Goodnight Raleigh - a look at the art, architecture, history, and people of the city at night

Echoes of an Era Past

In terms of a manufacturing past, Raleigh pales in comparison to the gritty, once bustling tobacco town of Durham to the west. Nonetheless, an entire area abutting the railroad tracks on the western fringe of downtown Raleigh remains as a towering testament to our own city’s industrial past. The landmarks are everywhere throughout this area known as Raleigh’s Warehouse District — from a former Cotton Oil Mill, an abandoned coal yard, a defunct concrete plant, the old Southern Railway freight depot, to the most ubiquitous example: The Dillon Supply Co. buildings.”

There are a number of nightclubs and bars interspersed through the area: Buckhead Saloon, White Collar Crime, Club Mosquito, Five Star, among others. If you’ve traveled to any of these, then you have navigated through the nondescript giant brick structures that for the most part sit vacant. There’s one in particular that has always puzzled me though, and it’s also the least visible.

A cropped version of the Viaduct image from the post: “Why the Wye?

The same side today, in a much more worn and aged state

I first took a photo of this building in late 2007, knowing nothing about it. In the past year and a half, I really haven’t learned anything else about it. By examining some minor details, however, a few clues emerge that give hints to its former purpose.

It sits vacant with every entrance sealed shut with concrete block. There is almost no circulation whatsoever, and the warm humid air sits thick and carries the dust unsettled with each step taken. There are few artifacts left behind to tell any sort of story. It’s one wide open area, a small office area (second image from the top), a swing arm and control module for loading cargo aboard freight cars, and a barely noticeable set of tracks that run through the center (lower right corner of above image). My guess is that this set of tracks once connected to the Wye, under the Boylan Bridge, to carry steel products to other parts of the region. But when looking at a satellite map of the area, there is little other evidence to support this theory.

One of the other puzzling pieces is this ramshackle lean-to near a corner in the center of the building. It houses a light fixture above, but not much else. Pieces of refuse and scrawled graffiti on the rotting wood perhaps tell the tale of passing travelers that may be seeking out an area less conspicuous than under the Boylan bridge only a few feet away.

With each passing gust of wind, the corrugated metal exterior would bend and sway, creating eerie tapping sounds and groans. It’s not unlike the sound a tall and well worn roller coaster makes as it ascends to its peak, coupled the sound effects heard in a movie when a metal bridge collapses. Being in dark and unfamiliar areas certainly isn’t anything new for me, but I was spooked on more than one occasion on this particularly windy night. I knew exactly where the sound was coming from and what caused it, yet the sound was so imposing I couldn’t help but be a bit on edge.

Just outside of these windows lie a set of tracks that connects to the Raleigh Amtrak Station. While lingering about inside, what I assume to be a freight train passed on the set of tracks on the side closest to the former coal yard (near where Five Star is now). The sound echoed about inside, which for a brief moment gave the impression that the void space contained more life than it really did.

But rather than the hustle and bustle of industrial work taking place, the sound of the passing freighter was simply a reminder of an era long passed. The time of downtown Raleigh’s industrial past has long since come and gone.

View of the Raleigh Skyline from the roof of the old Dillon Supply building

From the roof, you can see some of the other former warehouses in the area. In the foreground is one such example that sits directly across from a set of railroad tracks that cross West Martin Street. Today, the place with the two large garage doors and concertina wire on one side houses an limo service and garage.

Today the building sits quiet and stagnant. No viaduct, no loading freights, no workers sending steel and products to various parts of the country. While Dillon Supply remains a viable company headquartered in Raleigh, the last of their operations left downtown a couple of years ago. The dull, quiet, and plain buildings they left behind sit in the shadows of the growing skyline to the East and a thriving residential neighborhood to the West.

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