The McAdoo-Sanders-Tatum House has long captured attention in Greensboro’s priciest enclave for its welcoming wrap-around porch, stonework, and glittering lead-glass windows. But the house at 303 Wentworth Street – recently recognized as a Guilford County Landmark property – might hold another superlative title as Irving Park’s oldest home.
The residence is described by historian Sunny Townes Stewart as consisting of “elements of the Craftsman, Prairie, and Classical Revival styles.” Specifically, the post-on-pier front porch supports are characteristic of the South and East Asia-inspired Craftsman style. The wide overhanging eaves and low hipped roofline is linked to the low and horizontal lines of the Prairie style. The symmetrical façade with a main entry flanked by sidelights is common to the traditional forms of Classical Revival architecture. Stonework is attributed to well-known Greensboro stonemason Andrew Leopold Schlosser. Interior appointments include a spacious living room with a grand mantel, a dining room with high wainscoting and a beamed ceiling, and a generous central hallway with an impressive staircase.
Architectural historians have long pondered the house. The house captured the attention of Ruth Little-Stokes In 1976, who described the house as “perhaps the earliest house in Irving Park,” a sentiment shared in 1995 by Marvin Brown, author of the Preservation Greensboro publication Greensboro: An Architectural Record. The opinion was likely rooted in how different the house looked from others in the neighborhood, in terms of design, materials, and its classic floorplan.
A review of the history of the house that is recorded through oral history and in legal documents only adds to the mystery. The land on which the house stands, and the lots around it, date to early phases of development in Irving Park. Colonel Walter D. McAdoo purchased 140 acres of land in March 1890. McAdoo was a prominent citizen of the Gate City who built a reputation as a hotelier. The McAdoo Hotel was a primary fixture on South Elm Street from its construction in 1870 until it left his management in 1895. Neighbors recall a visit from a Ms. McAdoo around 1990 who recalled that her father built the house around 1895. A previous occupant of the house, Walker Rucker, believed the house was built in the 1880s as a McAdoo farmhouse.
Gate City residents were fond of rural retreats in the late nineteenth century. By maintaining separate urban and rural homes, residents could retreat to the countryside for weekends and holidays and enjoy wholesome living and cool nights. Perhaps Walter McAdoo had a modest farmhouse constructed in the 1890s as part of his retirement from the hotel. The location of the house at the crest of a broad hill supports such a theory, as early builders pragmatically selected the highest (and driest) sites for construction.
If an earlier house stood on the site, it was heavily remodeled by McAdoo’s son William by 1912. William was also a real estate developer, having constructed an office tower on South Elm Street and City Directories indicate that William was living along North Elm Street by 1913. With no other streets yet laid-out, North Elm Street was the nearest reference. Additionally, a 1916 plat map of the “Country Club Development” along Country Club Drive references the location of the “W. D. McAdoo Home” in 1916.
The earliest sections of Irving Park were initiated in 1911, and these first lots were centered south of the McAdoo tract. The second phase of development, with associations to the noted landscape architect John Nolen, was laid out in the mid-1910s, and included much of the McAdoo tract, but not the land around the house. Wentworth Drive was likely a slightly later phase, in which the core of old farm was redeveloped around the house.
In contrast to the Craftsman-Prairie influences seen in the McAdoo-Sanders-Tatum House, other early homes in Irving Park were designed in the by prominent architects such as A. Raymond Ellis of Connecticut, and Charles Barton Keen of Philadelphia using Colonial Revival and Neoclassical motifs. The Aubrey Brooks House at 409 Sunset Drive is a high water mark for the flurry of construction that began around 1913. The house features a grand Neoclassical façade as composed by architect Ellis. Houses adjacent to the Brooks residence by Robert Mebane, Harry Bush, and Junius Irving Scales (for whom the neighborhood was named) also date to the years 1912 to 1915.
History and architecture reveal somewhat divergent narratives for the McAdoo-Sanders-Tatum House. History favors a construction date in the 1890s, but architectural evidence points to a completion date of 1912. Material evidence might one day be discovered in the bones of the house to reveal an earlier farmhouse that was absorbed into the early twentieth-century structure.
In the meantime, there is no doubt that the house holds an important place in the history of Greensboro, a fact substantiated by its inscription to the National Register in 1994, and its recognition as a Guilford County Landmark Property in 1915.
Some information cited from Landmark Nomination: McAdoo-Sanders-Tatum House by Sunny Townes Stewart