A Short History of the Neighborhood

Our neighborhood has undergone many changes -- and a few name changes -- since its beginnings. What appears below is a sketch of how the neighborhood began and developed, and how it came to be called Dunleath.

Pre-Colonial Period

Before Europeans came to Guilford County, it was inhabited by members of the Occaneechi and other Siouan tribes. There is no archaeological evidence for sustained occupation at the location of the current Dunleath neighborhood, so it does not appear the area had any Native American names -- at least not any that we can discover.

Robert P. and Mary Eloise Adams Dick, and
the Dunleath Mansion and Farm

The earliest recorded settlement of the area of the current neighborhood was a tract of farmland and woods owned by the Robert P. Dick family. A map of the area on file with N.C. State University shows that the area of the Dick family's property probably included nearly all of the area that is now within the present boundaries of the Dunleath neighborhood.

In 1857, Robert and his wife Mary Eloise Adams Dick decided to build a mansion that they called "Dunleath" (see below about variations on the spelling of the name), located on the western side of the property, facing what is now Church Street. Here is a description of the property, recorded after 1933, on file with N.C. State University.

The Robert Dick couple, married in 1840, decided upon a new house for their farm near the center of Greensboro. The house was in a primeval oak forest on the western edge of the farm.
A Philadelphia architect (Samuel Sloan) was employed to draw plans for "a house that would last through the ages". The style of the house was known as "Italian Villa" and was a considerable departure from the square and columned brick houses of the Georgian manner, a locally predominant style of the day. The house, completed in 1857 or 1858, was surrounded by some 125 to 150 acres. When the house was completed, the architect came down from Philadelphia to landscape a number of acres surrounding the house. Among the great oaks he chose to place tall evergreens, unusual for the area. He laid out walks, cut vistas, introducing half concealed nooks, planting hedges, and new shrubs. 
(Dunleath Mansion West Elevation: Image Provided by Historic Architecture Research. Project Records (UA110.041), Special Collections Research Center at NCSU Libraries.)
A long path led from the sun porch to Judge Dick's famous law office. In 1864 a railroad was built between the grounds and the country road which it faced, but the survey was so worked out that a sweeping curve was laid around the house so that the railroad was kept from cutting through the house. 
Near the end of the Civil War Greensboro was seized by Sherman's troops and the Union army chose Dunleith as headquarters for the occupation army commanded by General Cox. The Dick family was moved into an outbuilding while the general and his staff occupied the house and the lawn was filled with the tents of Union soldiers. 
In 1917 Mr. Trotter, who was then president of Southside Hardware Company, bought Dunleith. Since the railroad had been run through the front yard and Chestnut Street and been Plotted, the Trotters added to the back of the house to make it function as the entrance. 

The Dunleath mansion survived until the late 1960s, and was considered to be a haunted house by children living in the neighborhood at that time (Source: John Hammer, personal communication, Sept. 2016). Eventually it fell into disrepair and was demolished, although some of the stone masonry from it can still be found in the woods behind the Dunleath Community Garden. Some decorative ironwork from the mansion is also on display in the last gallery of the Voices of a City exhibit at the Greensboro History Museum (Dunleath ironwork is visible in the first two slides of the slideshow).

The name "Dunleath" appears to be a (perhaps fictional) Scottish place name, which may have been inspired by the novels of Sir Walter Scott, a much-loved writer of the  18th-19th century, or by a 1851 novel by Caroline Sheridan NortonStuart of Dunleathalso set in Scotland. Scott depicted a highly romanticized, chivalrous Scotland of the Middle Ages, and the theme was hugely popular in the American South in the 19th century. Many southern mansions (as well as pets and sometimes even children) were named after places and characters in Scott's books (Source: Celeste Ray, Highland Heritage: Scottish Americans in the American South, UNC Press 2001, p. 188, and Celeste Ray, "Thigibh!" Means 'Y'll Come!'": Renegotiating Regional Memories through Scottish Heritage Celebrations, in Southern Heritage on Display: Public Ritual and Ethnic Diversity Within Southern Regionalism, University of Alabama Press 2003, pp. 259-60).

The name of the Dick property is variously spelled either as "Dunleath" or "Dunleith" in records and in newspaper accounts. According to the Greensboro History Museum's archivist Elise Allison (personal communications, November 2016), the records on file there -- including an undated typescript description of the grounds by Lizzie Leigh Dick Crabtree, a granddaughter of Judge Robert P. Dick, and a 1917 handwritten letter on the back of a photograph of the house -- indicate that the spelling at that time was "Dunleath". Allison also reports that the "Dunleath" spelling was consistently used in Greensboro Daily News accounts written before 1917. Additionally, an 1879 map on file with the City of Greensboro  labels the Robert P. Dick property with the "Dunleath" spelling (source: Mindy Zachary). Thus it appears that "Dunleath" is the oldest spelling of the name.

In an odd historical twist, it turns out that there is a Barony of Dunleath of Ballywater in Northern Ireland, but the "Dunleath" title was not created until 1892 -- more than 3 decades after the building of the Dick family mansion. Its impressive house, Ballywater Park, is a tourist attraction, film location, and home of Lord and Lady Dunleath.

There is a famous mansion with the name "Dunleith" still standing in Natchez, Mississippi, and there are towns or neighborhoods named "Dunleith" in Illinois, Virginia, and Georgia.

Who was Robert Dick?

Robert Paine Dick (1823-1898) was a prominent Greensboro native who was influential in local, state, and national politics. Educated at the University of North Carolina, he worked as a lawyer in private practice until 1853, when he was appointed U.S. Attorney in eastern North Carolina. He served on the North Carolina Council of State from 1862-1864, and as a state senator from 1864-1865. He was an active unionist, which meant he opposed North Carolina's secession from the Union before the outbreak of the Civil War, although he voted for secession after the Union attack on Fort Sumter. Later in the war he was active in the state's peace movement, and he was a critic of the leadership of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. After the war, he changed his party affiliation to Republican and worked with president Andrew Johnson's administration in implementing Reconstruction. He was later appointed to a federal judgeship by president Ulysses S. Grant, but declined the appointment. He also served as an Associate Justice on the North Carolina Supreme Court from 1868-1872. He and his friend John Dillard founded a law school in Greensboro and trained many of its most prominent lawyers.

Dick was a noted scholar of history and religion, and an orator whose skills and passion as a speaker were widely admired. He gave many speeches on topics both secular and religious. He was deeply dedicated to his Protestant faith, an active member of the First Presbyterian Church in Greensboro, and an avid supporter of the Temperance movement. He died of a kidney ailment (Bright's Disease) in 1898 and is buried in Green Hill Cemetery, about six blocks away from the site of his Dunleath mansion.

According to a personal reminiscence in the Greensboro Daily News (Nov. 16, 1966) by Virginia B. Douglas, wife of Robert and Mary Dick's grandson, the Dicks were slave owners. Mrs. Dick was charged with the slaves' care and religious instruction, and she claimed she was relieved to be free of this responsibility after the Civil War. Mrs. Douglas reports that, after the war, Judge Dick purchased some farmland on what is now NCA&T University and deeded it to a few of his former slaves, while most of them continued to work for wages in the Dick household. Dick himself became a proponent of the 15th Amendment, which guaranteed the right of former slaves to vote.

Summit Avenue

(Note: the information in this section comes from the National Register of Historic Places.)

The area kept the Dunleath name until the late 1890s, when most of that property changed hands, although several acres surrounding the mansion remained for a time with the house. The remainder of the property, along with much more property to the north, was briefly owned by North Carolina Steel and Iron Company, which quickly went out of business. That property was then purchased by Moses and Ceasar Cone. The Cone brothers built the Proximity Cotton Mill on part of the property north of the current neighborhood, and in 1895 the 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". Shortly thereafter Ceasar Cone offered to lend the city the money to build Summit Avenue from Lindsay Street to Bessemer Avenue, which at that time was the city limit. Although one citizen tried to block the project with a lawsuit, Cone prevailed, and the city built a macadamized roadway which was described as "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."

Summit Avenue was soon home to the Cones, the Sternbergers, and many mill executives. In 1902 the city installed an electric streetcar that ran from Summit to South Elm Street. By 1913, nearly all the rest of the existing neighborhood had been platted by the Summit Avenue Building Company, although the property on the west side of Percy and all along Chestnut was not under Cone control, as it had remained longer as a part of the Dunleath estate and was platted by others. Sanborn Fire Insurance Co. maps show that neighborhood homes were built out steadily from this period through the 1930s.

It was also during this period that 801 Cypress street was chosen as a site for a school. The first school there was called the Cypress Street Graded School, but it was soon replaced by the much larger, and more architecturally distinguished, Charles B. Aycock Elementary school in 1922. The New York architectural firm of Starrett and Van Vleck was hired to build Aycock and three other schools in Greensboro -- McIver, Caldwell, and Price -- all part of a $1 million bond passed that year. "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 Charles B. Aycock Historic District and the summit avenue historic district

In 1984, neighborhood residents decided to participate in the City's new historic district program. They had already formed a neighborhood association, and the neighbors at that time decided to name the local historic district, and their neighborhood association, after Aycock School. The City Council agreed, and the Charles B. Aycock Historic District, and the Charles B. Aycock Neighborhood Association were born. 

In 1993, the City of Greensboro submitted an application for the neighborhood to receive national recognition on the National Register of Historic Places (see above), and this was approved by the United States Department of the Interior. The boundaries of the National Register district are slightly different from those of the local historic district, and since the name of the local district wasn't considered to be its historical name, the name of the neighborhood on the National Register of Historic Places is the "Summit Avenue Historic District".

The two different local and National Register designations have different purposes. Local historic designation puts the neighborhood under the zoning regulations of the Greensboro Historic Preservation Commission. National Register designation qualifies many of the structures in the neighborhood for federal tax credits.

Who Was Charles B. Aycock?

Charles Brantley Aycock (1859-1912) was a native of eastern North Carolina, born in Wayne County, and educated at the University of North Carolina. He practiced law in Goldsboro and became a rising star in Democratic politics at the end of the 19th century. He led the Democratic party during the election of 1900, and campaigned heavily in the eastern parts of the state where African Americans held substantial political power and many political offices in the wake of Reconstruction. Aycock thought that Reconstruction had been a disaster for the state, and he was elected governor from 1901-1905.

Here are a few quotations from Aycock from a 1912 biography, The Life and Speeches of Charles Brantley Aycock by  R. D. W. Connor and Clarence Hamiton Poe (Doubleday 1912). Connor and Poe were profound admirers of Aycock.

"[Aycock] believed that the only hope of good government in North Carolina and the other Southern States, rested upon the assured political supremacy of the white race" (p. 61).
Aycock was chosen to lead the Democratic party in 1900, which at the time wrote, "It will be well that the man who is to hold the leadership in the great argument, the appeal to the white men of North Carolina, shall come from the section [of the State -- eastern NC] wherein the curse and the blight of negro domination has been felt." (p. 76)
Aycock vigorously promoted an amendment to the state's constitution that year that aimed to eliminate voting rights for African Americans. Aycock said, "This amendment was drawn with great skill. It was drawn after long thought, and with full knowledge of the end to be attained. It was drawn with the deliberate purpose of depriving the negro of the right to vote, and of allowing every white man to retain that right." (p. 81) He called universal suffrage "a failure" (p. 82). Aycock said, "We recognize and provide for the God-given and hereditary superiority of the white man" (p. 84).
Aycock's biographers wrote, "He knew ... that the justice of taking the ballot from the negro was a good thing for the black man, and the justice of giving an adequate education to the negro was a good thing for the white man" (p. 153).
In a speech given in Connecticut, Aycock said, "Let the negro learn once for all that there is unending separation of the races, that the two peoples may develop side by side to the fullest but that they cannot intermingle ... There flows in my veins the blood of the dominant race that has conquered the earth and seeks out the mysteries of the heights and depths" ( pp. 162-3).

Charles Aycock and the Democratic party were successful in taking voting rights away from African Americans for many decades. But despite Aycock's vehement support for white supremacy, he also insisted when he was governor that public schools should be built for African Americans and that they should all have the opportunity for an education, and he made provisions that their schools should be publicly funded from the same source as white schools, although the schools for black students eventually received far less funding, and focused solely on vocational education (source: Prof. Chuck Bolton, UNCG Department of History, "Every Effort to Revise the Past Isn't Nefarious", Greensboro News & Record, Nov. 8, 2016). Under Aycock's administration many public schools were built in North Carolina, earning him the name "The Education Governor".

Charles B. Aycock has no known historical connection to our neighborhood apart from his name being given to the school in the already-existing neighborhood.

Renaming the Aycock School and the Neighborhood

In 2014, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro began thinking about changing the name of its Aycock Auditorium as the public became more aware of Aycock's support of white supremacy. Other institutions in the state had already removed Aycock's name from public buildings, and in 2016, UNCG decided to do the same. In 2017, the Guilford County School Board followed suit and voted to change the name of Aycock Middle School to Melvin C. Swann Middle School. This change precipitated a neighborhood-wide discussion of what to call our neighborhood.

After a thorough public process led by the neighborhood Board of Directors and facilitated by the City of Greensboro, on March 27, 2017, neighborhood residents voted overwhelmingly  to change the name of our local historic district and neighborhood association to Dunleath. This change was later approved unanimously by the Greensboro City Council.

-- © David B. Wharton, 2018 --