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One of the biggest problems that I have with “local history” is that it is usually presented in a disconnected manner. Thus and so happened, and we’ll tell you all about it. But we’re not going to tell you about this other thing, because it was something different.

Yet history is not a series of stories about a bunch of single things. It is a network of creeks and streams and rivers of events, many of which affect some of us in different ways and others in other ways.

Not long from now, the building in the Arts District recently known as Coe Plaza, a former hardware store, will become something else. Over the past year, walking back and forth from my home in the Arts District to work at the Central Library, I have watched the progress of the  interior demolition that is part of a  joint project between US Development in Columbia, SC and the Mast General Stores that will lead to a “new” Mast General Store and over forty apartments and some other businesses on the southern edge of the Arts District. This old building will be transformed and will affect the lives of thousands of people for many years to come.

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But it has already, in its past iteration, affected the lives of thousands of people who came before us. Here is the story:

In 1872, Major Thomas Jethro Brown, a Civil War veteran from Davie County, rented an old stable near where the new railroad spur would end in the town of Winston and established the first tobacco sales warehouse in town. He was assisted by another Davie County native, a young man named Pleasant Henderson Hanes. The new business was a big success.

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The next year, Brown assisted Hanes in starting his own tobacco manufacturing business, eventually “P.H. Hanes Mammoth Tobacco Works”, which would be the largest tobacco manufacturing company in the town of Winston until 1900, when Hanes and his brother sold out to R.J. Reynolds. Right away, Brown expanded his warehouse business, and within a few years, built a large brick building on North Main Street.

But Brown was a man who could not be satisfied with one successful business. Soon, in partnership with his friend Bill Carter, he began his own tobacco factory, known as Brown & Carter. By the late 1870s, other tobacco warehouses and factories were being built in Winston. Brown realized that all these new businesses were going to need a lot of hardware.

So he and Carter decided to open a hardware business. Since Brown was busy with his warehouse business and Carter was managing the tobacco factory, they brought in another Civil War veteran, Captain Mitchell Rogers, to run the hardware business, which was known as Brown Rogers Hardware. That business opened on Fourth Street, opposite the county courthouse, in 1880.

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Captain J. Mitchell Rogers house, ca 1883-85, is still standing at Cherry Street at First Street

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The original Brown Rogers Hardware store stood at the corner of Fourth and Main Streets, across from the courthouse. The open second floor was known as Brown’s Opera House and for many years hosted performances by some of the finest singers, actors, orators and orchestras in America. The building burned in the early 20th century.

The hardware business took off, and by the early years of the 20th century occupied most of the block on Fourth Street between Main and Liberty. At that point, the company erected a second building on North Liberty Street just north of Fifth Street. It opened in 1905.

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The second Brown Rogers store opened on North Liberty Street in 1905

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This condo in the Charles Building preserves the original exterior wall of the second Brown Rogers store

In 1915, the company took in a new partner, Virginia native Bill Dixson. As the new city of Winston-Salem became the most populous in North Carolina in 1920, Brown Rogers found itself constricted once again by lack of space. The population of the Twin City had exploded from around 10,000 in 1900 to about 47,000 in 1920, then to 71,000 by 1926.

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So the company commissioned yet another new building, which would become the largest retail business in the Twin City. The premier architectural firm of Northup & O’Brien was engaged to design the building. And on Friday, March 16, 1928, the Winston-Salem Journal published a special section heralding the opening of the new Brown Rogers Dixon store the next day.

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Dozens of articles chronicled every aspect of the new building. And photographs of the officers and department heads were included.

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Many companies took out ads to congratulate Brown Rogers Dixson on their new facility.

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Those of us who grew up visiting this remarkable store, which had something for everyone, have missed it for a long time. Now, with the arrival of the Mast General Store, plus apartments, perhaps a restaurant and other businesses, the old Brown Rogers Dixson building will again become a center of downtown pleasure.

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