The Dr. Sebastian House holds a significant place in the history of Greensboro and North Carolina as a site representative of themes of empowerment, agency, and resilience in the era of Jim Crow.
Dr. Simon Powell Sebastian (1876-1937) was born in Antigua, in the British West Indies. Dr. Sebastian came to Greensboro in 1903 as secretary to NCA&TSU President James Benson Dudley. After seven years in that role and as a professor, he was accepted to the Leonard Medical School at Shaw University in Raleigh, after which he returned to serve as A&T’s physician and as a private doctor. In 1915 he married Martha Josephine Oxford (1896-1948) of Gardner, Massachusetts. The Sebastians remained in Greensboro after their marriage and grew to become pillars of the community. They had two accomplished sons, Dr. John Walter Sebastian who graduated from Howard University, and Army Chief Warrant Officer Edward Powell Sebastian of Lutheran College.
Later in his career, he formed an alliance of citizens in 1923 to organize the city’s first hospital built to serve African-American residents. Opened in 1927 as L. Richardson Memorial Hospital, the structure remains standing across the street from the Dr. Sebastian House. Martha Sebastian was also a community leader and role model, serving as the librarian at the Carnegie Negro Library on the campus of Bennett College.
The couple began construction of their English Tudor-style house at 1401 McConnell Road (formerly 1402 East Washington Street) in October 1927. Among those in the community, the house was a touchstone to success and accomplishment as it was finer and grander that houses owned by most white residents. It was designed in the English Tudor style and the two-story house features a brick facade topped by a Jerkin Head (or clipped) gable roof. Other important features include decorative brickwork in the forward-facing gable, half-timbering at the second story, and narrow dormer windows. An article in the Greensboro Daily News in March 1928 stated “Recently completed at a cost of around $25,000, this brick structure of English architecture could grace well the finest residential district of the city.”
Dr. Sebastian was killed when a truck failed to observe a stop sign at the intersection in front of the hospital. He had just turned 60 years old. Martha Sebastian remarried to Rex Goreleigh, a Pennsylvania-born artist who operated an arts center in the Carnegie Library at Bennett College with fellow artist Normal Lewis. The couple remained in the house until Martha’s death in 1948, when Rex moved back north. Both Martha and Dr. Sebastian are interred at Maplewood Cemetery on Bingham Street in Greensboro.
The house remained a landmark for east Greensboro for almost 80 years before developer Allen Sharpe acquired the property for an extensive redevelopment project. Preservation Greensboro and the community supported the preservation of the house in honor of the Sebastian’s community leadership and significance. Sharpe’s plans were drawn to include the retention and restoration of the house for use as offices and a small museum (after restoration in 2007, image right). For its resilience and restoration, the project and its team were recognized with a Preservation Award by Preservation Greensboro in 2006.