Long before Kirkwood became a neighborhood of tidy post-War housing, the area featured scattered semi-rural farms and estates with notable homes and varied recreation areas.
Development of neighborhoods north of Cornwallis Drive began during the roaring 20s, and spurred by the success of Irving Park to the south. One by one, small family farms were developed as subdivisions, including the 116-acre D. A. and Effie Kirkpatrick farm in 1923. The Kirkpatrick farm became Kirkwood, featuring patriotic names such as Liberty, Independence, and Colonial given to gridded streets with deep lots. A similar cluster of gridded streets was platted to the southwest – composed of streets with bucolic names such as Lawndale, Fernwood, Dellwood, and Fairfield (image, upper right).
Both neighborhoods had little time for development before the stock market crash of 1929. For over a decade, streets remained largely undeveloped. Interspersed among the unbuilt lots were notable houses constructed just before the Great Depression began. Among these houses was the home of Lucille and Joseph Holt, located at 2000 Dellwood Drive.
The Holt House (image, right) was built in 1927-28, by Alabama native Joseph Holt and his first wife Lucille. Holt is remembered for his leadership in Home Federal Bank; Lucille is remembered for her petite form and flaming red hair. Both Holts were well connected to Greensboro’s social scene in the late 1920s and 1930s, hosting elaborate parties in a log cabin on the grounds of their home that were followed by dancing into the night.
As Alabama natives, the Holts asked Greensboro architect Harry Simmonds to design a residence evocative of the Gorgas House on the University of Alabama campus in Tuscaloosa (image, right). The original Gorgas House was built in 1828 as a dining hall for students. In the 1840s it was converted into a faculty residence, and after the Civil War it became the home of Josiah Gorgas, a Confederate general and seventh president of the University. The house was designed by architect William Nichols, who also won commissions in the Raleigh area. Greensboro’s Holt House replicated the delicate descending stairs, portico, and symmetrical facade of the original Gorgas House.
With its period style, the two-story Holt House is illustrative of growing interest in historic preservation and early American architecture in the 1920s. As the Holt House was being erected, conservation efforts were just beginning to gain momentum in Williamsburg, VA and Charleston, SC. In addition to the recreated Gorgas House design, the Holts acquired architectural elements from throughout the Old South to compliment their project. Wrought iron elements found on the front and rear verandas were purchased from historic homes being destroyed in Baltimore, MD. Doors used in the house were found in Richmond, VA. Historic sites in Alabama supplied the salvaged fountain in the yard and fireplace mantles.
The grounds of the Holt’s home were equally sumptuous, incorporating an entire block of the new subdivision. The Holts preserved the mature oaks and poplars on the property, and beneath the trees they planted extensive azalea gardens. A stream was impounded to create a pond and swimming hole. To the rear of the property, a rustic-style log house was erected for lavish dinner parties and late-night dances.
Happy times ended with the passing of Lucille Holt around 1950. Holt remarried, this time to Emmaline (married nine times, he was number seven!). Joseph Holt passed away in the late 1960s, and Emmaline moved to Florida.
In 1966, the home and grounds were purchased by Laura Dean and Lawton Gresham, who selected Clyde Elrod to orchestrate renovations of the house. As a seasoned building contractor, Elrod knew the significance of the site, and guided the Greshams in preserving the most important attributes of the property. Today, the house looks much as it did when they purchased the property over forty years ago.
With their growing appreciation for historic preservation, the Greshams soon embarked upon a new project for the grounds of the historic Holt Home. Visiting downtown Greensboro in 1976, they became aware of the destruction of the old Major Stedman House on McGee Street for today’s Weaver Center. The grounds of the Stedman House contained a small cottage that dated to 1870. The cottage was said to have been built for Major Stedman’s aged manservant, who was too respected to be turned out upon being awarded his freedom after the Civil War. The cottage had been used as a tea and lunch room in the 1960s by preservationist Helen Miller. The Greshams acquired the Stedman Cottage and saved it from the bulldozers by relocating the Victorian structure to their Dellwood property. There, it was preserved as a guest cottage.
The Holt House and Stedman Cottage remain well-preserved landmarks in today’s Kirkwood neighborhood. Both remain benchmarks in Greensboro’s preservation movement and represent local examples of national trends in conservation. The property is an important reminder that all neighborhoods contain history that is more than skin deep. Our challenge as a city is to understand the significance of these historic sites before they are lost to bulldozers and redevelopment. Kirkwood, it seems, is home to one of Greensboro’s most treasured places.
Our neighborhood has a wonderful history we can take pride in. I thank you for researching this story about the Holt Farm and telling it so well. In addition to the this stately home built in the 1920’s by the Holts, we also need to preserve the magnificent willow oaks that lined the boundaries of the farm along Lawndale and Fernwood Drives, trees which everyone admires. I hope that our neighborhood will now be in favor of organizing a Neighborhood Association and applying for a Neighborhood Conservation Overlay to help preserve these trees, in addition to preserving the residential character of our neighborhood.
I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Preservation Greensboro for supporting our opposition to a proposed Walgreens on the corner of Lawndale and Cornwallis. We are pleased and very relieved that this week the City Council met our request to amend the Connections 2025 Comprehensive Plan for houses near the Lawndale Corridor in our neighborhood, changing the classification from mixed use commercial to moderate residential. Applying for a conservation overlay should allow us to specify guidelines for future development in the neighborhood.
Thanks Anne – Kirkwood is certainly increasing its profile in the city as more people recognize its contributions to Greensboro. The neighborhood’s efforts to preserve its distinctive features through advocacy and overlays is a role model for other emerging areas. Glad to bring the Holt property to the forefront as yet another defining asset of Kirkwood!
Great post! You refer to both neighborhoods — what is the one that’s not Kirkwood? Those of us who live on Rosecrest Drive and the nearby streets are trying to ascertain a name. We’ve been going by the Kirkwood Steering Committe for recent efforts and want to move forward. Looking at Rosecrest on an online city map, it indicates Old Irving Park — which it isn’t — but it isn’t really Kirkwood either. We’ve thought of coming up with a new name as Westerwood did — maybe something based on Holt.
I agree excellent information! To answer Meryl’s question, is the other neighborhood not Faifield? I live on Lawndale Dr. and that is, of course, now known as Fairfield. I think that is the original name of the area since I have seen advertisements in the city directories from the mid-1920s advertsing for Faifield.
Meryl and Scott,
Thanks for your comments. I asked a few long-time historians, as well as the Greshams, if there was a name for the neighborhood around the Holt House, and no name was known beyond Kirkwood. Its possible some deed research could reveal a name. It certainly is distinct from Irving Park, yet related to Kirkwood…so I kept the name Kirkwood for the blog…until another name is identified!
Benjamin and Scott,
Thanks for following up.
For now we’ll stay with Kirkwood, although this part of the ‘hood wasn’t developed by Kirkpatrick. We’re going to forming a neighborhood association to deal with issues that may arise and hope to find our identity — eventually!