John Merrick House 

506 Fayetteville Street (1919)
Building / Business Type
John Merrick, Martha Merrick
Other Info
Durham 1919/1920 City Directory; Endangered Durham blog:; Andrews, Robert McCants. John Merrick: A Biographical Sketch. Durham, NC: Press of the Seeman Printery, 1920; Anderson, Jean. Durham County. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1990.

The house at 506 Fayetteville St. was first occupied in 1887 by John Merrick, one of Durham's most prominent African-Americans of the time. Merrick was born to an enslaved woman and a white man in Clinton, NC, in 1859. After learning the trade of brick-making, he moved to Chapel Hill, NC, and later Raleigh, NC, to work on the construction of Shaw University. His next job was as a bootblack in W.G. Otey's barber shop where he met his future business partner, John Wright. Merrick, with wife and first of a future total of four children, followed Wright to Durham where they opened a barber shop, which Merrick eventually fully purchased. He then opened his own barber shop in 1882 which he then expanded to five shops in 1892, three of which were blacks, two for whites. Merrick also continued his entrepreneurial enterprise by launching his own brand of dandruff remedy, Merrick's Dandruff Cure.

While he did not have a formal education, Merrick learned tricks of the trade through his white clientele, including Washington Duke. Merrick was also a member of the fraternal organization, The Royal Knights of King David, which put him in close contact with other influential African-Americans in Durham. In 1898, Merrick joined forces with P.W. Dawkins, E.A. Johnson, Dr. Aaron Moore, W.G. Pearson, J.E. Shepard and D.T. Watson to form the North Carolina Mutual & Provident Association (later North Carolina Mutual Insurance Company), of which Merrick was president until his death in 1919. The company struggled initially, but with Merrick, Moore and C.C. Spaulding's loyalty and perseverance, the company eventually went on to become the largest African-American owned business in the nation.

Merrick also served as the president of the board of trustees for Lincoln Hospital and the president of the Mechanics & Farmers Bank. He passed away on August 6, 1919, leaving wife Martha to reside in the house until her death in 1939. Merrick's daughter Martha C. Merrick and husband Dr. Clyde Donnell moved into the house around 1923 and were transferred the deed to the house in 1939. Dr. Donnell served as the Vice-President and Medical Director of NC Mutual and Provident Association and continued to live at 506 Fayetteville until its destruction in the early 1960s.