In 1872, Camille N. Drie set out to document the city of Raleigh, providing a “Bird’s Eye View” of the city. It was just a few years after the War Between the States, and back then Raleigh was a relatively small capital city in the South. Despite how it appears, his map was not drawn from a hot air balloon. Instead, he made a series of drawings from vantage points across the city and later stitched them together.
Although the intricately detailed drawing shows hundreds of structures across Raleigh, there aren’t many still standing. Project Bird’s Eye View is a new series in which we will document the remaining structures from this historical map and provide a small bit of history of the building over the years.
The first entry is 227 S. Wilmington Street, now home to Slim’s Downtown Distillery.
The exact build date of 227 S. Wilmington is unknown, but it probably dates to before the time of the Civil War. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries it was occupied by several businesses, including:
- 1883 – Clothing Store
- 1886 – Wines and liquors
- 1903 – Clothing Store
- 1907 – Restaurant
At some point in the 1930s or 1940s, the photo above was taken showing the building when it was home to Blackwelder’s Barbecue. Blackwelder’s was an NC staple throughout much of the 20th century, and is claimed to be the oldest of Piedmont-styled barbecue, as described in Bob Garner’s Guide to North Carolina Barbecue:
There is some disagreement as to whether Piedmont-style barbecue first gained a foothold in Salisbury, in Rowan County, or in Lexington, in Davidson County. John Blackwelder of Salisbury is said to have added a barbecue pit to his taxi stand in 1918, one year before Sid Weaver erected his barbecue tent on Lexington’s courthouse square.
Although Salisbury is where Blackwelder’s got its start, there were also restaurants in Charlotte and other NC cities. Considering that Blackwelder’s began as a mobile barbecue stand, it seems natural that they would later have several food trucks such as the one in the postcard above.
Today, 227 S. Wilmington Street is home to Slim’s Downtown Distillery, a bar and live music venue. Slim’s is one of the earliest pioneers of the resurgence of the Downtown Raleigh nightlife scene. It seems fitting that such a fixture is in one of the oldest commercial structures downtown.
It’s also one of the few places downtown where you can play pinball.
I love the gritty character of Slim’s, and it’s one of my favorite spots downtown to get a beer. The next time you’re having a drink here, think about the fact that more than 120 years ago Raleigh residents also came here to buy liquor and other spirits.
We will continue the Project Bird’s Eye View series (about once a month) until all of the remaining buildings from the original map have been documented.