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Old NC 10 - The Central Highway - Eastern Orange County: Hillsborough to Durham

Quietly hidden from US 70 and I-85 is one of the more lengthy segments of the Old Central Highway in the Piedmont.  Old NC 10 as it is known runs east from NC 86 just south of Hillsborough to US 70 just west of NC 751.  This twisty seven mile ride doesn't have any old roadside gas stations or motels or any other Roadside America artifacts.  What it does have are three low-clearance railroad trestles, a rural charm, and the history of once being part of the most important route in the state.
Although the beginning of Old NC 10 at NC 86 is rather inconsequential, not that far after the road begins the defining features of this back road come into play.  The highway begins to include some of the S-curves that were tight enough to have the road bypassed by a new NC 10/US 70 in the late 1920s. Soon after, the first rail trestle comes into sight - which is also located near one of the tight S-curves. This is the first of three rail trestles to cross over Old NC 10.  This is one of two Norfolk Southern Mainline rail trestles that cross Old NC 10.

The middle part of Old NC 10 is mixed with history.  The highway passes the grounds of the former Murphy School, which is now a private residence.  The site has been listed as a Study Area for the National Register of Historic Places since 1992.  Next, the highway passes the grounds of Mount Herman Baptist Church which was founded in 1848.  The next piece of history comes from the second rail trestle.   The trestle, which crosses over the old highway at the bottom of a ravine, carries what is known as the University Spur.  The University Spur was built in 1882 to connect Chapel Hill and the University of North Carolina to the Durham-Greensboro Southern Railway.  The terminus of this spur was located one mile to the west of campus and would ultimately initiate the growth of what is now the town of Carrboro.  Just north of this crossing is the tiny community of University.  The name is a direct result of the station that was placed there to serve those going to and from Chapel Hill.  However, the railroad name for the station is Glenn. (1)  The University Spur still carries coal to the power plant on UNC's campus.
Much of Old NC 10 is lined by tall southern pines, sprawling farms, and well-kept rural homesteads.  Gone are the one-lane bridges that carried the highway over Stony and Rhodes Creeks.  These bridges were still intact during the 1950s. (2)   The main line of the Norfolk-Southern crosses old NC 10 again near the highway's eastern end.  Again, a very tight and blind S-curve is involved.  Old NC 10 comes to an end at Business US 70 just west of NC 751 and Duke Forest.  It's an enjoyable detour for those wanting a different pace of travel and a chance to experience part of North Carolina's rich transportation history.

All photos taken by post author - April 2005

Example of one of the Old NC 10 S-Curves

The west trestle that carries the Norfolk Southern Railroad over Old NC 10

A closer view of the NS trestle and the sharp bend immediately after the structure

The University Spur trestle

The second and eastern most Norfolk Southern mainline trestle is also followed by a sharp bend

  • (1) Powell, William S. The North Carolina Gazetteer: A Dictionary of Tar Heel Places.  Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina, 1968.
  • (2) Old West Durham Neighborhood Association.  "Road to Erwin Mills." (August 28, 2005)
  • Historic NC 10 ---Dave Filpus
  • NC 10/Central Highway @ ---Matt Steffora
  • William Nichols
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