Tobacco transformation: Former American Tobacco facility, above, gets second life as office, commercial, and social hub, below. Duke University Archives
Tobacco transformation: Former American Tobacco facility, above, gets second life as office, commercial, and social hub, below. Duke University Archives

American Tobacco Campus

Selections from University Archives American Tobacco Campus: Duke influences in downtown Durham
Writer: 
October 1, 2010

In 1890, James B. Duke organized the American Tobacco Company out of the family business—W. Duke, Sons, and Company—and other tobacco interests they had acquired. This new conglomerate expanded to become the largest of its kind, adding nearly 250 companies over the next twenty years. The “Tobacco Trust,” as it became known, controlled so much of the cigarette and plug-tobacco market that, in 1911, the U.S. Supreme Court found the company in violation of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act and ordered its dissolution. Out of the breakup, four firms were created: American Tobacco, R.J. Reynolds, P. Lorillard, and Liggett & Myers (L&M). While no longer a monopoly, the companies continued to grow and expand. L&M and American Tobacco, which produced the Lucky Strike, Pall Mall, and Tareyton brands, retained large presences in Durham.

Tobacco transformation: Former American Tobacco facility, above, gets second life as office, commercial, and social hub, below. Duke University Archives

The Durham tobacco industry reached its peak in the 1960s but started to wane as competition and rising health concerns led to declining revenues. Companies began to move out of many of the grand old brick warehouses and factories, with American Tobacco moving out of its facilities in the late 1980s. Durham, once famous for its tobacco auctions, held its last downtown auction in 1987.


Rather than let these historic brick and timber warehouses deteriorate and become a blight on the Durham landscape, the university collaborated with the city and other private enterprises to convert the facilities into office space. The renovated American Tobacco Campus reopened in 2004 and now houses a number of Duke offices, including Information Technology and Financial Services, in addition to restaurants and businesses. Durham’s West Village, several of the former L&M buildings, and the Smith Warehouse across from East Campus are also home to a wide range of campus offices.