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History

History

Greensboro has many extraordinary storylines. Our modern city of nearly 135 square miles and 275,000 people resounds with stories of the people who have shaped our community for thousands of years. As you travel through Greensboro today, I encourage you to think differently about your journey and your destination. Imagine …

Diverse origins. Greensboro had a well-established legacy before its founding. Native American people had hunted, camped and traded here for centuries, and by the late 1600s, members of the Saura and Keyauwee tribes called this region home. During the 1700s, newcomers of Scots-Irish, German and Quaker heritage arrived with land deeds in hand and the notion that they could better their lives.

Guilford County, then Guilford Courthouse. In 1771 the state created Guilford County. Just 10 years later, the Revolutionary War was fought on this landscape, when General Nathanael Greene led American troops against British forces led by Lord Cornwallis. It was a brief encounter, around two hours, but one with lasting consequences. Greene’s forces retreated first from the field, but not before inflicting heavy casualties. Cornwallis was on his heels, so to speak, and surrendered to George Washington before the year was out.

Greene, then Greensborough, then Greensboro. The tiny community of Guilford Courthouse lost out when voters approved moving the county seat to a more central location. Commissioners bought 42 acres of land for $98, after which a surveyor plotted 14 blocks of lots for sale. The idea to honor Nathanael Greene was an easy one, and in 1808 Greensborough was established. Officially chartered as a city in 1875, and by the 1890s it was known by everyone as Greensboro.

Freedom, sometimes deferred, always pursued. For 20 percent of the people who lived here before 1865 the freedom fought for in the Revolutionary War did not apply. Enslaved African Americans were considered property, without rights that we take for granted. Yet they always sought to have control over their lives and improve their circumstances, and hoped that the U.S. Constitution would apply to all. An informal network of people, commonly called the Underground Railroad, developed in Guilford County. They offered safe haven and spoke against human bondage. When slavery ended in 1865, newly freed men and women began a community called Warnersville. Nearly 100 years later, four NC A&T freshmen sat down at a downtown lunch counter and asked to be served along with white customers. The protest that began in Greensboro on February 1, 1960 stood out because students led the way, and their moral courage sparked change across the South.

Greensboro, then Gate City. You can get there from here, and it’s all thanks to the railroad, which arrived in the 1850s. Farmers and nurseries could ship their produce. Stores could receive wares. Companies could receive supplies and ship out finished products. Lindley Nursery, Vick Chemical, Cone Mills, Pomona Terra Cotta, Odell Hardware and Hudson Overalls are just a few of the businesses that flourished thanks to rail connections. By the 1890s, Greensboro had a new nickname, Gate City, thanks to those train tracks.

Streetscape, then a skyline. Greensborough’s first homes lined six streets near a central courthouse square, at an intersection we know as Elm and Market. Fast forward 100 years, to the early 1920s, when a $2.5 million skyscraper added a touch of beauty to our skyline, first as Jefferson Standard Life Insurance headquarters, now a branch of Lincoln Financial. By the millennium, our downtown skyline had multiplied at least fourfold.

museum

Hundreds, then thousands, and now hundreds of thousands. The first town census, taken in 1829, counted not quite 500, a number that grew to about 1,500 by 1860. Expanding the city limits and welcoming newcomers have multiplied the figures, from 10,000 at the beginning of the 20th century, then breaking the 100,000 mark by 1960, and in a recent count, home to over 275,000. We have always been a city of newcomers, and since the 1980s, home to immigrants and refugees from around the globe.

As you’re strolling down a sidewalk, enjoying a greenway path or park, watching the scenery from a bus, or driving along the city streets, think differently. Think about all the journeys that came before. And help us imagine what’s ahead. •

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