The following links will provide a primer for using documentary resources to investigate the history of a place, as well as financial assistance for historic preservation.
Contractor Referrals Referrals are not an endorsement of work. All contractors and subcontractors should be comprehensively interviewed on topics such as proof of insurance and pricing.
Researchers seeking to document the history of houses and other buildings in Guilford County have a variety of aids with which to work. Getting to know the resource and networking agencies and organizations and learning how to use their directories, guides, indexes, files, catalogs and publication lists can save the researcher a considerable amount of time, expense, and frustration. There are literally hundreds of agencies and organizations involved in the management of heritage information and resources. The listings included below may help you to understand how some research materials may be accessed.
For some houses and buildings there will be comparatively little available in public records. Some records and archival management programs have been late in developing, and they are still poorly funded in many areas. Even larger cities in Guilford County are only beginning to arrange and describe certain parts of their holdings for public access. There may well be occasional gaps in some of the record series. Where possible, try to locate experienced resource people– knowledgeable individuals often hold the key to the information you need.
Since the late 1960s, the State Historic Preservation Office in the Office of Archives and History has conducted North Carolina’s statewide architectural survey program. The Office coordinates local and regional architectural surveys throughout the state as part of the a program to identify, record, and encourage the preservation of North Carolina’s historic and architectural heritage.
Survey projects provides a degree of information about community history and architecture, and sometimes will result in National Register designation. Surveyed properties and National Register nominations for properties across the state are available through this interactive GIS map.
The North Carolina State Archives
The North Carolina State Archives is part of the Archival Services Branch of the Archives and Records Section, North Carolina Division of Archives and History. The primary functions of the branch include collecting, preserving, and making available for public use historical and evidential materials relating to North Carolina. Its holdings consist of official records of state, county, and local governmental materials. In addition to these official records are private collections, maps, pamphlets, sound recordings, photographs, motion picture film, and a small reference library. In all, the Archives houses over 50,000 linear feet of permanently valuable materials containing millions of individual items.
Materials in the State Archives constitute by far the most valuable assembly of manuscript records and North Caroliniana in existence. Most of the records housed in the Archives are available for use only in the Search Room. A limited amount of indexed material may be duplicated or mailed.
Researchers interested in North Carolina history are invited to vistit the Search Room and to make use of the records in the Archives. These documents are valuable for historical and evidential purposes and usually are the only copies in existence. It is therefore essential that they be used with care. Reference archivists are on duty at all times in the Search Room and are responsible for assisting all researchers. North Carolina Government Records include:
State Agency Records, County Records, Municipal Records, Private Collections, Church Records, Maps, Military Records, Newspapers, Federal Archives Relating to North Carolina, and Foreign Archives Relating to North Carolina.
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Although colleges and universities around the state should be checked for local resources, the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill) has an unusually large and useful collection. Housed in specially designed facilities in the Louis Round Wilson Library, the North Carolina Collection preserves an incomparable assemblage of literary, visual, and artifactual materials illustrating four centuries of the colony and state of North Carolina. Its uniqueness is explained by a distinguished history of missionary zeal, unwavering leadership, and citizen support.
The North Carolina Collection traces its origins back to the establishment of the North Carolina Historical Society, organized in 1844 by University President David L. Swain. In its first report the following year, the Society recorded the acquisition of thirty-two publications and eleven manuscript collections. Though the Society had a tenuous existence for many years, in the last quarter of the nineteenth century President Kemp P. Battle took up Swain’s collecting mantle and acquired additional materials. After Louis Round Wilson became University Librarian in 1901 he organized the North Carolina materials into a special department of the Library.
Today more than 120,000 books and 78,000 pamphlets form the core of the North Carolina Collection, but these formats are supplemented by newspapers, journals, maps, broadsides, photographs, audiovisuals, microforms, and other materials. The department is divided into several administrative units of public interest. These include the Reference Section, North Carolina Collection Gallery, Photographic Archives, and Photographic Services. Click here for the library.
North Carolina Architects and Builders
A fascinating biographical dictionary that highlights architects and builders who have worked in North Carolina’s over the course of 300 years. Entries include a brief biography plus a building list traces each person’s work in the state. Click here for the Biographical Dictionary.
The Greensboro Public Library, 219 North Church Street, Greensboro, North Carolina 27401 (336) 373-2471, the High Point Public Library, 901 N. Main Street High Point, NC 27262 (336) 883-3360, and the Jamestown Public Library, 200 W Main St, Jamestown, NC 27282 (336) 454-4815 each have valuable state and federal government document collections, an excellent North Carolina Room in High Point (336) 883-3637, inter-library loan capabilities and access to the North Carolina Live network. Sanborn Insurance maps are diagrams of buildings dating back to the nineteenth century that can be invaluable for establishing an understanding of the built environment at various points in time prior to 1920 in Guilford County. Other larger municipal libraries around the state often have fine local collections, including regional photographic collections, and early city directories. An exellent regional collection is the Research Room at the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts (MESDA) in Winston-Salem or the Friends Historical Collection.
The High Point Public Library, has a fine history and genealogy collection in the North Carolina Room (3rd floor). Historic resources include periodicals, a variety of maps including historic Sanborn Company insurance maps, architectural scrapbooks, a cemetery Index, photographic records, newspapers and city directories. The Library issues a brochure which is a handy guide to the sources.
On occasion, neighborhood associations and homeowner associations compile records and archives on neighborhood history. Fisher Park in Greensboro is an exemplary organization for archive management, and they have published a helpful GUIDE Archives by Ann Stringfield to describe the process recently undertaken to preserve their records and make them more accessible. Contact your local neighborhood association to determine if records exist, and if they do not, why not organize records for future safekeeping?
The Guilford County Archives basement level, Guilford County Courthouse, Greensboro provides valuable information on county records. The Planning Department, Register of Deeds and Mapping Rooms (for High Point records check the High Point branch of the Guilford County Tax Department) holds plats, atlases, title deeds, mortgage records and other materials. Tracing titles of deeds to previous owners may be the best tool for developing a chain of ownership for a property. The Greensboro and High Point Departments of Transportation has a variety of maps and plats of value to researchers. Learn about local landmarks and historic properties here.
Some cities and towns may have limited records which relate to construction and other permits. In Greensboro and High Point, Building Inspections departments may hold some record on construction permits and easements, though access to this information is somewhat limited.
In addition to census data, the National Archives has federal survey maps and a Guide to Records in the National Archives–Southeast Region. The Guide is also available on microfiche. In addition, the Archives circulates a series of valuable brochures on specific research topics, including: Federal Tax information, Land Records at the National Archives, Southeast Region. A great deal of census data has been integrated on to the for-profit geneological website Ancestry.com.
Museums, Historical Organizations, and Genealogical Groups
The Greensboro Historical Museum
130 Summit Avenue
Greensboro NC 27401-3004
The Greensboro Historical Museum holds important photo collections, and information about Greensboro people and places. The museum may be an important source for past owners of historic houses through personal connections of staff and members.
The High Point Historical Museum
1859 East Lexington Avenue
High Point NC 27262
The High Point Historical Museum has numerous photographs as well as fine collections ephemera. The Museum’s Shop has some excellent books on the High Point area, including the publications of Stephen C. Clark, and a compilation of historic images from postcards.
The Jamestown Historical Society
The Jamestown Historical Society coordinates with the Jamestown Public Library at 200 West Main Street in Jamestownto house collection of photographs, with many fine residential views, and historical information concerning citizens. The Society recently published a book on Jamestown history and memorabilia.
The Guilford County Genealogical Society
The Guilford County Genealogical Society has a good research collection and a publication series. In addition to indexes, the local group also has meetings, newsletters and contacts.
The Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts
MESDA in nearby Old Salem is the only museum dedicated to exhibiting and researching the regional decorative arts of the early South. With its 24 period rooms and seven galleries, MESDA showcases the furniture, paintings, textiles, ceramics, silver, and other metalwares made and used in Maryland, Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia, Kentucky, and Tennessee through 1820. Their staff may provide insights to historic properties, or work with the archives of Old Salem to uncover material concerning some sites (such as the McLean Log House) in Guilford County.
Preservation Greensboro Incorporated can help to locate preservation organizations and activists around the state. The organization published a comprehensive inventory of the city in 1995, which contains photographs and a brief description of many historic structures or sites within the city limits. The inventory was published in book form and is available for purchase through the Blandwood Museum Shop. PGI also can provide assistance to homeowners in terms of architectural salvage material for renovation projects and professional/technical advice.
Within Blandwood is the Historic Preservation Resource Center, a comprehensive collection of nineteenth and twentieth-century books on history of Greensboro, architecture, interior design and finishes, landscaping, and conservation practices. The Resource Center is located in the Morehead Law Office and is open to the public.
The Guilford County Preservation Commission, Guilford County Planning & Development Office (336) 641-3334, (ask for the Historic Preservation Planner.) This office is located in the New Guilford County Courthouse, 201 S. Eugene St., Greensboro, N.C can direct you to preservation offices, planners and planning departments throughout the state who maintain historic site inventories. Some of these agencies have helpful technical assistance materials. The Commission maintains an inventory of the county’s historic properties, architectural files and resource. In addition, the Office has on file copies of the cultural resource inventories available for localities around the state, provides technical advise and publishes helpful Architectural Description Guides, and Videos.
The Greensboro Historic Preservation Commission is housed within the Department of Housing and Community Development, (336) 373-2349 maintains the Greensboro Historic Districts, an inventory of the city’s historic districts, architectural files and resource contacts.
In High Point, the Department of Planning and Inspections, 3rd Floor Municipal Building, 200 South Hamilton Street, High Point NC, 27261 (336) 883-3545 maintains information concerning High Point’s historic neighborhoods, including a 2000 inventory update of the entire city. Aside from information on sites within districts and historic neighborhoods, the High Point Preservation Commission also provides maps and some technical advice.
In researching historic houses, it should be stressed that much of the best research material about historic properties is still in private hands and minds. Interviews with past or present property owners are often one of the best means of locating information. Very often historical societies, museums, genealogical societies and pioneer associations can be helpful in locating previous owners or their descendants. The family history associated with photo albums, scrapbooks, diaries, papers, records and manuscripts is often the most valuable resource of all. Some current property owners have had contact with the families of previous owners and can make referrals to them. Neighbors are also sometimes sources of information. If your home was built in the twentieth century, be sure to review pattern books from sources such as Radford and Lumberman’s that are now available through the web.
Aerial Photographs and Maps
Aerial photos are sometimes helpful in documenting property development. In Guilford County, the oldest series of photos dates to about 1936. For information in the county, consult the “yellow pages” of the telephone directory for “Photographers–Aerial” for listings. Some public agencies such as the Guilford County mapping department also have aerial photos on file, and public archivists usually can assist in locating them. Commercial map companies may have historic maps and atlases of interest to researchers. One of the most complete collections are associated with the Sanborn Insurance Company. Historian Fred Hughes developed a map of Guilford County as it may have looked at the time of the Revolutionary War, depicting landowners early in the history of the county. The Hughes map may be helpful for those with rural properties, although it is not exact.