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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with George Watts Hill, January 30, 1986. Interview C-0047. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Tobacco and textile industries in relationship to Durham's economic growth

Hill continues his earlier discussion about the development of Durham as a center of commerce. Here, he focuses specifically on the centrality of the tobacco and textiles industries to Durham's economy. Hill recalls, however, that while he was growing up, Durham was looked down upon within the state, although these industries were making Durham an important industrial center throughout the South.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with George Watts Hill, January 30, 1986. Interview C-0047. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

Old Wash Duke lived out in what is now the Duke Homestead on the northern portion of Durham. They had the tobacco barns. And he started in about, as I said last time, building the hogsheads and so on, had a belly on them so that they could roll them to Wilmington to ship the tobacco to England. But the troops that were stationed here just west of Durham two or three miles out at the end of the Civil War, broke into the tobacco barns and stole the tobacco. That's how the tobacco business got started. They scattered all over the United States, then they wrote back for some of that "good Durham tobacco," basically chewing tobacco, in those days. And Washington Duke and his two sons were smart enough to take advantage of the opportunity that they started and so forth and out of that grew the tobacco industry - American Tobacco Trust, Liggett, Philip-Morris, and what have you, Lorillard, and so forth. But Durham was a small community except for the tobacco and textiles and eventually Mr. Wright came into the picture. He had something to do with the American Tobacco Company and he also was helpful in developing the Bon Sac cigarette machine to make cigarettes by machinery whereas they had been rolled by hand. They brought a bunch of Spaniards over here to roll them by hand. They didn't have any cigar manufacture because that was a different type of tobacco; that was Kentucky. And they called the tobacco "Virginia" tobacco for some reason, God only knows. But it was basically North Carolina tobacco all the way through, brightleaf.
JAMES LEUTZE:
Sounds like a Virginia plot.
GEORGE WATTS HILL:
Well, it was very typical of Virginia. They'd take the full credit for everything. North Carolina in those days was known as "a vale of humility between two mountains of conceit, " - Virginia and South Carolina. Of course, South Carolina had been settled a long time ago and Virginia had the Cavaliers. And North Carolina was settled by the third and fourth sons that didn't have a cent. They'd come over from England and the Moravians and various and sundry different groups of people, the Germans.
JAMES LEUTZE:
The Valdesians.
GEORGE WATTS HILL:
And so forth. So we had a working group fo people in North Carolina in the early days and they did a good job.
JAMES LEUTZE:
Now, was Durham considered to be a center of commerce for all of North Carolina at that time?
GEORGE WATTS HILL:
No, I wouldn't say a center of manufacturing of those two, tobacco and textiles, but old Raleigh looked down on Durham. Raleigh was the center - the state capital and so forth - and Hillsborough had been the capital back in late Revolutionary days, and they looked down their nose. Everybody looked down their nose at Durham. They didn't do that in Winston-Salem, for some reason. Greensboro was a little town. Winston-Salem was in the tobacco business; Reynolds was just blooming like a rose. But old Durham was the fourth or fifth town; it was a town, it wasn't a city. Raleigh was leading, Charlotte, Asheville, now Durham was what number five or six in the state. No. I can remember walking to school, public school, that was back in 19 - well, I graduated in 1917, and so that was, I skipped two classes, so that was 1907 or something - we used to walk to grammar school and then went on to high school which is now the Durham Art Council building. But you never thought about it one way or the other. The big houses were on Morehead and the little houses were east Durham and west Durham and the middle houses were on Dillard Street. Now Dillard was where General Carr had a big, almost a, well I'd call it a gingerbread house, a tremendous damn thing on the corner of Main and Dillard and eventually Mr. Toms's home, where the bus station is now in Durham. Main Street was - my uncle, Isham Hill had a reasonably small house on Main Street. Claiborne Carr, a son of the general, was on Main Street. Then Austin Carr, his younger brother, was in Durham opposite my father's home, which was built in 1913. Claiborne was head of the Durham Hosiery Mill, was quite a hosiery mill down in east Durham, basically, and they built the silk mill in Durham behind what was then the First National Bank, that busted later during the Depression. The silk mill was a tremendous five or six story reinforced concrete building. That was a famous building.