(JOHN) BROWN'S STORE / HOLLOW ROCK STORE

(JOHN) BROWN'S STORE / HOLLOW ROCK STORE

,
Durham
NC
built in
1920-1930
/ modified in
1972
/ demolished in
2000
Construction type: 
Neighborhood: 
Type: 

Browns store winter 1972 4-6 S.jpg

Brown's Store, c. 1972

(Courtesy of and copyright by Steve Heron)

From the New Hope Creek Corridor Advisory Committee's website:

The Hollow Rock Store graced the banks of the New Hope Creek at Erwin Road from about 1930 until 1999. It had two incarnations. The first store, shown in this 1972 photograph, was built and owned by John Ransom Whitfield. John Brown rented the store from Whitfield and operated it for nearly 40 years. The store sold groceries and gas, and served as a polling place on election days, in addition to being a significant community gathering place.

In the mid-1960s, there were musical gatherings at the store on Friday nights after closing time. Among other local musicians, the lineup sometimes included banjo player Tommy Thompson, later of the Red Clay Ramblers. Tommy and his wife were part of a band known as the Hollow Rock String Band before the Red Clay Ramblers were formed.Tommy wrote about his time playing at the Hollow Rock:

"[My wife] Bobbie and I bought our gasoline and notions from John Brown at the Hollow Rock Grocery on Erwin Road at New Hope Creek.  John was a soft-spoken gentleman, probably about as old as our century.  He would gladly note down your "box spaghetti" and five gallons of regular, and you didn't have to pay till Saturday.   Sometime after he knew us well enough to extend this trust, he also told us about the music gatherings at the store on Friday nights after closing."

 "I can't remember for sure when we first attended, but it was probably in the winter of '64 and '65.  There were two or three standers around that night, one guitar player who knew pretty much when to hit the chords but not which, and another who was a good country strummer and fine singer.  His name was Tom Turner.  John was a fiddler and banjo player, but too shy to be heard in a crowd.  He was the first person besides myself I'd ever seen "frail" a banjo. His playing didn't sound like mine, or even look like what I'd been learning from Seeger's book.  John called his method "knocking" the banjo, and he hadn't learned it from any book.  He wasn't familiar with the term "frailing."  That was my first lesson in regional and individual stylistics.  I've since heard that peculiar way of sounding the strings (i.e., with the back of one's fingernail), called flailing, rapping, downpicking, clawhammer, and "that old clubfisted way."  Not only do the terms vary from place to place and person to person, but so, to a degree, do the method and the sound.  Seeger had adapted his method from a banjo man in eastern Kentucky."

    "The Hollow Rock Grocery was the kind of store you could stand in the middle of and reach all merchandise.  Bobbie and I became regulars, and one night when a few extra listeners dropped in, the little store began to bulge.  We offered to move the whole shebang to our house, and thus initiated a weekly event to rival in cumulative attendance any secular gathering in the history of Durham County except sports.  By the summer of '66, it would be common to have 150 people in and around our house on any given Friday.  And the party went around the year.  Every Friday night except Christmas, Easter, and any major fiddler's convention weekend."

  "Most of the locals dropped out early on.  I think they were put off by an untraditional household where the woman held a job and went to work, the man wore canvas shoes and went to school, and drinking was permitted indoors.  But Tom Turner stuck with us.  He was a winning singer with a seemingly endless repertoire of bluegrass and country songs.  Bobbie and I had pretty much figured out harmony singing, and the three of us would stand in the living room and sing everything Tom had the patience to teach us.  He usually brought along his son Jerry and sometimes a slim, shy fellow with tattoos who worked in the "powder room" at the BC plant.  He was a wonderful singer, and I wish I could remember his name.  When he joined us, I'd drop down and sing bass, and we had four-part harmony.  I was still working on bluegrass banjo at the time, though it was a pretty blunt instrument in my hands.  At least it gave us one melody instrument, and we all pretended it sounded OK and made us into a band.  We'd practice on Sunday afternoons and then play what we'd learned for fun on Friday nights.  There were always a few people around to listen, and I was having the time of my life.  The fireplace had a built-in mirror over the mantle, and I used to sneak glances just to see how much we looked like a band."

 

Brown Store Front.jpg

Old Brown's Store with new store under construction to the rear, c. 1972

(Courtesy of and copyright by Steve Heron)

browns_interior2_1972.jpg

Linwood Crabtree, 1972

(Courtesy of and copyright by Steve Heron)

In this 1972 photo, Linwood Crabtree (right) makes himself at home at the store, enjoying a neighborly conversation. New Hope Creek Corridor Advisory Committee member Bill Olive remembers sleeping in that store one damp night in 1931, when he was just a boy. Bill's family had gone camping on a rock near the creek. When it started pouring rain, they went to the store and John Brown took pity on them and agreed to let them sleep on the floor until morning. Around 1969, John Ransom Whitfield's son (John Glenn Whitfield) and grandson (Stanford Whitfield) took over operation of the store.

browns_interior1_1972.jpg

Stan and Sue Whitfield, 1972

(Courtesy of and copyright by Steve Heron)

The Whitfields soon decided they needed more space and announced plans in 1972 to tear down the old store and build a new one. Hollow Rock patron Jan Gregg told them she'd like to use the old store as her pottery studio. The Whitfields agreed and Gregg had the store moved to her nearby property. It served as her studio for nearly 20 years, and was used for storage after that. 

Brown Store from Bridge.jpg

 

Old Brown's Store from the bridge, with new store under construction to the rear, c. 1972

(Courtesy of and copyright by Steve Heron)

Brown Store Tony Bennett_and_Mac (Nub).jpg

Tony Bennett and Walter Mac Stone Jr., with Stan Whitfield in the background, 1972

(Courtesy of and copyright by Steve Heron)

When DOT made the decision to replace the adjacent bridge in the 1990s, the (replacement) Hollow Rock store was deemed obstrcutive to that progress and torn down.

hollowrockstore_022400.jpeg

02.24.00
(Courtesy The Herald-Sun Newspaper)

 In 2006, the location of the old store came to the attention of local activists working to establish the New Hope Preserve, which will have a major access point at the site of the Hollow Rock store. Local activists have begun talking to Jan Gregg about having the store moved back to (or near) its old site, to serve as a focal point of the preserve. 

Comments

  • Submitted by Anonymous on Wednesday, May 25, 2011 - 1:44am

    I'm enjoying your trek down Eriwn Road, one of my haunts as a kid. I was sad to see this building go...

  • Submitted by Andrew Edmonds on Wednesday, May 25, 2011 - 1:44am

    It went, but it's coming back soon. After spending some time in a nearby backyard, the store is hoping to return to (almost) its original location. Monetary donations can be made to help that process along.

    Preservation Durham is acting as the pass through, since the Hollow Rock Store friends group is not a 501 (c) (3).

    Read more at:

    thedurhamnews.com/2010/12/22/204897/country-classic.html

    and

    preservationdurham.org/

  • Submitted by Michael Bacon on Friday, May 27, 2011 - 1:42am

    That place always brings back memories. When I was at NCSSM in the early 90's I'd frequently bike out Erwin Rd. to ride through the Kornstein division of Duke Forest (between Whitfield and Mt. Sinai). I'd usually stop by the Hollow Rock country store to get a Gatorade and sit on the old church pew they had sitting on the front porch. Inevitably, the clerk inside was watching professional wrestling on a small TV above the counter.

  • Submitted by Gary on Friday, May 27, 2011 - 1:43am

    My main memory of the Hollow Rock store is that, when I was 22, I used to run as compulsively as I now collect building history. I'd go out every night after work and run from 108 N. Buchanan, where I lived, down Campus Drive, across West Campus, down to the Duke Cross Country trail, around it twice, and then back. On the weekends, I'd go run around the various Duke Forest divisions for 2-3 hours.

    One weekend, I had the idea that I would run to Chapel Hill and back. Being young and completely invulnerable at the time, I made no preparations for this - brought no water, food etc. I ran my usual route to the cross country trail, but crossed out to Old Erwin, then ran down Old Erwin to Franklin - up the long hill to UNC to the old well, and headed back.

    Although the hill was terrible, I was doing fairly well on the way back until I came to around Whitfield. Then my legs just suddenly stopped. It's not something I've ever really felt before or since - even when I later ran a marathon (because it took going to medical school, evidently, to understand how the body's fuel systems work.) I wasn't more tired than I'd expect from a long run, and my legs didn't hurt. I could still stand. But I couldn't get them to run anymore, or to really walk much.

    I sat for awhile, wondering what in the world I was going to do. Old Erwin wasn't as busy then, and no cars went by. I finally walked a bit, had to sit, walked a bit more, etc. It probably took me another 45 minutes to see the Hollow Rock store, and saw with some relief another now-nearly-extinct item - a pay phone. I made it there and sat on the ground, calling everyone's number I could remember collect, trying to find someone to come pick me up. A friend of mine was, fortunately, at home. It took some explaining to convey exactly where I was and what the problem was. Being a fellow 22 year old guy, he spent a good few minutes laughing at me and giving me * before agreeing to come pick me up.

  • Submitted by Anonymous on Friday, August 26, 2011 - 2:00am

    In 1981 on my 18th birthday I stopped in the Hollow Rock store to buy my first legal beer(the drinking age was only 18 in those days),the gentleman behind the counter carded me,when he was it was my birthday he said"this ones on me".I have never past that spot without that memory going though my head.

  • Submitted by Joe Williams on Friday, August 26, 2011 - 2:00am

    I grew up a mile or two away on Kerley Road, between Mt. Sinai and Erwin. In the summertime in the late '60s, a neighbor and I would get a couple paper bags and walk to Hollow Rock, each on one side of the road, picking up all the soda bottles we could find. When we'd get to the store, we could turn them in for the deposit of 2 cents each. We'd usually get enough for a cold drink and a little candy. Tasting an Atomic Fireball gives me flashbacks to those days. ;-)

  • Submitted by John Hartwell on Friday, September 16, 2011 - 2:00am

    I know a story involving the store at Hollow Rock. I heard it long ago, and I know longer recall the source. It may be that the story is well known among historians, perhaps thoroughly documented or possibly completely debunked. The few folks to whom I have related it have expressed great surprise, though, so I take this opportunity to set the tale down. When Harry Truman was Vice President of the United States, he liked to visit a Col. Brown who lived just southwest of the Hollow Rock store. (Col. Brown's house still stands and can be seen across Erwin Road from the foot of Whitfield Road.) Truman, who had served with Brown in the military, was visiting his friend when President Roosevelt died on April 12, 1945. Attempts to reach Brown or Truman by telephone failed, and two secret service agents were dispatched to find Truman. They flew to RDU, then more of an air strip than an airport, and took a cab to Brown's house. Finding no one at home they inquired at the store and See more...

  • Submitted by Curtis on Friday, September 16, 2011 - 2:00am

    This story is totally apocryphal. FDR died at 4:35 PM on April 12, 1945. Truman took the oath of office in the White House less that two hours later, having already consulted each member of FDR's Cabinet. The Browns, although farming their land along Erwin and Mt. Moriah for more than a century and having much history at Hollow Rock, never owned the Mann Patterson House. If I'm not mistaken, Archibald Henderson owned the Patterson House from the time the Patterson heirs sold it until his death in 1963.

  • Submitted by Tony Bennett on Friday, June 8, 2012 - 3:51pm

    The fellow that worked at the B.C. Plant that Tommy Thompson mentioned was most likely Winston Parker, Jerry Turner's uncle (Magdalene's brother). Winston played guitar and sang with Tom Turner at Jerry's grandmother's (Cora Parker) house on Kerley Rd. when we were kids.

    John Brown cut our hair when we kids. Dad would take us over to John's house and we would get the "buzz cut" for fifty cents a head. After the haircut, John would play us a few tunes on the banjo.

  • Submitted by Mike McGinty on Monday, July 30, 2012 - 6:20pm

    In 1970, I was 14 and lived on Randolph rd. we would ride den there for a drink and explore the Eno. They replaced it with a new building like all other convenience stores- except they kept stove for farmers to sit around.

  • Submitted by Worth Whitfield Jr on Monday, November 26, 2012 - 5:34pm

    This really brings back memories. We lived on Randolph Road. My Dad and Glen Whitfield were first cousins. My brother and I had a bike path all the way from our house on Randolph Road through Duke woods to just up the road from the store. As I remember it, John Brown's mother ran the store in the late 1950's/early 1960's and I remember my mother taking us there for a Coca Cola (she always had a BC Powder too - my dad worked for the BC Remedy Company). Tommy Thompson's house was down a narrow dirt road just in front of our house on Randolph Road and we could hear the music...now that's all in a housing development. It's all changed so much now.

  • Submitted by Larry Horton on Sunday, January 27, 2013 - 10:28am

    I grew up on Pickett Rd. near the Cornwallis intresection during the 40's & 50's. and remember riding my bike to Hollow Rock many times. Pickett Rd. was a gravel road after you crossed hwy.# 751 then. We would usually explore the Eno for a while then have a Pepsi from the old store, sitting on an old bench out front, before the ride back. Some memories !!

    My parents were friends of some people who lived in the Col. Brown house (Allens) back then. I was out there quite often,but don't remember ever hearing the Truman story. I do remember the Brown's house had a real electric water fountain on the pourch at the back door. That was something for those times,

  • Submitted by Sue Andresen on Wednesday, February 5, 2014 - 9:21pm

    Any news on the progress of the Hollow Rock Store being moved to the New Hope Preserve, or news of the Preserve in general? We hike here all the time and have seen no changes in ages...

Add new comment