1410 Bivins St. - Thomas-Sorrell House

35.984928, -78.919699

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From the 2004 Preservation Durham home tour booklet:

The Thomas - Sorrell House has undergone many changes through the years to accommodate different families and life styles, but its quiet elegance has always provided a haven in the middle of the city. William and Louise Thomas, who owned and operated the Thomas Bookstore across from the Washington Duke Hotel downtown, built the house. Durham auto repair magnate Donny Sorrell and his wife Fannie purchased it in 1960, and lived here until the mid-1990s. While Sorrell was president of Clark & Sorrell downtown, he was also chairman of the Board of the Home Savings and Loan Association, vice-president of Erwin Oil, and treasurer of Durham Gas & Oil Co. 

The original structure from the late 1940s consisted of a 1-1/2 story central block flanked by a porch on the south side and a small kitchen on the north. With the design expertise of architect Archie Davis, the Sorrells expanded the house in the 1960s, adding a large master bedroom, a den, and more kitchen space around the original house. The entire facade is unified by red brick facing and white trim, with front-facing gables on the newer wings echoing the small gabled and pillared portico over the front entrance.

The central entrance hall and staircase are paneled with elegant wainscoting. The formal rooms downstairs run the depth of the house and have large windows at both the front and the back. Fireplaces in the living room and dining room are original. The fireplace in the den is the focal point of a wall of built-in bookshelves and cabinets. Hardwood floors throughout the house lend warmth to the rooms, with different patterns identifying the original and added spaces.

The sun porch between the living room and the master bedroom has a fireplace on the original exterior living room wall. Walls of windows at the front and back have French doors giving access to the garden. The homeowner uses the well-lit, quiet space as a painting studio. The more contemporary design of the master bedroom includes a large bow window that creates a comfortable sitting area.

On the north side of the house, the dining room remains largely untouched, even retaining its original chandelier. However, the current home- owners have disconnected the original electric foot-operated call bell that was used by earlier homeowners to call servants to the table during meals. The Sorrells expanded the original small kitchen during the 1960s remodeling, and the current homeowners have updated the space with new cabinet hardware and lighting.

Upstairs, the three original bedrooms have dormer windows and sloping walls under the steeply pitched roof. The two smaller rooms share a connecting bathroom. Rich colors and fabrics make these comfortable guest rooms. 

The roof of the den addition at the rear of the house was originally finished as a deck, accessible by an exterior iron spiral staircase. The current homeowners had to remove the flooring to repair a leak, and decided to refinish the area with a more utilitarian and weatherproof roof. 

Tall pine trees surround the house, providing deep shade on hot summer days. The wrought iron fence that encloses the property is from Four Acres, B. N. Duke's Chapel Hill Street mansion. Mr. Sorrell installed it here after Four Acres was demolished in [1961]. The upper area of the garden behind the house features and a fishpond and a gazebo built by the current homeowner. A playhouse probably used by the Sorrell family is now used to store gardening supplies. In front of the house, the meandering brick walk offers views down a steep wooded slope to city parkland at the bottom of the hill. 


My parents built our house at 1410 Bivins Street in 1943. Why is there not a picture of the house? Also, why is there not a picture of the Thomas Book Store from the 1940s to the 1950s?

Elizabeth - there isn't a picture if the house because I didn't have a picture of the house. could you contribute a picture of the house. I believe there is a picture of the Thomas bookstore if you search for that address.

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