Featured photo: An RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company warehouse building (photo courtesy of the city of Winston-Salem)

A name synonymous with the development of Winston-Salem, the moniker of RJ Reynolds is tacked onto many places around the city; RJ Reynolds High School, Reynolda Village, and Reynolda Hall at Wake Forest University, just to name a few, plus the historic Reynoldstown neighborhood in East Winston, built for RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company workers. Reynolds’ effect on the Camel City is still going strong — as evidenced by the nickname derived from his brand and the Reynolds American building that stands starkly against the city’s skyline.

Now the Forsyth County Historic Resources Commission wants to list two of Reynolds’ company’s warehouses, built in 1919, on the National Register of Historic Places. 

There are currently 118 places in Forsyth County listed on the registry, per the city’s website.

After holding a public hearing on Wednesday, commissioners voted unanimously to nominate the two buildings. FCHRC Commissioner Noah Reynolds, the great-grandson of RJ Reynolds, read the motion aloud. No attendees spoke for or against the nomination at the public hearing. [Disclosure: Noah Reynolds has invested in TCB]

Now the nomination moves to city hall where it will be considered by the Winston-Salem City Council’s community development, housing and general government committee on May 13, and then by the full city council on June 3 for a public hearing. After that, the nomination will be reviewed by the NC National Register Advisory Committee on June 13.

Reynolds told TCB that he joined the FCHRC because he cares about “the preservation of our historic and cultural resources.” Located on the east side of the city at 821 East 25th St near the Norfolk-Southern Railway tracks, these buildings were used to store leaf tobacco before being placed on the rail cars and shipped around the country, Reynolds explained, adding that putting these buildings on the register “unlocks the door for historic preservation and rehabilitation in that area of Winston.” 

“I’m proud that the history and culture of the family is able to give back over and over again,” he said.

The designation comes with perks for the owner: Properties designated as a local historic landmark are eligible for 50 percent off of property taxes.

Inside one of the RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company warehouse buildings (photo courtesy of the city of Winston-Salem)

Reckoning with the past

While RJ Reynolds and his family found success in Winston-Salem, it came with a price.

In 2006, a judge found RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company and other cigarette companies guilty on civil racketeering charges, finding that these companies lied to their customers about the dangers of smoking and marketed their products to children, among other things — including that these companies “concealed evidence, destroyed documents, and abused the attorney-client privilege to prevent the public from knowing about the dangers of smoking and to protect the industry from adverse litigation results.”

In an interview with TCB, Historic Resources Officer Heather Bratland commented on the company’s legacy. “Reynolds is a respected company here because they were a good employer,” she said. “There’s a recognition that they really drove the development of Winston-Salem and the development of the economy here,” she added, noting that the company provided good jobs and living wages to people who worked in the factories.

“I think, in that sense, the company is still — I won’t say loved — but looked at fondly,” Bratland concluded.

In 2017, Reynolds American was bought by British American Tobacco for more than $50 billion. It remains a successful company to this day as the second-largest tobacco company in the US with its brands constituting about one third of cigarette sales in the country, per their website. According to the Center for Disease Control, people who smoke cigarettes are 15-30 times more likely to develop lung cancer or die from it than those who don’t smoke, and lung cancer from secondhand smoke kills more than 7,300 people each year

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