REMEMBERING THE GREER’S AND THE GREER HOUSE

By Nowell Briscoe

(This column from several years ago has been revised with new material and  is being shared with the readers again due to a happy circumstance of recent date which introduced me to the grandchildren of Mr. & Mrs. Joe Greer: Tom, “Cis” & Mike which brought them to Monroe this month for a special gathering.)

 

          I wish I could say I did, but I didn’t.  And I have always been sorry that I didn’t….have the opportunity to eat at the Greer House, that is.

 

          Many readers will be scratching their heads wondering just what and where the Greer House was.  Way back there, from 1920 to the fifties, the Greer House was an establishment where travelers and newcomers to town could find lodging and food as the city was beginning to grow.  In the early years, the business was housed in several locations, with the last being in the historic Calvin G. Nowell house which was on part of the property which now houses City Hall.  That parcel of land was once home to the old Walton EMC, the Nowell house and the John T. Robertson house, which was later remodeled as the E. L. Almand Funeral Home all of which faced North Broad Street. Over the years the EMC along with the Greer House were demolished and the old Robertson/Almand house was moved to the country where it again serves as a family dwelling.

          The Greer history began when Miss Bessie Moore came to Monroe in 1913 to operate the old Walton Hotel.  Soon after her arrival, she met and married Joseph Cay Greer in 1914.

Prior to moving to Monroe, Joe Greer traveled for the Norman Buggy Company but on one of his trips to Monroe, he met Bessie Moore and a romance bloomed between the two. After their marriage he resigned his position from the buggy company to devote his full time to helping his new bride run the hotel.

After the Walton Hotel closed in 1919 and became a property to house business offices, Mr. & Mrs. Greer decided to open their own establishment, one that catered to travelers and newcomers to Monroe.  They opened the first Greer House on South Broad Street in 1920. When that building was destroyed by fire, the business opened its doors for a short time in the old John T. Robertson home on Broad Street.  In 1922 the business relocated to the old E.M. Williams property on East Spring Street.  1930 found the Greer’s once again moving back to Broad Street to the ancestral Calvin G. Nowell home, which was built in 1883 and housed many of the members of the Nowell family along with other residents, which was next door to the Robertson home. The Greer House continued in operation following the deaths of Mrs. Greer in 1947 and Mr. Greer in November 1955. During the final year of Mr. Greer’s life and until 1958 the beloved establishment was operated by other dedicated individuals with the final proprietors to oversee the daily operations being the late Mr. & Mrs. Ed Carrell.

In December of 1954, Mr. Greer’s children sold the property and building to the Walton Electric Membership Corporation for the future expansion of their business.

The front page of the July 23, 1958 Walton Tribune carried a photo and background story of the Nowell/Greer house when it was demolished the week prior which brought sadness to multitudes of citizens who had happy memories of the house and the various venues it offered the Monroe community.

 

          Not only did the Greer House serve as a haven for travelers along with residents and some local school teachers, the house served as a meeting place for various business meetings as well as social events and high school gatherings.  And where there are meetings and social events, you usually find food. Besides serving meals to the residents of the Greer House, every Sunday the front door would be opened for lunch to the community. Some of the older citizens in Monroe can recall waiting in a line on the front porch for a table in the dining room after church on Sunday to get a sampling of the delicious fried chicken, ham and tasty yeast rolls that came from the Greer House kitchen. From what I have been told, Mrs. Greer was a fine cook whose culinary creations received attention and praise far and wide. One of the more notable groups that held court in the Greer House was the longtime Monroe Chittlin’ Club, whose toastmaster for many years was the beloved Ernest Camp, late editor and publisher of the Walton Tribune. Oh, if only those walls could have spoken, the stories that could be told from the many bridge games played in the reception rooms, the dances and other school functions along with other club and business meetings held in that historic house.

 

          One friend reminisced recently about going to the Greer House for a Sunday dinner and having Mrs. Greer’s delicious fried chicken.  He told me that in the back yard of the boarding house, chickens and hogs were in abundance and on Saturday’s when fried chicken was to be on the Sunday menu, the old porter could be seen chasing the chickens, hoping to capture enough to provide an ample supply for dinner the next day. “That’s the reason the chicken was so good, you couldn’t get chicken any fresher than that,” the friend replied.

          Mr. & Mrs. Greer had two sons who grew up in the boarding house: John Thomas and Joseph Michael. Tom became a publishing executive based in Atlanta while Michael rose to prominence as a renowned interior decorator with his business based in New York.  The awards and honors that came to him for his genius in the field of interior design led him to write a book on the subject, “Inside Design”, published in 1962.  The book included photos of his own New York apartment as he commented on the “do’s and don’ts” for successful interior design worded as only Michael Greer could say it! Being president of the National Society of Interior Designers in 1959 and a founder and early president of the American Society of Interior Designers, he also had the distinction of being invited to refurbish several rooms in the White House in cooperation with Mrs. Mamie Eisenhower, Mrs. Jacqueline Kennedy and Mrs. Lady Bird Johnson.

          Strange as it appears, there was never a photograph taken of this venerable old Monroe landmark except when it was being demolished. The younger group might have heard of the Greer House but few can remember seeing it or knowing exactly where it stood on Broad Street.

          Early this summer I was contacted by one of Mr. & Mrs. Greer’s grandsons, Tom Jr., who asked my help in learning more about his family’s history and help in arranging to have markers for both his father and his uncle placed in Rest Haven Cemetery. This meeting led to other visits which included meeting his siblings, Michael and “Cis”, who traveled to Atlanta to see their brother and make the journey to Monroe for the consecration of the markers in the cemetery on October 6th by the Rev. Patricia Merchant of St. Alban’s Episcopal Church.  On one of these visits Tom shared with me the only known photograph of the Greer House, taken in 1947. This photo is being shared with the Tribune readers for the first time.

          Prior to the October 6th event at Rest Haven, I hosted a gathering of the Greer siblings at my home where we shared laughter, memories and enjoyment in looking at the many ancient Tribune articles about their grandparents, the Greer House, their father and uncle dating from 1930 to the 1950’s.  Seeing these stories and articles gave “Cis”, Tom, Jr. and Mike a renewed appreciation of their Monroe heritage which helped cement their place in Monroe’s early history.

          Both “Miss Bessie” & Joe Greer were well-loved and respected for what they gave to the early Monroe community; a comfortable place for both residents and travelers to lay their heads at night and some delicious food to fill your stomachs along with a venue for an enjoyable social life.  Life doesn’t get much better than that….at least back then it didn’t!