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Demolition of Durham Fair Buildings Brings Out Nostalgia

Local residents reflect on their memories of the fair's two oldest buildings as demolition crews prepare to tear them down.

Demolition of Durham Fair Buildings Brings Out Nostalgia


As a young kid growing up in Durham, Robert Atwell remembers escaping rainy days by hiding out in the unlocked buildings behind his parent's home. 

On Thursday, demolition crews will begin tearing down the 79-year-old's childhood hideaways.

Atwell is one of several longtime town residents who expressed sadness this week over the dismantling of two of the Durham Fair's most iconic buildings —Presidents' Hall and the Crow's Nest Building.

Both structures are being torn down as a result of to the buildings, making them unsafe to visitors.

"I wish they could keep them," said Atwell. Ironically, Atwell was born in the very home that the fair now uses as an office, 24 Town House Road.

Presidents' Hall —  once known as the Dairy Building — was built in 1925, according to Durham Fair historian Mabel Hamma, making it the fairground's oldest building. 

Three years later the Vegetables, Canning and Flower Building, which would come to be known as the Crow's Nest because of it's unique space overlooking the fair, was built.

"That building has been a very special place because of the exhibits that have been in there," said longtime fair member and volunteer Rosemarie Naples.

One of Naples' fondest memories of the building came in 1955, when a hurricane swept through the state and put a halt to the fair's horse pulls.

"We had so many horsemen in there waiting for the weather to clear so they could pull that I had to bring them all home here so they could have breakfast because at that time we didn't have any food booths at the fair in the morning," she said.

"My husband was running up the street constantly getting me more eggs, more bacon. It seemed like I was cooking for 100 people."

Naples said she is sad to see the buildings torn down but said safety concerns outweigh perserving nostalgia.

"Like anybody else you hate to see change but at the same time you have to move forward," said Warren Herzig, whose memories of the fair include the time he spent in the Presidents' Hall as a member of the 4-H Club.

Eventually, the building became home to baking exhibits, arts and crafts and special collections.

Hamma, who has dedicated much of her life to the fair, remains as enthusiastic today as the day she earned her first Durham Fair ribbon.

"I had entered canning and I was thrilled to find out that my collection had won first prize," Hamma said. "You can't imagine what it's like to win a ribbon at the Durham Fair when you're not even out of school yet."

Despite the demolition, Atwell remains equally as excited about the fair.

"I haven't missed one yet," he said.

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