Monday, June 29, 2015

Another Twist of Fate for Chinqua Penn Plantation

Chinqua Penn Plantation
Chinqua Penn Plantation, the sprawling historic mansion located in Reidsville, North Carolina, finally has a new owner and its fate is once again in question. The home and 23 acres of surrounding grounds were purchased by Mitchell Barnett Properties, LLC, for $650,000, quite a bit less than Sun Trust’s original asking price of $1,900,000. This is yet another twist in the story of this grand manor.

Built in 1925 by Thomas Jefferson “Jeff” Penn and  his wife Margaret “Betsy” Schoellkoph Penn, the house was a treasure trove of architecture and decorative arts; a culmination of years of travel and collecting.  Mr. Penn was a native of Reidsville and a descendant of both William Penn and Thomas Jefferson.  Mrs. Penn was from an affluent New York family that helped harness power from Niagara Falls. The family pedigrees were buoyed by serious tobacco money. The management of tobacco interests in the East as well as three world tours gave the Penns an ideal platform from which to amass their extensive collection. To house these treasures, the Penns built a thirty-room mansion created from the stone that surrounded the land. It was decorated in an eclectic style with art and architecture from every corner of the world, including a full size stone and timber pagoda. They named the “plantation” Chinqua Penn, which was a combination of their family name and the chinquapin, a species of the American chestnut tree, which was indigenous to the area.

Stone and Timber Pagoda
The Penns had always intended to give the plantation to the state of North Carolina and when Mr. Penn passed away in 1946, Mrs. Penn began to make plans for the estate.  On October 20, 1959, she formally presented the home and grounds to the Consolidated University of North Carolina, which included the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, North Carolina State College (NC State), and Woman’s College (now UNCG).  At the same time, she gave the university system more than $750,000 to maintain the home and its vast farmlands, orchards, lakes, forest, and livestock. Provisions in this gift stated that she be allowed the status of lifetime tenant, giving her full rights to the property until her death and that after twelve years, if the management of the estate became “unfeasible,” the university system could dispose of the property as they saw fit.

The Clock Tower on the Property

The university system initially saw Chinqua Penn as a top tourist destination and a research center. UNCG would manage the house and NC State would develop a beef cattle and crop research center and operate a 4-H Club camp by the 25 ½ acre lake. The home was also seen as a perfect location for North Carolina students to study art and interior design.

The Gardens

For twenty-five years after Mrs. Penn’s death in 1965, UNCG and NC State oversaw the operations of Chinqua Penn.  Management and economic challenges faced by operating the estate, as well as over $2,000,000 in estimated repairs, forced the UNCG Board of Trustees to close the house to tours in 1991. A non-profit agency quickly formed in an attempt to keep the home open to the public, but “lack of funding, economic conditions, and debt” required them to give up the endeavor in 2002.

Interior of Chinqua Penn Before Auction
 Chinqua Penn’s fortune seemed to change when in 2006, Calvin Phelps, a local businessman also involved in the tobacco industry, purchased the home and 23 acres of land from the university system for $4,100,000. He immediately opened it for tours and planned to expand the use of the property to include a winery, overnight lodging, corporate conferences, and weddings. NC State continued to retain the Penn 4-H Educational Center. By 2012, besieged by financial and legal troubles, Phelps was ordered by the United States Bankruptcy Court to sell Chinqua Penn’s art, artifacts, and furnishings during a two-day auction in Greensboro, North Carolina. The items sold for more than $3,000,000, which was funneled to his many creditors. Some of the objects were purchased by Lindley Butler on behalf of the Museum and Archives of Rockingham County. On September 18, 2013, Chinqua Penn went into foreclosure, with SunTrust Bank acquiring the property for $1,400,000.

Chinese-themed guest bedroom
The recent purchase has opened the door to new possibilities for the property. Although its portable treasures have been auctioned off, the home’s beautiful architecture and surrounding acreage continue to be a huge draw. As there has been no announcement of intended plans, Chinqua Penn’s future remains to be seen.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Farming for Uncle Sam

On April 6, 1917, the United Stated officially entered World War I. With the institutional motto of “Service,” the women of the State Normal and Industrial College (now UNCG) sought ways to contribute to the war efforts. Students came together to observe meatless and wheatless days, take classes in food conservation, raise money for the War Relief Fund, and make surgical dressings.

During the summer of 1918, ten Normal women heeded President Woodrow Wilson’s call to increase American food production and reduce food waste by volunteering to work on a 300-acre farm just outside of Greensboro. Most of these Farmerettes had no experience with farm work. In fact, most were not from rural areas at all. But, according to one student – Marjorie Craig (class of 1919) – these women “volunteered for that phase of war work because there was so little else we could do to help win the war … We were told that all the food produced at home made possible a greater supply for the soldiers.”

The Farmerettes knew that their presence in the fields might not be welcomed. As Craig noted, “we had been warned beforehand that we would be laughed at and we had prepared to ignore it.” In khaki uniforms and straw hats, these Farmerettes performed all but the heaviest agricultural labor – hoeing corn, pitching hay, threshing wheat, harvesting vegetables, feeding pigs, milking cows, and performing numerous other farm tasks. Work days began at 8 a.m. and continued until 5 p.m., with a one-hour break for lunch.

Campus administrators lent a hand, with J.M. Sink, superintendent of buildings and grounds, supervising their work. Even President Julius Foust stepped in to drive the reaper to cut the wheat.

Ten years after this summer, Margaret Hayes (class of 1919) recounted her time on the farm: "Being a Farmerette I count as one of the most worthwhile experiences of my life. We were engaged in something that we felt was real and vital, not just puttering, as we suspected was the case with some of the war work."

There were tangible results: hundreds of cans of vegetables, as well as products that could not be canned. In total that summer, these students worked to produce 1100 bushels of wheat, 3000 bushels of corn, 2500 gallons of tomatoes, and 2000 gallons of beans. Most of these foodstuffs were used in the campus pantry the following semester. But perhaps more important than the resulting products, the ten Farmerettes united to fight misconceptions about women’s work abilities and contribute to the war effort in their own unique way.

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Carpenterettes and the YWCA Hut

"The Carpenterettes," 1918
During World War I, the students of the State Normal and Industrial College (now UNCG) took part in numerous aspects of campus work -- including many of the jobs vacated by local men. In the summer of 1918, seven students calling themselves the “Carpenterettes,” banded together and built a YWCA hut. The “hut movement” was spearheaded by the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) and quickly became popular in America. Several huts were constructed in Greensboro for community use. These inexpensive and durable buildings were based on the simple army huts constructed for the war.

The Exterior of the YWCA Hut

The YWCA hut was built on the State Normal campus at the north end of College Avenue. It became a popular all-purpose recreational building at the college for the next thirty years. Greensboro contractor, John T. Hunt, supervised the project free of charge, and the students cleared the land, laid the bricks, and helped frame the structure.

The Interior of the YWCA Hut

The hut’s design included a kitchen, a small library, and a large meeting room measuring 40 by 80 feet with four fireplaces. The furniture for the hut was purchased with local donations. State Normal students even solicited and received a phonograph from Thomas Edison. After the war, the Carpenterettes disbanded. The YWCA hut was razed in the 1940s when North Drive was built.   

Monday, June 8, 2015

Commercial Department: Training for the Business World

UNCG at its opening in 1892 was known as the State Normal and Industrial School -- "normal" referring to training for teaching and "industrial" referring to training for other work. A "Business Department" was among the founding departments of the school. This department is described in the institution's first course catalog: "The business or commercial course, embracing such subjects as Stenography, Typewriting, Telegraphy, and Book-Keeping, is intended especially for those women who are thrown upon their own resources, but who do not care to teach."  By the second catalog, the name of the department has changed to the "Commercial Department."

Students enrolled in Commercial Department's shorthand class, 1902
The course of study in the Commercial Department was intended to be completed within a single academic year, although some students who did not have the required prerequisite coursework from high school were required to take additional preparatory classes prior to beginning the program. Advanced courses were offered for those wishing to take classes after that first year. Promotional material from the department in the 1950s stated the benefit of this one-year training program on a college campus by noting that "students are able to experience a year of college life and at the same time acquire a marketable skill." Graduates of the Commercial Department earned a certificate after completing the required coursework and demonstrating the ability to "write from dictation correctly in shorthand from general new matter at the rate of 80, 100, 125 (and above) words per minute."

Commercial students in the Typing Room, 1942
Students from across the state of North Carolina enrolled in the commercial program -- and most stayed in North Carolina after completing the program. In fact, unlike the other academic departments in the school, residency in North Carolina was required for acceptance to the Commercial Department program. A report on the Commercial Department produced in the 1950s noted that "there is scarcely a town in North Carolina, from Manteo to Murphy, that has not been represented in some commercial class. There is scarcely an industry that has not employed students from the Department. Countless young women trained in the Department have been secretaries to the most prominent executives in the State, to Congressmen in Washington, to administrators in the Pentagon, to executives of CBS in New York."

Commercial students training in the "machines lab," 1957
In response to increased demand for trained office workers in national defense during World War II, in February 1942, the Woman's College enrolled its first Commercial Department students to begin their studies in the middle of the school year. Previously all students enrolled in the one-year program began their studies at the same time at the beginning the academic year. Forty-three women from across North Carolina enrolled for this "emergency commercial class."

For its first 37 years, the Commercial Department was led by E.J. Forney (who also served as the college's treasurer). Forney ensured that the coursework offered reflected the most recent technological innovations available for office work at the time. Training in new styles of shorthand and on the use of new machines meant that graduates of the Commercial Department were in high demand in the clerical labor market.

Commercial Department students, 1966
Separate from the Commercial Department, the college began a four-year degree program in Secretarial Administration in 1932. This new program included the same liberal arts foundation that was common to all of the college's majors, and culminated in a bachelor of science degree. Outside consultants urged in 1954 that the Commercial and Secretarial Administration programs be merged, but ultimately the college decided, for the time, to maintain the separate one-year and four-year programs.

In the 1960s, however, enrollment in the Commercial Department declaimed sharply as lower-cost community colleges, technical institutes, and private business colleges began to attract the women looking for a one-year degree program. In 1967, faced with an enrollment of only 111 students, UNCG decided to terminate the Commercial Department and the one-year commercial program.

Monday, June 1, 2015

"Gays Go Home" -- The Strong Hall Protest of 1979

The LGBTQ community of The University of North Carolina at Greensboro has contributed to the reputation for diversity and inclusivity earned by this university. Historically, this reputation was fought for and earned by very brave students, staff, and faculty.  

About a month after the first official meeting of the Gay Student Union (now the Queer Student Union), which occurred September 25, 1979, the first major anti-LGBTQ incident took place on the campus of UNCG. An educational seminar focusing on homosexuality was organized for the residents of Strong Dormitory. The organizer, graduate counselor Richard Stilley, was concerned about repeated reports of homophobic harassment in the dormitory, and he hoped that a guided conversation between students and faculty would defuse the tension in the halls. The speakers at the presentation, called “Homosexuality and Society,” were Rev. Joseph Flora (faculty advisor for the Gay Student Union and pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Greensboro) and Dr. Thomas K. Fitzgerald (professor of Anthropology at UNCG). The event was to be held at 10:00 pm on November 15, 1979. 
Moore-Strong Residence Hall, 1973
At the approximate time the seminar was scheduled to begin, a group of anti-LGBTQ protesters congregated on Gray Drive, recruiting additional students from nearby dormitories to join in the protest. Around a hundred student demonstrators gathered in the courtyard in front of Strong Dormitory in protest of the seminar, many wearing brown paper bags as masks and setting off fireworks. Waving their protest posters, they shouted slogans such as, “Queers, Fags Go Home,” “We Are Men, We Are Men, We Are Men,” and “Dames Not Flakes.” UNCG Campus Security, which had been notified of the potential for such an event that afternoon, arrived on the scene of the protest, ordering students to take off the masks and stop setting off fireworks, but permitting them the opportunity to congregate peacefully until 11:30 pm.

Upon hearing the sounds of the protest from within the residence hall, Rev. Flora left Dr. Fitzgerald to continue the seminar, while he went out to reason with the protesters. Rev. Flora and a student participant in the seminar tried to discuss the purpose of the workshop and invited them in to join the discussion, which only increased the chanting and verbal assault of the demonstrators. As campus security herded the crowd back from the windows, Rev. Flora attempted to pacify the dissenters. He succeeded in opening a halted dialogue with protesters, who asked him such questions as, “Isn’t gay immoral?” and “Why is everyone turning gay?.” Rev. Flora remained with the demonstrators discussing such topics until the protest was ended by Campus Security.

A dominant theme in the dialogue of the protesters before and after the event was that they felt that their dormitory was singled out for the seminar and that this designation would lead to Strong Dormitory being known as a gay residence hall. Rick Darnell, the first known "out" student on UNCG’s campus and resident in Strong dormitory, said that the protest did not make him feel afraid. He stated it did make him feel uncomfortable, and homophobic verbal harassment increased in the residence hall after the event.   

This post is in honor of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month, 2015.

Also See:
Chronicling the Founding of the LGBT Student Organization (1971-1975)