Delphina Street was an early community of Black landowners that was centered around St. Paul’s A. M. E. Zion Church in today’s Westerwood neighborhood. It was established in the early 1870s by the purchase of land by Katie and Jacob Womack and Adaline “Mary” and Abram Mines. Little of the historic fabric of the community remains to represent the early and important settlement of Black landowners and residents.
Many think of Westerwood as a middle-income and historically white neighborhood of mid-twentieth century housing. With this history, a deeper story representing important themes of American and Black history is revealed through the past residents and narratives of Delphina Street.
Jacob “Jake” Womack was born in North Carolina, likely around 1841. A freedman, he married Katie Caldwell, a Guilford County native who was born around 1850 and they had four children. The eldest named Ida was born around 1867, followed by Charles, Malvina, and Berta who was born in 1873. Womack was listed in census reports as a “hired laborer.”
In 1873, the Womacks purchased a half-acre parcel from Rev. Nathan H. D Wilson (as Board President) and the Trustees of Greensboro College. The tract was located north of the Greensboro College campus and just west of the city limits. Rev. Wilson was the Presiding Elder of the Raleigh District of the North Carolina Methodist Conference and a leader of the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. He was also a member of the Board of Trustees of the University of North Carolina, Trinity College (today Duke University), and Greensboro College, where he served as board president from 1873-1882. His home, named “Boxwood” remains standing today at 102 South Mendenhall Street in College Hill.
That Rev. Wilson and Greensboro College held Methodist Episcopal affiliation is an interesting footnote in this story because Methodists held a complicated history in the Piedmont. Wesleyan Methodists in the central Piedmont of North Carolina maintained an antislavery position in the years before emancipation. By contrast, the Methodist Episcopal Church, South was a denomination that resulted from a split within the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1845 over slavery and took a pro-slavery doctrine. Rev. Wilson was born into the Quaker faith, though he joined the faith of his grandmother, a Methodist. This action by Methodists might be a reflection of Quaker Yardley Warner’s nearby Warnersville for freedmen established in southwestern Greensboro in 1865.
In 1887, the Womacks purchased an additional acre of land west of their original holding for $40. The initial and second parcel of land was located south of a road first named Delphina Street. Delphina Street (also spelled Delphine) is first noted on a map of Greensboro surveyed in 1879. The street’s namesake is a mystery, but nearby property owners included Nancy and Cyrus Pegg Mendenhall who owned property known as The Cedars. Cyrus Mendenhall, a member of an old Guilford County Quaker family and a three-time mayor of Greensboro between 1874 and 1876, had an aunt named Delphina Eliza Mendenhall (1811-1881). Delphina was a well-known Quaker Abolitionist and freedman’s advocate, and she is a candidate for inspiring the naming of Delphina Street in her honor.
Mary and Abel Mines were a second early landowning couple. They purchased a ¾ acre lot in 1884 from Mary and Rev. Wilson located immediately east of the Womack house facing Delphina Street for $85. Abram “Abe or Abel” Mines was born in Maryland in 1839. In 1865 he married Mary, and the couple had their first child, William, around 1865. Abram was a brick maker and mason.
The Womack and Mines couples lived side by side at 709 and 715 Delphina Street for the rest of their lives.
Womack and Mines were both identified on a list of “colored voters” that was published around 1890. The document instructed the public “If any of them are on your book let us know AT ONCE, through a letter from your Registrar, that we may chalenge [sic] them here and we may urge you to do so at your place; but don’t challenge until the day of election.” Their inclusion on this list indicates they were targeted as men of esteem within Greensboro’s Black community.
In time, the families were joined by other Black residents. In 1894, Fannie and John McCauley bought the property at 729 (711) Delphina Street. McCauley was a drayman at the time. By 1896, Sarah Gorrell Thacker and her sister Minnie “Minta’ Beville owned their home at 815 Delphina Street. The same year, Alice and Anderson Watkins rented a home at the corner of Delphina and North Mendenhall streets.
In 1895, the estate of Cyrus Mendenhall sold The Cedars property to the wealthy and white Merrimon family. The new owner Branch Hugh Merrimon was a native of Asheville, but his wife Nellie Scales was a native of nearby Rockingham County. The couple held interests in real estate and industry in Greensboro in the mid-1890s and after purchasing The Cedars, the old farmhouse was torn down. A new and grand Queen Anne residence overlooking Delphina Street was completed in 1897.
Merrimon was a well-connected member of the Democratic political party and held party associations with Duncan Cameron Waddell. Waddell was a Greensboro resident and brother of Alfred Moore Waddell, the primary figure of the Wilmington insurrection of 1898.
Perhaps Merrimon found it distasteful to hold an address named for a well-known Quaker female Abolitionist. In 1897, Delphina Street was renamed Guilford Avenue, and it has remained by that name since then.
The Black-dominated community expanded into the twentieth century with new housing and more residents. As racial segregation gained momentum in North Carolina with the passage of restrictive Jim Crow laws, Black residents were restricted to housing located in neighborhoods that were historically Black, such as Delphina Street, now Guilford Avenue.
New residents included Rev. Richard Wortham who occupied the house at 708 Guilford Avenue beginning in 1905. Elizabeth and Alex Worth moved into the house at 709 Guilford Avenue in 1900, Lizzie and John Maynard rented 708 beginning in 1903, and Anthony Blunt moved to 731 Guilford Avenue in 1905. Unlike the first generation of residents, a majority of the new residents were renters, and their occupancy was fleeting.
With greater population, St. Paul’s A. M. E. Zion Church was established at the northeast corner of Guilford Avenue and North Lithia Street (now Crestland Avenue). Land was acquired in 1904 by trustees of African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in America in the amount of $60. Rev. William H. Horton was among the earliest pastors of St. Paul’s, serving from 1910-1913. He and his wife Nettie rented at 839 Guilford Avenue. Neighbor and property owner John McCauley was selected as the church sexton. The small church appears in city records beginning in 1907 and can be traced through 1925. The A. M. E. Zion church conference sold the property in 1943.
Rev. Edgar Henry Kemp followed Rev. Horton was the pastor of St. Paul’s. He and his wife Hattie moved to 206 North Lithia Street (now Crestland Avenue) near the church in 1907 and bought property their home adjacent to the church in 1914 from W. G. Balsley. Rev. Kemp held leadership roles in various A. M. E. churches throughout Greensboro and was the presiding elder of the Wadesboro-Monroe District of the A. M. E. Zion Church. Though Rev. Kemp died in 1952, his wife Hattie remained in the family home on Crestland Avenue until 1960.
The development of nearby Westerwood neighborhood caused changes to the old Delphina Street community as formerly wooded land was developed as middle-income housing. Developer A. K. Moore sold lots in portions of Westerwood with deed restrictions that outlines structural setbacks, residential usage, and a clause that read “No persons of African descent shall occupy said property except as domestic servants in the employ of the occupants of the dwelling upon said premises.” These restrictions did not extend to historically Black properties along Guilford Avenue and portions of Crestland and Woodlawn avenues. In 1948, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled such racially restrictive housing covenants unenforceable.
Changes within the racial composition of Guilford Avenue accelerated as white middle-income buyers drove higher land prices, which in turn prompted some income property owners to sell their land. Older cottages and shotgun houses were destroyed and replaced with new housing. In 1937, the government-sponsored Home Owners’ Loan Corporation created a map [image, right] with comments that assessed areas of perceived economic risk that was based on community racial composition. Though the adjacent Westerwood neighborhood was colored in blue and green to indicate a perceived low risk, the old Delphina Street neighborhood was not indicated by any color. Notes accompanying the map provided clarity, stating “On the western side of this area is that part just north of Gaston St. indicated as undeveloped are located 6 houses occupied by negroes. However, there is very little if any likelihood of any increase in negro population in this area. Future development will eventually drive the negroes out.” These colored maps are today known as “redlining” and they are documentation of the discrimination Black residents experienced then and now.
By 1938, the congregation of the First Baptist Church on West Market Street and Eugene Street acquired seven acres of land between West Friendly Avenue and Guilford Avenue for $27,500. The first purchase was the old W. G. Balsley homeplace, a large property at the corner of North Mendenhall and West Friendly (then called Madison Avenue). The Balsley land was adjacent and south of many Black-owned and occupied properties facing Guilford Avenue.
The church’s plans were publicly detailed in May 1948 with a meeting revealing an auditorium of 1,300 seats, a chapel with 288 seats, an organ, a nursery, and choir rooms. The church was to be designed in “the Early American manner with red brick and white woodwork and a portico with four columns” by architects Albert C. Woodroof of Greensboro and the firm Eggers and Higgins of New York City. The sanctuary was completed in 1952.
As the Baptist church congregation grew, so did demands for parking. Land adjacent to the Black-owned properties was convenient to the church, and the congregation likely prioritized neighboring land acquisitions to expand the First Baptist Church campus.
Black property owners were among the last to leave the old Delphina Street neighborhood. Adeline and Able Mines old home appears to have been rented after Abram’s death in 1929. The property was shown as vacant in city directories from 1934 until 1942 and was never again occupied.
Katie and Jacob Womack’s homeplace remained in the family until 1946. John Johnson remained at his home at 815 Guilford Avenue until 1946.
The property at 811 Guilford was among the last standing with associations to the original Black residents of the settlement. Mary Womack Johnson, granddaughter of Katie and Jacob Womack, sold her family homeplace to the First Baptist Church in 1997 and it was demolished.
Today, three properties remain relatively intact as touchstones to this early community. William Glover “Glove” Smith purchased land with his wife, Esther, in 1916 from a prominent white merchant and politician W. G. Balsley. They likely erected a frame bungalow at 806 Guilford Avenue around that time. Smith was born in 1891 to Eliza and Richard Smith. He was employed much of his later life as a taxi driver. The couple had four children, including Edgar, Jr., Mary, Martha, and Narkra. He died in 1942. Esther was born in South Carolina in 1893 and remained in the family home with her daughter, Mary, until her death in 1975.
Hattie and Rev. Edgar Henry Kemp’s home at 206 Crestland was likely re-addressed and survives today as 202 Crestland Avenue. As previously described, Rev. Kemp was pastor of St. Paul’s A. M. E. Church. Their one-story frame cottage has a pyramidal roof-line and shingle siding. It may have housed some church services before the congregation was disbanded.
At 204 Crestland Avenue stands a frame house that holds associations with Eliza Ella McGregar and Richard Franklin Smith. Eliza was born just after emancipation in 1868, but her husband was a freedman who was born in 1834 in Virginia. The couple was married in 1886 and lived in Harnett County as Richard earned income by making shoes. They returned to Greensboro and purchased land for their home on Crestland Avenue in 1895 for $265.
The Smiths had five children: James T. Smith, William Glover Smith, Frederick Douglas Smith, Robert Faye Smith, and Mary E. Smith. After the death of Eliza and Franklin, the property was handed down to their son, Frederick in 1922, and then to Myrtle and Robert Smith in 1937. Myrtle and Robert may have erected the c. 1944 on the property and remained there until their deaths in 1986 and 1989, respectively. In all, the property remained in the Smith family until 1991, nearly 100 years!
Though important to the narrative of Greensboro’s history by representing freedmen, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and the Civil Rights eras, the people and their built environment of old Delphina Street have nearly been forgotten. Despite discrimination and segregation, touchstones and stories of the community that dates to 1873 can inspire future generations by serving as a reminder that people can overcome legal obstacles and prejudice. Perhaps the old street’s namesake, the abolitionist Quaker Delphina Mendenhall, would be honored knowing the street that once bore her name reflects so much history and empowerment.
Written by Benjamin Briggs
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