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As the City of High Point’s Planning and Zoning Commission considered a name change recently for Montlieu Avenue, both the Museum and the Heritage Research Center received calls from concerned citizens wishing to know the background of the street’s name, the Barbee’s Montlieu Dairy Farm. Larry Cates explores more about the history of the street after the dairy closed.
Albert E. Barbee’s (1869-1937) Montlieu Dairy advertising usually emphasized the purity and dependability of his product along with prompt twice-daily deliveries. But he also played the race card in some of his ads as one might expect in the vitriolic Redeemer-era politics of the turn of the 20th Century when Black civil and voting rights were under siege. In one notorious example, he noted that his milk was made by White people for White people and that no Black boys (and no White boys, for that matter) were associated with his dairy.
Early High Point citizen D.L. Clark cited the dairy in his 1881 description of the town: “Our young friend, Mr. A.E. Barbee will wait upon you at your doors. He supplies the town, and as one of his patrons, I take great pleasure in submitting my testimony as to the superior article or quality of milk with which you will be supplied from this dairy. Mr. Barbee is a worthy gentleman who deserves the patronage of our people.”
From The High Point Enterprise in 1930, this photograph shows the Barbee’s home, built in 1880, remodeled for the Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church rectory.
In 1914, after Albert’s widowed mother died, it became necessary to end the Dairy after a quarter century of operation and sell the 150 acres associated with the farm. That is when the Penny Brothers, the notoriously successful and flamboyant “twin” real estate brokers of the era, acquired it and decided to develop the tract into another subdivision. Out of the farm came a development they initially called “Montlieu Heights” and later “Willoubar Terrace.”
The 1917 Sanborn Map of High Point shows the development area: William Avenue (“Wil”, Montlieu Avenue (“Lou”), and Barbee (“Bar”).
At that time, Montlieu Avenue was simply an extension of the main Greensboro-High Point Road and ran only beyond Centennial Street to the outskirts of town. With county assistance, this outer stretch became integrated into the first completely paved throughway extending between the two cities. It was at the time of the paving in the mid-1910s that the name Montlieu Avenue came into common use. Later, the road was widened, and improvements like arc lighting at the intersections and a triangular park were proposed, just as the Methodist Protestant College now known as High Point University began taking shape along this same route.
It then became obvious that another segment should be added connecting the Centennial intersection with North Main Street. Most North Main property holders were all for it, as were folks like the Munyons who were building the first expensive homes on Montlieu as city services were extended. However, Rev. Thomas Carrick owned some of the intervening property and very much objected. The city awarded him $1000 as compensation. Fencing that Carrick erected along the southern edge of the street and his untrimmed trees led to a couple of accidents, including the collision of the North Main streetcar with an auto, until the city condemned and removed the obstruction shortly after 1918. At that time, the speed limit on the street was 18 miles per hour, but rose to 25 at the outer edge of town. This inner stretch was plagued by speeders taking advantage of the blacktop surface as they tested the limits of their new machines. Probably, Rev. Carrick had feared this very eventuality, but such was the price of modernity.
Now, nearly a century later, we anticipate the end of Montlieu as it was then established. Ironically, the very development the street has fostered over the years is now leading to its partial demise. When making a change, it is the historian’s role to ask us to pause for a moment and consider what is being sidelined while others appraise the merits and potential pitfalls attached to its replacement. Both deserve due and careful deliberation.
Larry W. Cates is a reference librarian at the Heritage Research Center of the High Point Public Library where he specializes in family and local history. Contact him at 336.883.3637 or firstname.lastname@example.org.