Fisher Park Historic District
The Fisher Park Historic District [†, ‡] was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1992. A Fisher Park Historic District Boundary Expansion was listed in 1996.
Extending two to three blocks beyond the park that gives it its name, the half-mile-square Fisher Park Historic District lies just north of the commercial edge of downtown Greensboro. Its 670 resources are almost exclusively residential or residential-related; only five of its contributing primary resources were not built as houses or apartment buildings. Its domestic character is bolstered by about 220 garages, retaining walls, and other outbuildings subsidiary to residential properties. Although many of its former dwellings on North Elm Street, and to a lesser extent on Fisher and Bessemer avenues, have been converted into offices, they retain their integrity and contribute to the district. There are few non-contributing resources in the Fisher Park Historic District and they largely consist of modern garages, small professional offices on North Elm Street, and brick Colonial Revival townhouses and stuccoed Prairie style condominiums on Fisher Park Circle.
Rolling diagonally through the Fisher Park Historic District's center is Fisher Park itself, a shaded, grassy, curving declivity bisected by fingers of a narrow watercourse one can step over or cross by way of seven stone-arch bridges. Lined in places with cobblestones or flanked by stone walls, the watercourses were cut through the park to drain it. The stone bridges were built during the Depression, replacing Adirondack style bridges of branches and sticks. A variety of types of ornamental and shade trees; flowers, ground cover, and other decorative plantings are found throughout the park, as are paths, benches, and picnic tables. It is not heavily wooded anywhere, though, and has an open air to it, providing views of the fine buildings that ring it.
Granite blocks curb the Fisher Park Historic District's streets. Shade trees, many mature, dot almost all of the front lawns and rear yards. The front yards of about forty houses are confined by retaining walls, most of which are constructed of the same randomly coursed gray granite as the district's few stone houses.
On spacious elevated lots overlooking the park are Fisher Park Historic District's largest and finest dwellings, some of the most architecturally significant in the city. Built in a variety of early twentieth-century styles, they include two sprawling mansions individually listed on the National Register — the Latham-Baker House (412 Fisher Park Circle) and the Julian Price House (301 Fisher Park Circle — as well as Greensboro's largest and most imposing church, the First Presbyterian Church (708 North Green Street), which surveys the park from the south. Many of the dwellings along the park have contemporary outbuildings to the rear, and stone or brick retaining walls to their fore, as do many other houses throughout the district.
The land levels off behind the buildings on the park. Closely set single-family residences on modestly-sized city lots, separated from the street by small front lawns, line the grid of streets that extend north, south, and east of these buildings to the district's borders, The houses are virtually all bungalows, foursquares, or gable- or gambrel-roofed Colonial Revival style dwellings. The primary exceptions are the eclectic residences and former residences on North Elm Street, which are equal in variety and architectural character to the homes along the park. They include the National Register-listed John Marion Galloway House (1007 North Elm Street). Interspersed among the single-family residences along the district's three major thoroughfares — Bessemer and Fisher avenues at its north and south, and North Elm Street at its center — are nine primarily Colonial Revival style contributing apartment buildings and a few other non-residential buildings.
The Fisher Park Historic District's boundaries are relatively clearly defined, especially to the west, where Green Hill Cemetery parallels the district's border, and the east, where the district terminates at Church Street and the railroad tracks just beyond. Along southern Church Street are a few large dwellings set on spacious lots well back from the street and the trains, including the Dixon-Leftwich-Murphy House, the fourth district building individually listed in the National Register. To the south, busy Fisher Avenue essentially bounds the district; beyond Fisher Avenue one quickly enters commercial terrain and downtown. Similarly, to the north of Bessemer Avenue commercial buildings, non-contributing residences, and modern doctors' offices abound.
About a dozen traditionally formed dwellings survive in the Fisher Park Historic District. I-houses and L-plan houses, they are predominantly found along lower Wharton Street and near Bessemer Avenue. Five similarly finished L-plan houses, built between 1915 and 1920, line the 800 block of Wharton Street. Plain cornerboards, friezeboards, and cornice returns mark the one-story house at 810 Wharton Street of J.A. Pendergrass, a driver for Dick's laundry, and the two-story house of G.C. Ozment, an operator with the North Carolina Public Service Company, at 820 Wharton Street. The Cummings House, a three-bay, center-hall plan I-house at 908 Cherry Street, is Fisher Park's oldest structure. Its form, surviving rear moldings, and wide plain cornerboards, baseboards, and friezeboards were influenced by the Greek Revival style, suggesting an 1850s construction date. It was moved to its present site, probably from Church Street, prior to 1919.
There are few buildings in the Fisher Park Historic District other than the Cummings House which predate 1900. Among them is the Dixon-Leftwich-Murphy House (National Register), which was built for merchant Martin C. Dixon in the 1870s at 507 Church Street. A large brick structure with steeply pitched gables, it is one of the few Gothic Revival style residences in the city. The house of dry goods merchant J.M. Hendrix at 723 Church Street is also early, dating from between 1885 and 1890. Its Queen Anne style hipped and gabled roof, stepped-back facade, and cutaway bays are joined by Colonial Revival style elements, including a wraparound porch supported by round columns on square paneled posts. The Queen Anne style, almost always in association with the Colonial Revival as at Hendrix's house, is represented at about sixteen other Fisher Park residences, almost all of which are later structures dating from the early twentieth century.
Two of the early twentieth century's most popular American house forms — the Bungalow and the Foursquare — were also the most popular in Fisher Park. The Fisher Park Historic District's approximately 145 bungalows are primarily weatherboarded and/or shingled structures adorned with wide eaves and dormers, decorative exposed rafter ends and triangular knee braces, and battered porch posts raised on piers. Generally moderately-sized and one-and-a-half stories tall, they are found in large numbers on every street except Elm Street and those around the park, which are dominated by larger Period Revival style structures. East Hendrix Street is lined with typical bungalows, including the ca.1916 houses of E.N. Snow, agency director of the Southern Life and Trust Company, at 301 East Hendrix Street, and C.F. Smith, a train dispatcher with the Southern Railroad, at 309 East Hendrix Street. Snow's one-and-a-half-story bungalow is weatherboarded at its first story and shingled above. It has exposed rafter ends and an Oriental flare at its end gables, dormers, side bays, and front porch roof. Smith's bungalow features an engaged front porch under a sweeping, flared, gable-end roof, a front gabled dormer, and triangular knee-braces. Like Snow's bungalow, its porch has battered posts on brick piers and it is weatherboarded and shingled.
All of the bungalows owe a debt to the Craftsman style. Some, such as the house of traveling salesman J.E. Keith at 404 West Bessemer Avenue (1920-25), were clearly influenced by the Craftsman style houses of the Greene brothers of Pasadena. A two-story, weatherboarded and shingled structure, Keith's house has a gable-front roof with extremely deep overhangs underpinned by exposed rafter ends and large triangular knee-braces. Square paneled posts on stone piers support its porch and porte cochere.
The Fisher Park Historic District's approximately sixty foursquares, divided among all of its streets, are eclectically finished. Many, like the bungalows, display Craftsman features such as exposed rafter ends and battered-post porches. Classical Colonial Revival style porches or the tiled roofs, rounded arches, and brick or stuccoed walls of the Mediterranean Revival style mark others. The Craftsman Foursquare at 919 Eugene Street (1920-25) of Harry Donnel, owner of a men's clothing store, is a weatherboarded and shingled, two-story cube topped by an overhanging hipped roof punctuated by shaped, exposed rafter ends. The same roof treatment marks its front dormer and porch, which is supported by battered columns on stone piers. Colonial Revival style elements at the ca.1914 hipped-roof Foursquare of electrical contractor J.L. Griffin, at 204 Isabel Street, include a columned porch and plain cornerboards, friezeboards, and surrounds. Through brick veneer, round-arched recesses, and a red tile roof, the Mediterranean Revival infuses the Foursquare of butcher E.W. Schlosser at 900 Eugene Street (1920-25).
Fisher Park's most popular style was the Colonial Revival, which informs more than 130 of its residences. Used as a decorative element at many foursquares and even some bungalows, it is also the dominant formal element of many houses, its influence apparent in symmetrical facades, gable- or gambrel-end roofs, and rectangular, usually two-story, forms. Many of these houses are brick-veneered and many are sufficiently academic in organization and detail to denote them as Georgian Revival. A typical Colonial Revival style Fisher Park Historic District house is that of C.E. Hudson of the Carolina Mortgage and Indemnity Company at 227 North Park Drive. A two-story frame dwelling built between 1920 and 1925, it has a gambrel-end roof pierced by a long front shed dormer, and columns at its one-bay front portico, side porch, and porte cochere. The Georgian Revival is well-represented by the house (1915-20) of W.D. Meyer, president of Meyers Department Store, at 200 Fisher Park Circle. A large, brick-veneered structure prominently situated overlooking Fisher Park, its Georgian features include a symmetrical organization, brick pilasters, pedimented dormers, and a Doric front portico and side porches.
Three Fisher Park Historic District dwellings display the two-story columns and porticos synonymous with the Neoclassical Revival and a few others display such ornate classical elements as Adamesque swags, which also place them within the orbit of the style. Bank president W.A. Hewitt's house, built between 1920 and 1925 at 100 Fisher Park Circle, at the edge of the park and North Elm Street, is a large, two-and-a-half-story frame structure with a swan's neck entry surmounted by a Palladian window, side wings with columned sun porches, and a two-story pedimented portico of attenuated columns.
A small number of the Fisher Park's dwellings utilize the Tudor Revival and Mediterranean Revival styles, about fifteen of the former and eight of the latter. These styles are more prominent than their numbers might indicate, for they appear in some of the district's largest and most striking dwellings. Two of the Fisher Park Historic District's four National Register-listed properties are Tudor Revival in style. Greensboro architect Harry Barton designed the residence of tobacco broker John Marion Galloway (National Register), which was built at 1007 North Elm Street in 1919. A large, random-coursed, stone structure with chocolate-brown mortar, it features stuccoed and half-timbered gables, battered stone piers, red tile roofs, and a matching servants' quarters and retaining wall. Its fine stone work was fashioned by Andrew Leopold Schlosser, who was also the stonemason of the Latham-Baker House, discussed below, and presumably a number of other stone buildings and walls in the district. Jefferson Standard Company president Julian Price hired Charles C. Hartmann to design his home (National Register), which was built on a large lot at 301 Fisher Park Circle in 1929. A rambling Tudor Revival mansion, its rustic picturesque appearance is created through rough brickwork, a front tower and massive chimneys, and multiple gables adorned with half-timbering, stucco, and brick laid in herringbone and other patterns.
The Mediterranean Revival style is best represented in the Fisher Park Historic District by the ca.1922 home of A.J. Schlosser, an owner of Schlosser Brothers Meat Market, at 200 East Bessemer Avenue. The boxy hip-roofed structure has round-headed openings at its first-story windows; green tiles at its roof and dormer; a porte cochere and side wing; and a contemporary garage and retaining wall. Its intricately laid stone walls must have been the work of relative Andrew Leopold Schlosser. A final style which influenced only a few of the district's houses, but some of its finest, was the Prairie style. It is particularly evident at the houses of W.L. Carter, the secretary/treasurer of Gate City Life Insurance Company, at 811 North Elm Street, and cotton broker, businessman, and real estate developer James Edwin Latham at 412 Fisher Park Circle. The horizontality of the style is emphasized at Carter's ca.1917 residence through the use of recessed horizontal brick mortar joints at both the brick-veneered front facade and the front retaining wall, wide overhanging eaves, and a narrow raised molding that rings the second story. The ca.1913 Latham-Baker House (National Register) was designed by Greensboro architect Wells L. Brewer and built on a rise above the park. An immense dwelling with a random-coursed, rockfaced granite exterior, it has a low-to-the-ground appearance abetted by its wide overhanging eaves, long profile, and second-story belt course.
Less than twenty duplexes and apartment buildings, primarily built in the 1920s, add to the overwhelmingly residential character of Fisher Park. The most striking of the duplexes are the five surviving units of Bessemer Court, which were built about 1928. Parapet front, one-story, stuccoed structures, they are the Fisher Park Historic District's only representatives of the Spanish Colonial Revival style.
Two- to four-story brick blocks, the apartment buildings are concentrated near North Elm Street, Bessemer Avenue, and Fisher Avenue, the district's busiest streets. Their restrained finishes are primarily Colonial Revival in style, with an occasional hint of the Mediterranean. The Vance, Shirley, and Fairfax apartments, raised as a group about 1926 at the northeast corner of East Bessemer Avenue and Magnolia Street, make use of a variety of classical motifs, including brick quoins, cornices with modillion blocks and dentils, and pedimented and pilastered entries. The Dolly Madison Apartments, built at 1013 North Elm Street in the late 1930s, is a large, stripped-down, gray-brick building with flat wall surfaces, recessed paired windows, plain iron balconies, and a fringe of green tiles canted down from a flat roof.
The most numerous of Fisher Park's non-residential resources are its dozens of outbuildings — mainly garages — and retaining walls. The most architecturally significant are its two churches and synagogue, and the most visible and largest is the park itself. There are more than 220 garages, sheds, retaining walls, entry steps through front yards, and other subsidiary domestic resources in the district. About 180 of these are garages (and a few sheds), which are generally small, one-story, gabled or hipped roof, frame structures capable of holding a single car, with perhaps space for storage or, occasionally, a room above. A few are more substantial and stylish structures, built in the same style or with the same form and materials as the houses they serve. These include the stuccoed garage with a balcony and clipped gable roof behind the Mediterranean foursquare of E.W. Schlosser at 900 Eugene Street, and the stone garage and servants' quarters behind the John Marion Galloway House at 1007 North Elm Street. Almost all of the retaining walls are of the same gray granite, randomly coursed, of which the district's stone houses are built. The stone walls in front of the Galloway House and the ca.1922, stone A.J. Schlosser House at 200 East Bessemer Street are typical.
Fisher Park's three religious structures stand within a block of each other on North Greene Street. All were built in the 1920s after designs by Hobart Upjohn. The first was the central block of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, constructed in 1922 at 603 North Greene Street. A Gothic Revival style structure, it is sheathed in rough random ashlar stone accented by limestone detailing, leaded glass windows, and a slate roof. The Neoclassical Revival style was selected for Temple Emanuel, erected in 1923 a block north at 713 North Greene Street. A brick structure, its front facade is dominated by a full-height Corinthian portico. At 607 North Greene Street, across the street from the temple, overlooking the park, the city's largest and most imposing religious structure, First Presbyterian Church, was built in 1928. A monumental, Norman Revival style, brick building, it is raised high on a massive rounded foundation, its front facade flanked by two austere corner towers and pierced by an immense rose window. The roof of its soaring sanctuary is supported by carved, painted, wooden trusses.
There are only a few other buildings in the Fisher Park Historic District that were built for non-residential purposes. These include the brick-veneered commercial building at 608-610 North Elm Street, built in the late 1920s as a retail store and grocery store, and its neighbor at 600 North Elm Street, a Moderne structure built in 1929 of concrete blocks faced with aluminum panels. Now a pharmacy, it was originally the North Elm Service Station.
Fisher Park was the first Greensboro suburb planned and developed around a park and one of the earliest park suburbs in North Carolina. Its development — spurred by the railroad and trolley, industrial enterprise, and real estate speculation — charts the hopes of the expanding city in the 1890s and the attainment of those hopes in the teens and twenties. The suburb also established patterns of community planning that were to be followed elsewhere in Greensboro throughout the twentieth century. Home to some of the city's most successful businessmen in the early twentieth century, the Fisher Park Historic District features many of Greensboro's finest Period Revival, Prairie, and Craftsman style residences; four of its dwellings are individually listed in the National Register for their architectural significance. Its many bungalows, some large, some modest in size, are among the best examples of the style in the city. Three striking religious structures and a number of its dwellings were designed by the most prominent architects working in Greensboro in the first four decades of the century, including Hobart Upjohn, Charles C. Hartmann, and Harry Barton. (Dominant resources in the Fisher Park Historic District deriving their significance from their design, the religious buildings have been included.) Little altered over the past fifty years, although now near the city's center rather than at its edge, Fisher Park continues as the best representative of an early middle- and upper-income suburb in Greensboro.
Fisher Park's growth began with the development plans of Capt. Basil J. Fisher around 1889 and continued until 1941.
Water and marshy ground prevented the erection of the Guilford County Courthouse in 1808 within the area that eventually became the Fisher Park neighborhood. When surveyors located the geographical center of the county, which was to be the site of the town of Greensborough and the courthouse, they reportedly found ducks swimming over it. A higher, drier site less than a mile to the south was selected for the new county seat (Fripp 1985:19-20).
Fisher Park was to remain a quiet rural area north of Greensboro until the activities of industrialists and developers in the late 1880s and early 1890s brought it back to center stage. About 1890 the North Carolina Steel and Iron Company purchased approximately 2,000 acres of land north and east of the district's Bessemer Avenue and Church Street borders, and probably partially within the district's northern edge (Guilford County Plat Book 2, Pages 1, 2, 3, and 4; Baylin 1968:48). According to local historian Ethel Stephens Arnett, the company planned to turn Greensboro into "the little Pittsburgh of the South" (Arnett 1955:170). It built its furnaces in present day Latham Park, north of West Wendover Avenue and west of Cridland Road, just northwest of the district boundaries (Brewer map 1913). The furnaces were connected by a spur line to the Cape Fear and Yadkin Valley (CF&YV) Railroad, to the west of the district, which had been built only a few years earlier, in 1888 (Arnett 1955:149). The company also laid out numerous streets on its 2,000 acres, reflecting its dual role as manufacturer and real estate developer (Guilford County Plat Book 2, Pages 1, 2, 3, and 4).
Textile magnates Moses and Ceasar Cone, the city's most important early industrialists, were to have an impact on the district as well. Employed as southern representatives of their father's wholesale grocery firm, the Cone brothers had entered the textile business in Asheville in 1887. In 1892 they came to Greensboro and established the Southern Finishing and Warehouse Company adjacent to the steel enterprise, southwest of the junction of Second Street (now West Wendover Avenue) and Pennsylvania Avenue (now Virginia Street), partially within the district boundaries. This facility is said to have been the first plant for finishing cloth in the South (Arnett 1955:170-171). As was the steel enterprise, the textile facility was connected to the CF&YV Railroad by a spur line, called the Furnace Branch; without access to the railroad, it could not have been built. The area around West Bessemer and West Wendover avenues soon became known as "Coneville." Rows of single-pile, one- or two-story, frame houses were erected there to shelter the employees of Southern Finishing and perhaps those of North Carolina Steel and Iron as well. Also built were a Sunday school building, grocery store, small frame hotel, and Presbyterian Church (Sanborn Map and Publishing Co. maps 1896; Sanborn Map Company maps 1902 and 1913).
In concert with the ambitious plans of the steel and iron enterprise and the success of the Cones' finishing mill, other real estate developers cast their eyes on the present site of the Fisher Park Historic District. In 1890 the Worth-Wharton Real Estate and Investment Company filed a plat map picturing 107 lots, approximately 75 by 150 feet each, at the western edge of the district, between Worth Street (now Eugene Street) and Green Hill Cemetery, and West Fisher and West Bessemer avenues (Guilford County Plat Book 53, Page 570). Edward P. Wharton owned a real estate company in the late 1880s and in the following decades held a number of powerful corporate positions in Greensboro, including the presidency of the Southern Loan and Trust Company and vice presidency of the Southern Stock Mutual Insurance Company. He was also secretary/treasurer of the Greensboro Furnace Company, the successor to North Carolina Steel and Iron. His relationship with E.M. Worth came about through Southern Stock and Greensboro Furnace. Although Worth did not live in Greensboro, he was president of both of these concerns (Greensboro City Directories 1887, 1890-91, 1896-97, 1899 through 1904).
The speculator whose vision ultimately led to the development of the Fisher Park Historic District as it appears today — a neighborhood centered around a naturalistic park — was Captain Basil J. Fisher, for whom the park and neighborhood are named. Fisher was a Scotsman who had come in 1887 from New York to Asheboro, thirty miles to the south, to develop a gold mine. He had little luck with mining, but his other business enterprises were successful and he had large holdings in west Asheboro prior to his removal to Greensboro in 1895 (Randolph County Historical Society 1980:107). His initial plans in the neighborhood were relatively modest. In an 1889 newspaper advertisement he included a plat map showing thirty-two lots on three square blocks, south of Fisher Avenue between Simpson and North Elm streets. The text of the advertisement stated in part:
"The Residential Property, on the Map below, is the most desirable in the whole City of Greensboro. It possesses the most advantageous possibilities for investment of any locality in the corporation. It is near the Court House and busiest part of this flourishing City. It will be in direct contact with the prospective Tram Car system running through the principal thoroughfares and straight to the depot. The position is most salubrious, being high and with a natural drainage, and of a light sandy soil (The State, May 2, 1899)."
Edward P. Wharton had a hand in Fisher's early development plans; the advertisement lists him as Fisher's real estate agent. By the first few years of the twentieth century, Fisher had purchased virtually all of the land within the district, with the exception of the Worth-Wharton tract, the industrial property, and a few short blocks at East Fisher, Magnolia, and Leftwich streets, which had been divided into lots by R.C. Wood by 1913 (Guilford County Plat Book 2, Pages 60-61; Brewer map 1913).
The local press took note of Fisher's plans and those of other developers in the area. The New North State, in July, 1890, proclaimed "Capt. B.J. Fisher is a firm believer in our city's future prosperity, and he is not backward in risking his money on his opinion and Greensboro real estate" (Baylin 1968:51). Four months earlier they had stated that the "trend of the high prices for land is on the north side of Greensboro. For years the town has been going south, but it seems now that the great improvements are to be made (to the north)" (Baylin 1968:50).
Amidst all this activity, reflecting the growth mentality of the time, city limits were expanded in 1891 from one to four square miles with the courthouse at the center. This brought almost all of the historic district within the corporate city; the city's new northern boundary ran between Wendover and Bessemer avenues (Fripp 1982:55; Brewer map 1913).
In spite of the efforts of North Carolina Steel and Iron, the Cone brothers, the Worth-Wharton Company, and Fisher, the boosterism of the local press, and incorporation into the city, major development plans in Fisher Park in the 1890s were for naught. The fires of the furnaces were slaked, victims of the poor quality of the local ore and perhaps the difficult economic times of the early 1890s, and no new Pittsburgh rose from the ashes (Kipp 1974:197). Judging by its few extant pre-1905 dwellings, Fisher Park — with one exception — probably looked much the same at the beginning of the twentieth century as it had in 1891 and earlier. An 1891 bird's eye view of the city shows a neighborhood with presumably paper streets, albeit in the same locations and with most of the same names as the present streets, wooded and unpopulated but for a few houses near West Fisher Avenue and at the southern end of Church Street (Burleigh Lithographing Establishment map 1891). The exception was Coneville in its northwest corner, home to a successful textile enterprise and a mill village.
Only three dwellings in the Fisher Park Historic District date from before 1900, two on Church Street, the old main route north out of town to Danville, Virginia, and one thought to have originally stood on Church Street. About six more date from the first five years of the century. A one-story, one-room deep, frame house at 303 East Bessemer Avenue may be the last remnant in the district of the textile mill housing. Even less remains of North Carolina Steel and Iron, which in 1895 sold much of its 2,000 acres to the Cones, leaving behind little trace of its presence other than the name Bessemer Avenue (Guilford County Deed Book 99, Pages 544 and 569).
The development of Fisher Park itself and a road around it, the sale of Capt. Fisher's holdings, and the advent of trolley service dramatically changed the fortunes of the suburb in the first decade of the twentieth century. Capt. Fisher deeded the park to the city in 1902, by which time he had removed north to New York City. In return for the property, the city had built a "driveway" around the park (Guilford County Deed Book 154, Page 552). The transaction was one of Fisher's last in Greensboro; he was to die a year or two later (Guilford County Deed Book 150, Page 457, and Book 174, Page 291). Fisher may have made an agreement well before 1902 to donate the park to the city, in exchange for roads that took years to build. A 1904 account of Greensboro states that "Fisher Park embraces nineteen acres of well-wooded land on the northern suburbs of the city. It was a gift to the city by B.J. Fisher in 1891, and when improved will be a beautiful resort" (Albright 1904:105). The date 1891 suggests that the park may have been planned early on; the use of the future tense, however, indicates that even in 1904 it was largely unimproved.
In 1905 Sheriff James F. Jordan filed a plat map of the holdings of Fisher's estate in the neighborhood, which encompassed almost all of the property in the district (Guilford County Plat Book 2, Pages 60-61; Kipp 1974:366). It pictured 232 lots, most of them 60 to 75 feet wide and 150 to 185 feet deep. In numerous transactions between 1904 and 1920, especially from 1906 through 1908, Fisher's holdings in the neighborhood were sold. Whether the lots had been drawn by Fisher, or created by the executors of his estate, who were involved in a legal battle for its control, is not known. It was certainly Fisher's inspiration to create the park and a neighborhood around it. The plat map pictures, for the first time, Fisher Park itself; the paper streets on the 1891 bird's eye view had blithely crossed its marshy terrain. A few narrow watercourses are pictured cutting through the park and roads wrap around it.
The trolley spurred development of the new suburb as well. Fisher's claims in his 1889 advertisement that the neighborhood was to be connected to the city by a tram line proved not to be true, although perhaps he had hopes that the horse-drawn streetcar built on lower Elm Street in 1891 would come farther north than it did (Manieri 1982:44-4 6). His hopes were probably well founded, for the members of the street railway company included Edward P. Wharton, president of North Carolina Steel and Iron, J.A. Odell, an officer of the steel company and the CF&YV Railroad, and Julius A. Gray, president of the railroad, which owned an interest in the steel enterprise (Kipp 1974:384). The interconnection of the development interests in the area ran deep. The early street railway line was never completed and Greensboro's first electric trolleys, which began to run in 1902, did not initially reach Fisher Park either. By 1909, however, twenty streetcars were running along fifteen miles of track in the city and its suburbs, including a line up North Elm Street through the center of the district (Albright 1904:100; Pease Engineering Co. map 1927; Manieri 1982:76). This could only have made the new suburb more desirable. [see: Streetcar Suburbs, 1888 to 1928]
By 1908 the park's eastern half, between North Elm and Church streets, must have been improved. In that year three houses were built on present North Park and South Park drives overlooking it, two to the south (216 South Park Drive and the neighboring house at 218-220 South Park) and one to the north (201 North Park Drive). Two years later a fourth extant house went up at 222 South Park Drive. Of the eleven extant houses erected in the Fisher Park Historic District between 1905 and 1910, five were built on the park; four overlooked its eastern half and the fifth, the George A. Grimsley House at 408 Fisher Park Circle, indicates that progress had been made on improving the western part of the park as well.
Growth was steady between 1910 and 1920. It was during these years that a coherent suburb, at the edge of the city but with the amenities of a park at its center, came into being. The many individuals who had bought lots from Fisher's estate between 1904 and 1910 had not built immediately, perhaps awaiting the arrival of the trolley. Between 1910 and 1915, however, more than forty houses that stand in the district were erected; seventy-five more extant dwellings were built in the next five years. Many large residences were constructed on North and South Park drives at the eastern half of the park between 1910 and 1915. In 1913, at 418 Fisher Park Circle above the park's western half, the National Register-listed Latham-Baker House was built. An immense, stone, Prairie style mansion, it was designed by local architect Wells L. Brewer for cotton broker, businessman, and real estate magnate James Edwin Latham. Six of Fisher Park Circle's other extant houses, all large structures built for prominent businessmen, were raised between 1915 and 1920.
Development in the teens was not only limited to the streets ringing the park. During that decade houses were built throughout the district. The vast majority of them were bungalows, foursquares, and gable- or gambrel-roofed Colonial Revival style dwellings. They were not built for the bankers, industrialists, and insurance company executives who lived around the park and on North Elm Street. Rather, they were built for middle-class individuals — store owners and traveling salesmen, professionals and office workers and the like.
The large number of houses built between 1910 and 1915 makes one wonder at the words of realtor A.K. Moore who complained in 1915, after his firm had finished building fifteen Fisher Park houses, that the suburb was "too far out" for buyers. As local historian Gayle Hicks Fripp succinctly notes, "Many who desired to escape downtown with its tobacco plants and railroad congestion disagreed" (Fripp 1985:52).
Not only was the property owned by Fisher built upon in the teens. In that decade James Edwin Latham and the J.E. Latham Company acquired the old Southern Finishing mill and warehouses, much of the Worth-Wharton tract on Wharton and Eugene streets, and other properties throughout the neighborhood (Sanborn Map Company maps 1913 and 1919; see also for example Guilford County Deed Book 291, Page 286). Latham had personally committed himself to the suburb in 1913 when he built his mansion on the park. By 1917 the J.E. Latham Company was rapidly selling lots in the neighborhood, most of which were located within the former Worth-Wharton tract.
Development continued apace in the 1920s. More than 250 buildings, almost all of them residences, not to mention numerous garages, retaining walls, and other features, were built within the district during that decade. Foursquares and the Colonial Revival style remained popular, as did the ubiquitous bungalow. The long narrow lots along Wharton Street and West Bessemer Avenue north of Cleveland Street filled with bungalows during the first half of this decade. By the early 1920s the mill houses and other buildings near West Bessemer had been removed and partially replaced by middle-class dwellings. In the late 1920s the stuccoed duplexes of Bessemer Court were constructed on the remaining vacant lots (Sanborn Map Company maps 1913, 1919, 1925). The finishing plant and warehouses north of Bessemer Court, last home to a Vick Chemical Company plant, were destroyed in the 1970s.
The wealthy, as well as the middle-class, continued to build in the neighborhood in the 1920s, particularly on the few remaining lots around the park and on North Elm Street. Perhaps the neighborhood's, and the city's, finest residence was built near the close of the decade, in 1929, at 301 Fisher Park Circle. A sprawling, brick and half-timbered, Tudor Revival style mansion, it was designed by Charles C. Hartmann for Jefferson Standard Company president Julian Price. It is individually listed in the National Register.
A measure of the success of the suburb is provided by a 1924 picture book of the most prominent houses (or the houses of the most prominent) of Charlotte, Winston-Salem, High Point, and Greensboro (Art Work of Piedmont 1924). Of the forty-eight Greensboro residences it pictures, eleven were in or at the edge of the historic district. Only Irving Park, a more exclusively upper-class suburb developed in the teens north of Fisher Park, had more residences pictured, with thirteen. The Fisher Park houses were located on Fisher Park Circle, North Elm Street, South Park Drive, and West Fisher Avenue. Unlike Irving Park, however, and in spite of its large pictured dwellings, Fisher Park was also the site of much solidly middle-class housing.
The 1920s saw the introduction to the district of significant buildings other than houses, most notably apartment buildings, two churches, and a synagogue. Reflecting the rapid growth of the city during the decade, the middle-class nature of much of the neighborhood, and the suburb's location near downtown and many white collar jobs, more apartment buildings were built in Fisher Park than in any other neighborhood in the city. Generally three-story, brick, Colonial Revival style buildings, they were raised on or near North Elm Street and Bessemer and Fisher avenues, the Fisher Park Historic District's three major thoroughfares. They include the Cannon Court Apartments at 828 North Elm Street and the Vance, Shirley, and Fairfax Apartments at the northeast corner of Magnolia Street.
In 1922 the first of the district's three extant religious properties, the Gothic Revival style Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, was constructed at 607 North Greene Street. (Three other churches — the Bessemer Avenue Presbyterian Church at 115 West Bessemer Avenue, the Park Place Methodist Episcopal Church at 823 North Elm Street, and the North Elm Street Christian Church at 601 North Elm Street — no longer stand.) Holy Trinity was designed by Hobart Upjohn, who was to be the architect of the other two religious structures as well. In 1923 the Neoclassical Revival style Temple Emanuel (713 North Greene Street) was constructed after his drawings, at the edge of the park a block to the north of the Episcopal church. In association with local architect Harry Barton, Upjohn then designed Greensboro's largest and most imposing religious structure, the monumental Norman Revival style First Presbyterian Church (708 North Greene Street). Built in 1928, the church stands across the street from the temple, surveying the park.
The Fisher Park Historic District continues to have the same character and appearance as it did in the 1920s and 1930s. It is still home to the middle-class and the wealthy, who occupy its early twentieth century dwellings and walk its park, which remains one of the most pleasant features in what is now central Greensboro. Its character is being preserved by the design and development controls that accompany its zoning as a city historic district.
Architects and Craftsmen
The works of a number of architects and craftsmen of local and national note stand within the Fisher Park Historic District. The most well known was Hobart Upjohn. A New York architect nationally recognized for his churches and university buildings, he designed numerous structures in North Carolina, including the award-winning Village Chapel in Pinehurst and the library of North Carolina State University in Raleigh (The New York Times, August 24, 1949; Architectural Record, October, 1949). The three religious structures he designed in the Fisher Park Historic District are among the finest in the city.
Charles C. Hartmann, Greensboro's most prominent architect, designed the Tudor Revival style, National Register-listed Julian Price House at 301 Fisher Park Circle in 1929 and the Colonial Revival style Baxter Sellars House at 111 West Bessemer Avenue in 1932. Originally a New York architect, Hartmann had caught the attention of Julian Price when he was working on the O'Henry Hotel, which has since been razed. He moved to Greensboro permanently in 1923 when he designed the opulent, terra cotta-clad, seventeen-story Jefferson Standard Life Insurance Company skyscraper on North Elm Street in the National Register-listed Downtown Greensboro Historic District (Little-Stokes and Smith 1975; Bishir, Brown, Lounsbury, and Wood 1990:319). His other works in the city include the ca.1925 Northwestern Bank skyscraper, also in the Downtown Greensboro Historic District, and the National Register listed, 1926 Central Fire Station on North Greene Street downtown (Little-Stokes 1976).
Greensboro's other premier architect, Harry Barton, was also active in Fisher Park. In addition to working on the First Presbyterian Church with Upjohn, he designed the Tudor Revival style John Marion Galloway House (National Register), which was built at 1007 North Elm Street in 1919. Barton's other commissions in the city included one of the county's most handsome and important buildings, the Renaissance Revival style Guilford County Courthouse, which was built on Market Street downtown between 1917 and 1920.
Other local architects known to have worked in Fisher Park are Raleigh James Hughes and Wells L. Brewer. Hughes' designs include the ca.1915 Schenck-Hobgood House at 115 North Park Drive and the ca.1916 B.B. Tatum House at 216 Florence Street, both Colonial Revival style structures. In 1913 Brewer designed the Latham-Baker House (National Register) at 412 Fisher Park Circle.
An exceptional craftsman who worked in the Fisher Park Historic District was Andrew Leopold Schlosser. His stone masonry can be seen at the Galloway House and the Latham-Baker House, and a number of other stone houses and retaining walls were likely the result of his craftsman as well.
Fisher Park Historic District Boundary Expansion
The expansion of the Fisher Park Historic District includes .068 acres abutting the southern boundary of the district at its southeast corner. There is no change in the number of contributing or noncontributing resources previously listed in the Fisher Park Historic District; however, one contributing building is affected by the boundary change: the Gant-McAlister House. This building was originally located on Greene Street within the Fisher Park Historic District. At the Greene Street site, the building was oriented to the street, facing west. Its setback and mature landscaping were consistent with the historically residential streetscape. In recent years, the demolition of several houses in the same block of Greene Street to accommodate expansions of neighboring First Presbyterian Church had severely compromised the Gant-McAlister House's original streetscape context. In 1995, the house was moved to the Church Street site to save it from certain demolition by First Presbyterian Church. Approximately eighty percent of the house remains within the Fisher Park Historic District while the remaining twenty percent of the Gant-McAlister House is now located on the district expansion site. The remainder of the expansion site provides a side yard for the house. The side yard provided in the expansion is flanked on the opposite (south) side by the embankment to the Fisher Park Avenue overpass. It is landscaped and conforms to the adjoining house site topography. The expansion parcel was not originally included in the district boundary because it was part of a larger apartment building site to the west not included in the district. The small expansion parcel was purchased, rezoned, and recombined with the adjacent Church Street property to provide a site for the Gant-McAlister House.
The generous setback of the relocated Gant-McAlister House fits within the range of setbacks of the nearby district houses fronting Church Street. Its close proximity to the Murphy House is driven by the constraints of the available site and a major water supply line easement; however, the spacing is not inconsistent with the spacing of many large houses within the district both on and off the park. A Sanborn map illustrates the housing pattern of Church Street prior to the railroad and the overpass. Not only did the relocation of the McAlister House save it from demolition, it enhanced the Church Street streetscape and extended the district's visible presence closer to the physical boundary of the Fisher Avenue overpass. Consequently, the character and integrity of the district will be enhanced by the district expansion.
The Gant-McAlister House is listed as a contributing structure. Built between 1910 and 1915, this two-story frame house is distinguished by its projecting bays, Doric front porch, and pyramidal roof with gables and dormers. The front entry is flanked by two-story pilasters and is capped by a pedimented gable. Windows are generally six-over-one double-hung sash except for three lunettes and the front dormer's diamond panes.
The one-story front porch extends across the front elevation and partially wraps the south side of the house. The first floor is entered through a spacious stair hall and is subdivided into four other principal spaces plus a kitchen with connecting butlers pantry. Wooden floors, plaster walls, and painted wood trim are found in all the principal spaces. The second floor includes five bedrooms and two baths. A second stair to the third floor finished attic space was added post 1970.
In Greensboro: An Architectural Record, the house is described by author Marvin Brown as follows: "One of the finest representatives of the transitional Queen Anne/Colonial Revival style in Greensboro, this former house was the residence of Gant, Guilford County Superior Court clerk, in the early 1910s. The varied roof planes and wall surfaces of the Queen Anne are adorned here with a wealth of classical details, including a modillion-block cornice, a wraparound Doric porch, and a pair of two-story pilasters which outline the front entry and pedimented gable above." (page 298) The house was later bought by Dr. Jean McAlister who was one of Greensboro's first female physicians.
The siting of the Gant-McAlister House on its new location, and the subsequent renovations to the building were done according to the Secretary of the Interior's Standards in pursuit of rehabilitation tax credits. Since the Gant-McAlister House was rehabilitated to house an expansion of the antique business located in the adjacent Dixon-Leftwich-Murphy House, a glass-enclosed breezeway and a rear weatherboarded connector were installed to facilitate access between the two buildings. Unobtrusively set behind the complex Church Street (main) elevations of both houses, the one-story breezeway is located on the side porch of the Gant-McAlister House and connects the rear corner of the brick side wall of the Murphy House. The fenestration of the new construction matches those of the side bay of the Murphy House in material, shape, size and detail. A doorway was cut into the masonry wall of the Murphy House and an existing window was replaced with a doorway on the Gant-McAlister House. The one-story rear connector is detailed to match the rear addition of the Murphy House and utilizes an exiting rear door there. An expanded rear window provides access into the Gant-McAlister House. The area enclosed by the side elevations of the two buildings and the rear elevations of the new construction is a garden sitting area.
The Fisher Park Historic District expansion consists only of adding a .068 acre parcel to the south of the Dixon Leftwich Murphy House on Church Street. The expansion was proposed due to the relocation of the Gant-McAlister House from its original site within the district on Greene Street, to the Church Street site in 1995. The building was relocated to avoid demolition by the previous owner, First Presbyterian Church of Greensboro. However approximately twenty percent of the building now sits outside the original National Register Historic District boundary. The local district boundary was expanded by the Greensboro City council to include this parcel in June of 1995 just prior to the relocation.
The Gant-McAlister House is an excellent example of the transition from Queen Anne to Colonial Revival style architecture so prevalent in the Fisher Park Historic District. In fact, the district nomination identifies the district's most popular style as Colonial Revival. The size, scale, massing, materials, and details of the Gant-McAlister House are extremely consistent with the district's architectural character and period of significance. In its new location, it is oriented to Church Street and sited south of the Dixon Leftwich Murphy House. The Gant-McAlister House is clearly compatible with the adjacent Church Street houses in style, size, scale, and massing and its construction period is the same as two of the four houses immediately to its north. Further, the relocation of the Gant-McAlister House represents the successful resolution of a difficult conflict between the church's desire to expand and the community's desire to preserve its resources.
In Greensboro, support for the relocation of the Gant-McAlister House to the Church Street location was overwhelming. It received the unanimous approval and a certificate of appropriateness from both the Greensboro Historic Preservation Commission and the Guilford County Historic Properties Commission at their February 1995 meetings. Also, the proposal was endorsed by the board of directors of the Fisher Park Neighborhood Association and the Preservation Greensboro board. Community support was extremely high because a valued historic resource that had been threatened for some time has been saved and will remain within the historic neighborhood.
At its March 1995 meeting, the Greensboro Historic Preservation Commission recommended the expansion of the local district and noted that the Gant-McAlister House will remain a contributing structure within the Fisher Park Historic District on its new site. This expansion will increase the integrity of the Fisher Park Historic District as it takes the boundary closer to the Fisher Avenue overpass — which remains the clear visual boundary of the district.
On its new site, the Gant-McAlister House was rehabilitated to house an expansion of a successful antique business in the Dixon-Leftwich-Murphy House. Work on this project was completed in June, 1996.
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The State. May 2, 1889. Advertisement of Capt. Fisher. Photocopy located at the Greensboro Historical Museum.
† Adapted from: Marvin A. Brown, Greensboro Preservation Society, Forest Park Historic District, Guilford County, NC, nomination document, 1991, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.
‡ Adapted from: Jo Ramsay Leimenstoll, AIA, Ramsay Leimenstoll, Architect, Fisher Park Historic District Boundary Expansion, Guilford County, NC, nomination document, 1996, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.