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Researchers' Note

Story+ is a six-week summer research project with three undergraduate researchers, and the general topic of "construction at Duke" is so broad and full that there is plenty left to be researched.  In this project we attempted to look into several different areas of interest within this wider field of study and we hope that our findings inspire others to continue our research in the future, whether in another Story+ project or for independent research.  The lives and stories of these workers need to be preserved and shared and we are excited to hear about everything future researchers find out about them.  The following is a far-from-complete list of some interesting topics that we came upon during our project that we think merit further investigation, but simply did not have time to research ourselves.  We've also included a Further Reading list with some of the richest, most helpful sources we found. This bibliography should be something of a jumping-off point: we have hardly scratched the surface of any of these sources, and we are sure many, many fascinating, surprising, and intriguing details are still waiting to be found within these boxes and pages. 

Please contact us at with any questions or additional information.

  • East CampusBecause the original goal of this project was to uncover the workers who built the Chapel, we focused almost exclusively on the construction of West Campus.  But plenty of records exist for East Campus as well, and it's not improbable that many of the names from the West Campus construction payroll would also have worked on East Campus.  How do the conditions, wages, and experiences of the workers of these two construction sites compare to each other? 

  • Oral Histories: The only interviews we conducted were with people who reached out to us after hearing about our project in the Raleigh News & Observer.  How many more stories could we uncover if we actively sought out more of the descendants of these laborers? 

  • Gender and labor: Aside from the secretary signing off on the payrolls, there are no women in the ranks of these workers.  But these men had wives and mothers who had their own stories and relationships with Duke construction—how can we learn more about their lives?  And what else could we find out about the women who did work on Duke's campus in varying capacities in this time period?

  • Precarity, transience, and subcontracting: The ledgers from week-to-week shift in laborers' names and hours. Some workers moved across Durham and North Carolina upwards of eight times between 1920 and 1940. On the construction site, wages and weekly hours were not guaranteed. A worker would show up one week and be gone the next. How does this transience and subcontracting affect labor conditions, organization, and unionization? How did the precarity of the situation affect the lived experiences of the workers?  

  • Relationship between Duke and Liggett & MyersIn the ledgers, there are two workers—James Barbee and Joe Stone—whose occupations were "Liggett & Myers Laboratory Helpers." They were paid a flat sum every week without mention of hours worked. What was their job exactly? Did Duke recruit workers from Liggett & Myers to work on its construction? Was there any other relation between the University and tobacco manufacturer, especially considering the Duke family's tobacco roots? 

  • Comparison to other universities' constructionMany of Duke's peer institutions, such as Vanderbilt or University of Chicago, were built many years before Duke but with similar funding to Duke's own. What were working conditions like on those campuses compared to those at Duke? How did these schools inspire and influence each other in their constructions? 


  • Board of Trustees Records: The Duke University Board of Trustees has existed since 1924 and is responsible for all major choices about the existence and future of the school.  This collection includes minutes from the Board's meetings, correspondence, financial statements, and many other kinds of documentation of all its decisions. 

  • Building Reference Collection: This collection provides a helpful overview of the buildings on Duke's campus, sometimes including information about events that have happened in these places and the people for whom the buildings were named.  Take note of the "Stonecarving and Stonecarvers" folder in Box 5 for a comprehensive collection of photos, newspaper clippings, and written records of the stonemasons who helped build West Campus and the Chapel.  The files specifically about the Chapel are found in Box 2.

  • Chapel Reference Collection: While this collection mostly focuses on records (photographs, bulletins, posters, newspaper articles, etc.) of events that have happened at the Chapel over the years, this does provide a thorough understanding of how the community and congregation of Duke Chapel have changed and grown over the years, from its construction to the present.  Box 2 does hold some pertinent information about construction costs, woodcarvers, and the Flentrop Organ; Box 3 has a full folder about the creation of the carved marble sarcophagi in Duke Memorial Chapel; Box 4 contains details about the statues, symbols, windows, and woodwork of the Chapel.

  • Duke Endowment Archives: Since the Duke Construction Company was run by the Duke Endowment, these records are full of information about the construction project, especially some of its more general aspects.  The information held in this collection was too broad and 'big-picture' for our project, but it does shed some light on how the project was managed in comparison to other recipients of Duke Endowment funds.  This collection is incredibly extensive, but some key boxes that deal with the Duke Construction Company are CO 26, 45, 50, 51, 85, and 88-90, and there are lots of records on microfilm as well.  Note: the Duke Endowment Archives are restricted and researches must get permission before they can access them.

  • Duke University Progress Pictures Collection: During the construction of West Campus, photos were taken of the progress each month and sent to Horace Trumbauer's architecture firm so they could keep updated of how everything was moving along.  Many of these photos feature construction workers which, although these men remain unidentified, help illustrate the safety conditions under which they labored.  Helpfully, these photographs have all been digitized!

  • Frank Clyde Brown Papers: While West Campus construction was managed by the Duke Construction Company, East campus was constructed before the Duke Endowment was established.  Professor Frank Clyde Brown served as Comptroller at the time, and his papers include correspondence with Horace Trumbauer, records of his visits to other campuses for inspiration, and information about builders, subcontractors, and materials. Because our project was centered on West Campus, we hardly looked at this collection, but for a study of East Campus construction it would be invaluable.

  • "Occupational Change among Afro-Americans in Durham" by Vernon Benjamin Kiser: This thesis was very helpful for us to contextualize the information we found in census records and other places.  Using data from Durham City Directories from 1887 onwards, Kiser delivers a thorough investigation of the race-based division of labor in Durham at the time Duke's campus was being constructed.

  • Office of the University Treasurer: This extensive collection contains records of everything under the jurisdiction of the Treasurer.  Although the management of the Duke Construction Company would have fallen elsewhere, there are some records of construction in this collection.  Of particular interest to this project were Boxes 32 and 33, which contained the payroll ledgers for construction workers who names are included on the "Worker Info" tab of this website.

  • Operations and Maintenance Department Records: The records of this department begin in 1919, before all Duke construction began, and show the school's progress from a small college with one campus to a full university with dozens of buildings on two campuses.  It is a far-reaching collection with records on nearly every building, so it's best to browse widely here.

  • Robert Lee Flowers Papers: As Flowers spent his entire professional life at Duke in many different capacities, this is a fairly large collection.  Take particular note of James B. Duke's will in Box 30, the Chapel folder in Box 32, and information about the construction costs of the "New Duke University" in Box 43.

  • University Archives Photograph Collection:  This is the University Archives' main collection of photographs, with pictures of important people, buildings, events, and landmarks of Duke's history.  Boxes 85, 86, 102, 115, and 126, and probably others, have many photographs of the construction of West Campus and the Chapel.

About Us

Gretchen Wright

Gretchen is an English and Classical Civilizations double major in the Class of 2020. A Chapel Scholar and member of Wesley, the Methodist campus ministry at Duke, Gretchen is excited to have had this chance to learn more about her favorite building on campus. In the rare times she's not at Duke, Gretchen can be found somewhere in the Green Mountains of Vermont with her dog and family.

Jake Satisky

Jake is an intended Public Policy major in the Class of 2021. The Raleigh, NC native is currently the University News Editor for the Chronicle and a Senator in Duke Student Government. He loves Duke basketball, playing tennis, and his dog Angus.

Caroline Waring

Caroline is a Literature major in the Class of 2020. She is currently the general manager of WXDU and works with the coalition group People's State of the University. She likes most things that have the word "experimental" in front of them.

Hannah Ontiveros

Hannah is the graduate student mentor for the Stone by Stone project, and a Ph.D. Candidate in History at Duke. She studies the history of American foreign relations, gender, and labor in the 20th Century. Hannah recently started practicing embroidery in her free time, and enjoys true-crime podcasts and cheesy action movies.  

Many, many thanks to our wonderful team of librarians at Perkins and Rubenstein:

  • Val Gillispie, University Archivist

  • Amy McDonald, Assistant University Archivist

  • Kelley Lawton, Head of East Campus Libraries and Subject Librarian for United States History

  • Heather Martin, Librarian for African Studies and African American Studies

Generous financial support for this project was provided by the Office of the Provost and the Office of the President.

Additional thanks to the following individuals for their help in many different areas of our project:​

Hayes & Clem Clements

Joe Cohn

Kate Collins

Sam Hammond

Erik Monson

Mark Thomas

Mike & Sue Faulkner

Gretchen Costner

Rachel White

Caroline Newhall

Michael Daul

And everyone at FHI

What are you thinking about?

Share your thoughts, questions, and comments about this project with the University Archives!

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