If you want a free house, then move it

Staff WriterJanuary 31, 2007 

— Duke University is giving away houses -- a dozen remnants from the old mill village that stand in the way of ambitious plans for the future.

There's a catch, though.

You have to move the house from where it is now, and depending on the distance, number of power lines in the path and other factors, a relocation can be quite pricey.

"Just like there's no such thing as a free lunch, there's no such thing as a free house," said Carrie Mowry, community development specialist for Preservation Durham.

Duke plans to transform the 198 acres between West Campus and East Campus into a mix of student housing, classrooms, arts centers, research buildings and campus-based restaurants and stores.

The City Council recently approved a rezoning for Central Campus that clears the way for the expansion.

As part of an extensive negotiation with neighborhood and local business advocates, Duke agreed to offer the former mill homes to anyone willing to move them. The university also will put $5,000 toward the move, according to John Schelp, a neighborhood advocate and preservationist heralding the proposal.

The places up for grabs are: 1919 Yearby Ave., 1713 Pace St., 305, 307, 310 and 311 Alexander Ave, 405 and 408 Swift Ave., 1511 and 1513 Hull Ave., 308 Powe St., and 309 Garden St.

Few house moves cost less than $10,000, and most are much higher.

Mowry, the community development specialist with Preservation Durham, said it could take the entire $5,000 from Duke to build a new foundation for the relocated homes.

Preservationists prefer that structures be preserved in their original environment, Mowry said.

"Ideally they should be moved to places like their native habitats so mill villages would be where we hope they end up," Mowry said.

There are mill houses still in West and East Durham, Mowry said, There are vacant lots on West Main Street in the shadows of the old cotton mills that Mowry hopes might one day house the old houses.

The Yearby Avenue and Garden Street properties need to be moved sooner than the rest, Mowry said.

Duke officials could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

The Garden Street house is a former grocery store that harkens back to a time when the Erwin Cotton Mills were a major player in the city's economy.

The grocery, built around 1924, was managed for many years by a Mr. Tilley, who was a justice of the peace.

To find out more about acquiring the houses, send e-mail to mowry at carrie@preservationdurham.org or 682-3036.

Staff writer Anne Blythe can be reached at 932-8741 or ablythe@newsobserver.com.

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