Durham’s American Tobacco Campus

The American Tobacco Campus in Durham, North Carolina

When you look online for things to do in Durham, every single website notes the American Tobacco Campus, referred to often as ATC. The tobacco industry was the base of Durham’s economy for a hundred years, ending about the same time as a major decline in cigarette smoking in the United States. The biggest companies had their industrial buildings in a single section of town that was dedicated to tobacco products manufacturing from 1847 to 1987. From Tour Durham‘s website: “Today, American Tobacco has been redeveloped by Capitol Broadcasting Company and is home to more than a million square feet of residences, offices, a movie theater, a gallery (where you can see the original coal-fired boilers!), and the Durham Bulls athletic park.”

The two most iconic landmarks in Durham, labeled with the Lucky Strike cigarette logo. Using these towers you can keep track of where you are in the ATC, which is pretty big.

ATC is not the bustling hive of activity they want you to believe, but it’s still pretty neat. I visited there on three different days and it’s quiet during the day, especially weekdays. It does get busier in the evening. This lack of daytime activity could be due to August weather. There are a couple of shops and a couple of restaurants, including the Mellow Mushroom, the amazingly delicious pizza place we ate at the night we arrived.

The view from inside the ATC.
A train car made into a cafe.
Inviting lawns in the ATC.
Water features and tables and chairs are set up throughout the inside courtyard. I appreciate the flags.

There are multiple entry points, and once you’re on the campus, it’s a long rectangle bound by old manufacturing buildings, with a central courtyard area that is very inviting from end to end. The lawns are beautiful and there are multiple places with seats and trees and umbrellas for shade. There are also a few public art pieces to enjoy.

Beneath the Lucky Strike water tower
A theater inside the ATC
Burt’s Bees, Inc. is located in the American Tobacco Campus.

One fun thing in the ATC is the headquarters of Burt’s Bees, Inc. I did not know it was here before I visited, and that was a fun discovery. I have been using their products for years, and enjoyed the beautiful headquarters building with the exceptional mural on the side. I also got a kick out of Burt’s old home (he died in 2015), which was converted from a turkey coop when he lived in Maine.

Mural on the side of Burts Bees. The back of this building forms an outside wall of the ATC.
The mural continues down the side of the building. Here, you are looking toward the center of the ATC.
Burt’s old home, with the largest cluster of people I saw in the ATC during my three days there (not counting people at restaurants).
It was locked, but I peeked through the windows.

One thing I especially enjoyed about the ATC is that there is a water feature running through the middle. My guess is that the water played a role in the industry in the early days, and that’s why it’s there. Today the canal contains a couple of lovely man-made waterfalls that you can hear while walking through or sitting at one of the pleasant seats placed helpfully throughout.

My favourite photo from the ATC. I wonder if this is an old cafe from the tobacco days.

Across Blackwell Street, west of the campus is the Durham Bulls athletic park. The front entrance is beautiful, and I included a night photo of it in an earlier post. On my last day in town, I went to the other side to see if I could get a look at the playing field. I arrived to find the gates wide open. I walked right in and took photos.

The Diamond View beckoned me, and I walked right on in.
Durham Bulls Athletic Park

After I was done taking photos, I walked back out, and found a spot in the shade to sit and decide where to go next. Within minutes the gate was locked. I had somehow magically timed my entrance.

The Universe had kept the gates open for me. 🙂

In this post my original plan was to include a bunch of photos to show random scenes around Durham that would illustrate more reasons to like the city. However, this post is already long enough. I’ll talk more about Durham later.

Our trip to North Carolina was over on August 7 and I can hardly believe there was so much to post about from that trip. And those posts have lasted so long that there are new things I want to post about. Since then, I’ve attended a Cherokee Chief’s event here in Oregon that I want to show some photos for. AND for the second year, the Belle Brigade is gearing up for our two-day relay race in the Portland-to-Coast event this weekend! Pedro is working again as a volunteer. So who knows what will get posted next. I hope you enjoyed this one and I hope you are enjoying the season. I’ll catch up with you soon. ❤

7 thoughts on “Durham’s American Tobacco Campus

    1. Thank you Derrick. Recycling old buildings is one of my favourite types of reuse projects. I know there are advantages to newly built construction, but I think I still prefer the old stuff.

  1. Laughing, tell me about being behind on posts, Crystal. I’m still back in May.

    Having spent a good deal of my life fighting the tobacco industry, I enjoyed the little tour, especially now the tobacco industry is no longer there and knowing that I participated in its demise (down but not out). 🙂 I also enjoyed the story on Burt’s Bees. We usually have on or the other of his products arounds. A home converted from a turkey coop boggles the mind. –Curt

    1. I appreciate the work you did to battle big tobacco, Curt, and the years of time you spent on that. Thank you. Sadly, I believe they have moved into other communities around the world that have not yet organized enough to knock them down. In time, I think the numbers of people who reject tobacco will grow. Wanting to smoke an addictive substance is one thing, but being an industry that seeks to harm people in order to profit is quite another, and should be resisted.

      You know, when I saw his “turkey coop,” I thought to myself that those may have been some spoiled turkeys. ha ha! But then, I should talk. My chickens have quite a spacious home that I can walk right into also.

  2. Ahhh Lucky Strike. LSMFT. LUCKY strike means fine tobacco. I have a good running joke with a friend about LSMFT but thirty years later I don’t even recall what it was about. Great tour … love getting a little history of the ATC and learning a few things, too. Pretty good redistrubution of place. Would love to dismantle and repurpose a few Amazon sites out here ..

    1. Ha ha! That will probably happen. Each industry and corporation seems to have its day, then get replaced eventually. I think the ATC is a beautiful place and I hope it is well used. I was surprised to see it so desolate, day after day. But when it’s not a million degrees with 300% humidity, I hope there are lots of community things planned on the grounds.

  3. I love it when spaces are repurposed, Crystal. And this one is especially lovely. To be honest, I love it when there isn’t a lot of people around, and I feel I have a place all to myself. 😆

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