Much of the information shared here is provided by Gary Kueber (www.endangereddurham.org) and used with permission.
Hosiery Mill (1920-1930)
The John O’Daniel Exchange started life in the late 1910s as the Paragon Hosiery Mill. It quickly changed names and became the Bowling-Emory Knitting Mill for a very short period of time before being acquired in 1919 by Julian Carr as part of his expanding Durham Hosiery Mills.
From Kueber: “Carr named the mill after the recently (1917) deceased John O’Daniel – who the Historic Inventory euphemistically refers to as a former “servant” (rather than a slave) in the Carr household. By all accounts, the relationship between Julian Carr and and John O’Daniel was an interesting one. O’Daniel is referred to in several accounts as Carr’s “right-hand man.” Carr was one of the first to take the then-unconventional step of hiring African-American labor in his mills. The offensive belief of the time, according to Jean Anderson, was that that “[B]lacks were incapable of running machinery.” One of Carr’s other mills was staffed and managed entirely by African-Americans.
Regardless, John O’Daniel was likely Carr’s ‘liaison’ in the African-American community, helping to hire and recruit. He was one of the earliest African-American landowners in Hayti – purchasing a tract on Fayetteville St. in 1877, and he later contributed financially to the building of St. Joseph’s.
O’Daniel’s relationship with Carr led some to spread the rumor that O’Daniel was actually Carr’s half-brother, which was never confirmed. Carr stated once that “John considered himself part of the Carr family.” Take that as you will. John O’Daniel is buried in Geer Cemetery (which he may have been part owner of.)”
Farmers Mutual Exchange (1930-1980)
Unfortunately, the John O’Daniel Hosiery Mill was short lived as Julian Carr died in 1924 and John Sprunt Hill took over the waning mill. In 1930, Hill offered the mill as a building for the Farmer’s Exchange which was a cooperative that grew to 900 members by 1935. Durham’s first Farmers Market was located here in the 1930s and was operated exclusively by women! The women were able to provide an extra source of income for their families through the sale of poultry, eggs, baked goods, canned items, and fresh vegetables and flowers in season. Called a “curb market” at the time, it would later move to Foster Street in downtown Durham.
From Keuber: “By 1935, the Farmers’ Exchange had a chicken processing plant here, and soon thereafter (1937) had built a feed mill for processing and marketing grain just behind the site. The feed mill production continued to expand, taking over the former space of the Durham Gas Company, and later becoming the Southern States mill on Gilbert St. The Farmers’ Exchange also took over the former city stables at Gilbert and Alston. Financial statements from 1955 and 1956 shows that it was a significant place of commerce in our city.”
During the 1980s the Farmer’s Exchange was shut down and the building was vacant until the late 1990s. At that point the building was converted into a nightclub called “Cobra” which lasted all of a week until a mysterious fire burned off the roof.
For most of the 2000s, the building sat abandoned and blighted. It was purchased in 2007 by Wendy Clark and she began renovations that would turn a forgotten piece of our history into the place of hope and community that it is today.