In the early 1850s the steam locomotives of the newly formed North Carolina Railroad could not make the haul between Raleigh and Hillsborough without stopping for more wood and water. Another depot was needed. Established plantation owners in the target area between the two towns were hard sells, however, to get land for a new depot. Finally Dr. Bartlett Durham donated four acres of land for that new station and got the village that sprung up around the tracks named for him.
Not that it was much of an honor at the time - there were fewer than 100 residents in Durham’s Station in 1865 when the two largest intact armies remaining from the Civil War stared down each other from Raleigh (William T. Sherman’s Union troops) and Greensboro (Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederate forces). No fighting would take place, however, as the largest troop surrender of the war was negotiated three miles west of Durham’s Station at James and Nancy Bennett’s farm. While there wasn’t any official fighting there was more than a little looting by the soldiers and one of their favorite booties was a mild flavor of tobacco discovered around Durham. After the veterans returned home many wrote letters to Durham trying to get more of that tobacco. John Ruffin Green was one of the first to fill those orders.
The Duke family home outside Durham was one of those farms stripped bare by marauding Union soldiers as they marched through North Carolina. Family legend has it that a small quantity of bright leaf tobacco was overlooked, providing a tiny lifeline. The family, including 9-year old James Buchanan, gathered the tobacco and sorted it into small packages labeled “Pro Boro Publico.” They hitched their blind mules to a wagon and drove to the southern part of North Carolina where tobacco was scarce. Their small supply sold easily and the money was reinvested into more tobacco. By 1872 the Dukes had sold 125,000 pounds, one of the leading producers in the area. The tobacco was processed in a log house factory in what is now the heart of Duke University.
In 1878, at the age of 22, James Duke took charge of W. Duke & Sons and in 1883 he traveled to New York to introduce his firm to the national tobacco business. Tobacco wars broke out and older companies offered to buy Duke’s company. He had other ideas and consolidated all his competitors under the banner of American Tobacco, with Duke as its president. He was 34 years old.
The Department of Justice broke up the Duke tobacco trust in 1910 and Duke turned to generation of electricity and providing cheap power to the South. Although he himself had little use for education, In 1924 Duke endowed tiny Trinity College with as much as $135,000,000, mostly from his holdings in Southern Power. The school was named after him and became one of the world’s great private universities and forever linking the Duke name with Durham, even after the tobacco factories have long since been converted into condominiums.
Our tour to see how this tobacco town was built will start at the city center at the life-sized, one-ton bronze statue of the city’s emblem, the Durham Bull...
111 Corcoran Street
John Sprunt Hill was born on a North Carolina farm In 1869 and made his way into New York law circles via the University of North Carolina, the Spanish-American War and Columbia University. In 1899 Hill married Annie Louise Watts, daughter of George Washington Watts, co-founder of the American Tobacco Company, and in 1903 relocated to Durham to go into business with his new father-in-law. The duo formed two banks, both helmed by Hill - Durham Loan & Trust Company and Home Savings Bank. Hill would go on to pioneer rural credit unions and become the prime shaper of Durham and the University of North Carolina in the 1920s and 1930s. In addition to the buildings he erected in Durham he donated land for parks, golf courses and the Durham Athletic Park. Shreve, Lamb, and Harmon, the architectural firm best known for the 1931 Empire State Building, came to Durham for this iconic tower in 1935 and brought the same Art Deco flair for this project. Completed in 1937, the 17-story tower’s main tenant was John Sprunt Hill’s Durham Loan and Trust Company. The bank would later morph into Central Carolina Bank, which remained until 2005 when SunTrust took up residency. Top-shelf retailer Ellis-Stone, then celebrating its 50th anniversary, was the main retail tenant on the first floor.
LEAVE THE PLAZA ON THE SOUTHEAST CORNER AND WALK DOWN PARRISH STREET.
North Carolina Mutual National Historic Landmark / Manufacturers and Farmers Bank
116 West Parrish Street
In 1898 former slave and owner of a string of barbershops, John Merrick, and Aaron McDuffie Moore, the first African American to practice law in Durham, founded a life insurance company to cater to the black community that was virtually shut out from obtaining affordable life insurance at the time. One of their first employees was Charles Clinton Spaulding who began as a part-time agent and would become general manager in less than a year. The three men would be president successively for the next 54 years as North Carolina Mutual Life evolved into the oldest and largest black-owned business in the United States. In 1906 the firm established a presence in downtown Durham on Parrish Street, rather than in Hayti, the established black commercial area southeast of town. They gobbled up additional lots and when North Carolina Mutual Life constructed this Neoclassical low-rise tower in 1921 for its financial arm, Mechanics and Farmers Bank, it anchored an area known nationally as “Black Wall Street.” Local architects Rose & Rose designed the building which served as the home office until 1965 and today is a National Historic Landmark.
TURN LEFT ON MANGUM STREET.
Durham Station #1
212 North Mangum Street
Originally this was the home of the Golden Belt Hose Company, designed by S.L. Leary, and put into service in 1890. Although the station featured a tower with an 829-pound bell it was also connected by a new electric-telegraph to eight alarm boxes across the city. In the 1920s the firehouse was torn down and built up with more of a Craftsman-style feel and terra-cotta trim. The tower was also downscaled and moved from the back to the front. The station was decommissioned in the 1960s.
TURN RIGHT ON CITY HALL PLAZA.
101 City Hall Plaza
Construction for this City Hall began in 1976 on plans drawn by local architects John D. Latimer and Associates. The design reflects thearchitecture of the 1970s which rejected symmetry and put the value on interior functions.
TURN RIGHT ON CHURCH STREET.
Trinity United Methodist Church
215 North Church Street
This congregation formed in the 1830s with 30 members. In 1861 the Orange Grove Church moved to the little village of Durham and purchased its present site. A small frame church was raised and the name changed to Durham Methodist Church. The pine meetinghouse was replaced with a brick church in 1881 and again was followed by a name change - this time to Trinity. The brick church was consumed by fire on January 21, 1923 and the current Gothic stone sanctuary opened on September 20, 1925. This time a new building was not followed by a new name.
TURN LEFT ON PARRISH STREET. TURN RIGHT ON ROXBORO STREET AND WALK A FEW MORE STEPS TO MAIN STREET. TURN LEFT.
First Presbyterian Church
305 East Main Street
This is the third meetinghouse for the congregation that organized on New Year’s Eve 1871. By 1876 the new church was flush enough to move into its own building, a frame house at the corner of Roxboro and Main streets. Things progressed well enough that a brick church highlighted by a 70-foot steeple was completed in 1890. After only a quarter-century of service the church hired Washington architects Frank Milburn and Michael Heister to design a new sanctuary and they delivered a Gothic Revival confection of bricks and bands of stone. It has been of service since 1916.
311 East Main Street
Classically trained architects Edward Lippincott Tilton and William A. Boring kick-started their careers by winning a design competition for the buildings on Ellis Island in 1897 for the United States Immigration Service. Tilton went on to become a library architect of sorts with over 100 libraries to his credit, many coming from funds provided by Andrew Carnegie. This classical interpretation, loaded with Ionic columns, is one of his latest libraries, from 1921. The Durham public library is the oldest tax-supported library in North Carolina, lending its first books in 1898.
Durham Sun Building
310 East Main Street
The first newspaper in Durham hit the streets in 1872 as The Tobacco Plant. The first editions of the Durham Sun appeared in 1889 with James R. Robinson as publisher. This Renaissance Revival five-bay building was constructed for The Sun in 1926 but was only used as a newspaper plant for a few years. In 1929, the Durham Morning Herald acquired the Durham Sun and shuffled operations over to its place. The Herald-Sun remains the paper of record in Durham today.
Johnson Motor Company
326 East Main Street
This was once a block of elegant residences in the late 1800s. James Eric Johnson got into the automobile business the way many car enthusiasts did in the early days - he rode the train to a large town (in this case, Greensboro), picked up a car and returned to re-sell it. By 1924 he had won a Buick dealership and built this ornate showroom. Next door was the Alexander Ford dealership. It was an age when car dealers hired important architects to design their showrooms and although both buildings have been greatly altered you can still see details from the nascent days of car-selling.
TURN AN RETRACE YOUR STEPS ON MAIN STREET, CROSSING OVER ROXBORO STREET.
Durham County Courthouse
201 East Main Street
Frank Milburn and Michael Heister, who had designed business buildings, cultural buildings and church buildings for the Durham streetscape, here created a government building, the second courthouse for the county since its formation in 1881. The architects gave their Neoclassical symmetrical building such features as Corinthian pilasters, balustraded window porches and a dentilled cornice. The county jail was on the top floor and apparently gave the prisoners a forum from which to shout at passersby on the street.
Citizens National Bank
102 East Main Street
Eugene Morehead, a former governor’s son, came to Durham as a stamp agent for the Internal Revenue Service and wound up starting Durham’s first bank in 1878. The Morehead Bank morphed into Citizens National Bank into 1907 and moved into this Neoclassical vault a few years later.
101-103 West Main Street
Even though Samuel H. Kress ran a nickel-and-dime business he kept a stable of architects to insure the consistency of his more than 200 stores in 30 states. In the 1930s that unifying style was elaborately decorated Art Deco facades and the Durham Kress building, completed in 1933, was one of the largest and liveliest Art Deco buildings in North Carolina. Once they were through admiring the exterior shoppers could step inside and enjoy the first air conditioning in a commercial building in Durham.
107 West Main Street
R.L. Baldwin began Durham’s toniest department store in 1911, the third location in a chain that stretched across Virginia and North Carolina. The original store was located cross the street but it perished, along with much of the block, in a fire in the 1920s. His rebuilt store with a Classical visage opened in 1927 and was half the size it would later become. Baldwin’s would remain in downtown Durham until 1986.
First National Bank Building
123 West Main Street
This is one Durham’s earliest steel-frame structureS and for many years the tallest building in the city. Faced in limestone, the composition of the building is meant to reflect a classic Greek column, as most early American skyscrapers would also appear. The tripartite style featured an ornate base (the ground floors) a plain shaft (the unadorned central floors and a decorative capital (the elaborate cornice). Frank Milburn and Michael Heister, who maintained a busy practice across the southeast with many Durham commissions, drew up the plans for the building that was completed in 1915. Julian Carr started the bank back in 1887.
TURN LEFT ON BLACKWELL STREET AND WALK TO THE RAILROAD TRACKS. ACROSS THE TRACKS TO YOUR RIGHT IS...
Old Bull Building
201 West Pettigrew Street
That tobacco would lead Durham out of the ravages of the Civil War became apparent as soon as hostilities ended. As troops waited for Joseph E. Johnston to surrender his Confederate Army to Union commander William T. Sherman, they were becoming acquainted with an aromatic Bright Leaf tobacco peddled by John Ruffin Green. In 1866 Green registered the name “Genuine Durham Smoking Tobacco” and adorned his factory with a sign featuring his new advertising symbol - a bull.
Green unfortunately would die at the age of 37 in 1869 and one of his customers, William T. Blackwell, led a partnership that purchased an interest in the factory and that trademark. Blackwell was ready to bet big on Durham and the tobacco. In 1874 he built a massive four-story brick warehouse, executed in the bold Italianate style with corner quoins and decorative window hoods, that dwarfed everything then standing in the little railroad town. Before the decade was out business was so good the factory was expanded and others would follow. The American Tobacco Company continued operations at Old Bull until 1987; it has since been redeveloped as condominiums.
RETRACE YOUR STEPS TO MAIN STREET AND TURN LEFT.
Durham Loan and Trust Building
212 West Main Street
High-rises came slowly to North Carolina and when this six-story “skyscraper” was built in 1905 it was considered the tallest building in the state. Money for the project came from lawyer John Sprunt Hill, president of the bank. Hill tapped architect Hill Carter Linthicum for the job. Linthicum had a 20-year resume of buildings in Durham before he located in the town in 1904. Linthicum delivered a Beaux Arts confection in brick and terra-cotta that is most memorable for its rounded southeast corner.
302 West Main Street
This building was created for another of John Sprunt Hill’s business interests - the Home Security Life Company; it came to be called “The Temple Building” when the fraternal Elks occupied the second floor and the Odd Fellows used the third. It was constructed in 1909 using material left over from the construction of the Watts Hospital to fashion this Spanish Colonial Revival three-story building. The building received a complete makeover in 2003 and still retains the form and tile roof of the original but the classical brick ground floor is completely different.
Old Hill Building
307 West Main Street
Arthur Nash came to North Carolina from New York City to be the site architect for the University of North Carolina in the 1920s. While there he teamed with New England engineer Thomas C. Atwood, whose specialty was bringing in large projects. In 1925, John Sprunt Hill, a major financial benefactor of UNC, brought the team over to his hometown for this speculative venture. Atwood and Nash introduced the Georgian Revival style to Durham with their elegantly proportioned four-story building highlighted by large, brass-framed recessed windows. Tilley’s Department Store was a long time tenant.
331 West Main Street
Ohio-born Horace North Snow was a telegraph operator during the Civil War. After the war he came to Durham to work for Julian Carr in the tobacco trade. Snow married Anna Exum in 1884 and his new bride’s family gave the couple family land as a wedding gift, land that turned out to be a chunk of downtown Durham. Snow eventually struck out on his own, operating several businesses in downtown Durham. Anna Snow had this office building constructed on her family land in 1933 and dedicated to her late husband who had passed a decade earlier. It is one of North Carolina’s finest Art Deco efforts, with its vertically emphasized pilasters leading to a spiky roof. Inside is North Carolina’s last operator-driven elevators.
TURN RIGHT ON CHAPEL HILL STREET. TURN LEFT ON MORRIS STREET AND WALK ONE BLOCK TO MORGAN STREET.
215 Morris Street
The Imperial Tobacco Company of the British Isles arrived on these shores to challenge the American Tobacco Company in 1916. Architect C.C. Davis of Richmond drew up plans for this mammoth brick leaf-handling and redrying factory using the Romanesque style. The plant operated until the 1960s when it was re-adapted for other uses. The Imperial Building has taken a star turn in a couple of Hollywood productions including the Gregory Peck-Lauren Bacall starrer, The Portrait, and as the setting for locker room scenes in Bull Durham.
TURN RIGHT ON MORGAN STREET.
309 West Morgan Street
Durham once boasted 13 theaters - this is the only one left. Frank Milburn and Michael Heister won the commission for the Durham Auditorium in 1923 and created a grand classical stage. The buidling debuted on February 2, 1926 with a presentation of the Kiwanis Jollies. Tabbed the Carolina Theater from an early age, the theater presented both live performances and motion pictures. The Carolina was the first theater in Durham to admit African Americans, although it remained segregated until 1963.
300 West Morgan Street
The tallest building in the downtown area is the 15-story Durham Centre that sits atop a three-story parking complex. The pyramid-roofed tower combines deep blue reflective glass and distinctive red granite imported from Finland; it came on board in 1988 as the People’s Security Insurance Building.
TO SEE HISTORIC DURHAM ATHLETIC PARK, TURN LEFT ON FOSTER STREET AND TURN LEF T ON CORPORATION STREET. IF YOU CHOOSE NOT TO VISIT THE DETOUR STOP, TURN RIGHT ON FOSTER STREET.
Historic Durham Athletic Park
500 West Corporation Street
Baseball fans and movie buffs will want to take a four-block detour to visit the Durham Athletic Park. The stadium was built in 1926 and was popular for the snorting bull over the right field wall - if a player hit a home run that struck the bull, he won a steak. The park became internationally famous when it was the setting for the 1988 Kevin Costner-Susan Sarandon baseball soaper, Bull Durham. The minor league Durham Bulls relocated a mile south in town in the tobacco warehouse district in 1994 and their old home was preserved and used by the community including the North Carolina Central University Eagles baseball team.
IF YOU HAVE TAKEN THE DETOUR RETURN TO THE CORNER OF FOSTER STREET AND MORGAN STREET AND CONTINUE ON FOSTER STREET.
220 Foster Street
Yet another Depression-era project this one converted what had been a City Market since 1910 into an armory for the Durham National Guard. The roof tiles here were the ones on the market and the arches are said to be a design element carried over from the destroyed building. The golden-bricked building was only used as an armory for a couple of decades and has been re-adapted for convention and event duty.
TURN LEFT ON CHAPEL HILL STREET.
Home Mutual Savings & Loan Building
301 East Chapel Hill Street
Forty years ago when this building was constructed it sought a futuristic appearance with its unconventional use of colors and materials, looking like a place where George Jetson would do his banking. Today we know this was not the future of American architecture.
United States Post Office
323 East Chapel Hill Street
The architectural firm of Atwood and Weeks turned to the Neoclassical style for this Depression-era project that was completed in 1934. The symmetrical building sports round Doric columns and square Doric pilasters that march around the facades and a modillion cornice and balustrade at the roofline.
RETRACE YOUR STEPS ON EAST CHAPEL STREET TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT IN CCB PLAZA.