A 1907 Greensboro Landmark: The George Grimsley House

One sure way for your name live on is to have a high school named for you. Today, there may not be many people who could tell you who George Grimsley was (or even what his first name was), but most everyone in the area knows his name is on Greensboro’s oldest high school. Few people associated with the city have had a greater impact on Greensboro and North Carolina than he did as an innovative school superintendent, promoter of public libraries and an early president of Jefferson-Standard Life Insurance.

Grimsley’s suitably impressive house is now on the market for $1.295 million. One of the most prominent homes in the Fisher Park Historic District, it has 4 bedrooms and 2 1/2 bathrooms. It’s a spacious 3,568 square feet, sitting on just over a half-acre. The price works out to $363 per square foot, which is in the range of what the most high-end historic homes are going for in elite neighborhoods.

“The two-story frame house features a Mount Airy Granite foundation with grapevine mortar, and includes a broad porch of Ionic columns that engage a porte-cochere,” Preservation Greensboro says. “A high, hipped roofline is pierced by hipped dormer windows and tall corbelled chimneys. Key features of the interior include sidelights and a transom of beveled leaded glass, [and] a bay window….”

The district’s National Register nomination gives a relatively brief description: “Queen Anne/Col Rev. Large boxy hip-roofed house w/projecting bays; fluted Corinthian columns at porch that wraps around to porte cochere; Corinthian capitals at cornerboard.”

The house was designed by architect Richard Gambier (1875-1962). Gambier was born in Paris and had come to the United States by 1899, when the Durham Sun described him as “a French architect of considerable note.” He moved to Mobile, Alabama, before coming to Greensboro by 1906. He designed a number of impressive houses in Greensboro, High Point and Reidsville. Around the time of World War I, he moved on to Wilmington and later Tampa.

The Grimsley home’s granite stonework was created by the locally prominent stonemason Andrew Schlosser (1863-1943), who was born in what is now Slovakia. “Schlosser built stone houses, stone buildings, stone bridges and stone walls,” the News & Record wrote in 1999. “He made the rock entrances to Green Hill Cemetery on Wharton Street and the arched foot-bridges in Fisher Park that look like props for fairy tales.”

The house has been designated as a Guilford County landmark. It has had only three owners.

George Grimsley

The photo above is from a portfolio Gambier published while working in Greensboro. The original owners of the home were George Adonijah Grimsley (1862-1935) and Cynthia Dunn Tull Grimsley (1858-1947). The son of a farmer, Grimsley was a native of Greene County in eastern North Carolina. He graduated from Peabody Normal College in Nashville, Tennessee (now Vanderbilt University’s college of education). At age 20, he established Tarboro’s first graded school and served as its superintendent.

Eight years later, in 1890, Grimsley was hired as superintendent of Greensboro’s two public schools. He proposed that governance of schools be moved from a mayoral committee and the city aldermen to a school board, which was created in 1893. His ideas on teaching students “to think and to give expression to their thoughts, and at the same time giving them a taste of the best literature” brought wide recognition. In 1899, the school system established its first high school, now named for Grimsley.

Grimsley’s emphasis on literature led him to believe in the necessity of libraries in both schools and communities. In 1897 Grimsley and colleagues drafted a bill for state Sen. Alfred Moore Scales to introduce allowing for the establishment and funding of public libraries in the state (one of his partners in the effort was Annie Petty, the first trained librarian in the state). The bill was passed, and the Greensboro Public Library opened in 1902 with 1,490 books bought with funds raised by school children and their parents.

“Many of them denied themselves candy and gum and contributed their pin money to the library,” Grimsley said of his students.

Grimsley was also a big believer in insurance. In 1901, while still superintendent of schools, he organized Security Life and Annuity Company. He left the school system in 1902, and for the rest of his career he worked full time in insurance. In 1907 he helped create the Jefferson Standard Life Insurance Company in Raleigh. Security Life and Jefferson Standard merged in 1912, keeping the latter’s name and headquarters. A year later the firm moved to Greensboro and named Grimsley president. He held the position until 1919, when he left to establish a new company, Security Life and Trust. That company, too, was a success.

Grimsley died at age 72 in 1935. Two years later, insurance broker Fielding Lewis Fry (1892-1961) and Fanny Williams Fry (1895-1983) bought the house. They owned it for 47 years. Fielding served as mayor of Greensboro, 1947 to 1949. He was also chairman of Brookgreen Gardens in Murrell’s Inlet, S.C., the first public sculpture garden in America and “the floral jewel of South Carolina’s coast.”

The house was bought in 1984 by Marriott hotel executive Alan F. Strong and Prudence Fraley Strong (1938-2020). Alan was elected president of the Greensboro Area Convention & Visitors Bureau in 1992. Prudence was from Statesville and graduated from Duke University. She originally was a high school teacher and later worked as a real estate agent.

408 Fisher Park Circle, Greensboro
The George and Cynthia Grimsley House

  • $1.295 million
  • 4 bedrooms, 2 1/2 bathrooms, 3,568 square feet, 0.53 acre
  • Price/square foot: $363
  • Built in 1907
  • Listed February 23, 2023
  • Last sale: $160,000, January 1984
  • Neighborhood: Fisher Park historic District (local and NR)

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