Summit Avenue Historic District
The Summit Avenue Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1993. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright, © 2011, The Gombach Group.
The Summit Avenue Historic District (locally designated, Charles B. Aycock Historic District) is located less than a mile northeast of downtown Greensboro. Historically it was a middle- and upper-class residential neighborhood. Almost all of the large, frame, Queen Anne and transitional Queen Anne/Colonial Revival style dwellings built for its comfortable residents between about 1895 and 1910 survive. They are joined by numerous Craftsman Bungalows and Foursquares erected in the following two decades and a few modest Tudor Revival style residences built in the 1930s. Interspersed among these styles and forms are a small number of prominent Neoclassical Revival, Chateauesque/Richardsonian Romanesque, Shingle, and Italian Renaissance Revival style dwellings. Only one historically nonresidential structure stands within the Summit Avenue Historic District's bounds, the Colonial Revival style Charles B. Aycock School (811 Cypress Street). No structures predate the late 1890s, prior to which time the neighborhood consisted of farmland and old field pines.
The Summit Avenue Historic District remains a neighborhood of intact houses built from the close of the nineteenth century through the Depression, with few non-contributing resources. 227 of its 269 resources contribute to its integrity. Its 42 non-contributing resources are primarily modestly scaled, one- and two-story apartment houses and office buildings constructed along Chestnut Street and the busy thoroughfare of Summit Avenue, respectively, since the 1950s.
Summit Avenue and the tracks of the Norfolk-Southern railroad form the Summit Avenue Historic District's two principal axes. Most of its streets run parallel to or perpendicular with Summit Avenue. The neighborhood's first street, Summit was opened in 1898 to promote development in the area and to connect downtown to the southwest with the newly or soon-to-be erected Cone and Sternberger textile mills and mill villages to the district's north and east. The neighborhood was established concurrently with the avenue, the prominence of which was bolstered in 1902 by the addition of a streetcar line. The below-grade, Norfolk-Southern railroad line at the district's western border, in place before the neighborhood was developed, established a second, north-south axis. Chestnut and Percy streets were laid out in the late 1890s parallel to it.
The neighborhood's roughly triangular boundaries were largely in place by the time it was established. The railroad cut forms a man-made boundary to the west. Muddy Creek and the historically African-American Dudley Street neighborhood are a natural and sociological boundary at the southeast. At the north the neighborhood initially ended just beyond Bessemer Avenue, where the mills and mill villages, and the homes of the Cone family, took over the landscape. The boundaries of the Summit Avenue Historic District largely follow this triangle, constricted to the north and southeast, however, by modern commercial and residential development.
The Summit Avenue Historic District's age is reflected in its mature trees, which shade the shallow front lawns and deeper rear yards of its relatively narrow, urban lots. Its granite-curbed streets are mostly quiet, traffic limited by the lack of through east-west streets; only Yanceyville Street crosses Muddy Creek and East Bessemer Avenue the railroad tracks. These two streets and Summit Avenue, which continues to be a major link between downtown and the former mill communities of the northeast, are heavily trafficked.
Many of Greensboro's finest Queen Anne and transitional Queen Anne/Colonial Revival style dwellings grace the streets of the Summit Avenue Historic District. The elevated economic status of most of its initial inhabitants, who partook of the commercial wealth of downtown and the industrial wealth of the textile mills — between which areas the district was sandwiched — almost guaranteed fine early architecture. The residences erected in the district between 1895 and 1910 are generally two or two-and-a-half stories tall with multi-planed front and side elevations and cross-gable-and-hip roofs. Some display such Queen Anne hallmarks as cutaway bays underpinned with gingerbread, porches of turned posts and sawn brackets, and towers and turrets. The house of John C. Clapp at 601 Fifth Avenue (ca.1900-05), for example, features complicated rooflines and massing; a wraparound porch with turned posts, sawn brackets, and squared balusters; and a polygonal corner bay topped by a tent-roofed turret and a finial. Also erected in the first few years of the century, the S.D. Daub House at 758 Chestnut Street is a rare neighborhood example of a modestly sized Queen Anne residence. The Queen Anne style features of the one-story, pyramidal-roofed cottage include side bays, corbeled chimney stacks, and turned porch posts.
Most of the neighborhood's Queen Anne style residences supplant towers and turned posts with columns and pediments, their Queen Anne forms robed in the Colonial Revival. Examples of the transitional Queen Anne/Colonial Revival style include the George W. Denny House at 660 Chestnut Street (ca.1895-99) and the A.C. Holt House at 107 Cypress Street (1913). Columns, pediments, and a Palladian window mark the stepped-back walls and gabled and hipped roof of grocer Denny's two-story, frame dwelling. The substantial house of Holt, a bookkeeper with the Proximity Manufacturing Company, is one of the most handsome, typical representatives of the transitional style in Greensboro. Prominently located on a large corner lot, its Queen Anne body displays a wraparound porch of Ionic columns and an entry enframed by sidelights and a tracery-filled transom. A more unusual example of the confluence of the styles is the dwelling at 517 Fifth Avenue (ca.1906). Closer to the Colonial Revival than Queen Anne in its rectilinear form and classical ornament, but still finished with wall and roof planes that refuse to be squeezed completely into a single rectangle, square, or hip, its unique appearance may have been the work of its first occupant, architect and contractor William P. Rose.
Period Revival styles were never popular in the Summit Avenue Historic District, which largely leapt directly from the Queen Anne and Queen Anne/Colonial Revival styles to the Craftsman style influenced Foursquare and Bungalow forms in the 1910s and 1920s. A small number of unusual, prominent, revival style dwellings, however, were erected in the district early in the century. Between 1900 and 1905 Southern Railway freight agent Robert L. Potts raised a Shingle style dwelling at 612 Fifth Street. Dominated by a massive, central, polygonal tower flanked by two porches of wooden columns on brick piers, it is clad entirely in shingles. Even more unusual materials and styles mark the house of Cone Export and Commission Company clerk William B. Vaught at 519 Summit Avenue (ca.1906). Constructed of rock-faced concrete blocks, the dwelling combines the round arches, conical-roofed tower, and rusticated "stone" walls of the Richardsonian Romanesque style with the steeply pitched hipped roofs of the Chateauesque style. The ca.1908 house of Bessie, Lily, Mildred, and Myrtle Matthews at 515 Fifth Avenue was the first of the Summit Avenue Historic District's three, large, Neoclassical Revival style dwellings. A two-story Tuscan portico dwarfs its other classical features, which include a one-story, columned, wraparound porch and a trabeated, leaded glass entry. In 1926 Sigmund Sternberger, treasurer of the Revolution Cotton Mill, engaged prominent local architect Harry Barton to design an Italian Renaissance Revival style villa for him at 712 Summit Avenue. The long, brick-veneered villa is accented with a limestone entry arcade, limestone Palladian arches at its wings, and a green ceramic tile roof .
Foursquares and Bungalows define the Summit Avenue Historic District's architecture of the 1910s and 1920s. Both forms are generally outfitted with Craftsman style adornment, including exposed rafter ends, triangular knee-braces, tapered porch posts on brick piers, and windows with multi-paned upper sash. The boxy, hip-roofed, two-story Foursquare built for secretary S.T. Wyrick at 701 Percy Street in the early 1920s is shaded by Craftsman style front and side porches and windows, banded at the second-story front facade, with multi-paned upper sash. Manager Edgar B. Jennette's Foursquare at 500 Percy Street (ca.1925-30) is outfitted with similar windows grouped at the first story, exposed rafter ends, and a porch with rectangular knee-braces and tapered wooden posts on brick piers. A few Foursquares turned more towards the Colonial Revival than Craftsman style for their adornment. Round columns at the front and side porches, leaded glass sidelights and transoms at the trabeated entry and adjacent first-story bay, and a centered, oval, second-story window accent the Foursquare of Proximity general store manager E.D. Grubb at 721 Fifth Avenue (ca.1910-15).
The Summit Avenue Historic District's many Bungalows, smaller than its Queen Anne and Queen Anne/Colonial Revival style dwellings, as well as its Foursquares, indicate its shift from a primarily upper- to a primarily middle-class neighborhood in the teens and twenties. One- and one-and-a-half-story dwellings with expansive porches and multiple gables, they have Craftsman style finishes similar to the contemporary Foursquares. The house of grocer J.T. Wyrick at 112 Cypress Street (ca.1915-20) well represents the form, from its triangular knee-braces and notched upturned rakeboards, to its porch of tapered wooden posts on brick piers and large front dormer spanned by windows. The Bungalow of service station manager D.H. Blair at 743 Park Avenue (ca.1915-20) — its gable marked by a triangular grill, notched rakeboards, triangular knee-braces, and shingles — is also typical of the form. Atypical district Bungalows include the early 1920s home of architect H.L. Lazenby at 767 Chestnut Street (ca.1920-25), the squat battered columns of its side porch and the remainder of its frame clad in stucco; and the brick-veneered bungalow of insurance adjustor J. Clayton King at 102 Cypress Street (ca.1925-30), which features Tudor Revival style half-timbering and stucco at its front gable.
The Colonial and Tudor Revival styles, popular from the teens through the thirties, are found in smaller numbers in the Summit Avenue Historic District than they are in other contemporary Greensboro neighborhoods. The Colonial Revival style dwellings, erected primarily in the teens and twenties, are generally marked by symmetrical facades, columned porches or porticoes, and gambrel rather than gable-end roofs. The houses of Greensboro National Bank bookkeeper Charles W. Smith at 613 Park Avenue (ca.1911) and traveling salesman F.L. Atkinson at 114 Cypress Street (ca.1920-25), for example, feature gambrel roofs, columns, and other classical motifs. The Tudor Revival style appears only at a small number of late brick-veneered cottages, such as those of store owner Abdou Showfety at 680 Chestnut Street (ca.1930-35) and insurance agent Clifton R. Berrier at 706 Chestnut Street (ca.1935-40).
With few exceptions, the Summit Avenue Historic District's resources were built as single-family residences. However, on Park Avenue a few duplexes, such as the Coiner-Myers House at 736-738 Park Avenue and the Paris-Hull House at 747 Park Avenue, were erected in the teens and twenties. These look little different than their single-family, Foursquare neighbors. In 1922 the Summit Avenue Historic District's single non-residential landmark was erected, the Colonial Revival style Charles B. Aycock School at 811 Cypress Street. A long, two-story, brick building, it was designed by the New York City architectural firm of Starrett and Van Vleck. Its refined classical features include a limestone portico, swags, urns, and cartouches. When opened it was noted for its modern, fire-proof construction and amenities, as well as its design. The Summit Avenue Historic District's other non-residential resources are almost all garages and sheds subservient to its residences.
The Summit Avenue Historic District's 42 non-contributing resources consist primarily of modern office buildings on Summit Avenue and modern apartment houses on Chestnut Street. One- and two-story, brick-veneered buildings, they are in scale but otherwise out of character with the district's contributing resources. Comprising only slightly more than 15 percent of the district's resources, and largely limited to two streets, they do not adversely affect the overall integrity of the district, the historic character of which is still clearly apparent.
The Summit Avenue Historic District is one of Greensboro's most intact late nineteenth and early twentieth century neighborhoods. The integrity and character of its buildings, individually and as a group, make it eligible for the National Register. Erected between about 1895 and 1910, its many large Queen Anne and transitional Queen Anne/Colonial Revival residences are among the finest examples of the styles in the city. Its Foursquares of the following two decades, primarily Craftsman in style, are also architecturally notable, as are its Bungalows. Prominent and well designed, its small number of Neoclassical Revival, Shingle, Italian Renaissance Revival, Richardsonian Romanesque, and Chateauesque style dwellings further enhance its distinctive architectural character. The Summit Avenue Historic District's single early non-residential structure, the Charles B. Aycock School (1922) at 811 Cypress Street, is among the largest and finest early twentieth-century schools in the city. The district's place in the city's late nineteenth and early twentieth century history makes it eligible for the National Register as well. The neighborhood reflects and illuminates trends central to the Greensboro City's growth during the period, most notably the growth of the road and streetcar network; the power and influence of the city's textile industry and its creators; and the activities of organized real estate interests.
Development of the Summit Avenue Historic District began with the purchase of its property by Moses and Ceasar Cone in 1895 and continued until World War II, by which time almost all of its relatively narrow urban lots were filled with residences.
The Summit Avenue Historic District grew out of the textile and real estate interests of industrial magnates Moses and Ceasar Cone and an agreement between the brothers and the city of Greensboro to grade and pave Summit Avenue. The major industrial force in Greensboro at the close of the nineteenth and well into the twentieth century was the textile mill empire of the Cone brothers. They had become familiar with textiles and the South in the late nineteenth century while traveling the region for their father's Baltimore based wholesale grocery and dry goods business, buying and selling cotton goods. In 1892 they settled in Greensboro, establishing the Southern Finishing and Warehouse Company, the first cloth finishing plant in the South, just northwest of present-day Fisher Park. Three years later they revealed the magnitude of their vision, purchasing approximately 2,000 acres of land north and northeast of the city from the short-lived North Carolina Steel and Iron Company and breaking ground on the Proximity Cotton Mill one-half mile north of the Summit Avenue district. By 1905 the Cones and business partners Emanuel and Herman Sternberger had erected two even larger mills, Revolution and White Oak, north of Proximity.
With their mills, the Cones and their partners erected housing for thousands of mill operatives. The Cones also developed property for middle- and upper-class individuals beyond the bounds of the mill villages. The most successful of these real estate enterprises was the Summit Avenue neighborhood, which was developed on part of the land purchased from North Carolina Steel and Iron, between the Proximity mill and downtown. In 1895 the undeveloped neighborhood held cultivated fields, land grown up in old field pines, clay pits excavated for making bricks for the Proximity mill buildings, and perhaps one small house. Near the present site of Chestnut Street also stood the approximately 160-acre estate of Judge Robert P. Dick. The site of its Gothic and Italianate style villa, Dunleith (ca.1856), on the west side of Chestnut Street, is now vacant.
In 1895 Ceasar Cone proposed lending the city money for grading and macadamizing Summit Avenue within city limits, from Lindsay Street to Bessemer Avenue; the city had extended its limits north to Bessemer four years earlier. An unsuccessful lawsuit by a disgruntled taxpayer in 1896 challenged the deal. In a tone that sounds fresh a hundred years later, W.O. Stratford alleged that the agreement was a waste of tax dollars, a giveaway to Cone, and a tax dodge. Cone responded that he did not intend "to build outside the corporate limits a city of refuge to which the oppressed taxpayer of the municipality may flee." Rather he stated that the 300 to 500 acres he owned within the city on either side of the proposed avenue would be "eminently suitable for residences" and that when the street opened he planned "to construct a number of modern residences along the line thereof, and he hopes and expects to induce others to do the same."
Through the joint efforts of Cone and the city, with the overwhelming approval of city voters, the level macadam roadway of Summit Avenue was completed in 1898, extending from downtown through the district to the Proximity Cotton Mill. The Greensboro Patriot announced on November 9 of that year that, "The work on Summit Avenue was finally completed Friday afternoon, and it is probably the finest highway in North Carolina. What was, a short while ago, a stubble field lying in waste has been opened by a magnificent boulevard, with many handsome and commodious residences erected on either side." The early importance of the thoroughfare in the neighborhood's development lent the name "Summit Avenue" to the area.
The Summit Avenue neighborhood soon became one of the finest in the city, home to the Cones and Sternbergers and many executives and white-collar employees of the mills. (All but one of the Cone residences — which were all built north of Bessemer Avenue beyond the city's limits and tax authority — have fallen to commercial development; the homes of Herman and Sigmund Sternberger still stand within the Summit Avenue Historic District.) The neighborhood's placement between the mills and downtown along a wide paved avenue made it a desirable location, which was only sweetened by the addition of a streetcar line. On June 11, 1902, the city inaugurated its electric streetcar system. One of its two initial routes ran from South Greensboro north on Elm Street through the center of town, then northeast up Summit Avenue to the Cone and Sternberger mills.
The growth of the neighborhood was guided to a large extent by the development plans of Ceasar Cone. His Summit Avenue Building Company filed a plat map in November, 1905, which divided the land between Percy, Park, and Dewey streets into blocks and lots. (The filing of the plat map was belated, as it was for other real estate enterprises in the city, for houses already stood on a number of these lots.) By 1913 the building company had subdivided almost the entire neighborhood between Bessemer, Homeland, and Percy streets. Only the property on the west side of Percy and along Chestnut Street, part of which was included within the Dunleith estate, was outside of the control of the company.
Its links to the jobs of downtown and the mills complete and its development guided by a real estate company, the neighborhood grew steadily from 1904 until the Depression. In the teens the small, brick-veneered, Cypress Street graded school was built on the west side of Cypress Street north of Yanceyville Street. In 1922, during a major period of city school consolidation, the neighborhood was selected as the site of the new Charles B. Aycock Elementary School (811 Cypress Street), north of its much smaller predecessor. (The site of the graded school is now part of Aycock's grounds.) The consolidated city system, in its first major foray into school construction, engaged the New York architectural firm of Starrett and Van Vleck to design four large, brick school buildings, classical in appearance but modern in function. Land acquisition and construction costs for the four — Aycock, McIver, Caldwell, and Price — absorbed a million dollar bond issue, but a contemporary newspaper account proudly noted the modernity and safety of the buildings: "The buildings themselves are high types of modern construction. They have large auditoriums and gymnasiums, each of them, specially planned heating, ventilation and lighting arrangements, cafeterias, shower baths, rooms for many special purposes, concrete, steel and brick predominate in the structures. They are as nearly safe from fire as they can be made. Each of them has a number of specially built tower-stairs, cut off from the remainder of the building, for the children to use in event of fire...".
The Charles B. Aycock School at 811 Cypress Street was the largest of the four, a long, two-story, brick structure adorned with classical urns, swags, cartouches, and a portico, all modeled in limestone.
The architectural significance of the Summit Avenue Historic District rests upon its many handsome late nineteenth and early twentieth century residences, both individually and collectively, and upon its school. As a whole, the Summit Avenue Historic District has one of the largest and finest collections of Queen Anne and Queen Anne/Colonial Revival style residences in the city, as well as a large number of intact Foursquares and Bungalows. Their largely unbroken presence along its streets represents the appearance of Greensboro's middle- and upper-income neighborhoods during the district's period of significance. Many of the properties stand out individually as important local examples of their styles. The house of Proximity Manufacturing Company bookkeeper A.C. Holt House at 107 Cypress Street (1913) is, for example, one of the best typical representatives of the convergence of the Queen Anne and Colonial Revival styles in the city. The home of architect and contractor William P. Rose at 517 Fifth Avenue (ca.1906) is a more idiosyncratic example of the meeting of the styles. The Craftsman style Foursquare of Proximity store manager E.D. Grubb at 721 Fifth Avenue (ca.1910-15) is a typical, intact expression of the form and style in Greensboro, as is the Craftsman Bungalow of grocer J.T. Wyrick at 112 Cypress Street (ca.1915-20). Among the city's grandest Period Revival style houses are the unique, rusticated concrete block, Chateauesque and Richardsonian Romanesque style house of William B. Vaught at 519 Summit Avenue (ca.1906); and the 1926 Sigmund Sternberger House at 712 Summit Avenue, the finest Italian Renaissance Revival style dwelling in the city. The Aycock School is an excellent local example of institutional Colonial Revival style architecture.
The architects of a few of the Summit Avenue Historic District's buildings have been identified. The New York firm of Starrett and Van Vleck, architects of the Aycock School, designed institutional, public, and commercial buildings nationwide. Among their major commissions in New York City were the Lord & Taylor, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Bloomingdale's department stores, and the Downtown Athletic Club. Harry Barton, one of the city's most prominent architects, counted the Sigmund Sternberger House (712 Summit Avenue) among his many commissions. In Greensboro his work also included the National Register-listed Guilford County Courthouse (1918), John Marion Galloway House (1919), Cone Export and Commission Company Building (circa 1924), and Meyer's Department Store (1924). William P. Rose, the contractor of the Guilford County Courthouse, may have designed his Fifth Avenue residence (517 Fifth Avenue) and architect H.L. Lazenby may have designed his unusual stuccoed bungalow (ca.1922) at 767 Chestnut Street.
The construction of one- and two-story office buildings and apartment houses along Summit Avenue and Chestnut Street, respectively — in scale but otherwise not in keeping with the Summit Avenue Historic District's historic architecture — has not adversely affected its character. In fact the architectural integrity of the district has steadily improved since it was zoned a local Greensboro Historic District in 1984, for alterations and new construction now have to be approved by a local historic commission according to strict guidelines. The locally designated district, the boundaries of which are larger than the present district, is called the Charles B. Aycock Historic District. Taken from the Aycock school, the name was created along with the district.
Albright, James W. Greensboro, 1808-1904, Facts, Figures, Traditions and Reminiscences. Greensboro: Jos. J. Stone & Company, 1904.
Arnett, Ethel Stephens. Greensboro, North Carolina, the County Seat of Guilford. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1955.
________. For Whom Our Public Schools Were Named, Greensboro, North Carolina. Greensboro: Piedmont Press, 1973.
Balliett, Carl. World Leadership in Denims, Through Thirty Years of Progress. Baltimore: Privately printed by the Thomsen-Ellis Co. for the Proximity Manufacturing Company, 1925.
Beers, F.W. "Map of the City of Greensboro, Guilford Co., North Carolina." New York, 1879.
Brewer, R.W. "Map of the City of Greensboro, North Carolina." Greensboro: M.M. Pruden, 1913.
Fripp, Gayle Hicks. Greensboro, A Chosen Center. Woodland Hills, CA: Windsor Publications, 1982.
Greensboro Daily News. "That is What 1922 Means for the City in Terms of Training Greensboro's Future Men and Women." February 11, 1923.
________. "Sternberger House Acquires New Life." January 30, 1972.
Guilford County Deed Books. Located at Guilford County Courthouse, Greensboro, North Carolina.
Guilford County Plat Books. Located at Guilford County Courthouse, Greensboro, North Carolina.
Kipp, Samuel M., III. "Urban Growth and Social Change in the South, 1970-1920: Greensboro, North Carolina, as a Case Study." Ph.D. dissertation, Princeton University, 1973.
New York Times, May 10, 1918. Obituary of Goldwin Starrett.
________, August 1, 1956. Obituary of Ernest Alan Van Vleck.
Pease Engineering Co. "Map of the City of Greensboro, North Carolina, Towns of Hamilton Lakes and Pomona 'the pivot of the piedmont.'" Greensboro: Pease Engineering Co., 1927.
"Plans of Residence for Mr. Sig. Sternberger." Elevation, floor plans, and site plan drawn by Harry Barton [circa 1926]. Located at United Arts Council Offices, Greensboro, North Carolina.
Sanborn Map and Publishing Co. "Greensboro, North Carolina." 1885, 1888, 1891, 1896.
Sanborn Map Company. "Greensboro, North Carolina." 1902, 1907, 1913, 1919, 1925.
Stern, Robert A.M., Gregory Gilmartin, and Thomas Melins. New York 1930: Architecture and Urbanism Between the Two World Wars. New York: Rizzoli International Publications, Inc. 1987.
"Stratford, W.O. vs. City of Greensboro and Ceasar Cone, Transcript of Record from Guilford." . Pamphlet of legal proceedings, located in vertical files of Caldwell-Jones Room, Greensboro Public Library.
† Marvin A. Brown, Greensboro Preservation Society, Summit Avenue Historic District, Guilford County, NC, nomination document, 1992, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.