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Duke University Archives at the David M. Rubenstein Rare Books & Manuscript Library

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Stone by Stone:

Who Built Duke's Chapel and West Campus?

The Franklin Humanities Institute Presents

Who We Are

Since the Robert E. Lee statue was removed from the Duke Chapel in August 2017, the University's administration has taken steps to re-examine Duke's history and what it represents.  They have wanted to look beyond the famous administrators, business tycoons, and Duke family members that shaped the University and tell the stories of the less-heralded people in the school's history.  That's where we come in.  In an attempt to answer the question, "Who built the Chapel?" a summer research team was formed.  Part of the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute's Story+ program, this project grouped three undergraduate students with one graduate student mentor and several incredible librarians to learn the story of the Duke Chapel worker by worker, stone by stone. 

How did we accomplish this goal?  We first took to the University Archives in the Rubenstein Library where we pored over memos, letters, account statements, photographs, newspaper articles, and more related to the construction of the Chapel.  After several days and only a handful of workers' names, we (kind of) struck gold with two boxes of payroll ledgers in the Office of the University Treasurer Records.  The problem: the ledgers date from 1927-1930, when West Campus was being built—the Chapel was constructed from 1930-1932. Unfortunately, we were never able to find a more complete record of Chapel construction workers, but we did find names of some stonemasons in newspaper articles, and several descendants of Chapel workers had called the University Archives to tell us their stories.  Thus, we expanded the scope of our project to encompass construction of both the Chapel and the rest of West Campus, figuring that a number of the workers whose names appear in the West Campus payroll ledgers stayed to work on the Chapel. 

After transcribing the ledgers, we continued our research in the archives, conducted interviews with descendants of workers, and spent plenty of time on Ancestry.com to find out some basic biographical information about the names we pulled from the payroll records.  Our research took us from Durham to Greensboro and the mountains of North Carolina, and we assembled this online exhibit to showcase some of the most fascinating things that we have found.  Each section of this website focuses on a different aspect of our research, and we hope you enjoy learning about the people who gave so much of their lives to building Duke's beautiful campus.

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