This area was settled by Quakers, Germans and Scotch-Irish who migrated down from Pennsylvania in the mid-18th century. Independent by nature, these small farmers would prove an asset in the coming Revolution. In 1770 Guilford County was carved from Orange and Rowan counties, taking its name from the Prime Minister of England, the Earl of Guilford. In 1774 a courthouse of hewn logs was raised about five miles northwest of present-day Greensboro.
On March 15, 1781 American forces clashed with the British Army of Lord Cornwallis at the Battle of Guilford Court House. The British carried the day but the cost was so steep Cornwallis pulled his battered army from North Carolina, leading to the eventual surrender at Yorktown. When the General Assembly authorized the creation of a centrally located Guilford County seat in 1808 the new town was named in honor of General Nathanael Greene, commander of the Colonial forces at Guilford Courthouse.
The settlement grew slowly but in the 1840s it had the good fortune to the home of John Motley Morehead when he was the 29th Governor of North Carolina in the early 1840s. Morehead worked tirelessly to build the North Carolina Railroad and made sure the route for the new line passed through his Greensboro. Still, the population of the town would not break out of the hundreds until the 1870s.
By the 20th century, Greensboro was humming. Seeking to take advantage of the town’s growing reputation as a transportation center, brothers Ceasar and Moses Cone established their Proximity (next to the railroad tracks) cotton mill here and soon Greensboro was turning out more denim than anywhere else. The Cone mills were followed by other mills and factories until more than 100 manufacturing concerns were churning out products across Greensboro.
Within about a decade Greensboro exploded from village to city. Virtually nothingremains of that pre-industrial Greensboro in the downtown district but several buildings remain from the hey-day of industrialized Greensboro 100 years ago. But before we find them, our walking tour will start in a very modern urban park, a place no one would have associated with green space just ten years before...
Center City Park
bounded by North Elm Street, North Davie Street, West Friendly Avenue and Renaissance Tower
Landscaping on this 1.9-acre greenspace began in 2003. Three years and more than 200 trees and 2,000 flowering bulbs later, Center City Park was open for community events or quiet contemplation. Lead designer was the Halverson Design Partnership of Boston.
EXIT CENTER CITY PARK ONTO ELM STREET AND TURN LEFT.
114 North Elm Street
Harry Barton created this Beaux Arts office building in 1927. He outfitted the lower floors in decorative terra cotta and used multi-colored brick on the upper four floors.
101 North Elm Street
Charles Conrad Hartmann began apprenticing in some of New York’s most famous architectural firms at the age of 16 in 1905. While in North Carolina to shepherd major hotel projects to completion he came to the attention of Julian Price of Jefferson Standard Life Insurance Company who tabbed Hartmann to design a new $2.5 million headquarters in 1921. The only proviso was that Hartmann relocate to Greensboro, which he did and established a busy practice until his retirement in the 1960s. Hartmann blended elements of Neo-Gothic, Neoclassical and Art Deco stylings to create the Jefferson Standard Building. Sheathed in terra cotta and granite, the 17-story U-shaped tower, a feature that promoted air circulation, enjoyed a brief run as North Carolina’s tallest building.
102 North Elm Street
This was the tallest building on the Greensboro skyline when the American Exchange Bank built it in 1920. The skyscraper adhered to the Chicago style of making high-rises in the fashion of a classic Greek column with a distinctive base (the ornate lower floors), shaft (the unadorned middle floors) and a capital (the elaborate cornice, in this case studded with dentils). The American Exchange Bank did not survive the Great Depression but the tower emerged, albeit as the Southeastern Building. In the 1940s the ground floors were stripped of their classical affectations but there are plans for them to be restored. Look up to see a terra cotta string course between the third and fourth floors.
134 South Elm Street
Leading Greensboro architect Charles Hatmann designed this Art Deco-style corner building in 1929, then known as the Whelan Building for its largest tenant, the Whelan Drug Company. In 1939 Woolworth’s, America’s leading five-and-dime chain store, moved in. The space became immortalized on February 1, 1960 when it was selected by four North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University freshmen as the place for their peaceful protests against segregation. Although all other parts of the store were open to black and white alike the Woolworth’s lunch counter was “Whites only.” Joseph McNeil, Franklin McCain, Ezell Blair, Jr., and David Richmond challenged that policy by simply sitting at the counter. When they were refused service, they went on sitting, until the store closed. They promised to return the next day and again were refused service. After media coverage and word of the protest spread the four students were joined by hundreds of supporters. “Sit-in” protests began at other restaurants and in other cities. The “sit-in” at the Greensboro Woolworth’s lasted until July 25 when the entire Woolworth’s chain was desegregated. Woolworth’s closed the store in 1993 and announced plans to tear down the building. Within three days there was an agreement to save the building and in 2010, after much financial wrangling, the International Civil Rights Center and Museum opened here on the 50th anniversary of the original sit-in.
125 South Elm Street
After honing his craft in Denver for the better part of 30 years, architect Frank A. Weston came to Greensboro about 1904 and this was his first major commission, for the City National Bank. His Dixie Building is marked by bold granite entrance arches.
Meyer’s Department Store
200 South Elm Street
Merchant prince William D. Meyer opened his first department store in 1905 and by 1924 he was in need of a new building. Prolific Greensboro architect Harry Barton crafted this five-story emporium of granite and pressed gray brick and terra-cotta. To lure shoppers inside he created large windows to allow sunlight to pierce the interior of his building. Meyer’s closed in the 1970s.
212 South Elm Street
Architect Edward F. Sibbert unified the S.H. Kress & Co. store street appearances across America with the Art Deco style in the 1930s. This is North Carolina’s finest surviving example of a downtown Kress store. The facade is richly decorated in terra cotta with orange, gold and green decorations. Look up to see rams’ heads with tobacco leaves flowing form their ears.
225 South Elm Street
In 1893 Simon Schiffman was making his way to Asheville to look into a jewelry business for sale. Waiting to change trains in Greensboro, he went for a walk down Elm Street, saw a jewelry business for sale and bought it on the spot. Four generations later Schiffman’s is the oldest family-run business in Greensboro. This is the third location for the store and the second store on this site. The first store, a four-story wooden building burned in 1935.
232 South Elm Street
This brick building from 1936 was once the showroom for the Montgomery Ward mail order firm but it spent many more years vacant than it did displaying merchandise. Renovations and conversion to a world class stage commenced in 2001.
301 South Elm Street
This is Charles Hartmann’s second skyscraper in Greensboro, constructed in 1927. Hartmann used a Renaissance Revival style here, wrapping the base of the brick tower in bands of terra cotta scored to look like ashlar blocks of granite. This building was the long-time home of the Greensboro Bank and Trust Company.
TURN LEFT ON EAST WASHINGTON STREET.
J. Douglas Galyon Depot
303 East Washington Street
When the Southern Railway constructed this Georgian Revival passenger depot in 1927 it was the largest, most elaborate train station ever built in North Carolina.The New York architectural firm of Fellheimer and Wagner drew up the design. In short order the station was serving 40 trains every day - the concourse had enough benches to seat 1,000 passengers. Fifty years later only one train a day, the Amtrak Crescent, was rolling into Greensboro and in 1979 the depot closed. After a restoration in 2003 the depot is again servicing the transportation industry - this time for buses.
RETRACE YOUR STEPS TO ELM STREET AND TURN LEFT.
Norfolk Southern Offices
400 South Elm Street
This red brick building was the first passenger depot the Southern Railway constructed in Greensboro, back in 1899. Passengers from that time and campaigning politicians like Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson would not recognize the platform today since the building was reconfigured into offices when the new station you just visited was built on East Washington Street in 1927.
WALK BACK A FEW STEPS TO MCGEE STREE AND TURN LEFT. WALK ONE BLOCK TO GREENE STREET.
Elm Street and McGee Street intersection
Nathanael Greene was a Quaker farmer who ran a family forge in Rhode Island. He was self-taught and the extent of his military adventures before the Revolutionary War erupted was to help organize a local militia. He was with General Washington in all the early engagements of the Continental Army and on August 9, 1776 Greene was promoted to be one of the four new major generals under Washington. Greene was given command of the War in the South in 1780 and on March 15, 1781 he engaged Lord Cornwallis at the Battle of Guilford Court House. Greene’s troops were driven from the field but inflicted such heavy losses that the British left for the coast. Greene then swept through the interior Carolinas, penning the remaining British ineffectively in Charleston as the war came to an end. Greene became one of the most honored figures in American history. North and South Carolina and Georgia voted Greene liberal grants of lands and money, towns and ships were named after him, monuments erected. This is one of the newest, unveiled as part of the Greensboro bicentennial celebration in 2008. Local sculptor Jim Branhill crafted the eleven-and-a-half foot bronze likeness of General Greene.
TURN RIGHT ON GREENE STREET.
Cone Export and Commission Building
330 South Greene Street
Moses and Ceasar Cone were emissaries of their family wholesale grocery business in Baltimore, Maryland, combing the South in the late 1800s to find new customers for their goods. Along the way the brothers began acting as sales agents for the new southern textile mills that were coming online. In 1890 they established the Cone Export and Commission Company and five years later built their own cotton mill in Greensboro. Cone Mills quickly became known for its “heavy duty - deep tone blue denim.” Corduroy and flannel soon followed from the more than 30 Cone manufacturing plants but at the time of his death at the age of 51 in 1908 Moses Cone was known simply as the “Denim King.” This Tudor Revival brick structure was constructed in 1925, executed on plans drawn by Harry Barton, to serve as a commodity exchange for the Cone mills. The Greensboro Daily Record did not temper its praise for the new structure, calling it “the most beautifully appointed office building in the country.” With its walnut walls and black and white checkerboard marble floor, it was easy to come to that conclusion. The Southern Life Insurance Company purchased the building for its headquarters in 1945 and stayed four decades, keeping up the elegant origins of the space.
The Carolina Theatre
310 South Greene Street
The Carolina Theatre opened as a grand vaudeville theater - “The Showplace of the Carolinas” - in the dying days of live vaudeville on Halloween night 1927. The owners were quick to adapt their monumental Greek temple for movies with Vitaphone speakers and the first commercial air conditioning in North Carolina. The movie palace painted in bright greens and reds and golds hosted full houses until the late 1960s. After that the historic theater dodged the wrecking ball for several years until a multi-million dollar restoration came to the rescue.
TURN LEFT ON MARKET STREET, STAY ON THE SOUTH SIDE OF THE STREET.
Guilford Court House
301 West Market Street, between Eugene and Greene streets
Few counties have worn out more courthouses than Guilford County. This is the seventh hall of justice to serve the county, and the fifth constructed in downtown Greensboro since it became the county seat in 1809. This was the first major commission in town for architect Harry Barton after he moved from his native Philadelphia to Greensboro in 1912. Barton would go on to become the city’s leading architect until his death in 1937 at the age of 61. Barton had a long resume of creating important civic buildings, having spent a decade designing Federal buildings for the United States Department of Treasury. For this courthouse, constructed between 1918 and 1920, Barton tapped the Neoclassical style, giving his symmetrical confection a projecting pediment enhanced by fluted Ionic columns and pilasters.
CONTINUE TO THE CORNER AND TURN RIGHT TO CROSS TO THE OTHER SIDE OF MARKET STREET. TURN RIGHT AND HEAD BACK TOWARDS GREENE STREET.
United States Post Office and Courthouse
324 West Market Street
This is regarded as one of North Carolina’s finest Depression-era buildings as it exemplifies the stripped-down classicism of the Art Deco style then in vogue. Indiana limestone and granite quarried in Mount Airy were used to fashion the new post office, with splashes of marble, bronze and aluminum accents. Look up to see the ornamentation of carved limestone including shields, eagle heads and floral designs. Completed in 1933, this is officially the L. Richardson Preyer, Jr. Federal Building. Preyer was a superior court judge and six-time United States Congressman; his grandfather Lunsford invented Vick’s Vapo-Rub.
WALK ONE MORE BLOCK AND TURN LEFT ON MORGAN STREET.
West Market Street United Methodist Church
302 West Market Street
This is the third church for the congregation that formed in the 1820s. When a two-story brick meetinghouse for the flock of 64 was completed on South Elm Street in 1831, it was the first church built inside town limits. For this building, in 1893, church leaders turned to the newly popular Richardsonian Romanesque style based on work by America’s leading post-Civil War architect. Architect S.W. Foulk of New Castle, Pennsylvania adapted the brawny style highlighted by multiple materials, corner tower, turrets and broad, powerful entry arches. Construction cost for the project was $52,000 with room for 2,000 worshippers at a time when the town population was roughly 3,500.The 75 stained-glass windows were donated by church members who had bought them at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.
CONTINUE WALKING TO THE CORNER OF GREENE STREET. ACROSS THE ROAD, IN FRONT OF YOU, IS...
Lincoln Financial Building
100 North Greene Street
This 20-story building, Greensboro’s tallest, came along in 1990 as an addition to the Jefferson Standard Building, mimicking its architectural style. The building switched presidents went Jefferson was swallowed by the Lincoln Financial Group.
TURN LEFT ON GREENE STREET.
300 North Greene Street
This 21-story post-modern tower was built for First Union Bank in 1989. The property has since changed hands, most recently in 2010 when it was sold for $45 million.
Central Fire Station
318 North Greene Street
This building was constructed in 1926 to house Greensboro’s first four fully-paid fire companies. Charles C. Hartmann designed the ornate station with six stone arched engine bays in the Italian Renaissance style. The Central Station sported such innovations as a Gamewell alarm and recording system that linked the city’s alarm boxes and did away with the fire bell previously employed. The station was decommissioned in 1980 and the building now rests on the National Register of Historic Places.
TURN AND WALK A FEW PACES BACK TO BELLEMEADE STREET. TURN LEFT AND WALK ONE BLOCK TO NORTH ELM STREET.
O Henry Statue
301 North Elm Street
William Sydney Porter was born on September 11, 1862, in Greensboro. As a teenager Porter worked in his uncle’s drugstore and he became a licensed pharmacist. At 19 he left for Texas hoping to tame a chronic cough. There he found work as a pharmacist, draftsman, bank teller and journalist. He was beginning to get some of his short stories published when he was convicted of embezzlement for sloppy bookkeeping. He published fourteen stories in prison under various pseudonyms but the one that stuck was “O. Henry.” After being released from prison in 1901 Henry made his way to New York City where his tales became popular with readers for their surprise twist endings. He wrote 381 short stories in the next decade before he died of liver complications. Porter is honored in his hometown with this three-piece sculpture group that includes his likeness, his dog Lovey and an open book of his short stories.
TURN RIGHT ON NORTH ELM STREET AND WALK A SHORT WAYS DOWN TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT IN CENTER CITY PARK.