Green achers: Some want to save 1940-era barn in N Carolina
GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) — Sam Coble, now in his 70s, was just a kid during the 1940s when German prisoners of war helped move a barn across Friendly Avenue to the family’s farm on the other side of the road.
During World War II the men had been housed at a place called the Overseas Replacement Depot, located near Bessemer Avenue between Summit Avenue to the west and English Street to the east.
“I remember daddy talking about it,” said Coble, whose family lived in a farmhouse near the barn that still stands. “They would go to where the POWs were kept and bring them back to help put this barn — that had been hauled over from the Lindleys across the street — back together.”
The barn, still standing — although barely by some estimates — is one of the last reminders of what had been a large dairy farming community nearby. It will be torn down — unless someone wants to move it — as part of an expansion of cottages and apartments for the elderly.
Friends Homes, the Quaker-affiliated retirement community, has owned the old Coble pasture since the early 2000s.
Last month, the nonprofit took plans, which include a two-lane road through the family’s old homestead, before the city’s Zoning Commission and received preliminary approval. The City Council will vote on the proposal this summer.
Linda Maynard, who played in the barn’s loft with other kids growing up and still lives in the surrounding community, is among about 30 neighbors who showed up before the commission in “Go Green” shirts trying to stop the construction and save the land from rezoning.
Meanwhile, Friends Homes is buying up nearby houses.
“We see our neighborhood eaten up,” said Maynard, who comes from a longstanding Quaker family.
As she strolls from her Arcadia neighborhood through the wooded trail to the towering white barn visible off Friendly Avenue, Maynard points out the old watering hole for the cattle and where they once roamed.
“As soon as Mr. Jump yelled those cows would come running,” Maynard said of the Coble family’s herdsman. “They knew to get in here.”
At the back of the pasture, surrounded by towering trees, are the gentle-yet-formidable slopes that on snowy days attracted gobs of neighborhood children to the pasture with their sleds.
The property has a barn, silo, rolling hills and a gurgling brook — a Horse Pen Creek tributary — all right off one of the city’s busiest corridors.
The exact transaction involving the barn is unclear. As the story goes, Coble’s father, William, and his uncle, Walter, were farming partners off what was then Friendly Road. They bought the barn from the Lindleys, who lived on the other side.
It was 1944 or 1945, and the brothers often drove to an Army Air Corps base to pick up German workers.
The government paid the prisoners 80 cents a day, per the Geneva Conventions.
Former News & Record reporter and historian Jim Schlosser interviewed Coble’s mother, Ruth, in 2002 before her death. According to his research, about 430,000 enemy POWs were at 510 locations in the United States, about 10,000 of them in North Carolina.
A network of POW branch camps was established within the state. One of them was Greensboro’s Overseas Replacement Depot, which was built during the war.
Schlosser got his details from professor Robert Billinger of Wingate College, an expert on the German POWs in America, who also told him the Greensboro camp had 397 German enlisted men. One American officer and 18 enlisted men were assigned to oversee them.
During their time at the Coble farm, armed guards never followed the POWs.
“They were as nice of people as you would ever want to see,’” according to Ruth Coble, who fed them.
Young Sam Coble, in overalls, would play with them.
“They were people who had families back home ... and to see a little kid running around, they probably got a kick out of it,” Coble said.
The POWs dismantled the top of the Lindley barn and brought it across the road and up the hill to the Coble farm, then called Sunnyhill Dairy, and pieced it back together.
Over the years, the barn’s hay loft was a playground for Coble and other neighborhood children.
“It was back when you’d get a bloody nose and you didn’t have to go to the doctor,” Coble said. “It was part of the day.”
By 2002, Sam Coble’s parents had sold most of the farm’s 120 acres for developments, including Friends Homes West and a subdivision called Coble Farms. They kept about 18 acres of pasture, which was passed on to Coble and his sister.
After the war, the Germans returned home.
No one ever applied to get the barn a historic designation.
It’s part of a larger history lesson for the surrounding land. The Quakers gathered here in the late 1740s before there was a Greensboro or even United States of America.
Fugitives from slavery hid out in the woods nearby while traveling the Underground Railroad.
First Lady Dolley Madison was born here.
Generations ago, the Coble family had come from Randolph County to farm because it gave them a chance to send their children to schools here.
“It’s historical for those people like me who live in the past and think about who lived there and what happened there,” said Max Carter, a local Quaker historian.
At first glance, the barn’s condition is deceptive.
“It’s beautiful from the street,” said Steven Johnson, who is director of design and construction with Presbyterian Homes, which is managing the property. “But when you get up close ... you can tell it’s a good stiff wind from being blown over.”
Peering through a missing piece of the wall, it’s easy to imagine cows passing through the milking station and hired hands moving hay.
The second floor, which was never insulated, could be disassembled and relocated using a crane, but the clay-tile walls would fall apart, said Johnson, a former member of the board of directors for Preservation Greensboro.
“It wouldn’t be easy,” Johnson said. ”’It wouldn’t be cheap. As much as I’d love to save buildings, we can’t financially justify what could be a multimillion dollar restoration.”
Some, like Maynard, say if not functional, the barn offers a bit of character.
She and others interesting in preserving the barn showed up for the zoning commission meeting earlier last month. But the project was almost unanimously approved and has been placed on the City Council’s agenda.
They plan to continue the fight — at least for changes to the plan, such as a gated road to cut down on traffic.
For now, they’d like the barn to stay as well.
“It really is a case about what’s happening to the neighborhoods in Greensboro,” Maynard said. “We’re going to get finished off.”
Information from: News & Record, http://www.news-record.com