1103 Ninth St. -- THE SMITH HOUSE

35.97320905, -78.897550537484

Year built
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Deed records indicate that J.B.Warren built this house around 1905. It was one of a row of simple gable-and-wing Victorian transitional houses Warren built along Ninth Street at the turn of the last century. The area on the west side of Durham was booming with new growth stimulated by the creation and rapid expansion of Benjamin Duke’s Erwin Cotton Manufacturing Company. And while the company was building its own mill housing as quickly as it could, there was an opportunity for private developers to create worker housing as an investment. Warren seized that opportunity. The houses he built along the top edge of Ninth Street are among the oldest buildings in the area – older than the Watts-Hillandale neighborhood that now surrounds them. At the time there was no hospital. There was no country club. There was no street car. All of these things were yet to come. Club Boulevard was a dirt track called E Street.* The property all around was still mostly farmland.

In 1906, Warren sold the new house at 1103 Ninth Street to Ivory Turner Smith. Ivory was a textile worker at Erwin Mills
and his wife Annie was a homemaker. The Smiths bought several properties on Ninth and Iredell Streets, but the house at 1103 Ninth was their family home. It would be their home for more than ninety years. The Smiths had two children. Leroy was born in 1904 and Hazel Inez in 1912. In time, Leroy became a clerk at American Suppliers on Pettigrew Street and Hazel eventually became a secretary at Parker’s Letter Service. In 1934, Leroy married Anna Lee Woodall, a department manager at Belk’s department store downtown. The younger Smiths lived with their parents on Ninth Street.

In 1942 Ivory Smith died of a heart attack. The family continued to live together at 1103 until Annie’s death in 1957. Both Annie and Ivory are buried at Maplewood Cemetery. Hazel deeded her portion of the house to Anna and Leroy. Leroy died in 1975, and Anna resided at 1103 until her death in 1998.

The house at 1103 Ninth St. was constructed as a typical gable and wing cottage, identical to several of its neighbors on the street. The house is clad with drop siding. Invented in the late Nineteenth century, drop siding, sometimes called “German” siding, is a factory-milled product with a shallow cove on the upper edge and a rabbet on the lower edge designed to overlap the lip of the cove edge on the piece below. Its advantage was that it laid flat on the studs and obviated the need for a separate layer of sheathing to stiffen the house. Large, Victorian-style two-over-two double hung windows provided the house with lots of natural light. The house originally had a central hall interior layout which gave access to the three or four principle rooms. The interior walls were planks as plaster was expensive. This was covered with a fabric not unlike cheesecloth to provide smooth surface for wallpaper. The house was originally heated with coal-burning fireplaces.

In the 1920s, the Smiths enlarged the house to accommodate their growing family. The house was extended to the rear and the roof was raised to make a half story of new living space in the attic. A large shed dormer was built in the new roof to give light to the rooms within. Across the front of the house they added an engaged front porch. Craftsman Style brackets were added to the eaves. The renovated house now matched the popular bungalows that were springing upallaround. Ifyoulookcloselyatthe house today, you can see still evidence of the original cable-and-wing house. The gable projects under the porch. There is a vertical board on the end of the house marking the siding change at the original back corner.

In the 1950 or 1960s, after Annie Smith died and her children had taken over the house, the interior was altered again. Ceilings were dropped. Fireplaces were covered over, and oak flooring was installed over the original pine. On the exterior, wrought iron posts replaced the original porch supports and aluminum siding was applied over the original
wood. Most of the original windows were replaced. An addition was constructed along the rear of the house with two bathrooms and a utility room. Even more renovation work was performed in the early 2000s, after the house passed from the Smith family.

When the current owners acquired the house in 2013, it was tired and somewhat patched together. The owners love old houses and immediately saw potential in the property. They hired Sara Lachenman’s firm, Four Over One Design, to guide the renovation of the house. Sara knew the house. She drove passed it regularly when she lived on Englewood Avenue nearby.

The owners wanted to add a bathroom on the second floor, reconfigure the first floor layout to create more connection between the interior and exterior, and to enlarge the kitchen. The owners also wanted the exterior of the house to be restored. An important goal of the project was to preserve the historicfeelofthehousebysavingoriginal materials and elements wherever possible. Four Over One created a plan that used a portion of the rear addition as kitchen space and added several sets of windows on the south and west elevations to improve sight lines. A family room now connects to the kitchen and a primary suite is now located off the living room.

Upstairs, a rear-facing dormer was constructed to accommodate the new bathroom. Cadence Construction of Durham was hired as the contractor for the project. Cadence specializes in the sensitive restoration of historic properties. The firm’s craftspeople paid careful attention to original details. Many non-original elements were replaced with reclaimed or new materials to match the originals. With a house like this, one that has changed constantly over time, deciding what to save and what to change presents challenges and opportunities. Sarah and the owners struck the right balance. On the exterior, the aluminum siding was removed and the original siding was repaired and restored. New windows were carefully selected to match the two-over-two light pattern of the originals. Care was taken not to obscure the history of the house as it changed. Preserving variances in the siding profile was a conscious choice. Inside, elements like original beadboard ceilings were revealed and saved. A fireplace was restored to provide the home with a hearth.

The project exposed layers of ancient wall coverings. Delicate samples of these were saved and framed by the owners. Look for them hanging on the living room wall just as you enter the house. 

In a runaway real estate market where demolition of old homes is an increasing trend, these owners and their restoration team chose to save one of the oldest houses in an historic neighborhood. That decision makes them worthy stewards of Durham’s unique history.

* A note about West Durham’s numbered and lettered streets – In the 1890s Richard Wright and Julian Carr bought about 300 acres north of the new campus of Trinity College 

(Duke East Campus). Today we know the area as the Walltown neighborhood. Wright and Carr anticipated that the street car lines would be extended northward believed the area had potential for industrial growth. They laid out factory sites and platted streets and lots for worker housing. The north-south streets were numbered and the east-west streets were given letter names. As other developers got in the act, they continued the system westward. Wright and Carr’s industrial scheme did not turn out as planned and their property was ultimately developed as residential neighborhoods. In time, the streets were renamed until today, only Ninth, F, and 15th Streets retain their original names.

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