The History of Summerfield, NC.
Summerfield's history can be traced all the way back to 1769, when Charles Bruce, known as a patriot and statesmen, bought 640 acres which is now the community's center. The Charles Bruce property served as the "Friends of Liberty" militia's birthplace and gathering point during the Revolutionary War. Charles Bruce served as a recruiter for the American army and helped them defend against the British army. Charles Bruce was appointed to Provincial Congress, was a member of the Halifax Congress in November 1776, and became a state senator in 1783. During the North Carolina General Assembly of 1783 each of the 50 counties in North Carolina had a senator and two members of the House of Commons. During the American Revolution, this was the final meeting of the assembly. They spent a lot of time caring for the North Carolina men who served in the Revolutionary War. Charles Bruce was elected by voters to serve as the Senate member on behalf of Guilford County. The town of Summerfield is a part of Guilford County. A group of English Quakers were the first to settle in the Guilford county area. The county was named in honor of Francis North, the 1st Earl of Guilford. From 1727 until 1729, Lord Guilford, a British Whig politician, served in the House of Commons. In 1729, he ascended to the peerage and became Baron Guilford. His son, Frederick North, was a well-known British prime minister who presided over the country's defeat in the American Revolutionary War. During the Revolutionary War, George Washington visited and stayed in the house of Former North Carolina Governor Alexander Martin who lived in the town square of what became known as Summerfield. Alexander Martin was the first Guilford County resident elected governor of North Carolina.
Andrew Jackson, the 7th president of the United States, also has history with Summerfield, NC. Andrew Jackson was born in Waxhaw, North Carolina, but spent a year living in Summerfield while he was practicing law in Guilford County. He would spend time reading law at the home of Charles Bruce in Summerfield. Andrew Jackson's time in Guilford county and Summerfield is traced back in George Washington's diaries that accounts his southern travels.
The town that grew up around Charles Bruce's 640 acre homestead was called Bruce's Crossroads until 1812. The region was still referred to as Bruce's Crossroads in the early 1800s. A place called "Bruce" can be seen on a map from "The First Actual Survey of the State of North Carolina" (1808). During this time the people of the area were quite fond of an evangelist preacher who had settled in the area. His name was Rev. John Summerfield (1798-1825) and thus the town was named Summerfield. According to historian Blackwell P. Robinson: "The community grew slowly until 1812 when a visiting evangelist, the Reverend John Summerfield, came and established a church. No doubt becoming enamored with the community, Summerfield decided to remain and the Crossroads was named in his honor instead of its leading citizen, Charles Bruce."
Summerfield was primarily an agricultural settlement at first producing corn, tobacco, and raising livestock. Summerfield's agriculture helped fuel the expanding Greensboro economy. Shops and businesses catering to farmers' needs established, and the region grew at the junction of present-day NC-150 (Oak Ridge Rd) and the old US-220 (Summerfield Rd.). This area in Summerfield is historically referred to as the crossroads of Summerfield. At these crossroads, two brick commercial buildings were built on corners directly across each other in the 1870s. George J. Smith constructed both, the Brittain Building and the Ogburn-Gordon Store. Henry Clay Brittain had his store built and in the 1940's the store was selling mostly groceries. The structure was renovated in the late 1990s, and then Summerfield Town Hall officially opened in December 2000. From the 1870s to the 1950s, both the Brittain store and the Ogburn-Gordon store were open for business. In this area other businesses were present such as a garage, a pharmacy, and a blacksmith shop. Summerfield at this time also had four churches, four "manufactories," a doctor, and multiple farmers. These facts are traced back through the recorded addresses dated there in 1870. Just south of the town's crossroads there was a sawmill, a school and a grocery store on Summerfield Road. The town grew to add two mills and 36 famers by 1884.
Across from the Brittain store building was an Esso gasoline station (Esso is now Exxon Corporation) and the Summerfield Motor Company on the corner of the crossroads (where the Town Hall parking lot is now located).
Life in Summerfield has always been simple. A history paper done by Jamie Credle while at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro in 1984 details quotes from long-time residents on growing up in Summerfield. The Ayers Family became prevalent in the Summerfield area in the 1900's. Charles Ayers whose father moved their family to Summerfield from Virginia and bought the "Martin House" in 1919 (historical home now owned by the town of Summerfield) has this to say about growing up in Summerfield:
"We raised tobacco, raised corn, raised wheat, and we had to cut wood to cure the tobacco with. When the tobacco was harvested we had to stay at the tobacco barn and feed wood into the flues to cure it. I have known times when we didn't take off our work clothes for a week at a time because we had two or three barns of tobacco being cured. I would say a typical day in our lives- we would get up about seven o'clock. My daddy would get up earlier. We would either go to plow or to hoe corn, or go to cut tops, or whatever came along that line. Usually on Saturday evenings we didn't have to work. We could either go fishing or if it was in the summertime we played baseball .... In the wintertime we spent all of our leisure hours hunting- rabbit hunting."
The Ayers family owned and operated a huge plot of land with multiple rooms and buildings. Besides their farming , there was a fabric shop and a beauty shop, operating in rooms of the Martin House. In 1947, Guy and Dura Mae Ayers opened the Summerfield Drug Store, which served ice cream and dispensed prescriptions from the doctors that lived across the street. From 1937 to 1951, Dr. Fryar practiced medicine in the house at 7712 Summerfield Road. Then from 1951 to 1958, Dr. Futrell housed his medical practice there. (Scarlette, Pictorial History, p. 74.)
Elizabeth Ogburn spoke on life in Summerfield around 1915, her family operated the hardware store in the Ogburn-Gordon Building.
"During the summer after I got old enough to count and figure a little bit, I would stay in Daddy's store, that brick store up there. Daddy would work at the farm. Mother would keep house. Staying in that store was right good experience for me. I met all sorts of people. Of course, a lot of them were tenant farmers. They would come in with eggs, sometimes with chickens, to buy what they needed. There was everything in that store- nails, kerosene, piece goods, patent medicines .... You just learned to find them, to get what they wanted and to price them, give them change if they paid cash. One old fellow, every afternoon when he got through with his work, he would go by the family's chicken roost and get two eggs and come over and want a Virginia Cheroot." 31 Credle, .. p. 18-19
The area continued to grow and new settlers came due to a railroad station being in Summerfield as a result of Cape Fear and Yadkin Railroad. From Greensboro, the train went north, through Summerfield, and on to Mount Airy. By the 1970s, the railroad tracks were removed as they were no longer in demand as paved roads took priority. The removed railroad tracks are along parts of the current Lake Brandt Greenways. The town continued to grow and inventory for the new businesses was supplied by the train depot that was built a mile south of the town center.
The Cape Fear & Yadkin Valley Railway built this line in the 1880s. The original route ran all the way from Wilmington, NC, to the far west city of Mount Airy, NC.
Another big change to the historic Summerfield district took place in 1952. The crossroads of Route 220 and NC-150 was the center of the town and where businesses at established such as the before mentioned Gordon Hardware, Summerfield Motor Company, and the Brittain Store building. Route 220 runs north/south from Roanoke Virginia to Greensboro. Well in 1952 Route 220 was rerouted 500 feet east of what was the current town center. This small adjustment caused people to bypass most of the established growth of Summerfield. The structures at the Summerfield crossroads served as both a commercial and residential hub for the surrounding farming community. The business established suffered and still to this day remain untouched. The leadership of the town have struggled to decide how to handle what is left of the Historic District of Summerfield.
The red arrow shows the 500 foot displacement of route 220. What was route 220 is now Summerfield Rd. and the new Route 220 in 1952. Route 220 has been continually developed into a four lane, heavily used highway route for commuters.
Another quote from Charles Ayers from 1984 on the changes to Route 220," .... Up until about 1945, Highway 220 came through [Summerfield]. The businesses -the area was a thriving little corner, but when 220 bypassed the business district, the stores began to close up one by one. Now we have none in operation."
The Summerfield Road that runs north to south was originally used by Native Americans as a trading route and has since undergone a gradual transformation from footpath to dirt road to plank road and now a paved country road. Formerly used for hunting and farming, the countryside has evolved into the current mix of suburbs surrounding the sleepy town. In 1998, the town was incorporated to avoid being annexed by Greensboro.
Another historic place I would drive by as a kid was The Saunders Inn. This was a very popular resting place for travelers, was started in the early 1800s and finished in 1822. Located on the wagon route from Georgia to Pennsylvania, the Saunders Inn served as a rest station. The Inn was named after the innkeeper, Hezekiah Saunders.
Scholar Sidney Porter was one of the significant historical guests of the Inn. Mr. Porter agreed to stay when Hezekiah Saunders persuaded him to do so in order to teach the children of Saunders and other residents of the farming town of Summerfield. William Sidney Porter, the teacher's grandson, was born in 1862 and raised in Greensboro. He is the well-known author of short stories who wrote under the pen name "O' Henry." The O. Henry Hotel, was built in 1919 in downtown Greensboro by O. Henry's father, Algernon Sydney Porter.
The Gordon Hardware Store, also known as the "Ogburn-Gordon Building." It was owned by the Gordon family until the Town of Summerfield bought it in 2014.
Built in the 1830s at Summerfield's main intersection. The Alexander Strong Martin House was one of Guilford County's largest brick homes at that time. The son of a Revolutionary War hero and governor lived there. The Ayers family became the owners in 1919. Sold back to the Town of Summerfield for $90,000 in 2015.
Mr. Henry Clay Brittain built the property known as "Gray Gables" in 1898. He named the house Gray Gables after his Civil War-fighting uncle. In the Summerfield area, the Brittain family was a very wealthy one. They owned what is now the Summerfield Town Hall, which used to be a general store, the Brittain store.
This photo of an A&Y train in Summerfield was published in "Mixed Train Daily" by Lucius Beebe. Published by E. P. Dutton. & Co., New York, N. Y. in 1947.
Side view, Henry Clay Brittain Store, Summerfield, Guilford County, North Carolina.
Henry Clay Brittain Store in the 1990's before renovations turned it into Summerfield's Town Hall. Guilford County, North Carolina.
Preservation North Carolina Historic Architecture Slide Collection, 1965-2005 (PNC slides). NC State University Libraries' Digital Collections: Rare and Unique Materials, North Carolina State University Libraries' Special Collections Research Center. https://d.lib.ncsu.edu/collections/catalog/bh2166pnc002/citation.
Blackwell P. Robinson and Alexander R. Stoesen, The History of Guilford County, North Carolina, U.S.A. to 1980, A.D., a project of the Guilford County Bicentennial Commission, (n.p.), p. 134.
Jamie Credle, "Growing Up in Summerfield: 1900-1935, an oral history," History Internship paper submitted to Dr. W. A. Link, Spring 1984, University of North Carolina, Greensboro.
Gladys Scarlette, Summerfield, a Pictorial History (Greensboro, N.C.: Younts Printing Co., 1995).