This area was settled by Pennsylvania Quakers as early as 1750 but there was nothing that looked like a town here until 100 years later when the North Carolina & Midland Railroad came through. The town was located at the highest point on the line between Greensboro and Charlotte and became High Point. In 1854 a 130-mile plank road following an old Indian trail and pioneer wagon road was finished between Salem and Fayetteville and crossed here, insuring High Point would develop as a trading center.
High Point was incorporated in 1859. There was early industry in tobacco but neighboring North Carolina towns were more aggressive in its promotion and the importance of High Point’s two tobacco factories faded away. By 1889 word had spread among woodworkers of the abundant hardwoods available nearby and the town’s first furniture factories opened. High Point was on its way to becoming the “Home Furnishings Capital of the World.”
Today the region is home to more than 125 furniture manufacturers, including 15 of the nation’s largest. More than 60% of all the furniture crafted in America comes from within 200 miles of High Point. Twice a year furniture designers, buyers and sellers from more than 100 countries around the world descend on the city forthe International Home Furnishings Market, the largest event of its kind on the planet.
There won’t be many steps on our walking tour when High Point’s furniture heritage is not on display but first we will begin by the railroad where the town earned its name...
Southern Railway Depot
100 West High Avenue at Main Street
This Arts and Crafts passenger station with its distinctive red tile roof was erected in 1907 by the Southern Railway Company, created in 1894 from the bones of some 150 railroad predecessors. With the rise of automobiles the tracks were sunk into a 35-foot deep trench in the 1930s. If you look at the retaining walls in the cut you can see Art Moderne detailing in the concrete. In the 1970s the Southern Railway leased the station to a restaurant and passengers boarded trains from a small makeshift metal building. By 1990 the restaurant had shuttered and the station faced a wrecking ball. Instead a multi-million dollar renovation resulted in an award-winning restoration of the once-again active depot.
ON MAIN STREET, WITH YOUR BACK TO THE DEPOT, TURN LEFT AND CROSS THE TRACKS AND WALK A SHORT WAYS UP NORTH MAIN STREET.
North Carolina Savings Bank and Trust
134 North Main Street
The North Carolina Savings Bank and Trust Company took its first deposits on February 3, 1908 in this five-story Beaux arts-inspired building, the first office building with high-rise aspirations to be constructed in High Point. Those first depositors were paid four percent interest. By 1912 the bank was reorganized as the Bank of Commerce under president Oscar E. Kearns. With his brother Gurney, Kearns had established the Kearns Furniture Company in 1900.
TURN AND WALK BACK ACROSS THE RAILROAD TRACKS AND BEGIN EXPLORING SOUTH MAIN STREET.
High Point Veterans Memorial
East High Avenue and Main Street
Although scarcely a town at the time, the area played a role in the War Between the States. Across the railroad tracks from this spot was the gun factory of L.M. Gillam and James Miller who manufactured rifles and gun stocks for the Confederate government. Less than a mile away was Camp Fisher where North Carolina troops trained in the early years of the war. The High Point Veterans Memorial honors men and women who served in America’s wars since 1900.
First Factors Building
101 South Main Street
In 1902 banker J. Elwood Cox built one of North Carolina’s fanciest hotels hard by the railroad tracks. The rambling Beaux Arts-inspired stone hotel featured rooms furnished with handsome brass and iron beds and imported rugs. Some even boasted their own private bathrooms, an amenity travelers typically enjoyed only in the big city. In 1966 the aging guest house was acquired and demolished for redevelopment. The nine-story white modernist building that stands here now was developed by First Factors Bank in 1972 and has done recent duty as a furniture showroom.
152 South Main Street
This movie palace from the Golden Age of Hollywood got its name because the Wilby-Kincey theater chain located it at “a point which represents almost the center of High Point.” Of course that coveted spot was already occupied in 1939 so architect Erie Stillwell of Hendersonville incorporated his 1,300-seat theater into an existing five-story commercial building that contained storefronts and the diminutive Orpheum Theater. Stillwell infused the new movie house with Art Moderne themes including aluminum handrails, curved walls, an Art Deco terrazzo box office floor and the distinctive script on the TURN AND WALK BACK ACROSS outside facade. The eagerly awaited Center Theater opened on January 1, 1939 and the mid-winter opening did not allow patrons to enjoy High Point’s first air-conditioned theater. Its days as a movie palace are over; the space is today another furniture building.
164 South Main Street
Classically trained architect Charles Conrad Hartmann moved from New York to Greensboro in 1921 to build the landmark Jefferson Standard Building, the tallest building in the South at the time. While in North Carolina he picked up other major commissions and built an important practice in the state. Many of his buildings were the first skyscrapers to appear in their communities and such was the case for this nine-story Renaissance Revival tower that was completed for the Commercial National Bank in 1924. Bank President J. Elwood Cox gushed at the ceremonial opening that his new bank building was “the finest in North Carolina” as he distributed souvenir letter openers for men and notebooks to the women in the crowd of more than 2,000 people. In 1935 radio station WMFR moved into the top floor and began broadcasting via its transmission tower anchored on the roof. The last bank moved out in 1992 but the station remains here still and lends the building its name.
National Furniture Mart
200 South Main Street
With nine floors and 259,000 square feet of permanent showroom space, the National Furniture Mart has anchored High Point Market Square since 1964.
American Furniture Walk of Fame
The American Furniture Hall of Fame Foundation was founded to research, collect and preserve the history of the industry and honor those individuals whose outstanding achievements have contributed to the continued growth and development of the United States furniture industry. Established in 2001, the Walk of Fame salutes each new member with a bronze plaque.
Guilford County Courthouse
258 South Main Street
Louis Francis Voorhees was settling into a career as a design professor at the University of Virginia when he met his future wife, a High Point native. The couple moved to High Point in 1924 and Voorhees launched one of the town’s busiest architecture practices. In the 1930s he embraced the popular stripped down classicism of the Art Deco style which was used for this county courthouse in 1938. The facade, highlighted by the stylized metal entranceway, three figures on the frieze, each portraying one of three major industries of the city: furniture, textiles, and agriculture. It was a measure of High Point’s importance that the courthouse was built here to complement the facility in Greensboro and it was the first courthouse in North Carolina in which sessions of the Superior Court were held outside a county seat. The building has since been converted to private use.
High Point Convention & Visitors Bureau
300 South Main Street
This corner of this Art Deco-dominated intersection features the Professional Building with its richly decorated stone entrances. among its current tenants are the High Point Convention and Visitor Bureau and the Doll & Miniature Museum, home to more than 2,500 dolls.
United States Post Office
100 East Green Street at Main Street
This building was one of the thousands of Depression-era projects funded by the Federal government. Louis Voorhees provided the Art Deco design and ground was broken in 1932. Dedication took place on Independence Day, 1933. The building is sheathed in high-quality Indiana limestone, decorated with classical carvings. The government has since moved on from this stylish building.
TURN AND WALK ONE BLOCK BACK TO COMMERCE STREET AND TURN RIGHT.
International Home Furnishings Center
210 East Commerce Street
The first official Southern Furniture Market was held in High Point in March, 1909. Attendance was sparse, and manufacturers doubted they could ever compete with similar exhibitions in New York, Chicago and Grand Rapids, Michigan. Twelve years later, after 19 months of construction, the town’s first permanent Southern Furniture Exposition Building opened for its first show with 249,000 square feet of exhibition space. The High Point Market has been held regularly ever since and today is the largest home furnishings industry trade show in the world. The Exposition Building received its first expansion in 1950 with the construction of the Wrenn Wing. Glass walkways were constructed over Wrenn Street to link the exhibition spaces. The Southern Furniture Market was renamed the International Home Furnishings Market in 1989. In 2001 a 12th floor opened, giving the world’s pre-eminent furniture showroom building 3,500,000 square feet of display space.
High Point Theatre
220 East Commerce Avenue
Owned and operated by the City, this entertainment complex was constructed in 1975. The 965-theater can accommodate all types of the performing arts and the facility also includes three large exhibition galleries.
John Coltrane Statue
East Commerce Avenue at South Hamilton Street
John Coltrane was born in Hamlet, North Carolina, on September 23, 1926 and his family moved to his grandparents’ house in High Point when he was only 3 months old. Coltrane spent the first 17 years of his life in High Point at 118 Underhill Street. Coltrane played the clarinet and the alto horn in a community band before taking up the alto saxophone during high school. In 1947, after departing for Philadelphia, Coltrane switched to tenor saxophone, the instrument with which he became a legend playing in the upper register. Coltrane was just reaching the heights of his artistic powers when he died of liver cancer at the age of 40 in 1967. Thomas Jay Warren of Oregon sculpted this eight foot bronze likeness of John Coltrane for his home town.
TURN LEFT ON HAMILTON STREET AND WALK UP TO...
211 East Commerce Avenue
The architectural firm of Hyndman & Hyndman of San Diego put this 450,000 feet of convention space under a dynamic curved roof. Buyers enter through a massive portico into a Cathedral-like 108-foot atrium and can relax on balconies on the third, fourth and fifth floors. The building opened in 2000.
WALK OVER TO WRENN STREET AND TURN RIGHT. TURN LEFT ON HIGH AVENUE AND WALK ONE BLOCK BACK TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT AT HIGH POINT STATION.