2009 Preservation Durham Ghost [building] Tour: Before Brightleaf and West Village

Over Halloween weekend of 2009, Preservation Durham offered its second annual Ghost [building] Tour. That tour, in part inspired by the description in Endangered Durham of lost structures throughout downtown, invited participants to experience -- in situ -- historic streetscapes of downtown Durham.

While standing in the location of the original photographer, tour participants viewed semi-transparent photographs of homes and businesses, churches and civic institutions, and saw contemporary life peeking through. None of these buildings remain (hence, their "ghost" status); parking lots cover most of the parcels formerly occupied by these structures.

Excerpts from the tour booklet are listed below, along with the individually profiled Endangered Durham features.



One hundred years ago, the part of downtown Durham between what we currently call Brightleaf Square and West Village was firmly held in Duke hands. Not Duke University, which had only recently been relocated from Randolph County fewer than twenty years prior and which was still known by its erstwhile name of Trinity College, but rather by the Duke Family.

In 1909 Fairview, the Victorian mansion of recently deceased patriarch Washington Duke, stood at the southeast corner of Duke and Main Streets. Two of Wash’s three adult sons built their own homes nearby: Brodie lived a large house (where the Durham School of the Arts is now located), complete with a four-story tower on its front façade; Benjamin had recently erected Four Acres, a spacious, Chateauesque mansion on the southeast corner of Duke and Chapel Hill Streets. The Terrace, his earlier Victorian mansion, had been moved to the north directly across Chapel Hill Street.

Buildings of the Duke’s American Tobacco Company empire book-ended this area, with the Old Cigarette Factory on the east (although it was, in 1909, four stories tall) to the new Watts and Yuille warehouses to the west. The Main Street Methodist Church, built for the religious care and education of the factory workers, stood at the southeast corner of Gregson and Main Streets.

Other cultural amenities and civic services provided by the Dukes dotted the landscape: Brodie gave land at the northwest corner of Duke and Main Streets for a picnic and playground area, while Ben and Wash financed the beautiful Italianate Southern Conservatory of Music. Additionally, the family company built the City’s second fire station, one block east on Main Street. Even the street names reflect the influence of the family: Duke, Fuller (their legal counselor), Memorial (honoring both Wash and daughter Mary), and Gregson (the family’s pastor at Main Street Methodist).

Yet the seemingly unbreakable bond between Duke and Durham was not assured from the outset. Washington Duke, who moved his family to the very western edge of town in 1874, was just one of many tobacco growers and peddlers in the area. Longtime nemesis William T. Blackwell, owner of the “Old Bull” smoking tobacco brand, built his own house in 1875 at the northeast corner of Duke and Chapel Hill Streets, a stone’s throw from Wash. A few years later, Blackwell was a driving force in sustaining Durham’s first public Graded School, which opened across the street from the Old Duke Cigarette Factory.

Two other buildings on this tour were constructed in the 1920s: the Durham Dairy Products building and the YWCA. These structures went up as the Duke family interests were shifting toward hydroelectric power and in endowing Trinity College.

The ghosts of the past are within reach, as you will see on today’s tour. The area between Brightleaf Square and West Village was once populated with the homes and civic establishments of the Duke family, as well as others. Learn their stories; gaze at their photographs. And consider what life was like, here, at a different age.


Washington Duke invited Gilmore Ward (GW) Bryant, to Durham to “bring more culture” to the city. Classes met in Wash’s home, Fairview, for two years before Benjamin Duke financed $30,000 for the construction of the school across the street.

Hook & Sawyer designed the tripartite, Italinate structure, which was featured prominently in many post cards of Durham. The south wing contained a vast practice room capable of holding 20 pianos. The practice hall had a prominent stained glass window with a depiction of St. Cecilia at the piano. The inscription read: “ And lo, thou art unto them as a very lovely song of one that has a pleasant voice and can play an instrument.”

GW and his wife taught voice, piano, violin, cello, and harp performance– as well as music and poetry composition – to female-only students. By 1912 they had 169 ½ students. Concerts drew appreciative audiences over the years. The March 8, 1900 gala drew capacity crowds for a “Brilliant Opening Concert”. The seating capacity was 600 but it was reported that many more tickets (some 500 more) were sought.

For financial reasons, the Conservatory was moved in 1923 to South Alston Avenue near Riddle Road. A student of the Southern Conservatory of Music in 1924, Mrs. Mary Blackwell Pridgen Martin, remembers the move of the conservatory being influenced by something other than economic development of the area. She remembers that the school moved from Main Street “to the country to avoid flirting between its girls and the boys of Trinity College.” She went on to explain “G.W.B, a really strict but gifted man, was furious when ‘his girls’ leaned out of the second floor dormitory windows and waved, giggled and carried on with the Trinity students on the sidewalk below.”

The original building was demolished and replaced by a Texaco Station and the Lewis Café, before eventually becoming a parking lot.


The Main Street Methodist Church was built in 1886, less than two blocks from the Duke Cigarette Factory, on land donated by Brodie Duke. All of the Dukes were involved with the life of the church, but none more than patriarch Washington Duke, who often could be seen leading Sunday school classes. The church provided both religious and educational guidance for the factory workers: an Epworth League reading room, a precursor to the public library, was established in the church in 1894 and was open every evening from 7 to 9:30pm.

It became Main Street Christian Church in 1906 when the Methodist congregation moved to its current location, at the northwest corner of South Duke and West Chapel Hill Streets. The area continued to become more and more industrial over the years. In the 1950s, the Christian Church congregation built another structure east of the original sanctuary. In 1960, the original sanctuary was torn down. The congregation (soon to be called Pilgrim UCC) had already chosen a new site on Academy Drive by 1961. The Main Street Christian Church congregation left for the new site by 1967.

Thereafter, the site of the Methodist Church became a parking lot. The remaining structures were torn down in 1981 -1982 by Terry Sandford, Jr. to make way for the Brightleaf Square parking lot.

Note: The entire Brightleaf Square Parking lot is several different parcels of land leased by different owners to Brightleaf Square.


Quote from Durham and Her People: “Durham’s era of modern day service started January 10, 1927, when Durham Dairy products made its first delivery. Almost overnight the community began a march of dairy progress which today rates as ‘outstanding’ in the South.”

Through the effort of ET Rollins (Herald Sun) and RE Dillard (agricultural leader), CB Martin and VJ Ashbaugh (both graduates of the Cornell University Dairy School) were recruited to bring Durham Dairy Products and milk delivery to Durham.

Dairy service was provided until the 1960s when supermarkets and automobiles changed the way homemakers shopped. The building was gone by the 1980s. It is now a parking lot for Duke Memorial Methodist Church.


The Durham chapter of the YWCA was organized in 1916 and rented rooms above the Charles Department Store at 303 ½ West Main Street. It was so successful that it quickly outgrew its location. Mrs. JC Angier chaired the fundraising group for a permanent YWCA headquarters in 1923. The YWCA was unable to secure funding from several local industrialists, including the reliably munificent Benjamin Duke, because it was, along with the League of Women Voters, investigating cases of child labor in factories. John Sprunt Hill, however, donated an empty lot at the corner of South Gregson Street and West Chapel Hill Street

Construction began in September 1926 for the new Georgian Style YWCA Building. The building continued to grow as a second wing was added to the east side of the building by the late 1940s or early 1950s. In addition to providing educational, cultural, and religious programming for single working women, as well as a place to live, the YWCA also engaged in outreach activities. During the Second World War, the YWCA recruited girls to entertain GIs “and provide a place where they could play games and dance.”

After the tumultuous 1960s, the YWCA hosted a Rape Crisis Center, a Battered Women’s Coalition, and the Triangle Area Lesbian Feminists. The building was torn down around 1976. Mature trees remained at what was the entrance, marked today by a variation in the sidewalk, until the Police Department removed them around 2001.


WT. Blackwell (partners with John Day and Julian Carr of Blackwell’s Old Durham Smoking Tobacco) built his house at the high point of a ridge to the northwest of his factory - along the western portion of Green Street (later renamed Chapel Hill Street.) and Lee Street (later renamed Duke Street). This Italianate Style home bore a resemblance to that of Carr’s Waverly Manor.

Blackwell served his community - fighting to open a graded school in the early 1880s and even paying teachers’ salaries, retiring from his Tobacco Company in 1886 and starting the Bank of Durham in 1886, and serving in city government even after the Bank failed in 1888. Blackwell continued to live in his house until the growing Main Street Methodist Church congregation acquired it in 1906.

The house was moved – probably across the street - in 1906 and work began on the church in 1907. It was to be a large steel-framed structure designed by a New York architect. The congregation took up residence in its new home in 1912. It was renamed Duke Memorial Methodist Church in 1925 after benefactor Washington Duke. The old WT Blackwell house, on the other hand, provided shelter to a transient band of students and widows, until it was finally dismantled sometime in the late 1930s.


In May 1887, Benjamin Duke paid $8,000 (roughly $250,000 in 2009 dollars) to have a Queen Anne Victorian home, named The Terrace, constructed catty-corner to the home of once-time rival WT Blackwell. Byron Pugin designed the house (he also designed the first Durham County Courthouse), which was equipped with many of the most modern conveniences: a furnace, hot and cold running water, and electric lights. Ben and Sarah’s daughter, Mary Duke Biddle – who followed the footsteps of her family’s philanthropy and formed the Mary Duke Biddle Foundation, was born in this house.

Little more than 10 years later, Ben Duke decided to build a much larger home on the same site and moved The Terrace across Chapel Hill Street. At that location, The Terrace was home for many years to the Green family. The father, Nathaniel, was a manager at the American Tobacco Company, located just a few blocks to the east. It was demolished around 1940.

An Esso gas station took up residence on this lot but, today, the station stands empty, awaiting new life as a surface parking lot for an as-yet unfunded Triangle Transit railway station.


CC Hook, an architect from Charlotte, designed Ben Duke’s new home, Four Acres, as well as the similar and nearby Greystone (which is still standing at the northeast corner of Vickers and Morehead Avenues). Four Acres was a sprawling, 3-story, 20-room, Chateauesque Revival mansion of granite and brick, and cost $136,000 to erect (roughly $3M in 2009 dollars). The grounds contained a pergola, lily pond, and an orchard, and were not quite the four acres it claimed to be.

After Duke and his wife, Sarah P, passed (in 1929 and 1936, respectively), Mary Duke Biddle gave Four Acres to Duke University. From 1938 through 1960, it served as a meeting space, reception area, and guesthouse named “University House”. The Trustees of the Duke Endowment met here, as well as the Campus Club, which held monthly tea parties and sponsored a Newcomers Club for the wives of newly hired faculty and administrative officers. Events such as the “Mother-Daughter Spring Weekend” and the “Freshmen Reception” (for 1000 people) were held here. In its function as a guesthouse, the old Four Acres played host to dignitaries such as Richard Nixon, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Robert Frost, who slept in the six bedrooms of the second floor.

In late1960, builder Roy C. Thurman (of Washington DC) purchased the mansion from Duke U for $362,500 and quickly sold it to the NC Mutual Life Insurance Company for a tidy $60,000 profit. Faulty wiring and expensive upkeep may have played a role in the University’s decision to divest itself of the mansion. The building was soon razed, although the contents were scavenged by Durhamites. It is not uncommon to see a window, mantel, staircase, or door from Four Acres in other historic buildings throughout Durham.

On 2 April 1966, Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey helped to christen the new, modern NC Mutual building. The structure, designed by Welton Becker of Los Angeles, was lauded in Fortune magazine as one of the 10 outstanding new buildings appearing in the nation that year. The City was happy to have the property back on the tax rolls.


Washington Duke built Fairview in the 1880s. Albert Ernest Wilkerson designed the home. Wilkerson was an amateur architect who drew up the blueprints for the Main Street Methodist Church, as well as the Bishop’s house on Duke’s East Campus (which sits in the corner closest to Buchanan Boulevard and Markham Avenue). It was a large Victorian house, a very popular style with the tobacco and textile magnates who were coming to power in Durham in that decade. It was also situated directly alongside Duke’s factory. Such proximity between work and home life was common for the industrialists of the late 19th Century.

Two of Wash’s three adults sons lived nearby: the eldest, Brodie, lived to the northwest in a mansion located where the Durham School of the Arts is today. Benjamin, when he wasn’t living on Fifth Avenue in New York City, made a home on the southeast corner of West Chapel Hill and South Duke Streets. The youngest son, Buck, never spent much time in Durham after the family business blossomed in the early 1880s. After Wash’s daughter, Mary Duke Lyon, died at the age of 39 in 1893, his Lyon grandchildren came to live at Fairview.

Duke renovated and allowed the Southern Conservatory of Music to operate out of Fairview for its early years between September 1898 and 1900. The following year of 1901, dashing young George Lyon – Wash’s grandson – could often be seen zooming around Fairview in his automobile – the first of its kind in Durham.

Old Wash died in 1905 and the Lyon family continued to live in Fairview for some time. Eventually, though, the house was razed to make way for the Liggett & Myers Research Building, in which the tobacco leaf was placed under scientific scrutiny. In 1946, the Research Building was moved across Main Street and replaced on this site by the Chesterfield cigarette factory. Plans exist to convert it into residential, commercial, and office space.


The original fire station #2, was built between 1888 and 1893 on Main Street across from the Duke Cigarette Factory. The frame building was built by Duke on Duke land. It was manned by a volunteer group who owned all of their own equipment except hoses owned by the city.

The volunteer company was disbanded and Company 2 was formed with new city-owned equipment. This upgrade also included two horses – Frank and Ben – from the African-American Company. The building was also upgraded.

Designed by Charlotte architects Hook & Sawyer (this team also designed the Southern Conservatory of Music), this brick mission style station (the 2nd brick station in Durham) was opened August 3, 1903. It was a two-story building with a five-story hose tower.

In July 1946, the Durham Morning Herald reported that a representative of the National Fire Underwriters had visited Durham and recommended that the city redistribute its fire stations throughout the city. Population growth in the city (and its suburbs) dictated that a new fire station be more centrally located. The station survived amidst tobacco factories until 1951, when the station was relocated to 1001 Ninth Street. Per the original lease agreement, the land was returned to the tobacco company. Soon after the move, the building was razed to form the open space between the Cobb and O’Brien Warehouses of the Liggett & Myers complex.


With the passage of a school bill in 1881, Durham town commissioners brought to vote a tax exclusively for a graded school. Revenue from whites would support white schools and that from blacks would support black schools. There was considerable opposition to this plan. Clearly, the black school would be under-funded and many white people were skeptical or fearful about subsidizing education for blacks. Private school supporters were threatened and a number of prominent citizens, including Washington Duke and E.J. Parrish, questioned the legality of the bill on racial terms. Grade school supporters were equally major players, including William Blackwell and Julian S. Carr. It was a contentious battle with issues defined by political ideology but voters favored the education tax.

The Durham Graded School opened on September 4, 1882 with 308 students in 9 grades and Professor E.W. Kennedy from Goldsboro as superintendent. The school was housed in a two-story tobacco factory building rented from Richard Wright (who had produced “Orange County Bright Leaf Smoking Tobacco”) and served only white students. Eugene Morehead chaired the First Graded School Committee and helped to bridge the gap between supporters and detractors.

In 1886 the NC Supreme Court ruled that the school tax was racially discriminatory, mandating that bond money be refunded. The funding shortfall left the school in danger of closing. School supporters, led by Blackwell and Morehead, rallied for the cause and raised funds to keep the school. Durham’s first graded school continued to operate on Main Street until a new two-story brick building was constructed on Dandy (later named Jackson) Street in 1892. The new school housed a library and an auditorium, both of which the old factory building lacked. The new school was later named for Morehead and remained in use until mid-20th century.



Back in 2009 I took the Durham Preservation Society walking tour called 'Ghost Buildings of Durham'. Our tour guide had some laminated photos on a clipboard. One of them was of the Hotel Carrolina. It was not the one featured on this website. In the photo he had, the entire staff of the hotel was lined up on the steps and veranda in uniform. I'm trying to get a copy of that photo. Any ideas how I might go about it?

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