The Minnie Lyon and Frank Leak house at 909 North Elm Street was built in 1913, and was designed by one of Greensboro’s esteemed architects, J.H. Hopkins. It has been vacant and a victim of neglect for the past ten years. It is more memorable to some for the temporary supports that buttress the front porch than for its architectural presence. The house was purchased this year by the Preservation Greensboro Development Fund and is currently subject to option. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and both federal and state tax credits are available to assist in restoration.
Minnie Lyon was born in Oxford, North Carolina until her family moved to Greensboro’s Lindsay Street. Frank Leak was born in Kernersville, son of a tobacconist. Frank moved to Greensboro in 1897 and married Minnie in 1901 in the First Presbyterian Church. He took a job with the Cone Export and Commission Company, where he served as bookkeeper. The couple had two children, Mildred and Mary Lyon. Mary Lyon later married Arthur Caine, and in 1966 she became the first president of Preservation Greensboro. Mary Lyon’s daughter, Anita Caine Schenck, also grew up in the house, and she, too, was deeply involved with leadership of Preservation Greensboro.
The Leaks purchased the land on North Elm Street in 1912 for $1,171.20 – a handsome sum in that day. The high cost was due to the property’s high prospect and prominent, Elm Street location. The Greensboro Patriot reported in July 1913 that “Mr. Frank Leak began work today on a very handsome residence on North Elm Street.” The construction of the house was part of a flurry of activity in the city, as described in July 1913 by the Greensboro Daily News: “A building boom seems to have struck Greensboro, especially in the residential sections. For example, one man today counted on his fingers 15 homes, which are now being built in the Fisher Park property by the following persons: Dr. Edmund Harrison, Herbert P. Leak, Max T. Payne, H.W. Sinclair, Rev. Shuford Peeler, J.T.B. Shaw, A.Y. Bond, C.O. Forbis, Waldo Porter, H.J. Thurman, E. Colwell, Frank Leak, Mrs. Robah Kerner and Roland Hill.”
Plans for the house (image, right) are not dated but indicate the architect was J.H. Hopkins. Hopkins was a leading architect in the city between 1905 and 1920, when he designed several prominent commercial structures and private residences. A native of Baltimore, he also practiced in Florence and Sheffield, Alabama, and in Tennessee. He is most remembered in Greensboro for designing the Dixie Building and the McAdoo Building, both on South Elm Street. The Leak House is a rare survivor of his residential body of work.
The house is a handsome brick Colonial Revival, references details seen in the Chesapeake Bay area. These include a symmetrical façade, a central porch, and side porches topped by Chippendale balustrades. Additional features include a magnificent modillion cornice, three dormer windows and a parapet side-gable roofline. Interior appointments include deep crown moldings, an elegant staircase, austere brick mantels, and a high plate rail in the dining room. The architecture may better reflect Hopkin’s background than the design choices of the Leaks.
Frank served the community through his involvement in the First Presbyterian Church as well as social clubs such as the Merchants’ and Manufacturers’ Club, the Greensboro Country Club, and the Civitan Club. He died in the house in 1936, and Minnie remained there until 1952. J.V. Berry acquired the property and retained ownership until 1979. Jim Wentz purchased the property in 1989, planning to restore the house as income property, but the project’s financing failed.
This house was opened for tours in 2017 as part of Preservation Greensboro’s 7th Annual Tour of Historic Homes & Gardens.
Written by Benjamin Briggs
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