School person writes: "Durham is reasonable, price-wise.  Many grad students I know live just north of campus, in and around the Northgate area. Our neighborhood, just south of campus, is a bit pricier, but we were moving from the very pricey western suburbs of Chicago. Do look at lots of options when you visit."
  2. A Duke professor writes: "We live in the Watts Hillandale neighborhood, and have loved it.  Beautiful older houses, many quite affordable; it's about two miles to the Div School, and I often walk.  One could easily ride a bike, or take a Duke bus.  It is also pretty near both a public Montessori grammar school, and the one good public magnet grammar school (schools in Durham, as you may know, are not terrific).  There are a fair number of young families in this neighborhood. Also, we are in walking distance of Whole Foods.  ;-)"
  3. An environmental studies Ph.D. student writes: "It is important to decide what kind of neighborhood you want.  Some neighborhoods have mostly young profesionals living there, are all new builds, are close to malls and things like that. Other neighborhoods are like ours are older homes, very diverse demographically, can have some minor crime, etc. We live just off downtown in old north durham. Duke park, old west durham, watts/hillandale -- these are similar places."
  4. Duke Div Student. "When I moved to Durham, I was looking for rentals and so I used the Duke Community Housing webpage quite a bit.  The folks at that office may also be helpful in directing you to information about buying houses, but I don't know for sure.  The advice I gave to another student was to get a map of Durham, and look for houses within 8-10 blocks of Ninth Street in the north, east and west directions, or around the North Carolina School of Science and Math." 
  5. Duke Div Student: "My husband and I live in a very nice neighborhood not too much farther north from Walltown called Northgate park.  Houses in our neighborhood are selling between 105-145K.  They might be smaller than you are looking for (I don't know about your kid situation) but they are old and generally well kept.  The neighborhood itself is fairly diverse (the diversity tending to happen as you get closer to Club Blvd. and Roxboro Rd.) both racially and economically. There is bike path access almost the entire way to East Campus and a community park that is wonderful if you do have kids. It, too, is beginning to gentrify a bit but I'm not sure if prices are inflated too much." 
  6. Duke Div Student: "We live on Lancaster.  We relocated about 9 months ago, also interested in diversity.  We love the neighborhood.  Granted, we are just on the edge, by Green street, so we're barely into Walltown."
  7. Duke Div Student connected to Rutba House (New Monasticism - intentional community and justice house): "We care a lot about the people whose families have been here for four and five generations (many of whom are members of our church) and try to discourage people (esp. middle class white people) who aren't planning to stay more than 10yrs from moving into the neighborhood."
  8. Student about north Durham "West Point on the Eno park, which is a <5 min drive from you and is a very beautiful place.  You're not that far from West Point on the Eno, which is a great place to hike, find turtles and bugs in the river, etc."

School Information:
There are charter and magnet public schools and Christian and private schools.   This is a whole huge topic that you will need to talk to lots of people about to understand.  A couple Christian schools are Trinity School and Bethesda Christian Academy and two other private schools are Durham Academy and Duke School.

You can learn more about the public schools at:

  1. North Carolina School Report Cards
  3. The real estate listings tell you where your kids would go to school if you bought that house. 

For the public schools, you need to start researching them at the beginning of November for the following September.  The lottery for magnet schools (Durham Public School funded) is in January.  The lottery for charter schools (primarily funded by the state) vary.   

To give you a beginning point, here are the top 8 public elementary schools in Durham according to their overall Reading and Math scores for 2008-2009 from their NC School Report Card.  (I did the math).  Of course, there is more to a school than test scores.

                                           Reading            Math (Percentage of Students’ Scores At or Above Grade Level)

1. Pearsontown                    79.7               90.4

Pearsontown Elementary

4915 Barbee Road

Durham, 27713 1603

Regular School, Year-Round Calendar


2. Little River                        77.8            87.3

Little River Elementary

2315 Snow Hill Road

27712 3668

Regular School, Traditional Calendar


3. Central Park (Charter)     78.9               81.0

Central Park School For Child

724 Foster Street

Durham, 27701

Regular School, Year-Round Calendar


4. Easley                              75.6               83.0

Easley Elementary

302 Lebanon Circle

Durham, 27712 2644

Regular School, Year-Round Calendar


5. Creekside                        69.5                79.6

Creekside Elementary

5321 Ephesus Church Road


Regular School, Traditional Calendar


6. Hillandale                        70.1                 78.7

Hillandale Elementary

2730 Hillandale Road

27705 2076

Regular School, Traditional Calendar


7. Morehead (Magnet)         76.9               71.8

Morehead Montessori

909 Cobb Street

Durham, 27707 1315

Magnet School, Traditional Calendar


8. Carter (Charter)                                64.1                82.9

Carter Community Charter

1305 West Club Blvd

Durham, 27705

Regular School, Year-Round Calendar


You can only go to most of these schools if you live in their district.  You always have a year-round and a traditional calendar option that you are districted for. 

As a magnet, your best chance to get into Morehead is by choosing it as your number one choice in the magnet lottery in January when your child is 3 years old and will be starting pre-K the following September.  It also improves your chances if you live near the school in its priority area.  You have a small chance of getting in through the lottery in subsequent years. 

As far as the magnet schools, you can try to win the lottery to get into the Central Park by applying to it in February when your child is 4 and will be entering Kindergarten the following September.  Check Carter's website for information on enrollment there. 

I have prepared the following graphic about elementary schools based on the chart above.  I have added Mangum in north Durham County to the list.  Our son is going to Hillandale.  

Durham Public Schools Image


You basically need two cars here unless you live close to Duke and it is pretty expensive to live close to Duke.  Some families do a scooter/motorcycle (and then park in the bike racks right by the Divinity school) and a car.  Some friends do it with one car but they have to do lots dropping off and picking up which I would not recommend.  You have to buy a parking pass to park at Duke and then take a shuttle in to Duke Divinity School or do a 10 minute walk. 


We attend Blacknall Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) where Amy is Director of Children's Ministry.  (I have described it here).  Some friends attend Chapel Hill Bible Church, Emmaus Way (emerging / missional church), NewHope Church (seeker-sensitive), All Saints Church (AMIA), Church of the Holy Family (Episcopal), The Summit Church (SBC), Duke Chapel (on Duke's west campus), Mt. Level Missionary Baptist Church (predominantly African-American), and Church of the Good Shepherd (PCA).  Duke Divinity School students attend a huge range of churches.  See more about recommendations regarding UMC churches below in the comments. 

We go to the downtown YMCA that has a great zero-depth indoor pool for kids and has childcare and reduced rates.   

Duke University also has an outdoor pool on Central Campus that is free for Duke students and families.  Hours: Mon-Sat 10 am - 9pm; Sun 1-9 pm 

We have brought guests to this great outdoor zero-depth pool in Chapel Hill: The YMCA at Meadowmont

Parks and Museums:

See list of Durham parks.

Places we meet friends with kids:

Museum of Life and Science

Duke Park

Oval Park

Kidzu Children's Museum in Chapel Hill

Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh, NC

Sports for Kids:


  1. We used Tony Craver.  He was professional and knowledgeable.  He has all the credentials and was a builder for many years.  His approach is to send you a list of 50 houses to check out online that fit your criteria and you pick 10 or so.  He gives you a tour of Durham the first day.  The next day you zoom through the 10 houses in about 10 minutes each.  We ended up visiting 30 houses before putting an offer on one.  We bid 5% off the list price and they accepted.  
  2. One professor recommended: Ethel Snuggs for looking near 9th street.



House search website:


We did "Name Your Own Price" in Durham, NC.  We put in 2 stars and $35 and had our offer accepted at a hotel.  It worked well.  When you put in the offer, you have to accept what they give you. 

Comparing Cost of Living and other factors to the city you're moving from:

"Buying Vs. Renting" calculator


  1. American Tobacco Historic District.  Mellow Mushroom Pizza place is one example.  Right next to Durham Bulls (minor league baseball park).  Fun place to walk around. 
  2. Brightleaf Square.  El Rodeo (Mexican place), Satisfaction (Pizza) and Amelia's (for desert) are popular. 
  3. Elmo's Diner on 9th street is a good family restaurant. 
  4. Everywhere you turn there are great restaurants. See the April 2010 New York Times article: Durham, a Tobacco Town, Turns to Local Food.