Durham County History

Press Enter to show all options, press Tab go to next option

As early as colonial days, the area known as Durham County was important to North Carolina history. English, Scots and Irish settled along the waterways of the present northeast corner of the county on land given to the Earl of Granville by the British Crown. As a result of the hard work of those early settlers, the area soon became a progressive and prosperous section of the state.

The City of Durham began as a railroad station and settlement named for Dr. Bartlett Durham. While the official birthdate is April 26, 1853 when the U. S. Post Office was established, the town was not incorporated until April 10, 1869. The tobacco manufacturing industry focused worldwide attention on the area after the Civil War. As a result of that thriving business, Durham grew and prospered tremendously.

In 1881, Durham officials sought to become an autonomous political subdivision and decided to separate from Orange County. Durham County was formed on April 17, 1881 from portions of land transferred into the county from Wake and Orange counties. In 1911, an additional portion of land was transferred into the county from Wake County.

The first Board of Commissioners convened its initial meeting May 2, 1881. Durham County operated under the Commission form of government, with the chairman serving as chief administrator until 1930. The Manager form of government was then adopted and D. W. Newsome became the first manager of Durham County serving until his death in 1949. E. S. Swindell, Jr. succeeded him on April 11, 1949 and served until his retirement in December, 1984. John P. Bond, III was named County Manager and served until his resignation in January of 1991. In September 1991, George H. Williams, became the 4th County Manager and served until October 1995. David F. Thompson became the 5th County Manager in May 1996 and served until February 2000. Michael M. Ruffin was the 6th county manager. He retired after 13 years of service in January 2014.  Wendell Davis is the 7th and current County Manager. He brings to the job a wealth of experience having held numerous county leadership positions prior to taking office in April 2014.

Learn more about the history of Durham County Government when you visit the County's Public Information webpage.