Dr. DeWitt Clinton Benbow

Dr. DeWitt Clinton Benbow

Male 23rd day, 2nd month, 1832 - 1902

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  • Title  Dr. 
    Nickname  Dr. DWC 
    Born  23rd day, 2nd month, 1832  Oak Ridge, Guilford County, North Carolina Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Gender  Male 
    Died  02 Sep 1902  Greensboro, Guilford County, North Carolina Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Buried  Green Hill Cemetery, Greensboro, Guilford County, North Carolina Find all individuals with events at this location 
    • DeWitt Clinton Benbow, 1832 - 1902

      It is for county historical societies to preserve the local folk lore and traditions, which, in many cases, are more to be relied upon to “keep a history straight” than the many more imposing efforts of historians and biographers.

      Guilford has been fortunate in having among her citizens statesmen, professional men, divines, and teachers, who have added to her reputation and placed her in the forefront of the counties of the state – among them Calvin H. Wiley, the first State Superintendent of Education – and whose memories are cherished, not only by the citizens of Guilford, but by the people of the state. A few of their portraits should remind us, and especially those of later generations who have no personal recollections of them, of our obligation to them.

      There died in Greensboro, in 1902, one citizen of whom it is not exaggeration to say the City of Greensboro is more indebted than to any other of her citizens for his activities since the War Between the States in the upbuilding of her business and industrial life, and no one surpassed him in his efforts in behalf of the educational advantages she now possesses. For many years he was foremost among the leading spirits of enterprise. He never sought popularity. He was a thinker, not a talker, unless he was approached for information and advice by those who contemplated entering upon some untried venture, when he always gave the results of his investigations and meditations. While he had visions, he was never visionary. He had the greatest faith in the possibilities and probabilities of the uplift and improvement of his native county, and Greensboro – DeWitt Clinton Benbow.

      In the rush and hurry of later years and the great growth and improvement of both city and county, we are prone to ignore, or not revert to simple beginnings. I have often said that the genesis of the City of Greensboro was the building of the original Benbow Hotel – the present Guilford – and I have not changed my idea. This will doubtless strike as extravagant those who did not know Greensboro just before, and for half a decade after, the War Between the States – a straggling village of less than two thousand people, white and black; a wayside station on the North Carolina Railroad and the Piedmont Railroad; visited by few outsiders, who tarried only long enough to transact their business which called them there; known only for its educational advantages – Edgeworth and Greensboro Female College – and as being the residence town of a few state notables.

      At the time Dr. Benbow began the erection of his hotel, Greensboro had three hostelries, such as they were, not very inviting, whose patronage did not exceed upon the average three strangers a day, one for each day during twelve months. When the walls of the Benbow Hotel were about three stories high, some one said to Dr. Benbow: “Doctor, why are you spending so much time and money in erecting such a large building for a hotel? Do you not know that very few strangers stop here over night?” Dr. Benbow’s reply was: “Where would they stop? I will give them a place to stop.”

      Dr. Benbow had a dairy and vegetable garden in connection with the hotel, but he did not have the hotel ‘bar’ which was so great an inducement to patronize other hotels in the “good old days.” The Benbow Hotel had a good send-off in the very beginning. The day it was opened to the public David B. Hill, afterwards Governor of New York, made a political speech from the veranda, and among the names appearing on its register, the name of Zebulon B. Vance stands first.

      This hotel, I had almost said, to use an expression very common, “placed Greensboro on the map.” The change in the number of visitors was marvelous. The fame of the house was spread over the state, especially by commercial traveling men, “drummers” as we used to call them, many of whom, attracted by the appointment of the hotel and its service, made it their headquarters. The hotel had not been open many months when a great number of commercial travelers who, on Saturday night were within one hundred miles of Greensboro, would come to the Benbow Hotel to spend Sunday. One evidence of the great influx of visitors as a result of Dr. Benbow’s foresight and faith is that the average number of daily patrons for five years was ninety-three, as shown by the hotel register. Contrast that with the average combined daily patronage of all the Greensboro hostelries of only three.

      When Dr. Benbow returned to Greensboro from Fayetteville in 1862, where he had resided for several years practicing dentistry and operating a cotton mill, he acquired property on South Elm Street, south of Sycamore, and soon built a brick storehouse on the corner now occupied by Meyer’s store, and conducted a retail business for some while. Soon thereafter he built quite a block of buildings on South Elm, adjoining the storehouse. In this block was the Benbow Hall, which for many years supplied the place of a town hall, used by theatrical and concert companies, and as a dance hall. Not long thereafter he built the Crown Mills, on East Washington Street.

      While in failing health and after he began to feel advancing age, and under some great difficulties, he superintended the building of the New Benbow (Meyer’s site), having sold the original to Capt. Fisher, the present Guilford – “his ruling passion strong in death.”

      Dr. Benbow’s efforts were not confined to the upbuilding of the city. He was among the foremost advocates of the “stock law,” or “no fence law,” which encountered strong opposition and created unfriendly feelings toward him personally, but he lived to know that some of the bitterest opposers came to be its staunchest friends. He was also among the earliest advocates of good roads, and showed his faith by his work. As an object lesson, at his own expense he built two sections of paved, or macadam road, on roads leading to the city.

      Having seen a vineyard near Fayetteville he determined to give the Guilford people an object lesson in the cultivation of grapes, and established a vineyard in Oak Ridge Township, and through the Agricultural Departments, Federal and State, and the Federal Immigration Bureau, he obtained the services of a native of Holland, an expert in grape culture.

      He was among the first to devote attention to the improvement of the cattle and stock of the country, and to that end purchased a number of registered cattle of improved breeds. He was also among the first to invest in new farming machinery and dairy improvements.

      But Dr. Benbow’s activities were not confined to the material, commercial, and manufacturing developments of the city and county. While a member of the Board of Aldermen he advocated the establishment of graded schools, and by having the charter of the city amended, he succeeded in giving Greensboro the credit of having the first graded school in the state, and as a trustee of Guilford College, he participated in establishing the first rural graded school in the state at that college village.

      When the work of rebuilding Greensboro Female College, after it was burned in 1863, was in danger of being stopped, at least temporarily, owing to the death of Rev. Mr. Barringer, who had been superintending the work, Dr. Benbow took upon himself the financing and completion of the building, and at once notified all contractors and laborers to proceed with the work and to look to him for their pay, which they did.

      At one time, as is well known, the state conducted its normal institutes at stated periods and limited terms in the several sections of the state under the supervision of Dr. Chas. D. McIver and Edward A. Alderman. Dr. Benbow and a few others, especially a lady connected with Guilford College, conceived the idea of having a permanent school for women, and with the aid of Professors McIver and Alderman, succeeded in getting the North Carolina Teachers’ Association interested, and finally at the annual meeting at Black Mountain that assembly recommended the necessary legislation. It is said that some of the most ardent friends of the measure were so fearful of the result at that meeting that there was a prospect of deferring the matter for another year. When Dr. Benbow was advised of the status he at once wired to the friends of the measure to force a vote at that session, which was done and the recommendation was adopted by a small majority. The idea of Dr. Benbow and his coadjutors was to have a state institution for women on the order of the University. As a matter of policy, to disarm opposition, the name proposed was “Normal and Industrial School for Girls.” After the success of the institution became established and had met with pronounced popular favor, the title was amended as we have it now.

      After the act of the Assembly incorporating the school, its location became the subject of active competition between different localities, and donations of land and funds were offered by several cities. The trustees of the school met in Greensboro to open the bids and to settle the question of location. In order to locate the college or school at Greensboro, in addition to other inducements, a subscription by the city of $30,000 in money was necessary to give Greensboro a living chance. Before the city could subscribe the proposition had to be submitted to the voters, for which election some time would be required. Dr. Benbow and other citizens got together and signed an obligation to personally pay the amount in case the city did not subscribe it. This action gave Greensboro the location. Of course the voters approved the subscription. Dr. Benbow and some other citizens also guaranteed an amount sufficient to have the colored A. and M. College located here.

      Another evidence of the foresight and accuracy of his calculation is the Mt. Airy Granite Company, the stone from which is being used in the erection of our new court house. While the C. F. and Y. V. Railway was being built, Dr. Benbow and another citizen had occasion to visit Mt. Airy, and while there inspected the large area of granite and the local structures built with it. They at once contracted to purchase, and for awhile developed the property, and organized a company, and now the output is shipped annually to sections of this state, to several other states, and the District of Columbia.

      Of course Dr. Benbow was not the only citizen who has largely contributed to the growth of the city and county, as is well known. My object in writing this is “lest we forget” that he was a prime mover in many of the causes of our prosperity and reputation, and an advisor and co-worker in nearly all of them.

      I had almost neglected to call attention to the fact that he was one of the original five who foresaw the great advantage of a public park at the old battle field for the city and county, and who purchased the property and organized the Guilford Battle Ground Company.

      Dr. Benbow came of one of the oldest families in the county, a family noted for industry, honesty, and public spirit. His great, great grandfather, Charles Benbow, came from Wales in 1718, to Pennsylvania, when a lad of fifteen years of age, and to pay for passage across the seas was bound to a Quaker gentleman named Carver. Soon thereafter Mr. Carver moved to Bladen County, North Carolina, bringing the lad with him. In the course of time Charles married the daughter of Carver and moved to Guilford, fist to the southern part of the county, and then to the northwestern section, where so many Quakers lived. One of his sons, Thomas, who had a blacksmith shop not far from New Garden (now Guilford College) wrought the nails, hinges, and latches used in the building of the old New Garden Meeting House. He also had one of the few tanneries in this section of the state.

      One of Thomas’s sons, Charles, married a Miss Saunders, in 1787, daughter of the man who built the famous old Saunders Mill, in what is now Oak Ridge Township, which was patronized by farmers of adjoining counties. Dr. Benbow was the youngest child of this marriage, born in 1832, was educated in the common schools of Guilford, and at a college in Providence, R. I., where he also studied dentistry. He married in 1857 Miss Mary Scott, of Greensboro, daughter of David Scott, a merchant. She proved to be a helpmeet indeed. He died at the age of 70 and was buried at Green Hill.

      Our Guilford Benbows were of the family of Admiral Benbow, of the British Navy, who earned great reputation for himself and the navy in Britain’s war with Spain at the time of the great Spanish Armada’s threatened invasion. Comparatively recently the British have named one of their finest ships in his honor, as was done many years ago, and the silver service presented to the original Benbow Man of War was again presented to the last named ship.

      At the time of Dr. Benbow’s death many newspapers of the state took note of the loss to Greensboro and the state, but these were of but passing notice, so I have prepared hastily this sketch that our Historical Society might preserve among its records the name of a citizen whose memory every citizen of Guilford should delight to honor, thus carrying out one of the purposes for which it was organized. I was acquainted with him since the summer of 1865, and, knowing him well during the last twenty years of his life, I have personal knowledge of many of his activities I have mentioned.

      James T. Morehead
      Written for Guilford Historical Association November 19th, 1911.

      The Founders and Builders of Greensboro, 1808-1908, Fifty Sketches Compiled by Bettie D. Caldwell, published by Jos. J. Stone & Company, Greensboro, N.C., 1925, pages 251-257.


      transcriber’s notes:

      The immigrant Charles Benbow did not settle in Guilford County. He lived and died in Bladen County. Within a few years after his death, his children sold the land Charles had owned and moved to Guilford County.

      Many, if not all, branches of the Benbow family have a story of relationship to the Admiral. There is no proof of it.

      The Spanish Armada sailed from Spain to England in 1588. Admiral Benbow lived from about 1651-1702. He was involved in the English battles with the Spanish in the Caribbean.

    Person ID  I42  Benbow Family and Allied Lines
    Last Modified  12 Feb 2011 

    Father  Charles Benbow,   b. 6th day, 12th month, 1787, Guilford County, North Carolina Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 24th Jul 1868, Guilford County, North Carolina Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Mother  Mary Sanders,   b. 12th day, 9th month, 1790, Guilford County, North Carolina Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 21 Feb 1875, Oak Ridge, Guilford County, North Carolina Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Married  8th day, 12th month, 1811  Guilford County, North Carolina Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Family ID  F13  Group Sheet

    Family  Mary Elizabeth Scott,   b. 1835, Greensboro, Guilford County, North Carolina Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 1898 
    Married  30 Nov 1857  Guilford County, North Carolina Find all individuals with events at this location 
     1. Charles David Benbow,   b. 13 Oct 1859, Fayetteville, Cumberland County, North Carolina Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 10 Aug 1947, St. Petersburg, Florida Find all individuals with events at this location
     2. Mary Benbow
     3. Lilly Benbow
     4. Julia Elma Benbow,   b. 29 Jan 1870,   d. 13 Jun 1870, Greensboro, Guilford County, North Carolina Find all individuals with events at this location
    DWC Benbow & Mary Elizabeth Scott marriage announcement
    DWC Benbow & Mary Elizabeth Scott marriage announcement
    Fayetteville Observer, Fayetteville NC, dated 3 December 1857
    Last Modified  2 May 2008 
    Family ID  F14  Group Sheet

  • Photos
    Dr. DeWitt Clinton Benbow
    Dr. DeWitt Clinton Benbow
    Dr. DeWitt Clinton Benbow
    Dr. DeWitt Clinton Benbow
    Benbow House, Greensboro, North Carolina
    Benbow House, Greensboro, North Carolina
    Built by Dr. DeWitt Clinton Benbow, it opened in 1871, and became a major attraction and landmark in the region. It stood one block south of the Court House Square, on South Elm Street. Unfortunately, it burned on 17 June 1899.

    Benbow Y-DNA Project - participating line
    Benbow Y-DNA Project - participating line

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