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Wilson Warehouses, Empty of All but Memories, Becoming Memories Themselves

Posted April 2, 2007

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— A piece of Wilson's history is disappearing brick by brick.

Crews are demolishing the Smith Tobacco Warehouse buildings built in 1928 and 1929. In the process, they are trying to salvage as much of the historic brick and wood as possible to use elsewhere.

One of the buildings has been empty for nine years, and the owner says it’s just too expensive to keep the structure.

Lynn Wagner is Director of the Tobacco Farm Life Museum, where they work to preserve the story of the tobacco warehouses of Wilson, even when structures like the Smith buildings have to come down.

The main Smith building was “very prominent in downtown Wilson. It was a very important warehouse,” she said.

Wagner says opening day of tobacco sales used to be a celebration as people packed into these downtown warehouses, most of which are now abandoned.

“I don't think there will ever be anything that has that kind of importance because it impacted every part of the society,” she explained.

Jennifer Lantz, who heads the Wilson Economic Development Council, has a different perspective.

“Even though it's unfortunate, it is very positive because it shows that our economy is changing and growing,” Lantz said.

It is unlikely that one large industry could replace the dominance that tobacco held.

The new Wilson economy, observers like Lantz said, depends on a combination of industries like large pharmaceutical companies and small businesses, new retail and a different style of agriculture.

It is never easy to let a piece of history go for progress, but the old bricks and the memories made inside the walls they made live on.

At one time, the owner hoped to sell the Smith warehouses for restoration like the American Tobacco project in Durham, and some of the warehouses are home to several businesses.

Economists say, however, that it's harder to make an American-Tobacco-style transition in a smaller city like Wilson.

8 Comments

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  • andrewsnc5 Apr 4, 2007

    Angeleyes: See my previous entry (of April 2) The tax credit I am referring to is exactly how a project like this could become financially feasible. If the owners aren't willing to work with this incredibly generous program, then sell the buildings to someone who has the will and the resources to do it. Because they could get the 60% (20% federal & up to 40% state) tax credit, that means that more than 1/2 of the costs to rehabilitate would be reimbursed to them. In Durham, Raleigh, Gastonia & other NC places this is being done. Why not Wilson?

  • AngelEyes Apr 3, 2007

    Road15, The Smith Whse. had been in use for office space until about 2 years ago. When it was vacated, the roof leaked so badly that when it rained, there was literally a river running [inside and]the length of the building. While yours sounds to be a sensible idea, it is not feasible. The owner nor most prospective buyers would've been willing to spend the money it would take for the building to pass inspection codes. In an ideal world, that could've been a reasonable alternative to destroying the building, but those with the ability (ie: financial means) to accomplish it are not like-minded as you and I. If it won't turn a huge profit for them, they can't justify in their minds that it would be for the "good".

  • AngelEyes Apr 3, 2007

    Road15, The Smith Whse. had been in use for office space until about 2 years ago. When it wa

  • missjohnston04 Apr 3, 2007

    As a child, I use to love opening day at the Tobacco Market. Both my granddads farmed and would take me to the tobacco market, even after I started school. Both are gone now and the destruction of the old tobacco markets, brings back bittersweet memories. A sincere thank you goes out to people like Lynn Wagner & the Tobacco Museum for trying to perserve some of our history.

  • Greekgirl Apr 3, 2007

    If you want to capture the moment,get out the Digitals.

  • road15 Apr 3, 2007

    Why don't they turn the warehouses into apartment for the senior citzens or some type of recreation for the kids to hang out with supervision

  • andrewsnc5 Apr 2, 2007

    Are these warehouse owners (and City officials) aware of the possibility of a 60% tax credit that could be available to adaptively reuse these historic structures for something useful today? There is a 20% federal and up to 40% state tax credit that could be used to rehabilitate these structures. The American Tobacco Campus or West Village expansion in Durham are prime examples of reusing these old incredibly well built mammoth structures for something positive. Sadly the owners (and the Wilson community) will miss the opportunity to make something happen. The possibility of creating a weedy lot or a cheap metal building to replace it is strong. Look what kind of impact a little planning could have if these folks would learn to think "outside the box" and learn more about these incredibly generous credits (yes, credits, a dollar for dollar reduction in your taxes).....

  • Monkey Love Apr 2, 2007

    This is really sad...Wilson was once known as the tobacco captial of the world. Now thwy are tearing down all these historic warehouses. I can remember growing up, in the summer all these warehouses in Wilson would be filled with tobacco all summer long. Those days are long gone.