For the past year, a dilapidated building that sold everything from groceries to antique furniture had stood vacant at the corner of Morrisville Carpenter Road and N.C. 54., among the last vestiges of Morrisville’s past as a sleepy, rural town.
The structure that was known at various times as Red and White Grocery, Ben’s Bargain Barn and Cinderwalls, is no more as of late October.
The town voted in April to buy the property for $175,000 and demolished it in October. Mayor Mark Stohlman Stohlman said the land might be become parking for the nearby Pugh House, an historic building the town bought in 2008 that could be used as a law office or town administrative offices.
This was the town’s third attempt to buy the property, after being previously rebuffed by its owners.
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Stohlman said the crossroads it adorned is the gateway to town, and the absence of the old building will only improve visitors’ first impressions of the area. But he stopped short of calling it an eyesore.
“I’ll leave that up to the people looking at it,” he said, “but it’s seen better days.”
The property was once the center of Morrisville’s small commercial district, said historian Ernest Dollar, who is director of the City of Raleigh Museum.
Dollar said the former Red and White Grocery, which can be glimpsed in an advertisement from the 1950s uploaded by Dollar to YouTube, was notable for being one of few places in the area where white and black residents from Morrisville and its outlying farms coexisted.
“It was a segregated society, but everyone needed to buy grain and groceries,” Dollar said.
When Stohlman arrived in Morrisville in the early 1990s, the town’s population had scarcely cracked four digits, according to the town’s official history. At that time, Franklin Upchurch Sr. Street was the main commercial thoroughfare in town and created a three-way junction with N.C. 54.
“That was the Park West Village back in the day,” Stohlman said, referring to a relatively new, mixed-use shopping development in Morrisville. “And a lot of people don’t know that, because the roads have changed and it’s been Ben’s Bargain Barn for the last decade or so.”
Additionally, the store was near one of the first liquor stores established in western Wake County. And because N.C. 54 was the most well-traveled route between Chapel Hill and Raleigh, Morrisville became a common stopover for rowdy sports fans traveling between N.C. State and UNC, Dollar said.
Razing the roof
The town’s choice to hold a ceremonial demolition event in late October, when council members attacked the building with swings of a sledgehammer, is a sign of how happy many town officials are to see it gone.
The former grocery stood between the Pugh House and N.C. 54. The town had sought to raze the building so the historic home would be visible from the road.
The building’s departure from the town’s landscape comes at a time that Morrisville is preparing to build a new downtown, nearly from scratch, about a quarter-mile south of that location.
For more than a decade, Councilwoman Johnson has been the most vocal advocate for the building’s purchase. She said she would have liked to save it for town use, but because the building hadn’t been well-maintained, she’s happy to see it go – even if it did take several council terms to see it happen.
“We moved the house and situated it so it faced the tracks, and we did that purposely because that was how we could keep its historical significance,” Councilwoman Liz Johnson said. “Our desire was to own that piece of property and demolish it so the Pugh House could once again be exposed and sit there in all its glory.”
Gargan: 919-460-2604; @hgargan