(photograph courtesy of Alex Maness)
From the 2012 Preservation Durham Old Home Tour booklet:
The Thomas A. Stokes House – one of the finest examples of Tudor Revival architecture in Forest Hills – is situated atop a hill overlooking East Forest Hills Drive and the Forest Hills Park. The sizable parcel of land on which the home sits (3 full lots and portions of 2 more), and the impressive number of mature trees surrounding it, combine to give the home a feeling of a country home. For the current owners, this sense of living in the country within the city is what lends their home its special appeal.
The development of this section (section C) of Forest Hills began in February 1927 when the New Hope Realty Company surveyed the land and divided it into lots. In that same month, they sold Lots 27 and 28 to Richard H. Wright, Jr, who held them until selling them to Thomas A. Stokes in December 1928. Stokes – a Durham native born in 1897 – worked in the building materials trade and was a partner in the S & S Sales Company on Mangum Street. Stokes would have been closely acquainted with Durham’s prominent builders and architects and, wisely, hired architect G. Murray Nelson to design his home.
Nelson had already proven himself adept with the Tudor Revival style in designing the magnificent Budd House on South Duke Street in Morehead Hill in 1924. A Canadian by birth, Nelson had been living and working in Raleigh since 1919 (first with James A. Salter and then with Thomas W. Cooper) when he opened his own office in downtown Durham in 1923. After the Stokes House, he went on to design one of Durham’s best examples of Renaissance Revival domestic architecture in the Kronheimer House on Minerva Avenue in Trinity Park, as well as the prominent Tudor Revival Hart House on Duke’s west campus.
The dated architectural plans for the house could not be located, so one must assume that Stokes began planning and building his house soon after purchasing the land. The onset of the Depression, however, likely slowed his project considerably, but, by 1932, City Directories indicate that the house at 506 East Forest Hills Boulevard was complete, joining three others nearby (410, 504, and 706). In 1940, Stokes and his wife Sadye acquired portions of adjoining Lots 24, 25 (full lot), and 26.
The exterior of the house is one of distinguished solidity. It is a two-and-a-half-story side-gable brick house with a two-story front-gable wing. Its Tudor features include the use of clinker brick, the second story oriel bay window with half-timbered gable above, a gabled dormer with recessed balcony, a 3-bay engaged porch with brick posts and Tudor woodwork, casement windows with heavy wood lintels, and the projecting bay window on the north elevation.
After climbing the steep hill and ascending the front steps, visitors are welcomed onto the large, restful porch. It is this space – accentuated by the beautiful screen door – that clearly shows the home’s dual qualities of both elegance and comfort. The interior of the house is gracefully proportioned and inherently balanced. The rooms are spacious and light. Upon entering the central hallway, one finds the dining room on the left and the living room to the right. Ahead and through a doorway one reaches the central stairway leading upstairs.
Beyond the dining room is a bright breakfast room/butler’s pantry – a particularly lovely room, due to its useful size and beautiful original cabinetry. The kitchen is also generously sized and has been modified only slightly over the years, with an original pantry having been hidden so as to install additional cabinetry. The current owners have plans to amend the kitchen in the future, and visitors can see an example of cabinetry finishes they have considered.
Back to the central hall, visitors can observe the small, mirrored powder room near the back door. Certainly of its time! The south side of the house features the large living room in the front and the cozy den in the back, while the spaciousness of the house becomes even more pronounced upstairs. 2 bedrooms on the north side of the house share a bath. The master bedroom has a large closet (curiously leading into the hall) and a bath, and leads into a room that is now a study but that was originally designed as a nursery. This connects to what were servant’s quarters, with their own outside access.
The house also contains a large attic and a basement, wherein visitors can see evidence of the “realm of boys”. Each of the 3 families that have lived in the house over the years have raised two boys in it. Early on, the basement was a locker room with real lockers! Neighborhood boys would come over and put their football pads on before going down to the park to play football. As witnessed by the murals still seen on the walls, the late 1970s saw musicians playing here. It is certainly a unique space in which to consider the past.
Thomas A. Stokes was the son of Alvis H. Stokes and Mary G. Angier Stokes. His father was a tobacconist who owned A. H. Stokes & Co. (leaf tobacco dealers) at 114 W. Parrish Street before his early death in 1899 at the age of 55. Thomas was raised by his widowed mother, Mary, who was an Angier and the daughter of one of Durham’s most prominent businessmen and founders, Malbourne A. Angier. He owned a general store at the corner of Mangum and Main for over 40 years. His older daughter, Sarah Pearson Angier, married Benjamin N. Duke, and it is for her that the Sarah P. Duke Gardens were named.
After the death of Mr. and Mrs. Stokes, the house was sold to Frederick T. Melges and his wife Connie in 1976. Melges was a prominent psychiatrist, known for his work on the role of distortions of time in psychiatric disorders. Following passing in 1988, Connie sold the home to Bill and Marcia Lorimer in 1992, who owned the home until recently selling it to its current owners.
Thomas Stokes was a "Cadet Naval Aviation" member of his high school Naval Club.