Past Times

Past Times: Durham’s Parkwood subdivision started out in the sticks

Ducks enjoy a stroll around the new Parkwood Lake around 1962.
Ducks enjoy a stroll around the new Parkwood Lake around 1962. PHOTO COURTESY OF PARKWOOD ASSOCIATION

Those who remember when Durham’s Parkwood was the only neighborhood for miles around wouldn’t recognize the booming south Durham neighborhoods of today. In 1963, N&O Sunday editor Raymond Lowery introduced the modern subdivision to readers.

Parkwood, lying in a rolling wooded area of 560 acres, two miles west of the Research Triangle Park, has been named the best residential subdivision constructed last year in the United States.…

A quick drive through the area without a guide to tick off its benefits may not be immediately impressive. Parkwood is not a swank development. Some of its early residences of simple design sold for as little as $11,500. Not a few homes sit on treeless lots which are hardly notable for their size.

But Parkwood is unique for North Carolina – for the region, and to an extent the nation. Its advantages are of a type many a builder would like to incorporate in a subdivision – certainly, if confronted with somewhat the same set of circumstances that faced Roger Kavenagh and Griswold Smith, the Greensboro builders who tackled Parkwood.

The success of their award-winning subdivision is linked to the organization and development of the Research Triangle Park, a 5,000 acre research area set up with the cooperation of the State and under the sponsorship of three educational units – the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Duke University at Durham, and N. C. State College at Raleigh.

After the first tenants had agreed to construct buildings in the park there was deep concern among the officials about the availability of housing for personnel to be employed in the facility.

Planning authorities of the Research Triangle Park then recommended that Parkwood be located in a rather remote area of Durham County.…

It was felt that a combination of the influx of people into the park, the unsatisfied demand for housing in the neighboring towns and the use of a revolutionary design concept would overcome the fact that this was essentially a rural location.…

The subdivision’s an example of the “cluster planning” technique, encompassing cul-de-sacs, loop streets, minor circulation streets and a minimum number of collector and through streets. An increasing number of builders have come to favor this system as an alternative to large-lot zoning.

Parkwood’s first home was occupied in August of 1960. Since then, with land set aside for 800 houses, some 240 units have been sold – the majority for $12,500 to $22,500. About 25 per cent of the purchasers are employed in the Research Triangle Park and the balance have come from neighboring communities.

Few houses are without a green area in the rear or elsewhere, assuring residents of plenty of park and recreation space and making it possible for children to cross a minimum of streets en route to school. Parkwood’s children now attend school at nearby Lowe’s Grove, but the county school board has made plans to build an elementary school on a 25 acre site reserved by the developers.

Parkwood boasts a high percentage of highly skilled professional people within its confines – numerous PhDs – many from out of state.

Not everything, of course, is peaches and cream in exurbia. Some residents find the “sticks” a bit lonely and uneventful for their taste. They miss the movies especially, although the shopping center has included a movie house in its plans.

Dr. Hale Seeney, a research statistician at the Research Triangle Institute, likes Parkwood because of its convenience – to his work and three towns. …

“The water tastes bad,” he added, “but it will improve.” The N&O June 23, 1963

Read more stories from local and state history and send us your own stories on the blog Past Times, newsobserver.com/past-times.

Leonard: 919-829-4866 or tleonard@newsobserver.com

  Comments