A house that has captured the imagination of many due to its commanding presence and faded grandeur will be open for tours this weekend.
William “Will” McCormick Neale, Sr. (1885-1947) was a consulting mechanical engineer specializing in machine and mill design. The Greensboro native received his master’s degree in mechanical engineering at North Carolina State University. Upon graduating, he married Ersell Freeman (1890-1969) of Walnut Cove, Stokes County in 1912. Ersell was said to be “one of Greensboro’s most charming and accomplished ladies who by her sweet disposition has won many friends throughout the city.” The couple lived in Greenville, SC and Columbia, SC. For several years after their marriage. In 1919, the couple returned to Greensboro where Will practiced as a consulting mechanical engineer for the “design and development of special labor saving machinery.” Later, his specialty grew into machine and mill designs during a period of rapid industrialization in Guilford County. During World War II he was cited for his work with the navy research department at Duke University. Later, he was a member of faculty at NC State at the time of his death. Ersell was an active member of West Market Street United Methodist Church and the Social Art Club.
They had one son, William McCormick Neale, Jr, in 1920, and a daughter Ersell, born in 1930. They purchased a lot at 500 North Mendenhall Street in January 1920 and were subsequently championed by Guilford Insurance and Realty Company as some of the first lot owners in the neighborhood. They built their home shortly thereafter – by 1921 the couple were identified in the city directory as living “N Mendenhall corner of Courtland ‘Westerwood.’” In 1924 a photo of their new home was featured in a publication “Art Work of Piedmont Section of North Carolina.”
The house was likely designed by Will Neale, for it originally had an eclectic appearance that blended several styles within a front-gabled roof house. Features include a steep pitched roof, colonial boxed eaves with returns, paired six-over-one windows, and masonry battered post-on-pier porch supports. The house is sheathed in ROWLOCK and SHINER brick bond and sports heavy granite windows sills. The 1924 photo shows awnings on west-facing windows and a tile roof. Interior appointments include an unconventional and compact floor plan with “engineered” built-in cabinets and closets.
Ersell Neale remained in the house well after her husband’s death in 1947 until her death in 1969. In 1971, the property was sold to Catherine and Michael Holt and has passed through numerous owners since that time. Within the past several decades, the house has stood as a curio for the neighborhood, prompting numerous questions on Preservation Greensboro’s Walking Tours. This Tour of Historic Homes & Gardens allows for a special preview of this fascinating house just ahead of a planned restoration.
Six vintage homes in the Westerwood neighborhood will open their doors to ticket holders during Preservation Greensboro Incorporated’s 13th annual Tour of Historic Homes & Gardens on May 20-21, 2023. The tour will highlight charming features of early nineteenth and twentieth century architecture, including Craftsman bungalows, and examples of Colonial Revival design.
Written by Benjamin Briggs
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