Bennett Place scores crucial grants to acquire historic parcel

As mentioned previously, the historic Civil War site has been struggling to come up with the funds needed to secure a neighbouring parcel. The state had until the end of September to come up with the $310,000, but it fell short; they then reached out to the current property owner who gave them an extra month.

WRAL is now reporting that the funds have been acquired:

The bulk of the money came in two large donations of $150,000 each, Kevin Cherry, deputy secretary of the Department of Cultural Resources said Wednesday the state received two grants of $150,000 each. The other $13,000 came from smaller donations, including someone in Virginia who sent a check for $18.65 to mark the year the Civil War ended.

Yeah, the big spender with the $18.65 probably sealed the deal there.

WRAL doesn’t mention where those $150,000 “donations” came from, although elsewhere in that article they also describe them as “grants” (protip: grants aren’t technically the same thing as donations, WRAL). The initial Herald article reported that the state had originally been seeking a grant from the Civil War Trust, and failing to secure that grant is what put the land in jeopardy.

Bennett Place seeks last minute funding to acquire historic parcel

Have you ever checked out Bennett Place? It’s pretty cool. Located on the northwest side of town out by US 70, the state park is the site of the largest surrender during the civil war.

Spoiler: the Confederates are the ones who surrendered.

Anyway, the park was hoping to acquire a 2 acre parcel of land which contains the road Gen. Johnston took on the way to surrender to Sherman. The problem? They don’t have the cash.

The first I saw about the situation was an article in the Herald dated September 22, stating that the park was trying to raise $310,000 by September 30. That’s some seriously short notice; it sounds like a grant didn’t come through. The WRAL article mentions that the deadline was later pushed back to October 31.

It’s unclear to me how much they’ve raised of that $310,000. WRAL quotes the same figure. Bennett Place itself doesn’t seem to have any information about this situation on the web, so I’ll just quote what they told WRAL:

Donations can be made to the Bennett Place Support Fund, 4409 Bennett Memorial Road, Durham, NC 27705. For more information, call 919-383-4345 or email

It also looks like you can also donate to the fund via the Bennett Place web site.

The property in question is directly across the road from the main park facilities, and I ride my bike through there pretty often. It will certainly change the character of the historic site if there’s commercial or light industrial directly adjacent.

The Open Durham Indiegogo campaign is almost over

I imagine most of you have encountered Open Durham at some point, but perhaps you aren’t aware that there’s presently an Indiegogo campaign in the works to help the project out. The site, which is the work of Gary Kueber, is used to document the history of structures and parcels throughout Durham county (and, at times, beyond). I’ve linked to it several times here, and it’s a really valuable resource which I call upon weekly (if not more).

Before he started Open Durham, Gary maintained the Endangered Durham blog (which is, at least at present, seemingly defunct), but found the blogging platform too limited for the scope of his work. The bottom line is that Gary does a lot of the content, but he pays people for their work on hosting and development, and there are several remaining features that need to get done. They won’t pay for themselves, apparently, and hence this campaign.

At the time of this writing, you’ve got about 40 hours left if you’d like to contribute. If you chip in $50 or more you can snag some physical rewards (starting with a keychain, with T-shirts at $100), but at any reward tier you get the satisfaction of knowing you contributed to a really crucial project to preserving Durham’s history.

Durham news odds and ends (mega vacation catch-up edition)

I’m a bit behind due to being out of town, so today I’ve got a jumbo version of odds and ends for you:

Phew. Maybe I shouldn’t go on vacation again for a while, eh?

Liberty Warehouse loses landmark status

In a move that should probably not surprise anybody, the Council voted 6-0 last night to strip Liberty Warehouse of its local landmark status.

I’ve mentioned the warehouse before (here and here), but the long and short of it is that current owner Greenfire requested and received the status in 2011 in an attempt to reduce its tax burden. Unfortunately, under Greenfire’s watch, the building suffered a catastrophic roof collapse which was deemed too costly to repair, and Greenfire has been looking for an exit strategy ever since. They subsequently petitioned to remove the landmark status to make the property more attractive to potential buyers.

The structure is the last extant tobacco auction warehouse in Durham, and much of the interior has remained in tact despite the collapse. It’s really a shame that Greenfire allowed this to happen, and it’s quite unfortunate that nobody could find any solution.

The landmark status was a hurdle for Greenfire’s proposed sale of the property to Chapel Hill developer East-West Partners (represented by¬†Roger Perry), whose contract to purchase the structure from Greenfire was contingent upon the removal of the designation. Landmark designation would have placed restrictions on any potential development of the site, and it’s unlikely that the financials would have made sense with it in tact.

The unanimous vote from the council comes after Preservation Durham lent its support to the new development plan, in which East-West Partners and Greenfire have stated an intent to retain as much of the facade as is feasible and create a museum on the site. It is important to note that without local landmark status East-West Partners will not have a legal obligation to these site elements, but it is presumably in their best interest to maintain a good working relationship with the community.

An interesting side show in all of this is that the Council has overridden the “Historic Preservation Commission,” which has the power to modify landmark status itself, but has failed to do so in the case of the Liberty Warehouse. I wouldn’t necessarily read this as a vote of no confidence in the Commission, but it does serve as a reminder that the buck ultimately stops at the council.