Chapel Hill Historical Society

Past Programs and Events

  • March 18, 2018

    Dromgoole, Twice-Murdered: Unraveling a Southern Legend
    Presentation by E. T. Malone, Jr.

    Peter Pelham Dromgoole's mysterious disappearance in 1833 from the UNC campus in Chapel Hill created a legend that he had been killed in a midnight duel on Piney Prospect. Inspired by this tale, a secret society, the Order of Gimghoul, constructed massive Gimghoul Castle on the spot in 1925. The legend, repeated to every generation of Carolina students, has inspired poems, short stories, and novels, plus reams of newspaper, radio, television, and internet features. E.T. Malone's recently published book, Dromgoole, Twice-Murdered, revealed the true fate of Peter Pelham Dromgoole.

  • February 18, 2018

    B-1: How NC A&T and UNC Integrated the Modern US Navy
    Presentation by Alex Albright, Eastern Carolina University

    When the Navy established a Pre-Flight Training School at UNC during World War II, a 45-piece band of music students from NC A&T played for the raising of colors, drill practice in the TinCan, and marching the white cadets to their classes. It was the first meaningful integration of the modern Navy. But because of strict segregation laws and customs, the bandsmen had to find quarters in Northside with the local black community. Every day they marched to campus, then returned for lunch in full uniform, playing. The local black community embraced these talented musicians and what they represented. Alex Albright explained the complicated racial dynamics of North Carolina and the integration of the military. His presentation included period documents and recordings from the band. Albright is Associate Professor of English at Eastern Carolina University.

  • January 21, 2018

    "The Carolina Playmakers" and the Federal Theatre Project
    Presentation by Cecelia Moore, UNC Historian

    During the Depression, how did the federal government help keep the arts alive and playwrights employed? UNC's own Frederick Koch and Paul Green had already begun a successful folk drama program. Their program became the model for the Federal Theatre Project, making live theatre relevant to local audiences. Cecelia Moore is the University Historian and the Project Manager for the Chancellor's Task Force on University History. She discussed her new book, The Federal Theatre Project in the American South: The Carolina Playmakers and the Quest for American Drama.

  • November 19, 2017

    Time of Death: The true tale of a quest for justice
    Presentation by Nora Gaskin, author

    Time of Death explored an unsolved murder in Chapel Hill and examined the impact the crime had on the town, as well as the people intimately involved. It looked at the cultural and social factors that contributed to this search for justice. Nora Gaskin grew up in Chapel Hill in the 1950s and '60s, went to Carolina, and has lived mostly in Durham and Chapel Hill. After a career as a financial planner and stock broker, she returned to her first love, story-telling. She published a novel, Until Proven, inspired by the events she wrote about in Time of Death. Nora's next novel, The Worst Thing, will appear in early 2018. Her company Lystra Books has published more than 20 books.

  • May 21, 2017

    Doing Our Bit: UNC and the Great War
    Presentation by Sarah Carrier, Curator, NC Research & Instructional Librarian

    The Carolina campus transformed into a military training ground when the U.S. prepared for war in 1917.The Chapel Hill Historical Society would like to thank Dr. Robert Anthony, Curator of the Wilson Library NC Special Collections, for setting aside a Sunday afternoon for the CH Historical Society membership to enjoy the current exhibit, Doing Our Bit: UNC and the Great War. Sarah Carrier, NC Research & Instructional Librarian, gave a 30 minute talk on Chapel Hill and Orange County's involvement in WWI in the Pleasants Auditorium. You can view this presentation here.

  • April 23, 2017

    Four Chapel Hill Writers Whose Lives Light Up Our Past
    Presentation by Dr. Patrick Horn and Dr. Valerie Yow

    George Moses Horton is often remembered as the "black bard" or "slave poet" of North Carolina, but the author who helped him get published, Caroline Lee Hentz, has become less famous than her celebrated student. Over a hundred years later, Paul Green, a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright at the University of North Carolina, helped Betty Smith embark on her literary career. The speakers presented the words of the four writers and their lives in Chapel Hill - especially the ways they helped other writers and people who were fighting injustice - they give us stories to live by.

  • March 19, 2017

    From Astronomical Illiteracy to Science Festivals: The Morehead Planetarium's History and the Training of Astronauts
    Presentation by Dr. Todd Boyette

    "Cookie Time." Intrigued? This talk by Dr. Todd Boyette, director of the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center at UNC - Chapel Hill, discussed the Morehead Planetarium, which opened in 1949 as the first planetarium in the South. It has played a leading role in science education ever since. We learned what inspired John Motley Morehead to build a planetarium on UNC's campus and how the organization has continued to deliver on his promise ever since.

  • February 19, 2017

    Five Orange County African-American Families Remembered
    A Talk by Kim Smith

    The Reverend Dr. Pauli Murray's memoir Proud Shoes: The Story of an American Family chronicles the lives of her Orange County grandparents. Her grandfather Robert Fitzgerald was a free man who became a notable Durham brick-maker. Her grandmother Cornelia Smith was an enslaved woman unconventionally reared alongside her sisters in their white aunt's Orange County plantation home. History has overlooked Cornelia's siblings and their mother, Harriet. Their captivating narratives reveal how freed African-American families lived in post-Civil War North Carolina. Kim Smith's talk re-introduced remarkable members of the largely forgotten Smith, Fitzgerald, Morphis, Kirby, and Toole families.

  • January 22, 2017

    CHHS Remembers Its Own History
    A Talk by Richard Ellington and Others

    We celebrated and explored the story of the Historical Society, how we got to the present, and our hopes for the future. Former leaders and officers related how the Society changed, grew, prospered or struggled during their time in office. What important events occurred during that time? How has the Society helped the community achieve its goal of understanding local history? After the discussion, a festive reception and displays of historic materials took place. You can view the presentation material here and enjoy a sample of the recorded music by Chapel Hill area musicians played at the event.

    View photos of the celebration below:

    50th Anniversary Flyer    50th Anniversary Flyer-Front    50th Anniversary Flyer-Inside    50th Anniversary Flyer-Reverse   
    Current President Sarah Geer    Clarence Whitefield    Richard Ellington    Virginia Powell   
    Betty Phipps    Missy Julian-Fox    Susan Lyons    Linda Jacobson   
    Old Well-Then/Now    Cutting The Cake    Past Officers/board Members    Current Board   
  • October 20, 2016

    Brent Glass Reading from 50 Great American Places:
    Essential Historic Sites Across the U.S.

    Dr. Brent D. Glass, Director Emeritus of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, talked about his recently published book, 50 Great American Places: Essential Historic Sites Across the U.S., at Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill. While a graduate student at the University of North Carolina in the 1970s, Dr. Glass was Chair of the Oral History Committee of the Chapel Hill Historical Society, and was responsible for the publication of many oral histories of local residents. After receiving his PhD from UNC in 1980, Dr. Glass served as Executive Director of the North Carolina Humanities Council from 1983 to 1987, and Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museums Commission from 1987 to 2002. In 2002, he was named Director of the National Museum of American History, and served in that position until 2011.

  • October 16, 2016

    Historic Coker Hills
    A Talk by Jill Blackburn

    The Coker Hills neighborhood holds wonderful secrets. In this quiet and spacious landscape lies the story of some of Chapel Hill's rich cultural and natural history. When University of North Carolina botany professor William chambers Coker purchased the hilly area now known as Coker Hills, he bought it with a keen eye for the flora and the dramatic rises. Upon Coker's death in 1953, ownership of the land transferred, according to his will, to Coker College, a college started by his father to educate women. You can view this presentation here.

  • September 18, 2016

    Jones Ferry: A Road to the Past
    A Talk by Richard Ellington

    We've all been on Jones Ferry Road, but we probably know nothing about Jones Ferry. Why were the road and the ferry there? Join us as we explore why and how the road came about. Maps of the area show how many roads have changed. Jones Ferry Road has changed in location and importance over the years. Mr. Ellington will show the suspected location of the ferry, the natural beauty of the area through photographs, and the response of residents to what nature has given them. You can view this presentation here.

  • May 22, 2016

    Mapping Orange County: Land Grants, Early Travel Routes, and the Native Trading Path
    A Talk by Mark Chilton

    Mark Chilton's work on mapping the original land grants of Orange County showed where important early figures in county history lived, how people traveled by road, ferry, ford, and bridge, and where the great Native Trading Path was. Starting with the work of Allen Markham of some fifty years ago, Chilton has broadened Markham's perspective on the Orange County historical record. Chilton began in public service as a UNC undergrad on the Chapel Hill Town Council. He went on to serving as a Carrboro alderman and Carrboro mayor. He is now the Orange County Registrar of Deeds.

  • April 24, 2016

    Mayberry Modernism: North Carolina's Modernist Legacy
    A Talk by George Smart

    George Smart recounted the beginnings of the North Carolina Modernist movement, showed the key differences between Modernist and contemporary architecture, and described architects and influences. North Carolina Modernist Houses documents the state's gems in a digital archive and helps to preserve those which are endangered. Smart is the son of a Raleigh architect and a radio personality on WPTF. He worked as a management consultant and executive coach before 2007. At that time, his interest in architecture grew from a Google search to a list, a website, tours, trips, dinners, movies, and design community networking. He is the founder and executive director for North Carolina Modernist Houses.

  • March 20, 2016

    Digging in Our Heels: Angels on Campus
    The History of Women on Campus at UNC

    In the earliest days, women were a rarity on the UNC campus. Today women students are the majority of the undergraduate population, and women hold many positions of leadership. Taylor Livingston uses recordings from the Southern Oral History program to share stories and memories of people who experienced this great change, and to explore the triumphs and challenges of female staff, faculty and students on campus.

  • February 21, 2016

    The Murals of Chapel Hill:
    Artist Michael Brown Shares his Thoughts and Visions.

    Michael Brown is considered one of North Carolina's foremost muralists. He is a native of Chapel Hill and a graduate of Chapel Hill Schools and the University of North Carolina, with a degree in Fine Arts. He has painted over twenty murals in Chapel Hill, and his murals can also be seen across the state and up and down the East Coast. His presentation showed examples of his work, and he discussed the symbolism and motivation behind those works.

  • January 17, 2016

    The Power of Place: NORTHSIDE, A Neighborhood in Rapid Transition
    A talk by Della Pollock, Director of the Jackson Center & Professor of Communications at UNC, Hudson Vaughan, Deputy Director of the Jackson Center, and Brentton Harrison, Asst. Director of Education at the Jackson Center

    The Jackson Center's motto is "without the past, you have no future" This presentation will cover a brief history of Northside, one of the historically Black neighborhoods of Chapel Hill, in its formation & foundation, and its ongoing struggle for civil rights through the last several decades of rapid transition. They will touch on the coalition efforts led by neighbors to address the rapidly rising student housing market, ending with an interactive discussion about current collaborative efforts to preserve the future of one of Chapel Hill's most diverse and historic neighborhoods. This presentation was co-sponsored by Mama Dip's Restaurant at 408 West Rosemary Street and the Mediterranean Deli, 410 W. Franklin St., both in Chapel Hill, NC

  • September 20, 2015

    The Kings Mill-Morgan Creek History Project: The Story of a Neighborhood
    Carl Anderson, Vici Cook, Tom Jepsen, and Johnny Randall

    Beginning as part of Mark Morgan's farmland in the 1700s, the Kings Mill-Morgan Creek neighborhood continues to play an important role in the Chapel Hill community. Still largely wilderness in the early 20th century, the neighborhood was developed in the post-World War II era by UNC botanists W.C. Coker, Henry Totten, and William Lanier "Billy" Hunt. It became known as "Pill Hill" due to the many medical professionals who lived there after the building of the North Carolina Memorial Hospital in the early 1950s, and later became the home of many notable Chapel Hillians, including the legendary basketball coach Dean Smith and the singer James Taylor. This program featured two presentations: The Natural History of the Morgan Creek Valley, and The Kings Mill-Morgan Creek History Project.

  • April 19, 2015

    A Historical Overview Of The Village of Chapel Hill
    A presentation by Stewart Dunaway.
    Stewart Dunaway has researched the original town lots of Chapel Hill, chaining together the titles of every deed to show the history of every lot, and documenting the unique formation and growth of Chapel Hill. In his presentation, Mr. Dunaway will provide an overview of how the town of Chapel Hill was founded, why it was laid out on an angle, how it expanded, and what makes it unique. He will share historical tidbits and illustrations of many maps and pictures.

  • February 15, 2015

    The Life and Legacy of George Moses Horton,
    The Black Bard of North Carolina

    A presentation by Dr. Trudier Harris and Dr. Marion Phillips
    George Moses Horton lived on a tobacco farm in Chatham County prior to the Civil War, a slave who taught himself to read and eventually published several volumes of poetry. He walked often into Chapel Hill, where he sold farm produce and attracted the attention of students by composing acrostics on their sweethearts' names. His poetry celebrated his love for the land, explored family relationships, protested the indignity of slavery, and described the glory of freedom.

  • November 9, 2014

    Saving Glen Lennox:
    A Case Study in Developer and Community Partnership

    A talk by Linda Jacobson and John Blythe.
    The apartments at Glen Lennox opened in 1950 to alleviate the housing shortage in Chapel Hill after World War II. When the owner of Glen Lennox, Grubb Properties, announced plans in 2008 to redevelop the area, residents of the apartments and surrounding neighborhoods formed in opposition. Since then, Grubb Properties has worked with tenants, property owners, and the Town of Chapel Hill to create a development plan that will preserve some of the history and traits that distinguish the neighborhood.

  • October 15, 2014

    Town Treasures 2014
    A reception for this year's selection of Town Treasures

    Town Treasures has been a program of the Chapel Hill Historical Society since 2008. It honors those who have generously served our community with kind hearts and good deeds. You can find photos and biographies of each of our 2014 Town Treasures here.

  • May 18, 2014

    The History of African-American Education in Chapel Hill

    Learn about and celebrate the history of African- American education in Chapel Hill. Delores Clark, Esphur Foster, Esther McCauley, and Elaine Norwood shared memories of their school days in the old building that once sat on the site of the current school and served as a focal point for Chapel Hill's tight-knit African-American community in days gone by.

  • April 13, 2014

    Merritt's Store and Grill: A Chapel Hill Tradition
    Co-sponsored by the Britt Family

    Merritt's Store and Grill has been a gathering place in Chapel Hill for decades, from its origins as a service station and general store operated by the legendary Eben Merritt to its current status as a nationally-known grill specializing in BLTs and the sounds of bluegrass music. See the video of the 85th anniversary celebration below:

  • March 9, 2014

    Getting Around in the Southeastern US in the 17th and 18th Centuries
    Tom Magnuson

    The presentation will focus on the physical and geographical aspects of ground transportation in the southeast in the 17th and 18th centuries. Tom's comments will include information on local travel and trade routes, specifically the Neuse-Eno and Haw fords and their influence on settlement patterns.

  • February 16, 2014

    The History of the Strayhorn House
    Ernest Dollar

    The Strayhorn house on Jones Ferry Road in Carrboro has been in the same family for at least six generations. Efforts to preserve the structure have begun by the Preservation Society, with some funding from the Town of Carrboro and others. The home is currently owned by a great-granddaughter and is occupied by fourth, fifth, and sixth generations of Toney and Nellie Strayhorn descendants. Read more about the Strayhorn House in the Chapel Hill News.

  • January 19, 2014

    The Occaneechi Tribe of the Saponi Nations in and around Orange County
    John Blackfeather Jeffries

    John "Blackfeather" Jeffries is a native of Orange County and a member of the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation, where he currently serves on the Tribal Council. In 1991, he co-founded the Traditional Occaneechi Heritage Foundation, an organization that teaches the Native tradition and culture. Read more about his presentation in the Chapel Hill News.

  • November 24, 2013

    Bringing the News to Chapel Hill: Women Operators and the Telegraph in North Carolina
    Thomas C. Jepsen

    What role did the telegraph play in re-opening the University in 1875? And what role did women telegraph operators play in bringing the news to Chapel Hill and reporting on sporting events in the mid-20th century? You can view this presentation here.