Parkwood: A History

This history of Parkwood was written by Kim Darnofall and originally published in the neighborhood newsletter for it’s 30th Anniversary. It serves as an excellent historical piece for both the creation and growth of the neighborhood up till that point. The original article — complete with some 1990 ads — can be seen here.


1960 – 1990

Kim Darnofall

Published by the Parkwood Association 5112 Revere Road, Durham, North Carolina


When Parkwood’s original homeowners reminisce about the early days of the community, the discussion invariably leads to “life before” and “life after” certain amenities–life before the shopping center when you had to drive eight miles to grocery shop, life before the library when you relied on bookmobile selections or drove downtown, or even life before city water.

Some of us now may take for granted the things that make Parkwood “a nice place to live.” But behind the “beginnings” of all the benefits listed below was an individual or group of individuals spurred to action in response to a community need. These individuals made Parkwood a better place for themselves and for future generations.

The Parkwood Association (1960)

A homeowners association was organized by the original developer of the community, Kavanagh-Smith & Co. Roger Kavanagh served as “figurehead” president of the board for the first year and a half. The reins were turned over to the homeowners on a cold, blustery December day in 1962 at a celebration attended by then-governor Terry Sanford. Wally Lawrence, whose family was the second to move into Parkwood, was the first homeowner president of the Parkwood Association. Wally still lives on Custer Circle.

The Parkwood Fire Department (1969)

In Parkwood’s early days, the closest fire protection consisted of two “county trucks” housed at Fire Station No. 1 in downtown Durham. The response time in an emergency was about 30 to 40 minutes. After fires destroyed two homes in the community, one of the original homeowners, Al Morganelli, began to push hard for a volunteer unit to be organized. (Bahama and Bethesda had volunteer units at the time, but did not service this part of the county.)

In 1968 Morganelli brought his idea to the Parkwood Association Board of Directors, who appointed him head of a committee to research the idea. Morganelli put together a committee consisting of Ron Fry, Ed Grace, Jim Pollard, Lee Castle, and Don Davis.

By February 1969 the committee had garnered financial support from both the county and the Parkwood Association in terms of donations totaling $4,000 and interest-free loans in the amount of $5,600. Manpower was no problem–around 40 men from the community underwent a 42-hour basic firefighting course offered through Durham Technical Institute. In May the first equipment arrived and the department officially went into service, although the volunteers had already been called out to assist the city firemen at a huge fire at the Venable Tobacco Plant downtown. The first chief of the department was T. Mike Davis, still a Parkwood resident. Davis was followed by Dick Beach, Dick

Sauer, and the current chief, John Rudisill. Rudisill, Beach, and Don Cecil were all original members who are still serving the community as volunteer firemen today.

The first equipment was used and revamped by the department. The equipment was housed in a metal, “Quonset-hut-type” building which was located behind the existing car wash on land donated by Key Homes. The concrete driveway is all that remains of the original site. The metal building was sold and is still used in Hillsborough across from the Daniel Boone complex.

Until 1973 when a referendum was held to set up a tax district enabling the fire department to receive tax dollars, the department relied on donations and money earned through fundraising. “It was a subscription department,” explains Pat Beach, whose husband was one of the original volunteers. “You paid $20 a year to support the department.” A food booth at the state fair and barbeque dinners were held to raise money to cover operating expenses. A women’s auxiliary operated for a short time, with women cooking food for the dinners in their kitchens at home. “My kitchen looked like Slawsville,” quips Pat.

In the spring of 1974, Key Homes donated land across from the original location for the construction of the building which houses the department today. In the last 10 years the department has grown tremendously, with two additional stations (Farrington Road and Old Page Road) and now five full-time firemen, to become the largest, best-equipped, and highest-rated fire department in Durham and the surrounding counties.

The Parkwood Library (1975)

The library we now enjoy is largely due to the efforts of Paul Starling, a former Parkwood resident who saw a need and endeavored to see it met. “It probably seems inconsistent for me to push for a library,” says Paul, who lost his sight in the late 1960s, “but I had the time to do it.” Paul, who also served for 11 years on the Parkwood Association Board, acted as a liaison between the Key Co., which owned the shopping center at the time, the county manager, and George Linder, head librarian for the Durham County library. (The intended spot for the library was once a laundromat centrally located in the shopping center.) Paul explained that Linder was looking toward expansion of the library. “You see, it was really a county function, but all the branches were within the city limits,” says Paul.

Paul then launched a letter writing and phoning campaign. “It was very measured and controlled,” says Betty Bradford, the Parkwood Association secretary for 20 years who typed up Paul’s correspondence. “Paul never let it [the library] get out of their minds.”

Paul’s dogged persistence paid off when the Parkwood Library opened its doors in July 1975. “I always felt the library was a substantial plus for Parkwood,” says Paul.

The library continues to be a plus for the community and it continues to grow. The current librarian, John Blake, reports that the library has grown from 2,000 square feet to its present 6,100 square feet. The library houses 25,000 volumes with an annual circulation of over 120,000. “We are growing at a 30% rate yearly,” reports John. “Sometime this year we will top 1,000,000 total items circulated since we opened. To do it again will take less than seven years.” The staff has also grown–from a librarian, an assistant, and a part-time page to a librarian, a children’s librarian, three library assistants, and three pages.

The Community Newspaper

The community has had a newspaper for almost 25 years, beginning as the Parkwood Press, a small mimeographed paper begun by Conrad and Kitty Knight. The name was later changed to Soundings and to the present-day Inside-Out as a result of a contest to determine a new name for the paper.

The association secretary is now responsible for the publication of the monthly newspaper.

Water and Sewer System

Parkwood had its own water and sewer system in the early sixties. The water came from wells and was stored in tanks located at the end of Putnam Lane and behind what is now the Parkwood Methodist Church. The sewage treatment plant was located off of Euclid Road.

The water, which contained a lot of lime, tasted horrible, left a film on glasses, and ruined everything. ‘We had to get new hot water heaters and irons,” recalls Lorraine Blake, a long-time resident who lived on Jennings Lane when she first moved to Parkwood. There were also problems with the sewer system, not the least of which was a foul odor at times. Early association members had to periodically go in and clean out the tanks at the sewage treatment facility.
After a time, the wells started drying up. At one point, water was even pumped out of the lake. “I have stayed up all night ‘making water,'” recalls Sol Ellis, one of the original members of the Parkwood Association Board. Ellis explained that tanks from Fort Bragg were brought in to pump the lake water, which then had to be purified for home use.
Eventually the association contacted the city, and for a nominal fee, city water was supplied through the existing plumbing into Parkwood homes. “Talking the city into running water lines out here was a real plus,” said Wally Lawrence. “The development wouldn’t have progressed without it.”

The Parkwood Athletic Association

The PAA was born out of a need to keep Parkwood kids busy and active. Key Homes allowed use of a field adjacent to the shopping center, so a group of 15-20 men from the community pitched in to build the ballfield. “It was put together piece by piece, by hand,” said Sol Ellis. He added that the group strung the original lights and that the first bleachers were donated by Duke University.

In 1989 the Board of Directors called a special meeting of the homeowners, and it was decided to purchase the ballfield from Key Homes. It is now owned by the Parkwood Association and managed by the Parkwood Athletic Association.

The Parkwood Shopping Center (1962)

The first shopping center boasted a pharmacy with a soda fountain, a beauty shop, a barber shop, a laundromat, and a grocery store called the Market Basket.

The Parkwood Beauty Salon is the only business which has occupied the same site, although ownership has changed over the years. Lorraine Blake was one of the first operators at the shop. “There were six operators then and we always had a waiting line,” recalls Lorraine. The current owner is Kyung Lee, who has been in business there for ten years.

The Parkwood Pharmacy occupied the area that is now the library. When the pharmacy relocated in the early seventies, After Hours, a restaurant and nightclub started by Sol Ellis and John King, took up residence in that spot. After Hours was an outgrowth of the Parkwood Soda Shop, which served light lunch fare in a smaller shopping center location. The soda shop, which had a capacity for about 20 diners, was sorely lacking in space when the Research Triangle Park lunch traffic hit. With an expansion in space and name change, the new restaurant catered to “standing room only” crowds on weekend nights when live bands played there. After Hours added pizza and beer to its sandwich and salad menu. Parkwood resident Rose Sauer did an “excellent job” of running the kitchen. Long before Domino’s, takeout pizza was popular in Parkwood.

When After Hours closed in 1973, Duke University set up a family practice clinic (later Triangle Family Practice) which remained in operation until 1987 when the library moved in.

The middle section of the shopping center originally housed a laundromat which boomed in the pre-disposable diaper days when people didn’t have dryers in their homes. A small post office window operated for a time at the laundromat, which was also home to the Parkwood Association office for a while, too. The space was first home to the library, followed by a furniture store, and most recently by Follies Recreation Center.

At the north end of the shopping center was the Market Basket, a grocery store operated by Bob Evers. It later became an IGA and was finally owned and operated by Jack and Melba Shields of Parkwood. After the grocery, the site was home to a fitness center before being absorbed by Tri-Tech Inc., a manufacturer of forensic evidence collection kits which is owned by Parkwood residents Jay and Wendie Walker.

At one point, the shopping center housed a florist, a hardware store, and a 5-and-10-cent store called The Lady Bug, operated by Bob and Mary Johnson.


What has been the biggest change you’ve noticed in Parkwood over the last 30 years?

  • Eleanor Bolinger – “The magnitude of growth and the loss of closeness”
  • Bob Bolinger – “Improvements in the road systems in Durham county”
  • Betty Bradford – “Most of the women did noit work (outside the home)”
  • Lorraine Blake – “So many stores, shopping centers, and places to eat”
  • Marie Gour – “How fast Parkwood has grown”
  • Bill Gour – “The establishment of the fire department”
  • Sol Ellis – “More people taking an active part in the association”
  • Jackie Johnson – “More traffic–we thought we were moving to the country when we moved out here!”

Do You Remember…

  • The county once wanted to locate an ABC store in the Parkwood Shopping Center?
  • During a particularly bad sleet storm, there were many car wrecks and the fire department was out almost all night and day? Betty Bradford stood talking to the barber who said, “this neighborhood ought to do something for those people.” Four volunteers canvassed the neighborhood seeking $2 donations to send the firemen to the Angus Barn (also celebrating a 30-year anniversary this year). “Not a soul refused,” recalls Betty. And as a “thank you,”
    the fire siren ran for 30 minutes when presented with the money.
  • To raise money for playground equipment at Parkwood Elementary School, the community put on an amateur show at Githens Auditorium for all Parkwood residents? “It was a panic,” remembers Maxine Johnson Brady. “Bruce Michaelson and I did a takeoff on Nelson Eddy and Jeannette McDonald’s Indian Love Call.” Maxine wore a long, blonde wig and a Southern-belle-type evening dress. Bruce, who was over six feet tall, came on stage wearing a Marine Corps dress uniform with pants about 4 inches above his ankles. “When he came out in that uniform, it was all I could do to sing,” laughs Maxine. Among the other contestants were men from the community dressed up as can-can girls, and the Tiller Family entertaining with gospel music.
  • In 1973, a streaker ran through After Hours?
  • The community used to hold a Fourth of July parade complete with participants attired in Early American period clothing and the kids would decorate their bikes in red, white, and blue?
  • In the “early days,” people would go “Parkwooding,” visiting home construction sites on nights and weekends to collect discarded boards, pieces of paneling, nails, and whatever else might be put to good use?
  • Adults used to go sledding on Wicklow Lane?
  • Elementary students first attended Lowe’s Grove School and one day in the early sixties they all lined up along Highway 54 when a motorcade bearing President John F. Kennedy passed?
  • An empty office space in the shopping center was opened once a week for teenagers to gather, play records, dance, and socialize, with parents taking turns as chaperones?
  • Parkwood’s second Halloween, when it seemed like everyone in the city dropped off their kids to trick or treat, providing a steady stream of traffic and doorbells that rang for hours?
  • The “out of this world” pizzas concocted by an Italian cook at After Hours?
  • Sedwick Road was called Green Road, and Key Homes developed an area that included homes on both sides of Green Road and in the area south of it (Elmset Lane, Shamrock Road, Deblyn Court, etc.), calling it Buttonwood?
  • The Parkwood Lake was to have extended north of Clermont up to the shopping center area, where there would be lakeside shops, offices, and restaurants?

How It All Began – A Stroll Down Memory Lane

Alarge white farmhouse was once located under the big tree that still stands behind the second house on the left just inside the Parkwood entrance. The farm was one of six that were purchased at approximately $300-$350 per acre to make way for Parkwood, a 560-acre planned residential community that was one-of-its-kind in Durham in 1960.
The original developers were Kavanagh-Smith & Co. (they later split up, with Kavanagh starting The Westminster Co. and Smith starting The Key Co., later Key Homes). Many of the original homeowners were transplants, brought to the area by job transfers to the Research Triangle Park.

One of the first companies to locate in the Park was Chemstrand (later Monsanto) and many of the first Parkwood residents were Chemstrand employees who came from Decatur, Alabama. According to Wally Lawrence, Roger Kavanagh traveled to Decatur to “pitch” Parkwood as a place to settle. “It was a nice thing, Chemstrand was a small enough company, so we all knew each other well,” says Wally. “It helped make moving a lot easier.”

Parkwood was also one of the first developments to offer GI loans, and many eligible Korean War Veterans were attracted here. Marie Gour, a resident of Putnam Circle since 1961, remembers an ad she saw in the paper that said you could get a home on the GI Bill for “$50 down and move in.” She and her husband, Bill, were anxious to get out of Chapel Hill, where no houses were being built at the time. They came out to investigate in February 1961 and found three spec houses for sale, one on Putnam. “We liked Parkwood a lot,” recalls Marie. “We thought about it for about one week. It was one of the quickest decisions we ever made.” They decided upon the home on Putnam, and within a month’s time were calling Parkwood “home.” Interestingly, they had to pay an extra $1000 for their lot because it had trees on it.

Affordability has always been a factor in choosing to live in Parkwood. The first homes here ranged from about $11,000 to $17,000. Betty Bradford, one of the original homeowners, laughs now to think that she and her husband got cold feet when they realized the first house they wanted to buy would mean $110 monthly mortgage payments.

Home values rose quickly. Eleanor and Bob Bolinger, still living in the same house they purchased on Euclid in 1962, considered selling their home in 1968 when a career move took the family to the western part of the state. They were pleased to learn that real estate values had quadrupled in the six years since they had purchased their home.

Although there are a variety of reasons why people first chose to live in Parkwood, there’s a compelling similarity in the reasons why they’ve stayed. “It’s a terrific place to raise a family” is a familiar refrain echoed by nearly all the original homeowners, who cite the neighborhood school, community pool, Parkwood Athletic Association, opportunities for scouting, and church activities as positive forces which shaped their children’s lives. “I think the term `neighborhood’ is the key,” comments Betty Bradford, “because we are a neighborhood. We have a good ‘Duke’s mixture’ of middle-class Americans.” “I had five kids and I couldn’t have raised them in a better place,” adds Sol Ellis.

In the beginning, though, this “state-of-the-art” community had no school, no shopping center, no churches, no athletic association, and not even a fire department.

Like many other typical new communities in the early 60s, Parkwood was composed of young families. “No one was over 30 when we first moved here,” notes Betty Bradford, “and most of the women didn’t work. We strolled our babies and played bridge.” Back at that time, most families had only one car and dad needed it for work. But that led people to be more dependent on their neighbors for their social life than they are now. “In the beginning we were more tightly-knit,” she adds.

There were block parties and everyone knew everyone else. A community celebration was a day-long affair which included a rope pull and a “greased pig” (that’s when you take a pig, grease it with crisco oil, and try to catch it).
“There was a closeness because of the smallness,” echoes Eleanor Bolinger. “We kept up with everybody and got to know each family as they moved in. When we moved in, someone brought over a cake that said Welcome to Parkwood.”
It was a seven- to ten-mile drive to Durham or Chapel Hill for shopping needs, especially before the shopping center opened here. “We could hardly buy a loaf of bread around here,” said Lorraine Blake. The A&P at the corner of Alston Avenue and Main Street in Durham was the closest major supermarket. “You used to have to drive a half hour to buy a screw at Sears downtown,” recalls Bill Gour.

There were frequent power outages and disruptions in phone service in the early days. “Every time a drop of rain fell, the telephones wouldn’t work,” explained Marie Gour, who was on a four-party line at the time.

The establishment of churches was an important aspect of life in the new community. In addition to providing spiritual direction, the churches gave the community space for scout meetings and other activities. The first church in the area was Parkwood Methodist, which held its first meetings at Lowe’s Grove School. The Methodist Church was followed by the Baptist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, and Catholic congregations.

Through it all, Parkwood had changed, but it has flourished and endured. That’s not to say there aren’t problems–there were in the past and there will continue to be challenges that all communities must face. As long-time resident Melissa Harper puts it, “This has been a journey, not an arrival.” As Parkwood continues on its “journey,” all of us can utilize our talents to make it the best it can be.


A special thank you to the individuals who were generous with their time and information: Bill and Marie Gour, Betty Bradford, Sol Ellis, Paul Starling, Wally Lawrence, Eleanor and Bob Bolinger, Pat Beach, Maxine Johnson, Lorraine Blake, John Rudisill, Jackie Johnson, Melissa Harper, John Blake, Linda Mooring, and the Parkwood Volunteer Fire Department Staff.

And to those of you we missed this time around, we’ll catch you for the 40th!

Our Thanks to the Following Generous Donations

  • Fortune Garden Restaurant
  • Golden Corral Restaurant
  • Kerr Drug
  • Radisson Governor’s Inn
  • RTP Fitness Center
  • Triangle Pharmacy