The New American Tobacco Campus Takes Shape, 2004

W. T. Blackwell & Company Factory, now part of the American Tobacco Campus. Image from the Durham County Library.On June 24, 2004, GlaxoSmithKline became the first business to move into the newly renovated and re-purposed American Tobacco Campus, ushering in a new era for downtown Durham.

Originally the home of the W. T. Blackwell & Company Factory, which dates to 1874, the campus was considered the world’s largest tobacco factory at one time. Blackwell’s company was purchased in 1899 by Washington Duke, who transformed it by introducing automated production, starting the iconic Lucky Strike brand and consolidating it with his other holdings to create the American Tobacco Company.

The restored American Tobacco Campus. Image from the State Historic Preservation Office.The campus became a National Historic Landmark in 1977, and sat vacant and deteriorating for several years after American Tobacco ceased cigarette manufacturing there in 1987. Capitol Broadcasting Company began to express interest in rehabbing the facility in the late 1990s, and after the city and county of Durham, the A.J. Fletcher Foundation and Self-Help committed to pitch in on the project, construction began.

The $200 million project helped jumpstart the revitalization of downtown Durham, and today the dynamic campus features a stunning water feature, grassy areas for enjoying concerts and restaurants.  Anchor tenants have included North Carolina Public Radio, Duke University, Burt’s Bees and the Durham YMCA.

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