Gimghoul Neighborhood Historic District
The Gimghoul Neighborhood 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 © 2012, The Gombach Group.
The Gimghoul Neighborhood Historic District (also known as Gimghoul Piney Prospect Development), containing thirty-seven houses built primarily from 1924 to the late 1930s, is a faculty subdivision that was the intrapreneurial project of the secret Order of the Gimghouls, a fraternal society of undergraduates, faculty and alumni of the University of North Carolina. The Gimghouls platted the development on a portion of their land adjoining the university and sold lots in order to finance the construction of their stone Gothic Revival castle [in the adjacent Chapel Hill Historic District, National Register 1971], completed in 1927 in the woods adjacent to the subdivision. Gimghouls member and prominent real estate developer George Stephens of Charlotte supervised the project, and the area was platted by Gimghouls member T. Felix Hickerson, an engineering professor and well-known road designer. The Gimghoul neighborhood has local significance in the area of community planning/development as the first housing development in Chapel Hill built outside of the university village. The one- and two-story frame and brick houses of the Gimghoul neighborhood, predominantly in the Colonial Revival style and built primarily from popular plans by area contractors, are architecturally significant because of the quiet harmony of the streetscapes with the picturesque natural setting. The Gimghoul neighborhood has changed little since the 1930s and contributes greatly to the traditional southern ambiance of Chapel Hill.
The development of the Gimghoul neighborhood is entwined with the history of the Order of the Gimghouls, a secret society of University of North Carolina students, alumni and faculty which was founded in Chapel Hill in 1889. From the beginning, a wooded bluff east of the town of Chapel Hill known as Piney Prospect had been a sacred spot to the Gimghouls, and they held their initiation ceremonies on a rock outcropping there which they named Dromgoole Rock. The Order purchased about 94 acres there in 1915 in order to keep the land from development and to build a new lodge. In order to finance construction of the lodge, the western edge of the tract, containing about thirty-five acres, was subdivided for a residential development.
The two members of the Gimghouls who played the major role in supervising this residential project were George Stephens and T. Felix Hickerson, both statewide pioneers in real estate development and road design. George Stephens, a real estate developer who had earlier developed the exclusive, pioneering suburb of Myers Park [see Myers Park Historic District] in Charlotte, North Carolina, supervised the planning of the Gimghoul development. T. Felix Hickerson drew the plat for the subdivision and did the engineering work for sewers, roads and pipe lines. Hickerson was a professor of civil engineering at the University and a road designer of national reputation. He championed aesthetic road design, publishing in the 1920s the key college textbook for road design. One of his most innovative projects was to survey a portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Another individual instrumental to the planning of the Gimghoul subdivision was Ralph Trimble, a well-known surveyor and a colleague of Hickerson in the School of Engineering. He did the surveying of the new lots and was one of the original subdivision residents. The original subdivision plat gives the name "Gimghoul Piney Prospect Development" to the new subdivision, and was drawn in 1923 by T.F. Hickerson, Registered Engineer. It is recorded in Orange County Plat Book 1, page 51.
The names of the new streets in the subdivision reflect the romantic medieval mythology developed by the Gimghouls for the area around their castle. Glandon Drive got its name from Glandon Forest, the name given to the woods around the overlook, Piney Prospect, located adjacent to the castle. In addition to standard racial restrictions of the period and setback requirements, the deed covenants attached to the subdivision include the unusual restriction that a local committee of the Order of Gimghouls shall review the exterior plans, cost, and location of any house that is to be built or altered. Another unusual restriction was the Gimghouls' option to purchase any lot that was to be resold.
The first lots were sold in late 1923 and early 1924. At least five houses were completed during 1924, those of Ralph M. Trimble (now demolished), W.E. Atkins (733 Gimghoul Road), Daniel L. Grant (246 Glandon Drive), Allan W. Hobbs (360 Glandon Drive), and H.R. Huse (734 Gimghoul Road). Four of these original owners were associated with the University. Ralph M. Trimble was an engineering professor, Daniel L. Grant was the first director of the UNC Alumni Association, A.W. Hobbs was a mathematics professor, and H.R. Huse was a romance languages professor. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s most of the new residents were UNC faculty and staff, but there were also some local businessmen, such as E. Carrington Smith, manager of the local movie theatre, Benjamin Edkins, a travelling salesman, and James Phipps, a local attorney. One of the early houses was a duplex (106 Ridge Lane) built by Thomas C. Atwood, supervising architect for new buildings at the University, for his employees. Two of the new residents were single women. Alma Holland, assistant to Dr. William C. Coker in the Botany Department, built 707 Gimghoul Road, and is said to have been the first woman in Chapel Hill to buy a lot and build a house. Katherine Lackey, secretary to University president Frank Porter Graham, built 698 Gimghoul Road. Holland and Lackey were theá vanguard of female academicians at the University of North Carolina. They were assistants to male professors, but contributed substantially to the academic and administrative endeavors of their bosses, Dr. W.C. Coker and President Graham.
Approximately half of the thirty contributing, pre-1942 houses were built during the 1920s, and the other half were built in the 1930s. The 1920s houses tend to be more eclectic in style and form. Most are 1-1/2 story frame, with a few Craftsman style, one Tudor Revival style, and the rest of Colonial Revival style. The houses built in the 1930s are almost without exception 2-story brick veneer Colonial Revival houses with standardized three-bay facades. There are three small stone veneer cottages, set in rear yards, that were built as studies in the 1930s or early 1940s.
The history of the Gimghoul Neighborhood in the past fifty years has been remarkably uneventful. On the few lots which remained after World War II, four houses and a church have been built. The houses are located at 708 Gimghoul Road, 214 Glandon Drive, 260 Glandon Drive, and 110 Ridge Lane. The stone, Gothic Revival style Chapel of St. Thomas More was built at the east end of Gimghoul Road in 1956. With the exception of the three early houses that have undergone such substantial remodellings that they have lost their original architectural character, the neighborhood remains remarkably unaltered. This calm stability is a tribute both to the thoughtful planning of the Order of the Gimghouls and to the continuity of ownership of faculty families. Many of the men and women associated with the University of North Carolina who have spent parts of their careers living in the Gimghoul neighborhood have achieved distinguished honors on a statewide and national level.
Community Planning/Development Context
Until the 1920s, Chapel Hill was a village clustered around the campus of the University of North Carolina. The Gimghoul Neighborhood is the earliest residential development outside of the village. The growth of the university after 1900 led to the influx of more faculty families, and the Gimghouls' subdivision of a portion of their land adjoining the east side of the campus provided needed new housing. Rocky Ridge, [National Register, 1988] a faculty subdivision better known as Laurel Hill, platted in 1927 just across the Raleigh Road to the south, is roughly contemporary with Gimghoul Neighborhood Historic District but is very different. Rocky Ridge was the pet project of UNC botany professor W.C. Coker, a well-known planner and landscape designer who developed farmland adjacent to the campus into a golf course and large wooded residential faculty lots. The average lot size in Gimghoul Neighborhood Historic District is approximately one-half acre, while in Rocky Ridge Farm Historic District the lots are generally from one to over three acres in size. Like Gimghoul, Rocky Ridge was a small subdivision, but it developed much more slowly than Gimghoul, and most of the houses date from the 1930s and later. Rocky Ridge houses, like its lots, are generally larger than in Gimghoul, although the Colonial Revival style dominates there as well. Like the Gimghoul Neighborhood Historic District, Rocky Ridge Farm Historic District has some architect-designed houses, including designs by Durham architects George Watts Carr, Hackney and Knott, and William Sprinkle. The similarity of the two neighborhoods' curvilinear roads, winding over the hilly terrain and edged almost continuously by the low stone walls that are a trademark of Chapel Hill, is quite striking. The same pair of local black masons, James Blacknell and Jesse Jones, are said to have built the walls in both neighborhoods. But nothing in Rocky Ridge resembles the strongly urban flavor of Gimghoul Road, with its smaller lots and rows of houses.
One other development, Westwood, was platted in Chapel Hill in the 1920s. Located southwest of the campus along S. Columbia Street on Westwood Drive, University Drive, and Dogwood Drive, Westwood resembles Rocky Ridge and Glandon Drive with large, hilly and wooded lots and substantial Colonial Revival style houses built in the late 1920s and 1930s as its earliest dwellings. However Westwood developed even more slowly than Rocky Ridge, and the present neighborhood has a mixture of houses built during the past sixty years. The development that perhaps most closely resembles the Gimghoul Neighborhood Historic District is Duke Forest, in nearby Durham, North Carolina, because both were subdivided in the 1920s as exclusive faculty subdivisions. Duke Forest, adjacent to the West Campus of Duke University, began to be subdivided in 1929 by Duke University as an affordable housing alternative for its faculty, many of whom apparently could not afford Durham's fashionable speculative developments. Although the Gimghoul Neighborhood was not a direct project of the University of North Carolina, the major expansion of the university in the 1920s was the impetus for Gimghoul's development. Thomas C. Atwood, supervising architect for the campus building campaign, built a duplex in the Gimghoul Neighborhood to house some of his employees. W.E. Atkins, another employee of Atwood's firm, had a house built for himself at 733 Gimghoul Road. Both Duke Forest and the Gimghoul Neighborhood Historic District still retain their close association with the universities. One other subdivision in Durham, Hope Valley, also served faculty at Duke University. This exclusive 1927 country club subdivision attracted numerous faculty and staff from the Duke University Medical School.
The chief architectural significance of the Gimghoul Neighborhood Historic District lies not in the design of its individual houses, butá in the quiet harmony of the streetscapes and the uniquely picturesque landscape setting. The houses are typical examples of the popular Craftsman and Colonial Revival styles that were being built in subdivisions throughout North Carolina during the period. But the natural topography, a ridge which terminates on the east end in the Piney Prospect overlook, and the splendid forest of Battle Park which slopes down on the north side, as well as the proximity of the romantic Gimghoul Castle on Piney Prospect, create a unique setting.
Early twentieth century suburban houses in Chapel Hill are modest, reflecting faculty incomes, in comparison to the more pretentious houses built at the same time by industrial executives in Durham's suburbs, such as Hope Valley. Gimghoul Neighborhood Historic District houses are generally built from popular plans by area contractors, such as a Mr. Barber (Barbour), from Chatham County, Charlie Brooks, an African American from Chapel Hill, Charles Martindale, who was the general contractor for Gimghoul Castle, and Tillman and Horner of Chapel Hill. Much of the brick masonry on the early houses was done by Lewis and Tom Booth, local black masons. One of the earliest houses, the frame Dutch Colonial style house at 734 Gimghoul Road, is said to be a Sears & Roebuck house.
A small number of the houses are architect-designed: 739 Gimghoul Road was designed by William Sprinkle from Durham; 719 Gimghoul Road was designed by H.D. Carter, a draftsman with the architectural firm of Atwood & Nash; 705 Gimghoul Road and 300 Glandon Drive were designed by George Hackney of Durham; 208 Glandon Drive was designed by George Watts Carr Sr. of Durham, and 106 Ridge Lane was apparently designed by Thomas C. Atwood of the T.C. Atwood firm, since it was built by him for employee housing. This duplex, now converted to a single family house, is an unpretentious one-story frame house with generously proportioned cornerboards and eaves and a hipped roof. Yet the architect-designed houses blend easily into the streetscape, for they represent standard variations on the dominant Colonial Revival style. In fact, the architects most likely worked with stock housing plans that they customized for the client.
Thomas C. Atwood was a nationally respected engineer and architect who supervised the construction of a number of campus buildings in the 1920s designed by architects McKim Mead & White of New York. Atwood had been working in nearby Durham, in association with Raymond Weeks, a Durham architect, and in 1920 he was appointed supervising architect for the buildings designed by McKim Mead & White as part of the university building campaign initiated by President Frank Porter Graham. In 1922 Arthur C. Nash joined Atwood's firm and the firm became known as Atwood & Nash. George Watts Carr, Sr., was a Durham architect who started in the late 1920s and designed a number of the elegant period revival style houses in the Forest Hills and Hope Valley subdivisions of Durham in the 1920s and 1930s.
Gimghoul Neighborhood Historic District's 1920s houses are more diverse in style than the 1930s houses, with one-story Craftsman cottages and Colonial Revival cottages erected on the smaller lots of Gimghoul Road and more pretentious two-story Colonial Revival style houses going up on the larger lots of Glandon Road. The 1930s houses which filled in most of the remaining lots are much more standardized in both form and style. Almost all of them are two-story, three-bay-wide, Colonial Revival houses. As was generally true of 1930s domestic architecture, Gimghoul's Colonial Revival features are more authentic reproductions than the looser revival interpretations of the 1920s. For example, the 1920s houses at 733 Gimghoul Road and 106 Ridge Lane, both built for members of the architectural firm of Atwood and Nash, are simple one-story frame designs with colonial weatherboard and trim and Craftsman massing, while 1930s houses have such authentic colonial details as lunette windows, pedimented entrances, and fanlights.
The houses built in Durham's Duke Forest and Hope Valley subdivisions in the late 1920s and 1930s are very similar to those in the Gimghoul Neighborhood. Duke Forest houses have finely detailed period revival styling representing the popular Tudor Revival, English Cottage style, and the Colonial Revival style. Durham architects George Watts Carr, Sr. and George Hackney designed houses in both subdivisions as well as in Gimghoul. Yet Gimghoul's preponderance of Colonial Revival style houses sets it apart from the two Durham neighborhoods, where Tudor Revival and English Cottage houses occur frequently.
Bishir, Catherine W., Brown, Charlotte V., Lounsbury, Carl R., and Wood, Ernest H. Architects and Builders in North Carolina. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1990.
Love, Cornelia Spencer, When Chapel Hill Was a Village. Chapel Hill: Chapel Hill Historical Society, 1976.
Orange County Deeds.
Patterson. A.H. The New Gimghoul Castle: Report of the Building Committee. Chapel Hill: The Orange Printshop, 1926.
Reeb, Mary. Rocky Ridge Farm Historic District nomination, 1988. Copy at the North Carolina State Historic Preservation Office.
Roberts, Claudia. The Durham Architectural and Historical Survey. Durham: The Historic Preservation Society of Durham, 1982.
Stoudemire, Mary Arthur. History of Gimghoul Neighborhood, manuscript in progress, 1981 to present.
Wilson, Louis Round. The University of North Carolina 1900-1930. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1957.
† M. Ruth Little, Longleaf Historic Resources, Gimghoul Neighborhood Historic District, Orange County, North Carolina, nomination document, 1993, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.