The Cedars was clearly an important estate in Greensboro. References to the property could be found on nineteenth century maps of the Gate City, as well as excerpts from select publications. However, no such property was revealed in major publications of Greensboro history as had been done for sites such as Dunleith, Bellemeade, or Blandwood. Historians knew The Cedars as a prominent estate, but the appearance, designer, builder, and patron remained hazy until a recent turn of events provided the key need to unlock the past.
One of the most thorough overviews of The Cedars was found in a 2008 publication entitled the “Westerwood Walking Tour” that celebrated the history of the neighborhood located between College Hill and Fisher Park on the edge of city center. The estate occupied most of the eastern portions of the neighborhood. The publication states:
One large estate west of the city limits, built before 1879, was “The Cedars”, home of Doctor J. T. Battle. Dr. Battle’s estate was bound by the Atlantic and Yadkin Valley railroad tracks near Cedar St., N. Mendenhall St., Guilford Ave, and Lakeview St. Dr. Battle’s large Victorian home was later used by the North Carolina Children’s Home Society. Mr. John Linder, owner of Sun Coal and Seed, bought the home from Dr. Battle. After the Children’s Home Society moved, Mr. Linder remodeled the home into 10 apartments. All that remains of “The Cedars” is an outbuilding, seen behind 609 Courtland Ave. Modern apartment buildings in the 600 block of Fairview St. now stand where Dr. Battle’s large Victorian home was.
An early map (image, right) of Greensboro clearly indicates The Cedars, then occupied by W. R. Staples, in the above-mentioned location on a bluff just northwest of the village.
A key piece of information on the house was unlocked by researcher John Schumacher of Spokane Washington. He contacted our offices to inquire about a house photographed and listed in a publication as built in Greensboro and designed by George F. Barber. Barber was a carpenter, architect, and publisher who practiced from his office in Knoxville, Tennessee, from 1888 to his death in 1915. He grew into one of the most successful architects in the country through published architectural catalogues and a monthly magazine. In one such magazine, a photo-montage depicts a grand Queen Anne-style home with wrap-around porches, a porte-cochere, and a octagonal tower that no longer exists in the city (image, right). Although the house is said to have cost $5,800 to $6,000 to build, a quick search of historic inventories revealed no such home. Could this mystery house be The Cedars?
Further information supplied by the Barber researcher included the name of Greensboro resident John A. Murchison, who purchased plans for a house from the architect in 1898. A search of early directories revealed that John Murchison was a carpenter who lived in numerous locations in the city, but none located in the northwestern sections of the city close to The Cedars. Perhaps Murchison did not commission the house, but purchased the plans on behalf of the owner on instruction to build the home?
With more investigation by Greensboro Historical Museum staff, a page from a 1904 publication was uncovered that matched the Barber publication image. Entitled “Residence and Grounds of Dr. J. T. J. Battle” (image, right), the impressive estate is shown to have stood in a grove of trees and broad lawns.
Further investigation through early newspapers helped solve the mystery. The commission for The Cedars came from Branch Hugh Merrimon and his wife Nellie Scales. Merrimon was a native of Asheville, but attained interests in real estate, industry, and politics by 1897 when the house was complete. The Greensboro Telegram of 16 August reported “B. H. Merrimon is moving today into his new and elegant residence at the intersection of Mendenhall and Guilford avenue.” Just a few months later, the Greensboro Telegram announced “The elegant home of Mr. B. H. Merrimon has just been handsomely carpeted by Mssrs. Johnson & Dorsett,” rounding out the impressive depictions of the house that has long been lost to history.
The announcements indicate a full picture of the estate’s history. The Merrimons used plans supplied by architect George Barber and craftsmanship provided by carpenter Murchison to complete what was among the grandest expressions of Queen Anne architecture that ever stood in the city.
The The Greensboro Patriot newspaper announced on 13 July 1904 “Dr. J. T. J. Battle has purchased the beautiful home of Mr. B. H. Merrimon known as “The Cedars”, the consideration being in the neighborhood of $17,000. The Cedars is one of the finest residences in the city. It is l;ocated on Guilford Avenue, occupying a beautiful site of 14 acres. Merrimon will give Dr. Battle posession of the property within the next month.” Dr. Battle was born in Wake Forest in 1859, and he graduated from Wake Forest College and from the College of Physicians and Surgeons in Baltimore before establishing his medical practice in Wadesboro NC in 1884. In 1896 he married Dora L. Burns and the newlywed couple moved to Greensboro in 1898 where Battle re-established his private practice became a high profile figure in matters of health and hygiene. He served on the State Board of Medical Examiners from 1902-1908, the Guilford Board of Health from its establishment in 1911 (first County Health Department in the state, second in the nation) until his death in 1940. He served as a member of the Board of Trustees for Wake Forest College and Meredith College, both in Wake County and was among the first in Guilford County to own an automobile!
The Battles sold The Cedars in 1918 to the Guilford Insurance and Realty Company, which rented the house to the Children’s Home Society as plans were drawn for the first phase of the Westerwood subdivision (image, right). Begun in 1919, the successful Westerwood development launched the career of A. K. Moore, a realtor who later developed Sunset Hills and Fairfield.
With the estate subdivided into lots on which rose the charming bungalows that remain today along Mendenhall, Courtland, and Hillside streets, the main house exchanged hands numerous times before it was destroyed in the early 1960s. A modern apartment complex replaced the grand estate that remains on the site today.
Although Greensboro is now documented as once having a George Barber-designed home, the city is no richer in having lost this architectural gem. Landmark properties such as The Cedars were being lost at an alarming rate in the 1960s in the Gate City, which precipitated the establishment of a network of preservation-minded people today known as Preservation Greensboro. With the loss of this extraordinary landmark, other landmark properties continue to be saved for future generations to enjoy.