Library facilities are closed until further notice and all programs, events and meeting room bookings are canceled through April 30.

Click here for Library COVID-19 procedures.


Everyday Life in Guilford County in the Past

Press Enter to show all options, press Tab go to next option

Local Histories

    Guilford County 

Arnett, Ethel Stephens. The Saura and Keyauwee in the Land that Became Guilford, Randolph, and Rockingham. Greensboro: Media, 1975.
Here is an account of the lives of Indians who once inhabited our county. Included are descriptions of their physical appearance, homes, food, activities, sports, marriage, money, medicine, and religion.

Guilford County Bicentennial Commission. Guilford County, a Brief History. Greensboro: Guilford County Bicentennial Commission, 1971.
This booklet, written in cooperation with the schools, gives a brief description of the lives of Indians and pioneers. It was written with students in mind and is the easiest local history for children to read.

Hughes, Fred. Guilford County: a Map Supplement. Jamestown: The Custom House, 1988.
This book about 18th century life in Guilford County is taken from original sources. It includes information on churches, schools, pioneer life, various groups of settlers, including Quakers and Germans, a description of the diet and cooking styles (including facts about health), and an article on gold in Guilford County.

Robinson, Blackwell P. and Alexander R. Stoesen. The History of Guilford County, North Carolina, USA to 1980 AD. Edited by Sydney M. Cone Jr. 1981.
This history is very detailed.

Sieber, H.A. Holy Ground: Significant Events in the Civil Rights-Related History of the African-American Communities of Guilford County, North Carolina, 1771-1995. Greensboro: Project Homestead, 1995.
This summary of the county’s civil rights history is illustrated with drawings and photographs.

Sieber, H.A. White Water, Colored Water. Greensboro: Project Homestead, 1993.
This brief book covers much of the same information as Sieber’s Holy Ground

Stockard, Sallie W. The History of Guilford County, North Carolina. Greensboro: Guilford County Genealogical Society, 1983.
This edition of the 1902 history includes an index.

Stoesen, Alexander R. Guilford County: A Brief History. Raleigh: NC Division of Archives and History, 1993.
Here is a good summary of county history.

Weatherly, Andrew Earl. The First Hundred Years of Historic Guilford, 1771-1871. Greensboro: Greensboro Print Co., 1972.
This is a well-illustrated history.

    Brown Summit

Phillips, Robert L. The Village of Brown Summit, Past and Present. Greensboro: The Printworks, 1993.
This detailed history of one of Guilford County’s villages is illustrated by black and white photographs.  


Walker, Mary Hannah. A History of Gibsonville up to 1900.
This four-page history gives an idea of the early history of this small town.


Albright, James W. Greensboro, 1808-1904: Facts, Figures, Traditions and Reminiscences. Greensboro: Jos. J. Stone, 1904.
While the book focuses on businesses, churches, and political history more than on everyday life, it also gives many facts about early Greensboro.

Album of Greensboro, NC Greensboro: Chamber of Commerce, 189-?
Here are many pictures of 19th century Greensboro, accompanied by text.

Arnett, Ethel Stephens. Confederate Guns Were Stacked [at] Greensboro, North Carolina. Greensboro: Piedmont Press, 1965.
This book describes Greensboro life in the spring of 1865 as the one-mile-square village, with a usual population of about 1,800 people, that suddenly had to absorb more than 90,000 refugees, Confederate soldiers, and Union soldiers.

Arnett, Ethel Stephens. Greensboro, North Carolina; the County Seat of Guilford. Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 1955.
This is a standard history of Greensboro, arranged by broad topics.

Chafe, William H. Civilities and Civil Rights: Greensboro, North Carolina, and the Black Struggle for Freedom. New York: Oxford UP, 1980. 
This is a standard book about civil rights in Greensboro.

Fripp, Gayle Hicks. Greensboro. Dover: Arcadia, 1997. 
Here's a collection of photographs showing Greensboro’s past, with a brief description of each.

Fripp, Gayle Hicks. Greensboro, a Chosen Center. Sun Valley, CA: American Historical Press, 2001.
This general history has plenty of illustrations.

Griffin, Roy. Look over Your Shoulder…One-Nine-O-O: Greensboro at the Turn of the Century. [Greensboro]: 1970.
In this book, Griffin gives facts about Greensboro from 1890 through 1917 and also includes vignettes about daily life in that period. Topics include downtown sales of produce, old-time jokes, school lunches, clothing styles, winding the family clock, Greensboro as the “city of flowers,” outhouses, musical evenings in those pre-television days, and home remedies.

O’Keefe, Patrick, ed. Greensboro, a Pictorial History. Norfolk: Donning, 1977.
This history is told in black and white photographs with brief captions.

Wolff, Miles. Lunch at the 5 & 10. Chicago: I.R. Dee, 1990.
This book is about the Greensboro sit-ins.

    High Point

The Building and the Builders of a City. Compiled by the High Point Chamber of Commerce. High Point: Hall, 1947.
This history is very detailed.

McPherson, Holt. High Pointers of High Point. (High Point: [Chamber of Commerce of High Point) 1976]
This history is illustrated with black and white photographs.  


Crouch, Esther Kersey. A Short History of Jamestown, North Carolina. 1965.
This 17-page history gives some insight into daily life in a Guilford County community.

Thomas, C. Yvonne Bell. Roads to Jamestown: A View and Review of the Old Town. Fredericksburg: BookCrafters, 1997.
This history is illustrated with black and white photographs.


Sockwell, Helen Paisley. Life, Lore & Legend of McLeansville. McLeansville: H. Sockwell, 2009.
This book gives a lengthy history of various aspects of the town, including its churches. 


Scarlette, Gladys. Summerfield, North Carolina: a Pictorial History. Greensboro: Younts, 1995.
Includes many pictures of life in earlier times. 

Biographies of Guilford County People 

    Brown, Charlotte Hawkins

Marteena, Constance Hill. The Lengthening Shadow of a Woman: A Biography of Charlotte Hawkins Brown. Hicksville: Exposition, 1977.
Here is the story of a private school for African-Americans, Palmer Memorial Institute, run by a determined young educator. It gives a picture of life at the Sedalia school from 1902, when Brown founded it, until her death in 1961.

Silcox-Jarrett, Diane. Charlotte Hawkins Brown, One Woman’s Dream. Winston-Salem: Bandit, 1995.
This is a readable retelling of Brown’s life. It gives a good picture of school life in another time, as well as of other aspects of life, such as travel in Jim Crow days, and is illustrated with many black and white photographs.

    Caldwell, David

Arnett, Ethel Stephens. David Caldwell. Greensboro: Media, 1976.
David Caldwell, a minister, physician, and educator, was one of the county’s leading residents from 1765, when he accepted the call to Buffalo and Alamance Presbyterian Churches, to his death in 1824. This well-illustrated book gives glimpses of the county during this time. 

    Coffin, Levi

Coffin, Levi. Reminiscences of Levi Coffin, the Reputed President of the Underground Railroad. Richmond, IN: Friends United Press, 2001.
This autobiographical work gives insight into slavery in Guilford County and into the work of the Underground Railroad here.

    Madison, Dolley

Arnett, Ethel Stephens. Mrs. James Madison: the Incomparable Dolley. Greensboro: Piedmont Press, 1972.
Dolley was born in the New Garden area in 1768. The book includes brief descriptions of the area as it was during her early childhood and of the house where she lived, as well as tells briefly about the Indians who had earlier lived in the area.

    Murrow, Edward R.

Kendrick, Alexander. Prime time; The Life of Edward R. Murrow. Boston: Little, Brown, 1969.
The great broadcaster was born in Guilford County in 1908. Pages 72-81 tell about his first five years here before his family moved to the state of Washington. Although the Murrow's modest farm house was only a few miles from Greensboro, a trip by horse and buggy was an all-day affair then.

Persico, Joseph E. Murrow, an American Original. New York: McGraw-Hill,1988.
Chapter 2, “A Child of Polecat Creek,” gives a glimpse of early 20th century rural life here.

    Porter, William Sydney (O. Henry)

Arnett, Ethel Stephens. O.Henry from Polecat Creek. Greensboro: Piedmont Press, 1962.
O. Henry (the pen name of William Sydney Porter) was born in 1862 in Greensboro and left for Texas in 1882. This book describes Greensboro life during his childhood and adolescence, including the last part of the Civil War period. There are other biographies of him, but this one is written by a Greensboro resident.


Banner, Ray. Greensboro, the Best Place to Live. Greensboro: 1998.
Banner, born in 1908, includes five pages on life in Greensboro during his childhood and teens.

Edmunds, Mary Lewis Rucker. Recollections of Greensboro. Greensboro: M.L.R. Edmunds, 1993.
This Greensboro native, great-great-granddaughter of John Motley Morehead, focuses on growing up in the 1920s and includes tales from earlier times, such as O. Henry’s childhood and youth (1862-1882). The book is illustrated with numerous photographs.

Griffin, Roy. As I Remember - (A Boy in the’Twenties). 1967.
Griffin’s book is a collection of his memories of Greensboro during the 1920s. What did children do for fun? How did they celebrate holidays? What were some favorite foods?

Hawkins, Opal Winchester. From Brush Arbor to Bricks and Mortar; An Oral History of the Mount Zion Community of Greensboro, North Carolina. [Greensboro: Mount Zion Project Committee], 1984.
People from this community in East Greensboro talk about their experiences, giving a good picture of the everyday life for African-Americans in the 20th century.

Sills, Walter H. Old Times Not Forgotten. Volumes 1 and 2. Greensboro: W.H. Sills, 1991-1996.
Sills describes Greensboro as he knew it during his life, with emphasis on his childhood in the 1920s. He includes scouting, playing cowboys and Indians, the cars of his youth, the coming of the ice wagon, being quarantined, Greensboro as an army town during World War II, childhood parties and holiday celebrations, and many other parts of Greensboro life. 

Schools in Guilford County

Batchelor, John. The Guilford County Schools: A History. Winston-Salem: John F. Blair, 1991.
Offers insights into the lives of school children through the years.

Donnell, Minor C. Bessemer School - The Early Days. Bradenton, FL: Minor C. Donnell, 1961?
This account of the school’s history includes descriptions of the games the children played, school routines, and anecdotes about school life. Chapter headings include student shenanigans, athletics, student activities, and student misdemeanors.

Park, Herbert W. Physical Education. Greensboro: Public Schools, 1923.
Here are three volumes telling what children in grades 1-7 were doing in physical education in Greensboro schools in 1923. The volume for third grade starts with the “moral code,” which lists laws such as “The Good American tries to gain and to keep perfect health.” The book also gives exercises for “relief periods,” dances, and games.  

Report of the Way We Were: Oral Histories of Four Former All-Black Public Schools in Two North Carolina Counties. [Afro-American Genealogy and History Society, 1991] Greensboro.
Features interviews about Dudley High School and Mt. Zion Elementary School to learn about life in these schools earlier in the 20th century. 

Daily Life in North Carolina

While these books do not focus on Guilford County, they are included because of the emphasis on daily life in our state. All of them include excellent photographs.

Clayton, Thomas H. Close to the Land: The Way We Lived in North Carolina, 1820-1870. Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 1983.
This book covers rural and town life.

Fenn, Elizabeth A. and Peter H. Wood. Natives & Newcomers: the Way We Lived in North Carolina before 1770. Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 1983.
Scotch-Irish settlers in Guilford County are discussed on pages 70-71.

Nathans, Sydney. The Quest for Progress: The Way We Lived in North Carolina, 1870-1920. Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 1983.
This book covers industrialization, urbanization, the Jim Crow period, life in mill villages, and the new leisure. On pages 47-49, there is a description and full-page photograph of Fordham Drugs, which was in business on South Elm Street for more than 100 years.

Parramore, Thomas C. Express Lanes & Country Roads: the Way We Lived in North Carolina, 1920-1970. Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 1983.
Check pages 87-92 for information on the Woolworth sit-ins in Greensboro and on Palmer Memorial Instititute at Sedalia.

Watson, Harry L. An Independent People; The Way We Lived in North Carolina, 1770-1820. Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 1983.
The Francis McNairy House and Dolley Madison Memorial on the grounds of the Greensboro Historical Museum are briefly described on page 9.

Other Useful Materials 

Blair, John Jay .Just for the Fun of It. Greensboro: Guilford College Library, 1973.
Drawings by a former High Point teacher show items used in daily life in the past, such as a dulcimer, clay pipe, ice hook, candlestick, candle mould, coffee grinder, cow bell, etc. The book does not tell the years in which the items were used.

Carroll, Karen Cobb. Windows to the Past; Primitive Watercolors from Guilford County, North Carolina, in the 1820s. Greensboro: Greensboro Historical Museum, 1983.
This collection of portraits shows what the people of our county looked like! There is also information about the county at that time and about the lives of the individuals who are pictured.

Cook, Marion Belden, comp. Children of the USA: Stories from the South. New York: Silver Burdett, 1946.
Features an 18-page short story by Nellie Rowe Jones, former director of the Greensboro Public Library, that tells about the life of some Guilford County children during the 1940s. Written simply enough for elementary students to read, the fictional story highlights the importance of the furniture industry in the county.

Edmunds, Mary Lewis Rucker. Governor Morehead’s Blandwood and the Family Who Lived There. Greensboro: Greensboro Printing, 1976.
This well-illustrated book describes the house and family’s history, spotlighting lively life in the mansion.

“Folklore” Folder, Guilford File
Features two articles from The Journal of American Folk-lore, April-June, 1917, that include traditional tales and riddles from Guilford County, along with a description of traditional Christmas celebrations here.

Fry, John Walker. The Photography of John Walker Fry. Greensboro: Greensboro Preservation Society, 1982.
The text, written by Mary Lewis Rucker Edmunds - a relative of Fry's, tells about her family who lived in Greensboro from the town’s earliest days. The book focuses on the period from 1898-1917 and includes many of Fry’s pictures of his family’s daily life.

“Holidays” Folder, Guilford File 
Features information on Christmas and Halloween customs. New Year’s customs of the Germans in North Carolina are also included.

The December 1926 issue of Central High School's literary magazine includes such articles as “Saturday Night on Elm Street,” “Rummage Sales on East Market Street,” “Hallowe’en in Greensboro,” and “Autumn in Irving Park.”

New Wings; an Anthology of Prose and Verse, Written during 1930-1931, by the Children of Greensboro Public Schools, Greensboro, North Carolina.
Features the voices of local children more than 70 years ago.

Publications of the Guilford County Literary and Historical Association. Vol. I. Greensboro: Published for the Association by Jos. J. Stone, 1908.
Includes articles on the schools of Guilford County, including Edgeworth Female Seminary.

Sharpe, Stella Gentry. Tobe. Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 1939
These black and white photographs of rural African-American children in the 1930s working and celebrating were taken in Goshen, 10 miles from Greensboro. The text, written simply enough for elementary students, describes daily life in that period.

Tourgee, Albion Winegar. A Fool’s Errand.
This novel, available in various editions, was written in the 1870s by Greensboro’s famous carpetbagger. While it is not strictly autobiographical, it describes Greensboro life, as he saw it, during the Reconstruction era.