116 West Main St. / Merchants Bank

35.9954925982, -78.9011581504

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(Courtesy Duke Archives)

The Merchants Bank was established in 1905; in 1906 it was the fifth largest bank in Durham, with total deposits of $25,000. I'm not sure where is was located prior to 1914, but there is a listing for a Merchants Insurance Company between Mangum and Depot (Corcoran) so it may have been in the same block.

The Merchants Bank building in the 100 block of West Main was constructed after the fire of 1914 in a classical style with big Ionic columns providing the depth of relief from the facade. Alfred Bossom, nationally known bank architect who also designed the Geer Building 4 doors to the west, designed the structure.

Merchants Bank, 1920s
(Courtesy Durham County Library)

Looking northeast
(Courtesy Duke Archives)

The bank became the Hood Industrial Bank, which was later absorbed by First Union.


Early 1960s view (Courtesy Durham County Library)

I really find the following shots painful. Below, some enlightened folk disassembling the Classical facade in order to modernize the front.


(Courtesy Durham County Library)

The result? A yummy flat blue CVS.

(Courtesy Durham County Library)



I'm not sure when these were redone again, but I believe it was sometime during the 1990s.

The former Merchants Bank, 2006.

I don't think there was anything left of the Merchants Bank facade, sadly. I'm guessing the person who renovated this tried to mimic some of the elements.


I was inside this building repeatedly about 20 years ago. The first floor had been turned into a quite pedestrian floor plan, but the 2nd floor had most of the original structure of the bank. It was unkempt, but could have potentially been restored to something really nice. It still had attractive floors and nice high ceilings, but I don't remember too much else.

Hey Joe!

Interesting - I wonder if the interior detail is still present, or succumbed to a more recent renovation. I often wonder about what clues might be in the interior of the buildings as to their origins. I went in the KONTEK building on Holland St. last week, which was quite cool.


I was told today by a friend that the 2nd floor was remodeled -- it's now cubicle space. I didn't inquire further, but I imagine the worst. :(

"Cublice space" definitely doesn't stoke an inspirational vision.


The clothing store is vAn Straaten's, not vOn...and it was a point of pride in Durham to be able to say, "I bought it at van Straaten's." Well, not exactly say it; in the 60's, it would have been considered gauche to announce where one purchased one's clothes. It would have been discreetly whispered, and behind a cupped hand for good measure. It wasn't unusual at all to hear "van" pronounced with two syllables, as in va-yan Straaten's. *sigh* It's not just the architectural gems that are being lost; the art of being Southern disappears as surely as the aroma of cured Brightleaf tobacco, or the crisp smell of a stack of papers fresh from the spirit duplicating machine. Once gone, gone forever.

I can't decide if the "tribute" facade of 116 is a nice, if slightly clumsy, tribute to the original styling of the building, or more of a half-assed "oh hey let's suggest the shape of the original facade, but flat--we don't want it to cost too much". Unfortunate either way as it was really a beautiful little building, but as is usually the case, what's gone is gone.

Oooooooooh, dude. Those fifth and sixth pictures hurt.

My wife and I now own this building, and last year we worked with Bishop Construction and architect Ellen Cassilly to do what we could to recover the first-floor space - much of which had been damaged in past "remodelling." The second floor still has most of its original details. We are glad to have Letters Bookshop as our tenant, not least because this allows anyone to go upstairs and see the stained-glass ceiling. More details about the history of the building is provided near the first-floor bathrooms.

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