418 North Driver Street --- THE DOCK W. AND RUTH S. BROWN HOUSE, 1927

35.990243, -78.878227

Cross Street
Year built
Architectural style
Construction type
National Register
Building Type
Local ID
Can you help?
You don't need to know everything, but do you know the architect?
Log in or register and you can edit this.


Screen Shot 2012-08-14 at 12.20.29 AM.png


(Below in italics is from the 2004 East Durham National Register listing; not verified for accuracy by this author.)

Dock W. Brown House. Substantial 1 and 1/2 story brick bungalow with side and front- gabled roofs and an engaged porch with a dentil frieze, brick posts, and a solid brick railing with ramped concrete coping. The entrance has sidelights. The porch wraps around the north side but has been enclosed on this side. Windows have 4-over-1 vertical sashes. The eave brackets are covered in vinyl. 1930-1940 CDs: Dock W. Brown owner/occupant (D. W. Brown Dry Cleaners).

C Shed. 1930s. Shed-roofed building with German siding. 

The view from the side/back of the house along Southgate street :

DW Brown.png

This house was owned by DW Brown, who owned DW Brown Cleaners located at 314 South Driver Street. While other businesses in the neighborhood switched owners, changed names, moved around, succeeded and failed, the cleaners was in that same location for upwards of 30 years.  

By the 1950's DW Brown had a total of 4 locations, the Driver Street location as well as stores on North Mangum Street, Angier Avenue and West Proctor Street. 


[Update 5/2023] From Preservation Durham Home Tour "Then & Now: Part II"

The fine brick bungalow on the corner of North Driver and Southgate Streets sits solidly in a central spot in the East Durham Historic District, and the arc of its story in many ways reflects that of the larger neighborhood. Designed by prominent Durham architectural firm Rose & Rose and built in 1927 for aspiring entrepreneurs Dock W. and Ruth S. Brown, the house was the picture of hard-working, middle-class respectability for decades. 


More recently, however, the house had fallen on hard times, suffering from years of neglect. The current owner purchased it through a real estate wholesaler in January 2018. She hoped to undertake a thorough renovation and then sell it to new homeowners, but she had to reformulate her plans when she learned there was significantly more structural damage than anticipated. In a win-win-win for the homeowner, the house, and preservation efforts in Durham, she was able to take advantage of both federal and state rehabilitation tax credits, which allowed her to complete a careful restoration of the home, bringing back its 1920s luster while modernizing and updating where prudent.


The property itself, which is all of lot #1 and the southern half of lot #2 in Block G of the Driver Lands of the Durham Land & Security Company, was platted by James Southgate’s Durham Land & Security Co. in 1903. It was first sold into private ownership in 1917. The lots totaled a little over a quarter of an acre and sat on the southeast corner of streets that were then called N. Driver and Markham Avenues (now N. Driver Street and Southgate Street). This site was also directly across Driver Avenue from the “right field” of East Durham Ballpark where the Durham Bulls played until 1926. Once the Bulls moved downtown, that large city block of land remained athletic fields until the East Durham Junior High was built on the site in 1939.


The land at 418 N. Driver Avenue changed hands a few times before the Browns bought it from F. F. and Annie W. Scoggins in December 1927. The Rose & Rose-designed house they had constructed is a one-anda-half story brick and stucco bungalow in the Craftsman style with a cross-gabled roof supported with triangular wooden brackets. The brackets were at some point sheathed in aluminum, but the owner plans to remove the siding and repair these original features. There is a large shed roof dormer in the roof at the rear of the house. The engaged front porch with dentil frieze has brick posts and solid brick railings with concrete copings. The large, full-width porch wraps around to the north side. The entrance has sidelights, and the windows, often grouped together in pairs or groups of three as is typical for Craftsman-style houses, have 4-over-1 vertical sashes.


Dock W. Brown was born in 1892 in Salisbury, North Carolina, but moved with his family to Durham when he was a boy. He was working as a clerk in a railroad office at the time of the 1910 census, but when he registered for the draft in 1917, he was employed as a cleaner and presser for Sanitary Dry Cleaning downtown. Interestingly, this business was operated by C. C. Wilkerson, who lived with his parents W. A. and Mary Wilkerson at 508 South Buchanan – a house also on today’s tour. Dry Cleaning was to become Dock Brown’s lifelong profession. Dock and his wife Ruth opened their own cleaning business in East Durham by 1922. They would, over the years, own multiple locations of D. W. Brown Cleaners, with the primary shop being 314 S. Driver Avenue, just a half mile down the street from their home.

The Browns raised five children in their bungalow. The 1930 census lists Dock and Ruth with their four older children, Dock’s widowed mother, and Ruth’s brother Cecil C. Southerland all under the same roof. It was not uncommon in these years for homes to hold families which were large, close, and multigenerational. After Dock died in 1952, Ruth stayed in the house with her daughter and son-in-law, Nancy and Stroud Brewer. In 1958, Ruth sold the house to her son Duane W. Brown and his wife Dorothy. The younger Browns had also taken over the D. W. Brown dry cleaning business when Dock retired around 1947. They sold the business to Scott & Roberts Cleaners in the early 1960s.


The house at 418 N. Driver stayed in the Brown family for almost forty years. It was sold to Marvin and Margaret Carver in 1965. In the 1970s and 80s, the Eller family, who were involved in real estate, owned the house. It was after their ownership that the house began its decline.


When the current owner purchased the house, the north side of the porch had been enclosed and a small one-story addition had been put on half of the rear of the house. She hired Adam Conover of A & A Construction to undertake the restoration project, and he and his team spent a full year working on the house. Before work could begin, a large amount of debris had to be removed from the interior. Structural and termite damage required the removal and replacement of all the floor joists on the lower floor. Windows were repaired and reglazed. Original floors and ceilings were revealed and refinished. Doors were repaired, repainted, and rehung. Walls were repaired and repainted. The original woodwork was repaired and repainted or restained to match the original. Light fixtures were updated. A laundry room was added upstairs. Nothing in the kitchen or bathrooms was worth saving, so all are new with a nod to the simple classic design of the old. The breakfast nook does contain its original table and benches and built-in hutch that are vintage Rose & Rose designs. The original built-in cabinet in the upstairs bathroom was preserved.


To satisfy the guidelines for preservation tax credits, the owner decided to leave the rear addition in place, giving it the same thorough rehabilitation as the rest of the house. She saw to it that the wraparound porch was completely restored to its original dimensions. Today, this beautiful bungalow, beloved by the Browns for so many years, has been brought back to life, ready for the next chapter in its East Durham history.



Is this house across the street from old EAST DURHAM JR. HIGH?

Add new comment

Log in or register to post comments.