Greenwood - Chapel Hill's Most Illustrious Neighborhood

by Bea Witten

How the Greenwood Neighborhood in Chapel Hill Came to Be

The Greenwood neighborhood began in 1933 when Paul Green (1894-1981) purchased over 200 wooded acres outside Chapel Hill—in the country—with his earnings from screenwriting in Hollywood. He paid about $25 per acre. It was the Depression, but the '20s had been a time of strong growth for the University, and land was viewed as a good investment while it was cheap. Furthermore, Paul had grown up on a Harnett County farm and always loved land—walking it, acquiring it, selling it, using and developing it.

Paul Green the founder and first resident of Chapel Hill's Greenwood neighborhood

A Pulitzer Prize winner in 1927, Paul was at this time teaching philosophy at UNC. He and his wife Elizabeth had met as drama students here in 1919 and, in the long woodland walks that were a part of their courtship, had discovered this place where they would build their dream house, "if their ship came in." Build it they did in 1936 at the end of the road that Paul laid out himself. He always favored curves, and while Greenwood Road is a fairly direct mile from Raleigh Road to the house, it follows natural contours and is not straight. Paul Green’s son remembers how they made the track drivable, his dad standing on the old road grader hooked to the Buick and he, age 10, driving the car very slowly.

In the beginning the four Green children had the wilderness to themselves and their playmates were all from school. The way they came home in the car was to get out at the beginning of Greenwood Road and hang onto the runningboard while Paul drove weaving and teasing and scaring them all the way home. They tramped the woods barefoot and lay on the grass summer nights learning all the constellations from their father. They loved to watch and feel a storm build and roll up the valley. A three-mile walk to get anywhere was normal. Paul Jr. liked to tinker with radios, and his sisters helped him scavenge for components at the town incinerator down at today's University Mall. The Greens kept a cow for milk and a pony that plowed the two-acre vegetable garden; it fell to the children to clean the large chicken coop.

In developing their land, the Greens envisioned a community in direct touch with nature. With engineers from NC State College, Paul mapped lots of up to 5 acres, shaping them on both aesthetic and practical lines. The price per acre was about $250 in the early '40s. The covenant that guided most of the development assured that a new house would not obstruct the view from existing homes, and the cost in 1944 should be a substantial "minimum of $10,000." The Greens had borrowed from the Bank of Chapel Hill and taken advances on royalties to build their own house. The first lots, all on Greenwood Road, were sold to academic and literary friends—Louis Katzoff (908) of the Philosophy Department, the writer Noel Houston (801), James Tippett 704) who edited science texts in the Education Department, Palmer Hudson (710), Clifford Lyons (716), and Harry Russell (712) of the English Department, Bill Lang (708), the popular head basketball coach, William Meade Prince (707), the famous illustrator who came to chair the Art Department, Phil Schinhan (700) of the Music Department.

Phil Schinhan, with his wife Mary Frances, moved to Greenwood in 1947. Phil and Mary Frances had met in 1936 at Watts Hospital, where she went to have her appendix removed and he his tonsils. Mary Frances was the daughter of Howard Odum who pioneered both the Department of Sociology and the School of Social Work at UNC, the man for whom Odum Village was named

700 Greenwood Road in Chapel Hill - The Schinhan House

Greenwood in the 1950s

In the 1950s a post-war building boom swept the country. This was the period of greatest development in Greenwood. Mortgage companies grew up to do some of the work previously handled by banks: credit history, title search, closing. It wasn’t hard to get a mortgage if you had a steady job.

It was a new idea to build and live on one level. Many Greenwood houses are ranch-style or one-story contemporaries. A local architect or contractor adapted a plan offered in Better Homes & Gardens or a book from a hardware store. The home of Earl and Rhoda Wynn at 900 Stagecoach Road, built in 1950, was the first of many houses in Chapel Hill designed by Jim Webb in the California Style. His firm also created the master plan for RTP and designed the old public library, now the Chapel Hill Museum. Artist Didi Dunphey Hudson drew her own graceful plan for 619 Greenwood Road. A number of homes were built with a rental apartment having a separate entrance, and the tenants—graduate students or young teachers—blended into the neighborhood.

William Meade Prince was an illustrator much like Norman Rockwell. He did many magazine covers in the 1930s and 40s. He lived with his wife Lillian at 707 Greenwood Road in Chapel Hill. He also wrote the book The Southern Part of Heaven which describes growing up in Chapel Hill at the beginning of the 20th century. He commited suicide at his house on November 10th, 1951. He was only 51.

Old Mill, Stagecoach, Arrowhead and Christopher Roads were laid with one-acre lots for $1250 - $1500. Green declined a realtor's suggestion of $3000 because he wished not to exclude young faculty on small salaries. By 1960 there were some 75 homes and many children. "Wild Bill," who operated the road grader, allowed children to ride up there on his machine with him as he worked. Greenwood Road is said to have been named by Chapel Hill newspaper editor Louis Graves. Arrowhead was named for the great number of Indian arrowheads found in this area, Christopher for Christopher Barbee who had owned the land in the 18th century, and Stagecoach for ruts that showed the old stage route. Sugarberry and Houston Roads were opened later. (Paul Green named Houston Road in memory of his friend Noel Houston, who died in 1957.) The covenant committee, chaired by Maurice Newton, the dentist, who built at 814 Old Mill Road, reviewed all building plans until the covenant lapsed in the '70s.

In the early years the dirt roads had been at times a horror of bumps and potholes, for which the Greens were held responsible as owners. The pathetic maintenance department was the cantankerous pony Billy, who was hitched to a sledge piled with rocks to plow the snow or level the roadbed as best he might; the neighbors together would hire an oil truck to settle the awful dust. The Town of Chapel Hill annexed the Greenwood neighborhood in 1956 and paved the streets around that time.

Some Who Have Lived in Chapel Hill's Greenwood Neigborhood

A number of writers, as Paul Green hoped, have come to live on Greenwood Road. James Tippett, who gardened at 704 from a wheelchair, wrote poems for children like:

My Dog

I do not love my dog because
He's good at doing tricks
Like standing on his two hind feet
Or fetching balls and sticks.
I do not love my dog because
He's gentle and polite
And barks to drive away the things
That prowl around at night.
I do not love my dog because
He really is quite fine.
But oh! I love my dog because

I'm his and he is mine.

704 Greenwood Road Chapel Hill, The Tippett House

William Meade Prince wrote The Southern Part of Heaven, the rich memoir of his childhood here at the turn of the century, in his home at 707. (Chapel Hill has been basking in this title ever since.) His wife Lillian played Queen Elizabeth for many years in The Lost Colony, which was first performed in 1937. Paul Green invented the genre that he called 'symphonic drama,' and wrote eighteen historical plays, to be presented outdoors, in which music, dance, and special lighting effects all 'sounded together' with the action and dialogue. Robert Frost stayed with his friend Clifford Lyons on his way to and from Florida, and they were seen strolling together after a reading or a party. Lambert Davis, a talking encyclopedia popping out all the time, directed the UNC Press 1948-70 and built 701. His wife Isabella was a walker and dressed in dramatic, strong colors, gloves and a wide hat, swinging a cane in her later years. They were famous for their comfortable, stimulating and intellectual hospitality. The poet Charles Eaton lives at 808; he began the Creative Writing Program at UNC in 1946 with Paul Green’s support. Noel Houston (801) wrote fiction and pieces for The New Yorker, and his home was a regular gathering place for Chapel Hill writers to toss around ideas. Betty Smith, author of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, bought a large parcel in 1948 at the head of Greenwood with her literary earnings but never built on it; still undeveloped, it is now owned by UNC.

In the '50s and '60s Sandy McClamroch, mayor of Chapel Hill 1961-69 and founder of the radio station WCHL, lived at 815 Greenwood. He also guided the whole development of the Carol Woods Retirement Community as president of the Association from 1972-82. Further up the road, at 714, lived Adelaide Walters, who in 1948 helped establish the local League of Women Voters and was the first woman elected to public office in North Carolina. She is described as attractive, vivacious, and informal, also progressive, selfless, devoted to good works, respected and well liked by everyone. She had no children and her husband was a traveling salesman for Hushpuppy shoes. She served for three terms on the Chapel Hill Board of Aldermen and worked tirelessly for civil rights, improved conditions for the poor, political power for women, urban and regional planning, and good government. Vermont Connecticut Royster, winner in 1953 of the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing, upon retiring from the Wall Street Journal in 1971, came to teach journalism at his alma mater UNC and lived at 905 Arrowhead Road. How many neighborhoods in America have been home to two winners of the Pulitzer Prize?

Baucom House on Stagecoach Road  Chapel Hill shortly after being built - early 1950s

Bill and Claire Newman built their home at 808 Old Mill Road, the first house on this street, in 1950. He taught music 1945-77 at UNC, and he had a passion for motorcycles. He helped and taught his students to fix anything. He also made a cross-country piano tour by motorcycle in 1953, Claire having wrapped his concert clothing in tissue paper to limit wrinkling! Wherever he stopped overnight, he was able by inquiry to locate a Steinway to practice on. His AJS bike died as he ended the trip and turned into his own driveway. The Newmans landscaped their acre for entertaining and maintained, by themselves, a large lawn with a tractor mower. They hosted frequent receptions for faculty or following a concert. Bill ran a clinic every summer 1950-70 for up to 200 piano teachers from around the state and beyond, and invited them all over for a home-cooked dinner. In addition to the preparation of food and decorations, loaner chairs had to be brought from and returned to Walker's Funeral Home in the back of a car. If it rained, they just took everything over to Hill Hall. Claire edited Bill's scholarly works, as well as teaching typing and later computer skills to many children. And she painted the outside of the house four times by herself. A senior UNC student who was majoring in voice asked Dr, Newman his advice for launching a nightclub act after college. Bill replied that piano tuning would be a more reliable career. Within a few weeks Andy Griffith instead stepped into his dazzling career with “What it was was football.”

At 907 Greenwood Road lived Bill and Lena Cherry. A banker, Bill volunteered for almost 40 years as treasurer of the UNC Educational Foundation. It became a family tradition to host a picnic in the backyard, the Saturday before football practice began in August, for the families of UNC coaches, UNC administration, and the Bank of Chapel Hill—200-300 people, and then to go off to the beach for a week.

In 1950 the future UNC chancellor Bill Aycock, during his first year of teaching law, built a cement-block house at 902 Arrowhead Road, laying many of the blocks himself, while his brother was the electrician. Maynard Adams, an assistant professor of philosophy, excavated a full basement below his ranch at 813 Old Mill Road; "Maynard's Folly" occupied him from 1959 until 1965. First he dug out of the clay a 3' crawlspace with a mattock, shovel & wheelbarrow. He learned what he needed to know about carpentry, electricity and plumbing from manuals sold in the hardware store and created a space 77' x 26' with 8' steel columns and windows; it had a study with working fireplace, a bathroom and a darkroom.

813 Old Mill Road,The Maynard Adams House

Helen Peacock, famous CHHS librarian, wore a sweatshirt that read, "Old librarians never die; they just get checked out." Her husband Bill never drove a car but for 30 years rode his 3-speed bike from 901 Stagecoach Road up the long Raleigh Road hill to his office at the UNC Physical Education department. Their teenage daughter Margaret Ann, as a voracious reader, diagnosed her own appendicitis!

Didi Dunphey, at 616 Sugarberry Road, is an artist and commercially successful illustrator in the fields of fashion, medicine and science. She conceived and helped create the Women's Center Art Show in 1985. Thirty years earlier, as a woman and young artist, she had missed the support of a forum and a venue for her art in Chapel Hill.

Married women who held jobs in the '40s and '50s were usually schoolteachers, secretaries, or nurses. Rhoda Wynn taught radio production and programming at UNC until ‘excused’ by her marriage in 1951 to Earl Wynn. He was the founder and chair of the department, but no one escaped the University's nepotism rule! This rule fell away with the growth of the medical school and the hospital in the 1950s. Candidates for medical positions were often married to other medical professionals, and they could demand jobs for both. Through the '50s and '60s Lena Cherry and Rhoda both worked at Collier Cobb's insurance company, handling the new area of homeowner's insurance. Previously separate property, contents, and liability policies were being consolidated to cut cost and improve service.

Fred Ellis House at 805 Old Mill Road, Chapel Hill. Childhood home of Francie, Barbara, Marybeth, and Frieda Ellis.

In 1965 Paul and Elizabeth Green sold their house with four acres to Watts and Mary Hill and moved out to the country. Watts' father, George Watts Hill, had built the current Chancellor's house across Raleigh Road, and some quipped that Greenwood was the valley of humility between two Hills! The Greens' property was sixteen acres, and Watts suggested to Paul that he would do better developing most of it than selling it as a whole. Paul later thanked Watts for this advice!

At 908 Greenwood Road in the '60s lived Mary Walker Randolph, a professor of nursing who understood the mathematics that Jefferson used to build a serpentine wall one brick thick. When she retired, she bought a cement mixer and hired a mason to help her surround her large garden with such a wall, a memory from her childhood in Charlottesville. Her yellow primroses, peonies, and a Cecile Brunner rose are flourishing still in this garden 35 years later.

817 Old Mill Road, The William Robert Mann House

Bob Hardison, UNC Purchasing Agent, spent two years improving the soil before building at 811 Old Mill in 1956. After cutting the woods, he loosened the clay 30" deep and repeatedly incorporated organic material and sand; he added irrigation in the '70s. In 1982 he was a finalist in the PBS Victory Garden contest. Incidentally, Bob had worked his way through UNC in the '30s by washing dishes at his boarding house and selling peanuts at football games. His dad sent them down every week from the farm; Bob picked them up at the bus station and roasted them in a barrel turned by a handle. He hired a few fellow-students to help him, and helped his brother do the same. They had no competition in this enterprise.

The triangular islands at the top and bottom of Old Mill Road were Paul Green's design to provide open space for meeting and play areas. Mr. McGowan fitted a wire between two trees with a pulley for a long swing. Kickball and rollabat were popular, and the Prillamans provided pony rides here—as well as turns on the street in their restored Model T. Mrs. Prillaman started the Bluebirds Club for little girls to cook or sew or put on a play or talent show.

Summer heat meant picnics in the woods, where wild strawberries and other berries were abundant. It meant swimming out at Hogan's Lake—which offered a concession stand and had a float in the middle, away from the cows. Many families paid something for their children to spend a week at the Hogan farm, where they learned to milk a cow, gathered eggs, and took part in all sides of ordinary farm life; it was the best of summer camps for one family at a time. At home the Houstons dug a 4’ x 10’ swimming pool which they emptied and scrubbed every week, because they didn't use chlorine. In 1967 the YMCA and Community Center pools opened. Summer also meant walking or biking up for free lessons at the university pool, drinking iced tea, opening windows, pulling down the shades at 10 am, walking with your friends over to the Dairy Bar at Glen Lennox for a delicious cone, playing baseball in your front yard during the worst of the heat and loving every minute. When someone remarked that his grass took a beating, Bill Aycock answered that he was growing children now, would grow grass later.

Glenwood Grammar School, as it was called, became Chapel Hill's second elementary school in 1953 and served grades 1-7. Greenwood children walked there, even first graders, or biked, in pairs or groups, crossing the Bypass with no traffic light because there wasn't much traffic. The school library was created largely from private donations, and some dining tables were stacked with books waiting for a card envelope before going in. The principal was scared of dogs and once let the children out of class to empty the schoolyard of them. Before Glenwood opened, children were carpooled to school on West Franklin Street. There were several pools at once in one family, and mothers bonded that way both with each other and with other children.

The popular Wednesday morning coffee, at different homes, brought mothers and young children together until the population became just too large and the custom was abandoned. Greenwood children knew all the local mothers. The Tippetts were childless but welcomed the young at any time of day to swing on their porch hammock and enjoy some homemade cookies with lemonade and a few stories. Children flocked to these two gentle and unhurried people, she neat and handsome and soft, he avuncular in his wheelchair.

The Schinhan children had every possible pet. For the guinea pig installation in the back yard Phil rigged an outdoor heat lamp for winter because the indoors was full of cats and dogs. The Schinhans were night owls, and when Paul Green drove by one night he commented, "Even the Schinhan guinea pigs stay up all night." There was no leash law, and Lambert Davis's fine German shepherd Colgate Jones occasionally visited a bitch in heat on the other side of East Franklin Street. Once, since Colgate stayed with the Schinhan dogs when the Davises traveled, Mary Frances was called to retrieve him. In Martha Tippett's 1965 Christmas card two sad events are noted: first, that the Greens moved away and second, that "Colgate, self-appointed guardian of the neighborhood and dean of dogs, died."

The woods both within and around Greenwood were much more extensive 40 years ago than they are today. They held whippoorwills, bats, beautiful moths and owls (there are still some owls). Mary Frances used to count whippoorwill calls instead of sheep—whereas little Susan Prillaman, who lived closer to the Bypass, listened excitedly for a big rig on her way to sleep! Two children on a swing set one day watched a huge cat emerge from, and retreat back to, the leafy shadows. "We were old enough and wise enough to know that this was no pet cat!"

Halloween in the '50s was a central highlight for families, with makeup, costumes, parties featuring cobwebs and witches' brew, blindfolding, and mischief. Daddies and dogs escorted the little ones along the dark streets. The old slave cemetery now owned by the town, at the end of Greenwood Road, was a center of spooking. Older Glen Lennox children were "discouraged" in Greenwood, but Greenwood children were in heaven with the number of doorbells to ring at Glen Lennox. At Christmas time many families cut their own tree among the cedars planted by birds on open land, although it belonged to Paul Green. Children went caroling on Christmas Eve, singing out all the verses from little books distributed by the Chapel Hill Insurance Company. George Prillaman drove his Model T around town and wowed the children as Santa in a sea of presents; it was his daughter's chore at home to wrap those many empty boxes!

Every Thursday morning since 1966, 20-40 wives of foreign students have been meeting to practice their English at Betsy Chamberlin's home, 1001Arrowhead Road. The program was the idea of Mary Helen Hayman, who noticed in the late '50s that international students—all men previously—were beginning to bring their families along. The Chamberlin garage was remodeled into a play space. With the financial support of Churchwomen United, and with a staff of volunteer teachers and child care givers, English conversation classes are conducted at three levels, following coffee and a discussion of upcoming local events. Arrowhead has been chock full of cars on Thursday mornings, except in the summer, for 37 years!

Paul Green's cabin which stood behind his house at the end of Greenwood Road

Paul Green's cabin, his writing room for 26 years, stood some distance behind his house in the woods and overlooking the pastoral scene of the Conner dairy farm, complete with red barn, that preceded University Mall. The cabin came from Hillsborough in 1939, log by log, was rechinked, and gained a chimney. It was moved in 1991 for preservation to the nearby NC Botanical Garden, thanks to the efforts of Rhoda Wynn and Sally Vilas. The transport of the cabin on a flatbed truck down Greenwood Road was an impressive maneuver, with many stops to adjust it on the truck bed. I am told that the spectacle did not lose by comparison with a hurricane.

This is the second in a series of detailed histories Bea Witten has contributed on Chapel Hill's neighborhoods. Growing up in Greenwood in the 1950s and 60s and knowing most of the people and houses that she has profiled in this piece, I can unequivocally say she has captured the essence of this neighborhood better than any former or current resident could.