Open Durham: DURHAM SILK HOSIERY MILL

Jan. 19, 2013 @ 10:45 AM

109 South Corcoran St.

Cross street: West Peabody Street

Built: 1919/ demolished in 1970

Architect/Designers: Sirrine, Joseph Emory

Builders: Fuller, George A.

Architectural style: Art Deco

Neighborhood: Downtown Central

Type: Commercial

Use: Hosiery Mill

The corner of Ramseur Street and Corcoran Street is a historically significant corner - can't you tell?

On the property between Main St. and the railroad tracks, east of Corcoran St., stood Dr. Bartlett Durham's house, "Pandora's Box," a two-story frame structure in which Dr. Durham lived until his death in 1858.

As most folks are aware, Durham's raison d'etre came with the North Carolina railroad in 1854, and the desire to establish a train depot between Hillsborough and Raleigh. I've written previously about Mr. Pratt's high price / fear for his horses (arguably making him the first in a very long line of recalcitrant Durham-area landowners with an overly optimistic view of the value of their land/suspect improvements theron) that led the NCRR to seek out Dr. Bartlett Durham for land upon which to locate their depot.

Dr. Durham sold four acres to the railroad for the establishment of a depot between Raleigh and Hillsborough - Durham Station. Some have concluded from the railroad survey that Pandora's Box was located on the southern side of the tracks - I think not. I believe the house and tavern are the two buildings shown to the north of the tracks on the survey above.

Louis Blount's 1923 map of Durham in 1865 confirms as much.

Durham reportedly used his house was used as a hotel/guest house, and it continued to be used as such after his death. RF Morris evidently established a hotel of some additional significance to its west, on Depot Street - later Corcoran. This was supplanted by the Hotel Claiborn, which possibly incorporated Pandora's Box. On the 1881 map of Durham, this is simply noted as "Grand Central Hotel".

In 1891, Julian Carr replaced the Hotel Claiborn with the "Hotel Carrolina" (yes, Carr-o-lina) on this site, which may have also incorporated the two earlier structures. The Hotel Carrolina was a large, ornate Queen Anne Victorian building which the Historic Inventory calls "Durham's first luxury hotel"

Fire destroyed the Hotel Carrolina in 1907, and the corner was vacant until 1919, when the Durham Silk Hosiery Mill was constructed to produce silk stockings.

By the 1950s, the company had taken the unfortunate step of removing the windows and bricking in the openings -- not uncommonly done as a part of 'modernizing' (which seemed to involve an anti-window aesthetic for some reason). I would speculate that increasing automation led to fewer people on the mill floor as well, and when coupled with air conditioning/ac costs, bye-bye windows.

The Durham Silk Hosiery mill operated until 1969, when the plant shut down. The building was demolished very quickly thereafter. Evidently, the building was so well-built, implosion of the building was unsuccessful and had to be followed up by wrecking-ball demolition.

This wonderful building and historic site were repurposed to the use that would be the savior of downtown: parking, parking parking.

The birthplace of Durham remains, perhaps fittingly, a city-owned parking lot.

If we can spend $44,000,000 on a 'performing arts center', maybe we can spare a hundred dollars for a plaque? How about a building to attach it to? There's a lot of real estate in downtown at its lowest-and-worst use, and the site of Dr. Durham's house may be the worst.