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Carolina Inn (History)

The architecture of the Carolina Inn is an important part of the Mecklenburg County heritage and reflects the architectural mood of the community at different moments in time. The restoration saved the town’s heritage, recreated beauty, and provided needed space for academic facility (Beaty 85).

Throughout the building’s history, it has always been a “useful and social part of town life” as explained in Mary Beaty’s town history (84). The first owner of the brick building was Lewis Dinkens, who ran a store on the first floor and used the extra rooms for travelers passing through the town. Though a marking on the chimney reads “Dinkens 1837,” historians beleive that it was built circa 1848.

The Old Inn
The Old Inn.
Notice that the Inn, on the left, is in an “L” shape and does not have a balcony, widow’s walk, or portico yet. [1950s]
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The year 1837 was also the year when Davidson College opened. The building is located on the opposite side of Statesville Highway, later called Main Street, from the campus. Students referred to Statesville Highway as the Red Sea because they would have to walk across a Sea of muddy Carolina clay to get to the store (Davidson 8).

The precise layout of Dinkens’s building is not clear. Historians believe that it was most likely an “L” and about half of the present size. During Dinkens’s ownership, he leased the building for a few years to Leroy Springs, who ran the “Brick Store House” in the North room of the first floor (Davidson 8).

In 1855, Dinkens sold the building to Hanson Pinckney Helper, known by the students as Mr. Pink, who became the postmaster of Davidson College in 1856. Helper’s brother, Hinton Rowan Helper, was the author of The Impending Crisis in the South, which attacks slavery from the point of view of the poor southern white. The North used this as campaign propaganda for the Civil War. While the south detested the Helper name, Hanson Helper’s personal life and business seemed unaffected.

Helper enlarged the building making it a 13-room hotel and gave it the name Helper Hotel, in addition to running a store on the first floor. In his store the community and Davidson students could buy just about anything from “calculus texts to valentines, from candles to linen coats” (Beaty 81). The Davidson library has a copy of the Helper Ledger, where one can observe the purchasing habits of such students as Baxter H. Moore ’53, who regularly bought apples, figs, oysters, chestnuts, cheese, cigars, and back up strings for his violin (Beaty 81).

Later on Helper also added the second story balcony by 1860 and the famous Widow’s Walk on top of the roof in 1871. When South Carolina seceded from the Union in 1860, the male students met on the balcony to decide to go home and fight for their state. People say that that Mr. Helper built the Widow’s Walk because he had no place to garden, so he placed one on top.

The Helper Hotel
The Helper Hotel.
This busy scene depicts the prime location, as well as Helper’s additions to the building.

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In 1860, Helper decided that he wanted to take up farming so he placed an advertisement in the North Carolina Presbyterian to attract buyers for the Hotel, but he was unsuccessful. Later, in the 1880s, J.J. Dupuy ran the town’s first drugstore in the Helper Hotel’s first floor North Room. (Beaty 45).

Finally in 1901 Walter Sloan’s family bought the brick hotel from Helper. Mrs. Sadie Sloan Bohannan ran the Inn during the 1920s and the 1930s. During this time dancing was not permitted at Davidson College, but the Fraternities held house parties on the weekends. The Inn would room the visiting college girls for the weekend at a rate of one dollar per girl with 4 girls to a room. Mrs. Bohannan ran a strict house, where only Davidson College students were allowed to carry luggage to the stairs and could not proceed any further (Davidson 9-10).

After World War II, Davidson College enrollment soared through the roof. The college did not have enough accommodations for student housing and faculty homes. In 1946 the college decided to buy existing homes near campus and the Inn was one of them, now known as the Carolina Inn.

By 1950, Davidson College students were housed in the Inn. Dick Perkins ’53 remembers that “the Carolina Inn was the domicile of Crowell Little’s 1st batch of big-time recruits for Davidson’s football Renaissance. I had just left Fort Jackson, and the barracks were much cleaner and more comfortable than Carolina Inn. There were cockroaches big enough to carry off our dirty socks!”

Starting later in the 1950s the building was used as a meeting place for elders and the Teen Canteen, which was a joint sponsorship between the town and the Davidson College.

The Carolina Inn
The Carolina Inn, after the 1970′s restoration was complete.
[post 1970s]

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As time passed, the Inn became neglected, and the college decided to restore the building as it looked before the deterioration using old photographs as its guides. Led by Grover C. Meetze, an architect and the director of Physical Plant at Davidson College, the building’s sagging piazzas were repaired, the widow’s walk restored, and the interior design refurbished. The total cost was around $80,000, paid for by a grant from the Surdna Foundation.

After restoration, the building was used more for faculty offices, classrooms, and occasionally as a hotel for a VIP guest to the college. The Inn became the home for the Center of Special Studies and the Dean Rusk Program, where Davidson College students could take a variety of independent studies. While the name of the Inn
changed throughout the 1970s from Center of Special Studies to Honors College, and then finally to Center for Interdisciplinary Studies, its function remained the same. The Inn had once again become a part of college life. Today, the old brick building is known as the Carolina Inn and is still a functioning part of Davidson College.

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Historic Buildings, Chambers Building, Martin Chemical Library,
President’s House, Carolina Inn – Works Cited

Anonymous. A Tribute: William
Joseph Martin, Junior, Flyer. Martin Science Davidsoniana file. Davidson college Archives, Davidson, NC.

Anonymous. A Tribute: William Joseph Martin, Senior, Flyer. Martin Science Davidsoniana file. Davidson college Archives, Davidson, NC.

Anonymous. “History of Martin Chemical Laboratory,” Fact sheet. Martin
Science Davidsoniana file. Davidson college Archives, Davidson, NC.

Anonymous. “Martin Chemical Laboratory (1899-1941),” Flyer, Martin
Science Davidsoniana file. Davidson college Archives, Davidson, NC.

Anonymous. “Martin Science Building to Be Dedicated April 14,” Newsclipping.
Martin Science Davidsoniana file. Davidson college Archives, Davidson, NC.

Anonymous. Newsclipping, Martin Science Davidsoniana file. Davidson college Archives, Davidson, NC.

Beaty, Mary. The History of Davidson College. Briarpatch: North Carolina, 1988.

Beaty, Mary. A History of the Town from 1835 until 1937. Briarpatch: North Carolina, 1979.

Boyte, Jack. “Survey and Research on the Helper Hotel.” Architectural report. 1976. Carolina Inn Davidsoniana file. Davidson College Archives, Davidson,
NC.

Burnett, Lee. “The Evolution of Chambers.” Davidson Journal Spring
(1987) : 12-13.

“Chambers’ Gift: The Legal History” Davidson Journal Spring (1999) : pg.3

Davidson, Chalmers. “Lives of a Wayside Inn.” The State 15 November 1971: 8-10.

Davidson, Chalmers Gaston. The Plantation World Around Davidson. Davidson: Briarpatch Press, 1982.

“Davidson Has Undertaken Vast Improvement Program.” The Charlotte
Observer Newsclipping. Chambers Building- Davidsoniana file. Davidson College Archives., Davidson, NC.

Flyer, Davidson College. “The President’s Home.” President’s
House Davidsoniana File. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.

Hamrick, Jason. The President’s House at Davidson College: a brief pictorial
history compiled from the Davidson College Archives. Davidson: Davidson College, 1999.

Herran, Kathy Neill. They Married Confederate Officers. Davidson: Warren Publishing,
1997.

Invitation from President’s House Davidsoniana file. 15 Dec 1976. Davidson
College Archives, Davidson, NC.

Kuykendall, Missy. “Notes on the President’s House, Davidson College.”
Davidson ollege, NC. 1996.

McLeod, R.A. Letter to Dr. Martin. 30 November 1921. RG211.11. Davidson College

Archives, Davidson College, NC

“Old Chambers Building.” Data Sheet. Old Chambers Building-Davidsoniana
file. Davidson College Archives., Davidson, NC.

Park, Leland. Memo from Alumni Weekend, Davidson College. 22 May 1971.

Photograph of Louisiana. Photograph Collection, number 9-0885. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.

Photograph of President’s House. Photograph Collection, number 9-1007.
Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.

Photograph of Robert Hall Morrison. Photograph Collection, number 19-0698.
Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.

President’s House Davidsoniana file. Davidson College Archives, Davidson,
NC.

Published essay. “The President’s House.” President’s
House Davidsoniana file. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.

Rumple, Jethro. “Davidson College in the Forties,” Quips and Cranks.
Vol. I. Davidson
College, 1895.

Author: Jessica Lahre ’07
Date: October 2003

Cite as: Lahre, Jessica. “Carolina Inn” Davidson Encyclopedia October
2003 <http://sites.davidson.edu/archives/encyclopedia/carolina-inn/>

Related Entries: Historic Buildings

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