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Tobacco warehouse transforms into apartments showcasing character, history

The lettering is faded, but one can still make out the name “Nelson” on the façade of the only brick tobacco warehouse remaining in South Boston, now the home of New Brick Historic Lofts, which celebrated its official debut with a ribbon-cutting and open house on Thursday.

Bought by T. P. Nelson Sr. in 1929, the former tobacco warehouse now houses 27 market-rate units, with exposed brick and wooden trusses prominent throughout the historic building, reminiscent of a time when tobacco was king in South Boston and Southern Virginia.

The Nelsons donated the building to Destination Downtown South Boston in a sense to keep history alive and keep the family connected, according to Betty Rogers Nelson. 

“I thought they did a really nice thing to keep us connected. It’s really nice,” said Nelson after the ribbon cutting on Thursday.

The idea of preserving the former tobacco warehouse for residential use came from the late Chandler Nelson and Doris Ann Nelson, wife of T.P. Nelson Jr., she explained.

“They contacted Destination Downtown South Boston and came up with an estimate and started working on historic tax credits.”

Nelson, who worked for five or six years at the warehouse, said, “There are a lot of memories in this building.”

The sights and sounds of a fast-paced tobacco warehouse are still ingrained in her memory.

“I loved it. The tobacco was bought, ticketed and weighed on the floor, and tobacco graders came in and graded it,” she recalled.

“Tobacco buyers came in, and each pile was auctioned off individually. After the sale, the trucks from different tobacco companies came in and re-weighed it to make sure they got what they paid for.”

Vice-Mayor Coleman Speece spoke of the close working relationship between the town and Rehab Developers in making the project a reality.

“We’ve been very happy to work with Pat Reilly and Rehab Developers in preserving this piece of architectural tobacco heritage, which is so unique and authentic to our town,” said Speece.

“This project, I think, is a shining example of how our small community has restructured its downtown economy to fit into the 21st century.”

Speece noted the generosity of the Nelson family, adding, “Without the initial generosity of this family, none of this would have happened, and without their commitment to preserve this building and historic significance that it has, it wouldn’t have happened.”

Speece also noted the contributions of Town Manager Ted Daniel, singled out by Reilly as a “linchpin” in the construction of the New Brick Historic Lofts, town council and planning commission and Destination Downtown South Boston in making the project a reality.

“I also want to thank Rehab Development for their development, which is substantial,” noted Speece.

Destination Downtown South Boston board member Gene Haugh noted one former tobacco warehouse had been sold for the brick and timbers inside.

“That could have been the fate of this building if it hadn’t been for the Nelson family, who decided they would rather see it preserved, and we appreciate that very much,” said Haugh. 

“I’d like to thank Rehab builders’ great reuse of an architectural piece of this town.”