Snapshot: Durham’s Tobacco Warehouses

Last month, Regulator Bookshop invited me to Durham, North Carolina to present my new (and first) book, Left Bank of the Hudson: Jersey City and the Artists of 111 1st Street, to readers in the Research Triangle. Before my reading, I walked through downtown Durham and its warehouse district to get a feel for the city.

Tobacco once drove the local economy. Red-brick warehouses, smokestacks, and former company headquarters attest to the industry’s past prominence. Thankfully, many of these buildings have been preserved and re-purposed into housing, retail, and offices.

Durham Post 2
Markers and plaques for Liggett & Myers adorn several buildings, demonstrating the growth of the company over its life.

Painted signs–clearly refreshed–speak of the past centrality of tobacco to Durham’s economy and identity.

Durham Post 4
Visible evidence of tobacco’s prominence. Post-industrial charm.

Many of the former tobacco factories and warehouses have been converted into housing. Downtown Durham is experiencing an influx of educated residents looking for an urban life.

Durham Post 3
A tobacco warehouse converted into modern housing.
Durham Post 5
Notice the details of this red-brick tobacco warehouse.

The buildings hold many intriguing architectural and aesthetic details. Will today’s industrial and commercial structures merit such future veneration? Doubtful.

Durham is experiencing rapid investment and development. Artists and creatives openly worry about their future. Yet, the city has managed to preserve an important chapter in its history and heritage. Real estate interests perceive the economic value and possibilities of beautiful, old buildings.

My book captures the history of an artist community in a former tobacco warehouse in Jersey City, New Jersey. That community and that building were destroyed.

Durham seems to understand that progress and history are not mutually exclusive. In fact, the past enriches the present, imbuing it with wonder and worth. Jersey City could learn from Durham.

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