Since moving to Durham, I have driven by the old Erwin Cotton Mill countless times, always wanting to photograph this beautiful brick complex. Erwin Mills was originally built in 1893 in the small town of Pin Hook and was the catalyst for development; the Erwin Mill Company built housing, a minor plumbing system, and other amenities for its employees. Eventually, Pin Hook was adopted by the city of Durham and is now the historical district of Old West Durham.
During the spring, the blooming dogwood trees at the front of the mill offer a stunning contrast to the refurbished red brick. This is a common scene in Durham, a city littered with brick tobacco warehouses and mills in styles similar to that of Erwin Mill. The blooming dogwoods are one of the many reasons why spring is among my favorite seasons in Durham.
The Watts and Yuille tobacco warehouses, now known as Brightleaf Square, were a part of the many tobacco warehouses owned by the American Tobacco Company(ATC). The two near-identical parallel buildings, built between 1900 and 1904 at the height of ATC’s prosperity, offered a subtle display of the Duke family’s wealth. At this time the American Tobacco Company owned 90% of the world’s tobacco market. After the company was broken up by an antitrust ruling in 1911, the buildings were sold to the Liggett-Myers Tobacco Company headquartered a few blocks away.
In 1980, Liggett-Myers sold the buildings to a development company which turned them into the retail and restaurant complex that we see today. Maintaining a large amount of the historical details, this complex is a treasure of Durham’s downtown and has been a centerpiece for the city’s revitalization and redevelopment.