Chartered in 1838, Greensboro College is credited as the first college to open its doors within the city of Greensboro and the oldest college for women in North Carolina.
The nascent institution was somewhat unusual for its commitment to educate women and was part of a flurry of institutions dedicated to women’s higher education that were established in the 1830s and 1840s. The cornerstone of the first Main Building was laid in August 1843, and in 1846 the institution opened its doors to students.
The college holds early roots as the Methodist-chartered Greensborough Female Academy that was established in 1830 by Reverend Peter Doub. Later, Greensboro College was organized by members of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, the pro-slavery branch of the Methodist church. Other Greensboro Methodists discontented with the morality and legality of enslavement in North Carolina aligned themselves as members of the Wesleyan Methodist Church. The progressive voice of the Methodist Church re-emerged in 1873 when the Methodist Episcopal Board of Trustees of Greensboro College sold tracts of land to freedmen for the establishment of a Black community on the northern perimeter of the college’s lands, now known as Westerwood.
The original Main Building was destroyed by fire in 1863 and forced the college to remain closed for ten years. With great effort and determination (and the death of Rev. W. Barringer, the chair of the building committee, caused by a fall at the construction site) the college opened the doors of its second Main Building in the fall of 1873. The college remained financially unstable, and by 1903 the board of trustees decided to close Greensboro Female College and sell its assets. However, through the tenacity of the college’s first female president, Lucy H. Robertson and alumna Nannie Lee Smith, $25,000 was raised and the college was saved.
The school’s name was changed to Greensboro College for Women in 1912, and a year later the first bachelor’s degrees were conferred. In 1919 the name was again changed, this time to Greensboro College. By the time of its centennial celebration in 1938, Greensboro College had reached a record enrollment of 400 students. Despite another major fire that damaged the Main Building in 1941, its restoration motivated the institution for growth.
In 1954 Greensboro College began to admit men, making it one of the first women’s colleges in the nation to expand its focus. In 1968 Greensboro College joined with Bennett and Guilford colleges as a part of the Greensboro Tri-College Consortium. Cross-registration enables students to take courses at colleges in other locations in Guilford County as well as at Elon University and Salem College.
Over more than the past 170 years, the foundation footprint of Greensboro College’s four Main Buildings has remained the same, though its elevations and design has evolved. From an initial central block, wings were added to the west and east in 1856 and 1859, respectively. After each of the building’s three fires, it was rebuilt with changes to the design of the facade. While the rooflines of the First Period (1845-1863) and Second Period (1873-1904) main buildings were topped by glazed cupolas, the Third Period Main Building (1904-1941) was designed by architect S. W. Foulk and incorporated a grand rotunda.
Early in the morning of September 4th, 1941, lightning struck the cupola of the Main Building, igniting yet another a fire. The college’s Business Manager, H. C. McIntire, died as the roof caved in. The Art Department on the third-floor and the second-floor library were badly damaged. A building committee was quickly appointed and local architect James Burton Wilder (1899-1976) with consulting architect Philip Newell Youtz (1895-1972) of Middlefield, Mass were selected to develop plans for restoration of the Main Building and for campus expansion. These plans were approved in October and a $150,000 fundraising campaign was begun in November.
Youtz was a native of Quincy, Massachusetts and graduated from Amhurst College in 1918. He received an M. A. from Oberlin College (1919) and an architectural degree from Columbia University (1929). Professionally, he served as curator of the Pennsylvania Museum of Art (1930-1932), director of the Brooklyn Museum (1934-1938), director of the Pacific Area at the Golden Gate International Exposition, San Francisco (1938-1939), and served as dean of the University of Michigan College of Architecture and Design (1957-1965). A practicing architect, his professional background in art and architecture implies an awareness of aesthetics as well as functionality. He worked on the Greensboro College project as a consultant for facilities under the auspices of the Carnegie Corporation of New York.
The new Fourth Period Main Building was designed “in classic Greek tradition, reminiscent of architecture of the Old South…although entirely different from the old rotunda…more in keeping with the traditional architecture of the college.” A Tuscan entablature includes triglyphs and a modillion cornice. An oculus encircled with keystones graces the tympanum. In many ways the Forth Period Main Building echoes the appearance of the First and Second Period Main Buildings.
The Hannah Brown Finch Memorial Chapel was named for an 1885 graduate of Greensboro College who died in 1933. Her husband, George D. Finch, then vice-president of Thomasville Chair Company and member of the board of trustees, donated $150,000 for the sanctuary in her memory. Architect J. Burton Wilder designed the structure that was begun April 1945 and inaugurated June 8, 1955.
The Chapel is constructed along the lines of a Greek temple, somewhat evocative of Greek Revival buildings of the 1820s and 1830s. The façade features fluted Doric columns and a full entablature with triglyphs adorning the frieze. Triglyphs are the vertically channeled tablets set on regular intervals just below the cornice. Appropriately, the Doric columns do not have bases – they end abruptly at the stylobate (floor).
In addition to designing the Chapel, architect Wilder was responsible for much of the campus design. He was born near Macon Georgia and was a resident of Greensboro for 50 years. He attended Gordon Military College in Barnesville GA; Georgia Tech Class of ’20, and George Washington University Class of ’22. As an architect he was member of the American Institute of Architects and for 17 years he served on the NC Board of Examiners of Architects. He was a Mason, a member of First Presbyterian Church, and Young Men’s Bible Class. He served as a Chief Architect of the Army Corps of Engineers in Panama (1943-1944). As an architect he specialized in institutional architecture, including expansion to L. Richardson Memorial Hospital (1945); the Guilford County Health Center (1953); North State Chevrolet (1954); the Brown Office Building on West Market Street (1955); and several buildings on the GTCC campus. He was a registered architect in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia and wrote a weekly column in the Greensboro Daily News in the 1940s entitled “How to Obtain A Better Built Home” that recommended materials and best practices.
The Proctor Hall West/Arts and Science Classroom Building had its groundbreaking ceremony in March 1950. The three-story, 43-room building was completed for Fall term 1951. At a cost of $250,000, the building was part of the broad expansion program that saw many additions to the campus including the library, chapel, dormitories, and gymnasium. Taylor and Fisher of Baltimore were the architects of the building, built simultaneous with the nearby J. A. Jones Library. J. A. Jones Construction Company of Charlotte was the general contractor of the building. Taylor and Fisher designed several prominent Baltimore landmarks including the magnificent Baltimore Trust Building, the Telephone Building, and the Baltimore Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond. It is unknown why the Baltimore firm won commissions with Greensboro College.
Architecturally, the brick building features Colonial Revival details such as a Flemish brick bond façade featuring flat “jack-arches” above windows, a closed pediment gable, and a handsome demilune window. These details bring the building into the mid-Atlantic (Philadelphia/Baltimore) colonial architectural tradition.
The Proctor Hall East Science-Classroom Building was constructed between 1998-2000. This 40,000 square foot building extended science labs and classrooms from Proctor West. The $6.17 million project was part of a larger fundraising campaign for the college at the millennium. The architect was Little & Associates Architects, Charlotte, NC, and the four-story addition houses the departments of education, social sciences and natural sciences.
The James Addison Jones Library was erected by Charlotte general contractor and member of Greensboro College board J. A. Jones, who donated funds to secure the name of the new library. The library had previously been located in the Main Building and was damaged in the 1941 fire. The library was built by Jones Construction Company and was initiated with a March 1950 groundbreaking. It was completed and dedicated in December of the same year. Taylor and Fisher of Baltimore were the architects of the $165,000 building, built simultaneous with the nearby the Proctor Hall Classroom Science Building.
The library’s facade features a Neoclassical Revival façade inspired by tall Roman proportions (as opposed to the horizontal Greek proportions of Finch Chapel). Attenuated Tuscan columns support a modest entablature. The symmetrical façade is relatively austere, with Flemish bond brick-work and a handsome main entry door surrounded by a transom window. Three round windows featuring square panes are aligned above the entry. Like Proctor Hall West, Taylor and Fisher designed the building in the mid-Atlantic architectural tradition.
The Thomas Armstrong House at 841 West Market Street is a refined Foursquare house form structure erected the summer of 1912 for the family of Thomas A. Armstrong, the owner of Armstrong Building and Supply. The structure cost $12,000 to construct and it was designed by Greensboro architect Raleigh James Hughes. Fluted Tuscan columns mark its porches, and other features include raised keystones its lintels, and wide, overhanging hipped roofs its eaves and multiple dormers. The architecture blends Neoclassical influences (columns and keystones) with Prairie-style features (robust pilasters, wide-overhanging eaves, and a low hipped roofline). The chevron capitals are unique in Greensboro, perhaps an innovation from aesthetically minded architect Hughes.
The George Center for Honors House is located at 110 College Place. This residential structure was built in 1910 for the family of William M. Transou at a cost of $5,000. Transou was president of Transou-Murphy Hat Company. Modillion blocks, stuccoed gables, paired square porch supports, and smooth pressed bricks add detail to this former dwelling. Once home to Greensboro College’s Brock Museum, it now serves as the administration center for the George Center for Honors Studies, a four-year program of special curricular and extracurricular opportunities and an emphasis on intellectual and personal development that is exclusive to the Honors Program – and team-taught by two full-time professors.
The Odell Auditorium/Huggins Performance Center was constructed for $150,000 in 1920-21 through a lead gift of $100,000. J. A. Odell donated funds in commemoration of the memory of his wife Mary Jane Odell, who died in 1918. The 1600 seat auditorium cost $150,000 to build and contained eight classrooms, eight studios, and 40 practice rooms. The architect was A. Ten Eyck Brown of Atlanta, and J. L. Crouse was the general contractor.
A. Ten Eyck Brown was a prominent architect of public buildings in Atlanta for the first third of the twentieth century. He built county courthouses, public schools and partnered with architects from Florida to South Carolina. Brown died in 1940 and this building is a rare sample of his work in North Carolina. His most prominent works regionally include the Dade County Courthouse in Miami (1925-28), the Old Federal Reserve Bank Building in Jacksonville, Fla, (1923-24), and the former Federal Reserve Bank in Nashville TN (1922).
The building continues the campus theme of Neoclassical design, adopting the “Triumphal Arch motif” used by Italian Renaissance architect Leon Battista Alberti. The motif includes a central archway that is flanked by two-story Tuscan pilasters and smaller arched openings in a manner later repeated for the Arc de Triomphe in Paris and numerous other ceremonial archways (Arch of Titus, Marble Arch, Brandenburg Gate, Washington Square Arch). The formal entablature, modillion cornice, and balustrade heighten the effect.
In 1997 the architectural firm Newman and Jones, P.A. from Winston-Salem was selected by Greensboro College for the $2.8 million renovation of the college’s Odell Auditorium. Newman and Jones were the architects for the Stevens Center in Winston-Salem.
Located at 108 Odell Place is a fine, two-story brick residence built by Rev. Walter Makepeace Curtis, who served as secretary-treasurer and business manager of the college from 1905 to 1939. He bought the property at 108 Odell Place and built a house in 1907, into which he moved his mother and his two small daughters. His marriage to Leticia Evans Curtis in 1908 resulted in four daughters and two sons. The Curtis House is home to athletic coaches.
As a landmark institution within the realm of women’s education, Greensboro College is a touchstone to the importance of gender equity in Greensboro and North Carolina. Though its nineteenth-century college campus remains located on its original prominent hilltop just west of the city, its campus buildings are more representative of mid-twentieth century Colonial Revival and Neoclassical Revival styles. Selection of these architectural styles was carefully curated to reflect its deep history and tradition with structures placed within an intimate setting and with shared details and scale. The campus was included in the College Hill Local Historic District in 1980 and it was considered applicable to the National Register of Historic Places through inclusion on the Study List in 1975, though the college has not pursued that designation.
Written by Benjamin Briggs
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