Going back in time at American Tobacco

Exploring Durham
Apr. 12, 2014 @ 12:04 PM

At its height, The American Tobacco Company was the largest cigarette producer in the world. After it closed up shop in Durham in 1987, the campus of historic buildings sat empty for many years before being brought back to life as one of the largest historic preservation projects in North Carolina’s history. The end result is a home-run of adaptive reuse architecture.

What stands there now is a long way from the train depot and post office built on land originally donated in 1850 by Dr. Bartlett Durham, for whom Durham was subsequently named. In 1871, a tobacco auction house that opened on the site was so busy on its opening day that product had to be stacked outside. It foreshadowed the success of the company.

What is known today as “Old Bull”, the Italianate-style building at the corner of Blackwell and Pettigrew, was the first brick tobacco factory in the U.S. Over the ensuing decades, new buildings joined it to make up a million square feet of industrial structures.

In addition to the quarter-mile river being added to the complex, the rebirth of the campus created a lawn flanked by buildings, and enhanced by the sound of flowing water. Its creators delivered a visual wow factor with the restored iconic water tower and inlaid brick smoke stack, and catapulted the campus to local fame by great programming of community happenings there.

Year-round there are events, many of which are free, that invite attendees to celebrate the seasons, arts, community groups and more. A full calendar of events can be found online at DurhamEventCalendar.com.

In addition to plentiful parking from nearby municipal decks, the campus offers a selection of restaurants convenient for dining before a Bulls game or show at DPAC -- the Durham Performing Arts Center. It features event spaces, a movie theater run by the world-famous Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, a basketball court for residents and employees, and even a repurposed 126-year-old, 90,0000-pound vintage train car that is now a private office for the project’s developer.

Vibrant and active year-round, the American Tobacco Campus is one of many things drawing people to Durham each year to live, work, and do business.

Did You Know?: This year is the 10th anniversary of American Tobacco District becoming a cultural and leisure destination in Downtown Durham.

The Durham Convention & Visitors Bureau (DCVB) is Durham’s official marketing agency. For more information about things to see and do in Durham, visit www.Durham-NC.com and www.DurhamEventCalendar.com, or stop by the Visitors Information Center at 101. E. Morgan St. in Downtown Durham and pick up the Official Durham Visitor & Relocation Guide.