Nearly 200 longtime Pittsboro residents arrived at Mathieson Clinic in May for a reunion and trip down memory lane
By Elizabeth Kane | Photography by Anna-Rhesa Versola
The historical Mathiesen Clinic in Pittsboro is a building filled with memories and milestones. It was a place where babies were born and a place to heal.
Greg Stafford, the lead developer behind the renovation, says the property at 45 West St. means a lot to townsfolk.
“I cannot tell you how many times people approached us and [said], ‘Well, you’re not going to tear it down, are you?’” Greg says. “And, we’re not.”
Longtime residents are seeing accelerated growth and development bring changes to the physical landscape. With this in mind, Greg says saving the building and turning it into a fresh space is important to him and so many others.
On May 7, an estimated 200 people arrived at the building for a unique reunion – 87 of them posed for a group portrait. Everyone pictured was a person born at the clinic, which was erected in 1948 and closed in 1974. Various tenants occupied the building since then, but a lack of upkeep contributed to its decline until Greg and his wife, Paula Brown Stafford, bought the property in 2021.
Sara Donaldson, a State Farm agent in Pittsboro, was born there in 1961 and it was where she had her tonsils removed as a child.
“When you were good at the doctor’s office, they had little [candy] suckers that had little plastic garden tools at the end of the stick,” Sara says. “Whether it was childbirth or stitches or vaccines, it was where we went for medical care. We didn’t think of going anywhere else.”
Sara says the building’s transformation brings an important public awareness to what was once a primary location for health care. “The town and the area have grown so much that a lot of people don’t realize it was a clinic,” Sara says. She explains that people would drive from all over the county to go to Dr. Mathiesen, who was widely known for his asthma treatments.
Dr. Kenneth M. Mathiesen earned his medical degree from Loma Linda University in California and was an intern at Watts Hospital in Durham before moving to Pittsboro in 1939. He saw patients in his home at 315 Hillsboro St. until the clinic building was ready for use in 1948.
Ashley Bryant, a facilities director at IQVIA, was born there in 1969 and also worked in the building 20 years later with a clinical research group, Chathamborough, before her work with IQVIA. She says she’s happy about the ongoing project.
“Rather than letting these buildings just sit there and fall away until they’re dilapidated and there’s nothing left to save, I think it’s great that they’re refurb[ish]ing those buildings and having them stay in use in some capacity,” Ashley says.
“When you drive by,” Ashley says, “it’s just a place for the people who were born and raised here, just to remember and know.”
Saundra Nettles says she was 14 1⁄2 years old when she was last seen inside a yellow-painted exam room at the clinic. She remembers hearing one of her sisters screaming while giving birth in another part of the building.
Saundra listens to Julia Austin, who was born at the clinic in 1954, as she points out the two separate entrances and waiting rooms for the building. Black patients entered through a back door and sat in a small room while white patients checked in at the front door and waited in a larger space.
The former clinic building will be renamed The Marlowe, part of the SoCo complex off the town’s center traffic circle. What will occupy the space is still being decided, Greg says, though at this time plans include office spaces and, potentially, a condo unit for short-stay rentals. If the project remains within budget, Greg says he’d like to add a rooftop patio with handicap access. However, a new elevator may need to be installed, replacing the original that was the town’s first indoor elevator.
“It’s a spectacular view of downtown Pittsboro and the surrounding area from up there,” he says.