College Hill has the distinction of being Greensboro’s best-preserved nineteenth century neighborhood with narrow streets lined with Queen Anne cottages, charming bungalows, and interwar apartment buildings. Packed with history and centrally located, College Hill blends quaint architecture with city amenities to create one of North Carolina’s most interesting neighborhoods.
Unlike many neighborhoods in Greensboro, College Hill was not developed at one time under a grand scheme. The community began innocuously in the 1840s as a collection of substantial homes scattered around the Greensboro Female College. Founded in 1838, this was the first college to open its doors within the town of Greensboro and stands as the earliest chartered college for women in North Carolina and the third such institution in the United States. The first students entered in 1846 after the completion of a building that stood on the site of the current main building. The original building was destroyed by fire in 1863, forcing the college to close for ten years.
Houses around the college campus were occupied by prominent citizens including Letitia Morehead Walker – daughter of Governor John Motley Morehead – and her husband William Walker; Reverend Sidney D. Bumpass, publisher of the newspaper The Weekly (home, image, right); and Reverend Nathan H. D. Wilson, Elder of the Raleigh District of the North Carolina Methodist Conference. Their homes reveal pragmatic and modest interpretations of nationally popular Greek Revival and Italianate styles typical to the Carolina Piedmont in the mid-nineteenth century.
The economic upheaval caused by the Civil War paused development, but during Reconstruction, several residences were built by African American citizens who settled outside the city limits of Greensboro to elude high land costs. Examples of this group include Wesley Caldwell, born in 1837 and owner of his home who made a living as a cook. Lithia Brooks was born in 1835 and was employed as a washerwoman. She rented a small house at 438 Mendenhall with her daughter Lula and son Charlie. Another example can be found with Julia Booker, a woman who owned her home located at 945 McGee Street (overview, McGee Street c.1980, right).
Morrison Morrow exemplified the Black community in College Hill. Morris is presumed to have been born into slavery in 1845 and married soon after the end of the Civil War. In 1870, Thomas Owen, a Deputy Collector for the U.S. Government, purchased a small quarter-acre tract of land from former mayor Cyrus P. Mendenhall for $100. A few months later, he sold the same tract to Morris Morrow for $40 financed by a mortgage held by Greensboro Building and Loan. On this land Morrow built his modest home just south of today’s Rankin Street. Morris was listed in documents as a day laborer and his wife, Mary, was recognized as a teacher. The couple lived in their home for at least thirty years when Mary passed away. Morrow and his second wife, Lena, moved to Maple Street, approximately where the Greensboro Post Office is today. Morris died in 1916 and is buried in Union Cemetery. Few structures related to the historic African American community remain in College Hill today.
Transformative change occurred in the neighborhood with the selection of Greensboro as the location for the State Normal and Industrial College in 1891. The new college was heavily recruited by leading Greensboro citizens who sweetened the deal with a commitment of land and $30,000 in cash for the institution. An article in the Wilmington (NC) Messenger related the announcement in Greensboro: “There is great rejoicing and enthusiasm over the result; bells are ringing and whistles blowing.
So great was the enthusiasm that the tone of the neighborhood’s newfound prosperity can be revealed in its architecture. Just before the announcement, T. M. Pegram erected a modest two-story frame house (1890) at 702 Walker Avenue composed of a symmetrical façade, central front gable with a chevron design, and a wrap-around porch. Just after the announcement of the new college, architect Orlo Epps completed a three-story Queen Anne house (c.1892) featuring a bracketed lattice surrounding the front door, a pedimented window with stained glass, a third-story balcony, and use of patterned stucco and pebbledash (image, right). The two examples illustrate a dramatic change in architecture as the economy of the city grew with the announcement.
More high-style residences followed that were transformational for what became known as the city’s West End. Some examples are single story, such as the frame Queen Anne cottage erected for Cinderella and James Cannaday (1895). Located at 922 Carr Street, the house features a stained-glass dormer window, bay windows, wooden spandrels, and an elaborate porch sporting turned wood supports and drop finials.
Many two-story Queen Anne variants were also constructed of wood frames, exemplified by the Emma and Robert Gorrell House (c.1895) at 400 South Mendenhall Street and the Ward-Foust House (c.1895) at 6 Springdale Court. Both houses feature irregular forms and facades, a variety of window sizes, both clapboard and shingle siding, and exuberant wrap-around porch trim. A few brick, two-story variations exist with Queen Anne features, including the Cobb House (c.1893) located at 406 Jackson Street and the Kirkpatrick House (1892) at 811 Walker Avenue. Like several frame counterparts, the Cobb House features a chevron design theme. The Kirkpatrick House originally sported an impressive tower before conversion to apartments in 1920.
Perhaps the grandest expression of Queen Anne architecture in the neighborhood was designed by architect J. H. Hopkins. The 1902 commission, by Goose Grease Liniment Company vice-president Pleasant D. Gold, Jr., is a two-story composition with a corner tower, a cross-gambrel roofline, and a cacophony window shapes and muntin patterns. This important house stands at 1020 West Market Street, just outside the bounds of the local and National Register historic districts (image, right).
The turn of the century saw the once rural College Hill neighborhood grow into a suburban enclave. Wafco Mill was built alongside the Cape Fear and Yadkin Railroad tracks at McGee Street. The earliest frame phases of construction date to 1893, but a substantial brick addition in 1912 was among the grandest buildings in the neighborhood at the time.
The West End Hose House was built to house firefighting equipment for the neighborhood in 1897. The two-story brick building features simple details, including a central second floor arched window and granite windowsills. The building once hosted two horses, a paid driver, and horse-drawn fire equipment for 15 men. Additional brick commercial buildings were erected at the intersection of South Mendenhall and Spring Garden Streets.
The arrival of electric streetcars in 1902 caused greater suburban development in and around the Greensboro Female College and the State Normal and Industrial College (renamed in 1919 to Woman’s College) in the form of Neoclassical-, Rectilinear-, and some Craftsman-style houses.
An impressive Neoclassical-style house stands at 841 West Market Street. Constructed in 1912 for the Armstrong family by Greensboro architect Raleigh James Hughes, the symmetrical façade features a front porch supported by Doric columns, flared flat arches, and a heavy entablature beneath the eaves. A modest example of Neoclassical design is located at 321 Tate Street. Erected for the Taylor family in 1901, the gambrel-roofed house features a front porch with Tuscan columns and prominent front gable with a bull’s eye window and an ogee gable.
The Rectilinear style of American architecture is named for the austere straight lines of porches, eaves, and rooflines. An excellent example of a Rectilinear Foursquare-form house is Crawford House of 1915 and located at 320 South Mendenhall Street. The two-story frame residence features a box-form adorned with a full-width front porch and a low pyramidal roofline. Decoration is austere, with simple squared porch supports, boxed eaves, and a hipped dormer roof central to the roofline.
Craftsman-style bungalows can be found throughout the neighborhood. A striking example stands at 1001 McGee Street. Erected around 1914 for the Ham family the asymmetrical façade stands in dramatic contrast to the balanced facades of Neoclassical and Rectilinear compositions. Other characteristics of the style is the use of wood shingle siding, shaped rafter tails, and use of an indigenous decorative stone known as milk quartz for the front porch supports. The artistic expression of Craftsman-style houses serves a refreshing alternative to historical or austere architectural themes.
In 1919, sisters Mattie and Louie Booker purchased a lot on McGee Street and commissioned a new house. By 1923, the sisters resided in a fine Craftsman-style bungalow along with their mother, Julia Forney Booker. The house exemplified the low-pitched roofline, wide overhanging eaves, and exposed structural timbers such as rafter tails and knee braces of the Craftsman style. Eldest sister Mattie was employed as a cook with Dr. Anna Gove, UNCG’s resident physician, professor of hygiene, and director of the Department of Health. Mattie’s sister, Louie, was employed as the Greensboro City Health officer as a nurse and is remembered as one of the city’s first Black licensed nurses.
The sisters shared ownership of the house until their deaths. Louie Booker married Oscar Benton in 1935, and the house remained in the Benton family until 2019. The Booker-Benton House is a rare surviving structure built by an African American family at the height of the Jim Crow Era and located in the midst of the historically white College Hill neighborhood (image, right).
Between World War I and World War II, College Hill witnessed intense redevelopment as population density was increased through multifamily housing, and commercial expansion was triggered by growth and college expansion. Many older institutions witnessed expansion or replacement. Architect Harry Barton designed a new sanctuary for the Presbyterian Church of the Covenant at the corner of Walker and South Mendenhall Streets. The brick church, begun in 1914, was influenced by Neoclassical compositions in larger cities. Facades of round arched windows, Ionic columns, and a heavy modillion cornice take inspiration from, perhaps, English architect Christopher Wren.
Harry Barton also designed a new West End Firehouse at 442 South Mendenhall Street. The picturesque new station took the appearance of a residence, with diamond paned windows, a front porch with pointed arches, and a parapet roofline above the garage.
Some large Queen Anne houses were converted to boarding houses and apartment houses through the 1920s. In a few instances, older houses were destroyed to make way for modern apartment buildings. Such was the fate of the Queen Anne-style house at 200 South Mendenhall, destroyed and replaced with an eight-unit brick building in 1927 by investor J. S. Ferree. Within a few years, Ferree constructed a nearly identical building across the street at 201 South Mendenhall Street. The building at #200 is simple, with segmental arched windows and a pent roof above the entry. The sister building at #201 sports similar features with the addition of elaborate ogee parapets along the roofline.
The grandest apartment house of the era was designed by architect Lorenzo S. Winslow at 203 South Tate Street. Named Winborne Court, it was completed in 1929 as a three-story building with an exotic Mediterranean motif. Stucco-covered walls, rounded arches, a wide overhanging timber eave, and a barrel-tile roof decorated the building that was intended to be one of a pair. It was erected at a cost of $100,000 by Greensboro-based Sunshine Apartment Corporation, containing 18 apartments. Winslow was later hired as the first White House Architect in Washington DC.
In the 1930s, College Hill evolved further to reflect its urban location. Tate Street grew to become “Greensboro’s first shopping center” by 1934, including enterprises such as The Sandwich Shop, Carolina Pharmacy, Ivory (grocery) Store, Holden’s Shoe Shop, May O. Tuttie Dressmaker, the General Greene Service Station, Kistwick Sandwich Shop, and Piggly Wiggly. The establishments formed what became known as “The Corner” and primarily served nearby student populations.
By 1936, the area fell victim to institutional redlining. Redlining was a systematic denial of various services through the government-sponsored Home Owners’ Loan Corporation based on community racial composition. Of College Hill, the HOLC reported “along Rankin & Carr, and along Spring Garden is the better part of the area. West of Hicks Court on McGee St. there are approximately 14 negro houses but no likelihood of further encroachment. Along Spring Garden are some large, older homes.” Redlining discouraged re-investment and diminished real estate values, targeting Black homeowners in particular. Areas shaded in red were considered high risk, yellow and blue were at moderate risk, and green shaded areas indicated low risk for mortgage-holders (map, right).
As property owners in College Hill were increasingly motivated by high rental returns from income properties and mortgages grew more challenging due to Redlining, community re-investment diminished. Some properties fell below minimal housing standards. These trends, coupled with increased access to drugs and a burgeoning counter-cultural sentiment among students, caused some to grow fearful that College Hill was becoming unruly. Long-time resident Louise Smith decried the area attracting “purveyors of hardcore narcotics” by 1971. Specific concerns were focused on the area known as “The Corner” at Tate and Walker, where young women in jeans and men with long hair were known to loiter.
Through the 1960s, urban challenges such as high-density housing, disinvestment, and blight were addressed through reconstruction efforts that often included the wholesale destruction of communities. Federal grants funded cities to redevelop large areas with new infrastructure, parks, schools, and buildings. Here in Greensboro, areas of East Market Street and the Warnersville neighborhood were destroyed – and rebuilt – in this manner.
When planners began examining the College Hill neighborhood in the 1960s for reinvestment, similar heavy-handed methods were considered at first. In 1977, a discussion group was formed to explore alternatives to such renewal efforts, resulting in a charrette that focused on several objectives. Major themes included land use and zoning, infrastructure, and investment in historic buildings that was cultivated through the creation of an historic preservation program in Greensboro. “College Hill is an opportunity neighborhood for Greensboro” stated the College Hill Concept Plan in 1979. “One of only three early neighborhoods adjoining downtown, it may have the most potential for conservation and the kind of revitalization that attracts movement into the inner city.”
In the 1970s, the Greensboro Preservation Society began to raise awareness of the city’s architectural history. “Perhaps spurred by the Greensboro Preservation Society’s excellent work in purchasing and restoring Blandwood,” wrote Greensboro Daily News Staff Writer Jack Betts in February 1977, “both the city and the county, in cooperation with the state and with persons interested in historic preservation, are considering establishing authorities to designate and help protect individual properties as well as historic districts.”
As early as 1977, grassroots efforts in Old Greensborough and College Hill supported the city’s participation in state enabling legislation to create a new zoning overlay to support historic preservation. The planning tool, born in Charleston SC in 1926, recognized historic neighborhoods as districts with design review through a quasi-judicial hearing process required for exterior alterations. This step, as proved in other communities, could stabilize a neighborhood to encourage re-investment by private owners by regulating change…similar to the appearance standards of a modern homeowners’ association.
In 1979, the City Council approved the establishment of a historic district commission to oversee future districts, and a year later College Hill was designated as Greensboro’s first locally designated historic district. Aside from the Historic Preservation Program, two other public initiatives have had a fundamental impact on reinvestment in the architectural character and progressivism in College Hill since the creation of the historic district.
In 1978, the city partnered with NCNB National Bank to leverage federal funding to create a low-interest loan program to facilitate renovations in the neighborhood. The next year, the Redevelopment Commission of Greensboro initiated a program to acquire deteriorated historic properties in College Hill. “We will be able to rehabilitate several of the houses for resale, but others just cannot be saved,” stated Commission staff Robert Barkley, in the Daily News. The largest number of targeted structures were along McGee Street in what had been College Hill’s historically Black enclave.
The condemnation and acquisition did not sit well with Black property owners, such as Luetta Dansby and her son David. The family threatened to sue the city over property purchase values, charging the valuation of their properties was low because of Black home ownership. David Dansby was among the earliest African Americans to receive a law degree from UNC and practiced Civil Rights law in Greensboro. The properties were sold in 1983 and then destroyed.
The Redevelopment Commission’s acquisition of substandard properties in College Hill worked to transition ownership to investors with legal responsibility to rehabilitate their properties for single family and owner-occupied use for 15 years. The work of the Commission was boosted by a citywide bond vote in 1990 that provided $2 million for buying additional houses in College Hill. The legacy of this program was transformational, though it worked to save structures it also homogenized the neighborhood’s population.
The second transformational public initiative began in 1989, when citizens of College Hill lobbied the City for its designation as a Municipal Service District. The District collected a special tax that could only be used within College Hill for improvements such as streetscape projects. In September 2013, the Municipal Service District Plan was updated to include redevelopment as an eligible use. At-risk historic properties may be acquired and restored for home ownership under this program. College Hill and Dunleath are the only two neighborhoods in Greensboro with this special tax tool.
Neighborhood initiatives have also had an impact. Notable examples include neighborhood home tours begun around 1982. The event allowed potential homebuyers to explore the neighborhood and encouraged some to take on sometimes challenging restoration projects. The tours also worked to create a sense of community and a spirit of improvement.
In 2015, the College Hill Neighborhood Plan was adopted by the city as a guide to assist in prioritizing goals for the community. Goals include retaining community character, attracting reinvestment and maintenance, supporting retail and restaurant options, expanding open space, working through community partnerships, and respecting neighborhood capacities. Census data revealed the neighborhood as having “a very low level of racial and ethnic diversity” and “a very high proportion of persons in the 15 to 24 year age group.” The neighborhood also had “significantly higher numbers of households at lower income ranges and significantly fewer households at higher income ranges” than the City as a whole. Approximately 67% of housing was renter occupied in 2010.
The 2015 Plan promotes the following vision statement for College Hill:
College Hill is a neighborhood which bridges the past and the future of Greensboro, where resident owners, landlords, tenants, businesses, and institutions are working together to preserve its historic character, ensure a high quality of life, and promote lasting neighborhood value. It is a lively, vibrant, walkable, and safe environment where the mix of well-maintained historic homes, public places, and neighborhood businesses, all contribute to a unique sense of place within the greater Greensboro community.
In 2021, the College Hill neighborhood was featured as Preservation Greensboro’s 11th Annual Tour of Historic Homes & Gardens.
Written by Benjamin Briggs
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