Richard D. Blacknall House

36.003875, -78.926987

Cross Street
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Blacknall House, looking southwest from Erwin Road and Anderson St., 11.07.78
(Courtesy The Herald-Sun Newspaper)

Pharmacist Richard D. Blacknall built his brick Queen Anne home in approximately 1889 far to the west of the then-city limits of Durham. Blacknall had lived on North Dillard St. prior to his relocation; both sons of Dr. Richard Blacknall, Richard D. and James, purchased large tracts west of the city on the high ground to the south of the railroad tracks. This area became known as Caswell Hill (or Caswell Heights) - the location of many of the large homes of prominent/wealthy citizens of West Durham. (The gentrification of Pinhook, as it were.)

Blacknall's Drug Store was located on the northeast corner of Corcoran and West Main Sts. R Blacknall and Sons, as it was called, appears to have referred to Dr. Richard Blacknall the elder (once a physician of South Lowell and instrumental in establishing Presbyterian churches in Durham) and son Richard D. Blacknall.

Jean Anderson states that Blacknall opened a West Durham branch in 1892 as the mill village and commercial district were established to support Erwin Mill. However, the only branch of R Blacknall & Sons I can find in the 1890s city directories was located in the West End, at 801 West Chapel Hill St.; this was later known as the West Side Pharmacy.

There is also reference to RD Blacknall as Captain of the fire (hose) company / Durham Chemical Fire Company and secretary-treasurer of the Durham Street Railway Company during the late 1880s and early 1890s.

Richard D. Blacknall died in 1900, wife Sadie bought the house at a courthouse sale to satisfy the 1889 mortgage deed, but moved to Angier Avenue shortly thereafter. In 1909, she sold the house to Erwin Mills.

R Blacknall and Sons pharmacy lived on, despite the death of its founders. Interestingly, in the early 1900s, the main store was managed by Germain Bernard, and the West Side branch by CT Council. The two would later join forces at the Five Points Drug Company to concoct BC powders. In 1914, the downtown drugstore was destroyed in a huge fire that destroyed most of the 100 block of West Main St. The pharmacy was re-established in the same location, though, once the Geer Building had taken its place. I believe the company later evolved into the Durham Drug Company.

As for the former Blacknall house on Erwin Road, it was rented out to employees by the Erwin Mill. From 1926 to 1955, EG Atkins, an overseer and foreman at the mill, lived in the house.


Per the National Register Nomination for the house (1990):

Atkins was followed by several other overseers and supervisors who lived in the house until Duke University bought the property and several other large tracts along Erwin and Anderson roads in 1965. [Deed Book 311, pp. 273-282] Duke University continued to use the house as residential rental property for a variety of tenants and built two-story brick student apartment buildings on several of the previously vacant tracts along Erwin and Anderson roads.

The Blacknall House was abandoned in 1978. For several years the Blacknall house stood vacant and overgrown by vines and shrubs. In July 1983 the house was in imminent danger of being demolished by the North Carolina Department of Transportation to make way for the widening of Erwin Road and other road construction connected with the extension of the cross-town I.L. "Buck" Dean Freeway. Staff members from the Durham Planning Department notified the Historic Preservation society of Durham of the approaching December 1984 demolition date. The Preservation Society began a search for a nearby vacant lot where the house could be relocated and a developer who would undertake the move and subsequent adaptive reuse of the house. The fate of the Blacknall House remained in limbo for the next year and a half. Meanwhile, the Department of Transportation extended several demolition deadlines and the construction company building the expressway delayed work on that portion of the highway. The Durham City Council joined the preservation effort on behalf of the house by appropriating $35,000 toward the anticipated cost of the house move. In January 1985, local real estate developer Randolph Few agreed to move the house to a vacant lot he owned at 300 Alexander Avenue, around the corner and approximately two blocks southeast of the house's original location at the southwest corner of Erwin Road and Anderson Street.

On April 28, 1985 the 350-ton brick house was safely moved to its new location. (The original stone foundation was not moved with the house. The slightly greater slope the new site allowed a basement level office to be added at the rear of the blocks). Unable to complete the restoration, Randolph Few sold the house to developer Brian South on September 23, 1987. [Deed Book 1403 p. 149) South, who has extensive experience in the restoration and adaptive reuse of historic properties in North Carolina, principally in Charlotte and Durham, carefully restored the house according the Secretary of the Interior's Guidelines and adapted it for office use. South sold the restored house on November 3, 1987 to the Blacknall House Partnership, a group of eight investors who are leasing the building as professional office space. [Deed Book 1412, p. 518] Tenants now include several psychiatrists, the Duke University Medical Outreach program and a computer-related company. [see Durham Morning Herald, January 23, 1985, July 17, 1988, and May 6, 1989 and Raleigh News and Observer, July 7, 1988 for accounts of the demolition delays and the moving of the house]


Looking north, 1985


Looking north, 1985

(Both photos courtesy NC State Historic Preservation Office - negatives are N.88.2-1181 and -1182 if someone wants to get better copies)

New location of the Blacknall House at 300 Alexander Avenue, 1989.
(Courtesy Robby Delius)

It is currently used as office space. The original location of the house continues to be one piece of a massive surface parking lot for Duke Medical center.

Original location of the Blacknall House at Anderson St. and Erwin Rd., 04.04.09.

Blacknall House at Alexander and Pace Sts., 04.04.09

Original Location:
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I wonder what happened to the brick chmineys are the structure was relocated. It appears they were removed after the relocation.

Pardon if I'm wrong, but isn't the *new* location of the house also the same area where Duke has been trying to get rid of houses in preparation for the construction of the Central Campus project? If so, do you know if they intend to leave this one, or move it again, or what?


Good pickup - I hadn't noticed that the chimney moved with the structure but was later removed. That's unfortunate.


I don't know what their plans are these days, given the shift of the Central Campus planning towards Campus Drive, but even during the get-rid-of-the-houses discussions, they planned to leave this one in place. Per one Duke Administrator, they "can't" get rid of the Blacknall house - so I don't know what kind of protections it has in place, but it must have something.



The Blacknall house might have been affected by the original Erwin-Alexander-Anderson "Central Campus" plan, seen here in this pre-Pelli Fall 2007 campus plan (PDF). It's unclear in the drawing.

However, with the revised "Garden Campus" plan that's based around the Campus-Alexander intersection, the house shouldn't be affected, as the current Erwin-Alexander-Anderson structures were impacted minimally by the post-Pelli plan.

With the University hit hard by the Bush Recession, the Central/Garden Campus, which seemed perennially "three years" away from ground-breaking, is now on hold, indefinitely, as are every other campus building initiative that wasn't already under construction.

Really interesting--I wonder if there's any connection between these Blacknalls and Blacknall Church on Perry and Iredell by 9th St.

Until this past semester, Duke's visa office was located at the Blacknall House. But they recently moved to the American Tobacco Campus. I don't know what office has been moved into the house...

I work at Duke & took a couple of visiting international scholars to the house for their visa check-in's. I always thought the house seemed out of place - plus, it was way too atmospheric for the bureaucracy unfolding within!!

I have spend many nights in this old house.....I loved it....I lived at 2006 Acme St. for many years. Our back yard and the back of this house faced......I remember two families that lived in this house during the 50's and 60's....both families....The Reeves and The Whitmans were dear friends of ours...The Reeves had daughters and we would go back and forth between the two houses.......We would have picnics under the trees out and front and watch the traffic go passed Erwin Road....slide down the stare railings from the upstair had a wonderful wrap around porch back then....that went almost around the house... .many great memories.....
Child of the Mill Village

For all of you interested, we bought the Blacknall House from Duke and developer Brian South in 1987-88. We used it for offices since then, mostly rented to Duke. We are now preparing to convert it back to residential use.

We kept the chimneys for as long as we could after the relocation and the historic renovation. Eventually they started to crumble (probably from the move) and the roof started leaking badly. So we were forced to take them down and patch the roof.

"They (Duke) can't get rid of Blacknall House" because they don't own it.

If you have further questions, please feel free to email me at

Jeff Boak, Managing Partner for Blacknall House Partners

What makes the Blacknall House so special, and the reason my father Randolph Few donated the land for its final resting place, is the fact that it is "the oldest remaining brick house in Durham." When plans were made to tear down the house, my father (a native and Durham Developer) paid to have the house moved to a small piece of land our family owned on Alexander Street. Moving the Blacknall house up the street, around the corner and several blocks was a HUGE deal. It took the entire day just to transport the house from place to place. You can only imagine the time it took to prepare the yard and the house for the move. On the day of the move, there were TV cameras, Newspaper reporters and a lot of observers. Gary, I am hoping that you might be able to dig up the Newspaper article on the move. I believe it was in June or July of 1986. I am sure we have records of it if you can’t find the article. . My dad passed away in 2008, but I am sure we have records of the exact dates etc… As See more...

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