As always, please click on the images for full size viewing. Some of these are quite spectacular glimpses into our past.
- No, this wasn’t the first warehouse, or even the second. M.W. Norfleet opened the Piedmont Warehouse in 1875 as Winston’s third, but largest, tobacco sales warehouse. It faced on Fourth Street, at Trade, where the downtown CVS is now located. If you look just to the right of the bell tower, you can see the home of Pleasant Henderson Hanes on Cherry Street.So somebody sends me this postcard. I’ve seen it before. But they ask a question about it. “It says ‘the first warehouse’, but I read somewhere that the first warehouse was a different one from this. Ideas?”
Yes. Ideas. Tobacco was the early economic engine of the British colonies in North America. It was eventually the salvation of the long floundering Jamestown settlement. It paid for much of our rebellion against King George. At one point, desperate to keep the Continental Army going, George Washington wrote “If you cannot send money, send tobacco.” During the Civil War, it became the second commodity to be seriously taxed by the US government (the first was booze), and thus helped save the Union.
But tobacco would not become a great wealth creator until it was transformed from a raw commodity to a value added product. That required revolutions in three areas…transportation, a system for getting the raw product into the hands of the manufacturers, and of course, the factories themselves.
According to legend, the bright leaf curing process was created accidentally in the 1850s by a slave in Caswell County, NC when he fell asleep at the switch and allowed his master’s tobacco to go beyond “drying” to “curing”. The gold leaf was an instant hit. During and after the Civil War, many towns had someone conducting a small scale curbside trade in tobacco sales. By the late 1860s, several permanent tobacco sales warehouses had been established in Danville, VA.
Sometime in 1871, Major Thomas Jethro Brown, a Civil War veteran who lived in Davie County, heard that a new rail line would soon open in the town of Winston. If he could establish a warehouse and a factory at the end of that line, he could pay farmers a bit less, make the product next door and sell and ship the product for less than other nearby manufacturers.
So shortly after New Years 1872, he moved to Winston, leased a former livery stable on East Third Street and opened the first formal tobacco sales warehouse in the North Carolina piedmont. He brought with him a younger neighbor, another Civil War veteran, Pleasant Henderson Hanes. Hanes helped him set up his warehouse, then Brown helped Hanes build a factory right across the street, dead on the rail line. They were partners in both businesses.
And both businesses were a huge success, which was noted by others. By his second year, Brown had competition from William A. Lash and Cabell Hairston, who built a new building right across the street from Brown’s. And in 1874, a young man named Richard Joshua Reynolds descended from his father’s plantation on No Business Mountain in Patrick County Virginia, bought a piece of land from the Moravian church and went into competition with Hanes.
- Lash’s Warehouse is right behind Pfohl & Stockton’s general merchandise store at the corner of Church and Third Streets in 1876. Brown’s Warehouse was directly across Third Street from Lash’s.
Hanes business was booming. Each year he added onto his factory, until in 1877 he decided to build an all new plant on the same site. The building was completed in early July. On July 19, it burned to the ground. 75,000 pounds of new leaf and 60,000 pounds of manufactured product were destroyed, at a loss of $30-35,000. Hanes set to work rebuilding while leasing a plant in Greensboro to finish out the year. The Gate City folks knew a winner when they saw one, so offered to build him a new factory for free if he would move there. But Hanes was already a fixture in the Twin City, so demurred.
In 1875, M.W. Norfleet and company opened Winston’s third tobacco sales warehouse, Piedmont, on Fourth Street at Trade. It was larger than Brown’s and Lash’s combined. But that wouldn’t last long. By 1879, Winston had 10 tobacco factories and three tobacco sales warehouses. Over the next few years, two more sales warehouses, Pace and Orinoco, would open, and Brown would relocate, building his first brick warehouse in the middle of the block of Main Street between Fourth and Fifth Streets.
By the early 1890s, the Twin City had over 30 tobacco manufacturers. But the number of sales warehouses remained steady at between four and six. Their sales increased geometrically year by year. By the turn of the twentieth century they were moving hundreds of thousands of pounds of bright leaf tobacco and generating millions of dollars of value for the local economy. By the second decade of the century, the warehouse business was beginning to concentrate along Trade Street, Piedmont having moved a block and a half north, with the former Pace/Farmer’s under its new name, Gorrell’s, right next door, and Brown’s in the next block.
So Trade Street, which under its former name Old Town Street had been a residential area, began to transform into the economic center of the community. Tobacco farmers were paid in cash for their crops. So the warehouses and the payoff office spawned a thriving development in banks, hotels and boarding houses, retail businesses, and cafes and drinking establishments.
And, of course, wherever the money is, there is also vice. The Twin City’s first “bad neighborhood” was the area known as “Long Branch” in the midst of the tobacco factories clustered along the railroad, and specifically “Gas Hill” and “Cocaine Alley”, aka Vine Street, at its center. The tobacco warehouses spawned their own vice zone, a bit north along Trade near Eleventh and Twelfth Streets. It was known to the local police as “Ramcat”. Even though it was outside the municipal limits, it was adopted by the police as a special patrol zone in hopes that it could be prevented from spreading into the city proper. Booze, drugs, prostitution, larceny and murder were its trademarks.
Fourth Street soon developed as the high end district, with all the fanciest stores and eating establishments to serve the needs of the residents of “Millionaire’s Row” a block away on Fifth Street and the newly developing West End. But Trade Street became the place where ordinary citizens gathered and work actually happened. It was and still is an exciting and bustling part of the Winston-Salem story.
It is a shame that the only picture we have of Thomas Jethro Brown is of such poor quality, because he is the man who started it all. His tobacco sales warehouse was the essential ingredient that drew young entrepreneurs such as Pleasant Hanes and Dick Reynolds to the city. And he was a man of many dimensions. In addition to his tobacco activities, he was a founder of the Brown Rogers (and later Dixson) hardware company, a significant dry goods businessman, a bank and railroad director, a real estate developer, Sunday school superintendent at 1st Presbyterian Church, a tireless improver and the proprietor of Brown’s Opera House, where hundreds of famous performers entertained the local citizens from the 1880s into the second decade of the the 20th century.
- Brown’s second warehouse, on North Main Street, where the plaza of the Reynolds American building is today. Events that drew crowds too big for Brown’s Opera House were held here. Evangelist Billy Sunday spoke here many times. One year he appeared every day for a week and the Winston-Salem Journal reprinted every long, long sermon in its entirety.
Brown’s Opera House occupied the entire second floor above the Brown Rogers hardware store across from the courthouse on Fourth and Main.
The fourth warehouse was opened by former Danville warehouseman Ed Pace on July 6, 1881, just north of Norfleet’s Piedmont Warehouse on Trade Street. It was soon taken over by A. B. Gorrell and renamed Farmer’s, before moving another block north and becoming simply Gorrell’s. Gorrell served as mayor of Winston and built the second house on what would become millionaire’s row.
- This postcard has been floating around for many years with only the caption “A Tobacco Sale”. While processing it in Photoshop to improve its badly faded color, it suddenly dawned on me that I knew the fellow in the foreground, the flamboyantly side-whiskered proprietor of the Pace/Farmer’s/Gorrell’s warehouse, A.B. Gorrell himself. The banners hanging in the background promote two of P.H. Hanes’ most popular chewing brands, Early Bird and Speckled Beauty.
- The Twin City’s fifth tobacco sales warehouse, Orinoco, opened in 1884 at the corner of Main and Second Street. Below we see a parade of school children filing past the warehouse.
- The last of the great warehouses, Star, opened in 1894 in the 500 block of North Main Street. Over the ensuing years, names and locations would change…Big Winston, Pepper’s and probably the best known today, Cook’s, way out in the burbs, now the site of Cook’s Flea Market.
- The first Forsyth County fair, in the 1880s, was dedicated to wheat, at the time the most valuable product, along with fruits and berries, grown in the area. But in 1897, the tobacco interests put on a huge “Industrial and Tobacco Fair” which eclipsed all former efforts. The Twin City Sentinel published a special commemorative edition. All of the events were held in the tobacco warehouses.
- Tobacco sales warehouses were quick to catch on. By the 1930s, North Carolina was the dominant force in the business and there were many warehouses in every tobacco growing area of the state, to the point that the various regional markets had to be defined. Here is the lineup around 1940. The “Old Belt” is still the most important belt.
- By around 1940, Trade Street’s tobacco impact had reached its peak. In the distance we see Robert Hartley’s hotel, opened in 1934. In 1946 it was sold and renamed the USA Hotel, which eventually had a huge red, white and blue neon sign on the roof, beckoning all those newly enriched farmers to enjoy some fun and games. In the 1990s, it was taken over by a group of ex-Philadelphians known as the Montage Playwrights Ensemble who lived upstairs and put on their extraordinary plays and playlets in the first floor lobby. Thank you Sharon, Eddy and Nathan. It has since been demolished to make way for the new Rescue Mission dormitories for the homeless. To see this pic at its biggest size, you will have to click a second time on the enlarged version.
OK, so here is my favorite Trade Street pic. After a lot of hemming and hawing and several trips down to compare what was there and what is now there and much consulting of maps, I can date it at about 1915, as the street was entering its final stage of transition from residential to business. The picture was taken from the roof of the Piedmont Warehouse in the 500 block of Trade.
The building at the right was constructed in two stages, the first a four bay commercial setup in around 1905. The second part was added around 1910-12, from the arched doorway north. That arch originally contained a drive through path, with an entrance to the second floor, which was operated as a boarding house/hotel. That is now the entry to Mike Coe’s upstairs apartment complex.
The unit at the far right, the Farmer’s Cash Feed & Seed store, has since been demolished, leaving the four units to the left and the arched entry as the oldest building in the 500 block of Trade Street. I have placed the 1915 addresses in the margin of the postcard, and below them the current occupants of the building.
The occupants in 1915 were:
525: Farmer’s Cash Feed and Seed store – Fred S. Fearington
527: Merchant’s Bottling Works – CM and WS Shouse
529: Nathan Kauffman – grocer
In the 1990s, Pablo and his father Frank del Valle operated the Missing Link in this space. It was a coffee house for teen agers. After it closed, the furniture moved to the Garage for a while. Pablo is now back in town, making great croissants next door.
531: William McClenahan – Hotel McClenahan
The hotel/boarding house space ran the full length of the second floor of the building. The original tenant was the Smith boarding house, but after some unspecified law enforcement problems, the Johnson’s took over around 1910, and renamed it the Winston Hotel. McClenahan succeeded them in 1914.
533: Pilot Drug Co – C.J. Turner
535: Angelo Brothers – grocer
539: Jefferson S. Jackson, res and barber shop
The green space next to Jackson’s property is the back lawn of the Centenary Methodist Church, which faced on Liberty Street.
Across Sixth Street, at 601 Trade, is Mrs. V.C. Brown’s boarding house, formerly the private residence of hardware merchant R.B. Crawford.
Another tobacco sales warehouse. Note that advertisements for O’Hanlon’s drugstore and Brown Rogers hardware have been written on the beams.