A Step into the Past

Let’s take a trip into the past. It’s 1931 and Richard Harvey Wright has died. His two nephews, Richard Harvey Jr. and Thomas Davenport were running the Wright’s Automatic Machinery Company. They decided to move the manufacturing company to Durham where they purchased the Yarborough Hosiery Mills Building for $12,000. Given it was in the Great Depression, they took advantage of the low price and began building their first machine, a machine that made tea bags.

Their client, Willoughby McCormick demonstrated the machine that made tea bags at the 1933 World’s Fair in Chicago. During the 1930’s the company expanded to produce machines that packaged tobacco, food, liquor and hosiery.

Then in the early 40’s Wright’s Automatic Machinery Company pursued northeastern corporations for defense contracts. So in 1941, the Defense Plant Corporation erected a new building for the use of creating machines for the war. The building is two stories tall and 106,000 square feet. Given it was built by the government, Wright Automatic Machinery Company leased the building from the government and began manufacturing war supplies on Easter weekend of 1942.

Wright’s Machinery continued until the 1980’s where it built components for several of the NASA projects. It went into partnership with the Sperry Rand Corporation who had been working on a design for a mechanical arm used on the Space Shuttle.

Today, the building is on the National Register of Historic Places and is owned by Donald Yarboro. A large part of the building is used as a police substation and the other part is used to warehouse equipment for the VA. A couple of days ago, my husband and I met Donald over at 921 Holloway Street for a tour. And I must admit, I felt like I was stepping back in time.

As we got ready to leave, I spotted an old 1941 sedan in the parking lot. Donald told us how the automobile industry had stopped making vehicles in 1942 until the war was over. He had the Wright Machinery Logo painted on the side as a reminder of the time period when the machinery company was at its peak.

It was so cool to visit this building and realize how my grandfather and his brother continued Richard Harvey Wright’s dream of creating machines. I know he would’ve been ecstatic to know what he started in 1893 as cigarette packaging machine ultimately took people into space.

My new historical fiction book, A Story of Durham, is scheduled to release in September 2023!

For the past two years, I have been researching and writing about my grandfather’s uncle, Richard Harvey Wright. When I began my search, I knew very little about this man except that he was one of the founding fathers of Durham, North Carolina. But what I discovered was a story of passion, love, and a determination to succeed with no boundaries. My new book, A Story of Durham: Told the Wright Way, will cause you to reflect on your own history and hopefully create in you a desire to study your past to understand your presence.

Read the first chapter and stay tuned for more updates!

4 thoughts on “A Step into the Past

  1. So interesting! Can’t wait to read this book and continue to learn about the history of Durham.

    1. Robin,

      It has been such an incredible journey to research what my great uncle and my grandfather did for the city of Durham. I hope you will enjoy the book as much as I did writing it!

  2. Hi, Cora, I just finished reading your new book! Also being a distant relative of Uncle Richard myself, (Nannie Bet and John Clark’s granddaughter) I was so interested to learn more about him and other members of our family. I wanted your information to go on and on! Thank you so much for writing this historical novel for us. I would love to come back to Durham and have lunch with you again. I loved Cora Chambers as you did and am so happy that she has a namesake in you!

    1. Elizabeth, thank you for your kind remarks. I would love to have lunch with you! I would also love to take you on a tour of the cemetery and share where the people in the book are buried. I also loved Cora Chambers and as I listen to people speak of her, I feel honored to be named after her. Cora

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