Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Historically Significant

My friends and I like to play this game called "What Were You Like In High School?" Since most of us didn't meet until college, we really like to guess at who was popular and who was a jock back in the day and see how accurate we are. The funny thing is, most of us fit into multiple cliques, so it can be pretty hard to figure out who we hung out with and what out interests were back then. For example, one of my friends is an amazing student, but is also a very competitive athlete. So was she a nerd or a jock? Was she voted most popular or most likely to succeed? It can be a pretty tough game. Except for me. I was undeniably and without a doubt a nerd. I made straight A's, I took the most difficult classes, I had more teachers sign my yearbook than students. Every once in a while one of my friends says, "But wait, you were popular though." And I have to inform them that the only reason people knew me was because I was the editor of the newspaper (nerd) and helped everybody with their homework (bigger nerd.)

It's okay though, because since college I have learned to embrace my nerdiness. I love history, particularly American history, and I have been lucky enough to see a pretty fair amount of artifacts and buildings that give me a real appreciation for living in one of the original thirteen colonies. I did go to the oldest public university after all. But sometimes I forget that everything has history. Everybody knows that Greensboro was part of the American Revolution and I'm sure most of you have been to see the Guilford Courthouse National Military Park. But because we live in an area with so much well known history, we as residents sometimes forget that the city of Greensboro itself has an interesting story outside of famous battles and wars.

I work downtown and walk up and down Elm Street all the time. But it wasn't until recently that I started noticing how "classical" some of those buildings look. It reminded me of a book my dad has called North Carolina: Now and Then. It's basically coffee table reading that has various parts of North Carolina with a picture of the area one hundred or more years ago on the left and then a picture of that same spot present day on the right. The thing about Greensboro, is that if you look at a picture of downtown from the 1900's, you can easily recognize a lot of the buildings. All this time I knew Greensboro was a city full of history, but it never occurred to me that every day I was walking around in it.

Schiffman's Jewelry store has been downtown for over a century and the building is basically the same as it was then. Of course there is Woolworth's where NC A&T students famously started America's sit-in movement. And there are other less obvious landmarks like Hamburger Square Park that is so named because hamburger stands used to be at each of its corners. Even the building I work in used to be Hudson's Blue Bell Overall Company that made jeans for Wrangler. It's weird to think that when we go downtown for dinner or even for work, we are sitting somewhere that might have been a factory or a coffee house over a century ago.

So, obviously the big historic landmarks in Greensboro are important. But next time you head downtown consider that you are walking down a street that used to be lined with manufacturers and department stores. That when you are at the intersection of Elm and Market Streets, you are standing at the heart of where Greensboro first became a city. America itself is not all that old, but we are fortunate enough to live in one of the oldest parts of it, so take advantage of all the history available to you in your own backyard. Even if you aren't a nerd like me, I'm sure you will be fascinated by how historically significant your city is.

For more information about Greensboro, you can visit the Greensboro Historical Museum on Summit Avenue.

And for more about me and my nerdy tendencies, you can read my new blog 100 Books!

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