Greensboro College history within Green Hill Cemetery

by Breanna Adamick

The city of Greensboro is a prime location for a college. It has just about everything – unique shops, quaint restaurants, plenty of parks … and a beautiful, expansive cemetery to explore. Mere minutes from campus is Green Hill Cemetery, the oldest and most historic cemetery in Greensboro since 1877, with 51 acres of well-kept, peaceful land.

A point of interest specific to students and staff of Greensboro College is that several notable people from the college’s history found their afterlife residence in Green Hill Cemetery, right by the college.

James Alexander Odell was who really began my detailed search for other prominent GC figures residing in Green Hill. I happened to be wandering around the cemetery one sunny day when I came across a tall, beautiful structure engraved with the letters “J. A. Odell.” Of course, it was the last name that instantly caught my attention, but as I happened to recall the Odell associated with our theatre building on campus having the same first initials, I guessed there had to be at least a connection. Only a small amount of research was necessary to confirm that it was indeed GC’s James Alexander Odell.

In the same plot as James Alexander Odell, there is a headstone marked for Mary Jane Odell, his wife who preceded him in death, for whom GC’s Odell Memorial building was created. James Alexander Odell contributed much to Greensboro College mainly through increasingly generous monetary gifts, especially in times of need. When financial issues loomed large for the college in 1882, Odell was among those to become a guarantor for GC, to prevent its closure.

Throughout the years, Odell continued to give substantial amounts of money to GC, and in 1922 gave $180,000 to construct Odell Memorial Building – the very same one we use and love today – in memory of his late wife.

This year on Sept. 24, we celebrated the 100th anniversary of Odell building with a special gala. The contributions Odell made to Greensboro College are clearly still being appreciated and felt today.

While searching Green Hill Cemetery’s burial index online for a very special person in our college’s history, I stumbled across another. Reverend Peter Doub, pastor of the First Methodist Church in Greensboro, and founder of Greensboro College, is among those buried in Green Hill Cemetery.

Doub first came to Greensboro around 1830, and it was then that he organized the first church building of any denomination in the city – First Methodist Church. This began Doub’s endeavor to create Greensboro College. On Dec. 28, 1838, Doub received a charter from the Methodist Conference, and what was to be Greensborough Female
School – and much, much later Greensboro College – began.

Green Hill’s 51 acres feature beautiful natural areas as well as walking and driving paths.

Finally, I extensively searched the burial index for Lucy Henderson Owen Robertson, otherwise known as “Mother Greensboro” or Greensboro College’s eighth president. Robertson was the first (and so far, only) female college president at GC, as well as the first at any college or university in the Southeast. She taught literature and history over the years and also became the college’s principal, until she was unanimously voted as president in 1902 – a position she kept until her retirement in 1913. Despite retirement, however, Robertson remained at Greensboro College as a mentor and teacher until her death in 1930. Throughout her many years in Greensboro, Lucy Robertson was an active part of the community she so loved, taking part in various social reform movements, charitable organizations and much more.

“Mother Greensboro,” Lucy Robertson.

All three of these people, Odell, Doub and Robertson, left a significant impact on Greensboro College during their time here or in Greensboro. It seems fitting that they remain in Green Hill Cemetery, close to the school they contributed so much to.

As the weather becomes cooler, and the world around us changes colors, I encourage you to visit this beautiful cemetery. It may seem like a strange way to spend your time, but the large area, garden style arrangement and peaceful atmosphere are entirely worth it.

There are historic walking tours available upon request, where you can support their non-profit organization and help them care for, and expand, their collection of plantings and structures, all while getting a thorough history of the cemetery and the city of Greensboro itself.


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