Underneath the Carolina Inn

A few weeks ago, the archives received a donation of several mysterious items from Irvin Brawley, a longtime Davidson College employee (1971 – 2010; Brawley retired as the Associate Director for Property Management and Insurance). These items had been unearthed from beneath the Carolina Inn during restoration work, but nothing else was known about them.

Found underneath the Carolina Inn!
Found underneath the Carolina Inn!

All told, the items included Two Lucky Strike “flat fifties” cigarette tins, a bottle of castor oil from Eckard’s, and a bottle of Sloan’s Family Liniment. Before delving into details about these items, a brief history of the building they were found underneath: many Davidsonians today are familiar with the Carolina Inn, in its role as the home for the College’s Center for Interdisciplinary Studies.

The Carolina Inn, May 2014.
The Carolina Inn, May 2014.

Built circa 1848, the structure first began serving as a store that same year, under the operation of Leroy Springs. In 1855, the building was sold to Hanson Pinkney Helper, giving the building its other frequently recognized name – the Helper Hotel.

Carolina Inn as the Helper Hotel, circa 1870s.
Carolina Inn as the Helper Hotel, circa 1870s.

The Helper Hotel was much more than just a hotel – the building also housed Helper’s store, and in the latter part of the 1800s, Dr. J.J. Dupuy operated a drug store on the premises. A peek at one of the pages of Helper’s 1896 store ledger gives a taste of what the Davidson community was able to purchase:

F.M. Hobbs' account for 1897.
F.M. Hobbs’ account for 1896.

Fred Marvin Hobbs, a Davidson resident and member of the class of 1900, seems fond of candy, cigars, and bay rum. Sadly, Hobbs perished in a drowning incident in the Catawba River in July 1900 along with a fellow classmate, David Yonan. Both students are buried in the Davidson College cemetery.

F.M. Hobbs, a frequenter of Helper's store during his days at Davidson.
F.M. Hobbs, a frequenter of Helper’s store during his days at Davidson.

In 1901, the Sloan family purchased the building and continued running both an inn and a store on the premises. The Sloan’s daughter, Sadie Sloan Bohannan, ran the building as a weekend rooming house for young women visiting Davidson in the 1920s and ’30s – former Library Director and first College Archivist, Dr. Chalmers G. Davidson (class of 1928), recalled that period as:

“…the day of the ‘great belle’ in the South, and ‘prom-trotters,’ as they were called, who made the rounds from Princeton to Tulane stayed at Mrs. Bohannan’s during their Davidson weekends. Mrs. Bohannan had beautiful antiques (she sometimes put as many as four girls in one four poster bed – for a dollar which was high pay) and she ran a highly reputable house. Davidson students could go only to the top of the stair to deposit suitcases and no farther.” (from Mary D. Beaty’s Davidson: A History of the Town from 1835 until 1937)

The College purchased the Carolina Inn from the Sloan family in 1946, and the building has been used as student housing, community gathering space (the town’s “Teen Canteen”), and as office and classroom space. Renovated in 1971 and designated as a Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Site in 1977, the Carolina Inn still serves as a meeting place for the College community.

Returning to the four items found beneath the Inn, not much is known about them. The Lucky Strike tins could date from anytime in between the 1930s through the 1950s – this design was used throughout those years. Both of these tins have some loose tobacco remaining inside, and are a bit dented. The back of the tins list that these cigarettes were manufactured at “Factory No. 30 District of N.C.”

Lucky Strike "flat fifties" tin.
Lucky Strike “flat fifties” tin.

The bottle of castor oil from Eckerd’s is equally difficult to date – the label lists a Tryon Street address in Charlotte, as well as a recommended dosage of one to two tablespoons for adults or one to two teaspoons for children. Eckard’s expanded into North Carolina, including Charlotte, in the 1920s, and the store operated in the area until the company went defunct in 2006-2007. The slogan “Creators of Reasonable Drug Prices” appears to have been used by the chain for several decades, however, and no other markings on the bottle give further clues.

Eckerd's of Charlotte, N.C., castor oil.
Eckerd’s of Charlotte, N.C., castor oil.


Finally, Sloan’s Family Liniment – Earl Sloan began marketing his father’s horse liniment for use on people by the late 1800s, and Sloan’s Liniment can still be purchased today. This bottle, like the one of Eckerd’s castor oil, does not have any date information but does include instructions for use.

Sloan's Family Liniment: good for both animals and people!
Sloan’s Family Liniment: good for both animals and people!

If you have any information on our mysterious finds (or more finds of your own) from underneath the Carolina Inn, please get in touch with the archives!

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