Live in a bit of history

Historic photo of Baldwin's Department store in 1927

Baldwin's as it was originally built in 1927.

R.L. Baldwin, Sr., opened the downtown Durham Baldwin’s department store in 1911, making it the third location in what would go on to become a popular regional chain with stores across North Carolina and Virginia. Baldwin’s was originally located across Main Street from its present day location, but a fire in the 1920s destroyed much of the block. In 1929, Mr. Baldwin rebuilt his store at 107 W. Main Street.

Baldwin's Department store after its expansion in 1931

Baldwin's after its expansion in 1931.

Ten years and many happy customers later, Baldwin purchased the Commerce building next door and expanded his department store to the building’s present-day size. This explains why today half of the Baldwin building has original wood floors while the other half features the concrete floors of the Commerce building. Also, while the original Baldwin building was three stories with a full basement, the addition was five stories. Though this height difference can be seen from the back of the building, the front façade conceals it and provides a uniform look to the building’s Main Street entrance.

Interior view of Baldwin

Interior view of Baldwin's Department Store.

In 1939, Baldwin’s son, R.L. Baldwin, Jr., took over management of the store, which he ran successfully for more than 40 years. During its heyday, Baldwin’s was the premier department store serving Durham and much of the surrounding area. While loyal customers flocked to Baldwin’s for everything from bowties to washing machines, it was perhaps most well known for its impressive selection of shoes.

Main Street, Durham, NC Circa 1930

Main Street, Durham North Carolina. Circa 1930.

In addition to being successful merchandisers, the Baldwins were also interested in architecture and engineering. The 107 W. Main Street location was the second building in Durham to have air conditioning (the first being the Kress building next door). Baldwin also installed a pneumatic tube system throughout the building to transport receipts and other documents from floor to floor.

Historic photos courtesy of the Durham County Library.