Gurney Harriss Kearns papers, 1913-1970

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Kearns, Gurney Harriss, 1872-1962
12 Linear Feet
4,106 Items
Collection ID:


Scope and content:

The papers of Gurney Harriss Kearns (1872-1962) date primarily during 1913-1962 but include items as late as 1970. There are eight series: Information; Correspondence; Everett, Zane and Muse; American Trust Company; Duke University; High Point College; Miscellaneous; and Crown Hosiery Mills. The collection relates mostly to the operations of Crown Hosiery Mills and to Kearns' real estate investments, membership on the board of directors of High Point College, and his endowment of fellowships at Duke University for graduate study in religion. Numerous references to his immediate family appear in various letters. There are occasional references to the Methodist Church, especially to Wesley Memorial at High Point of which Kearns was a member.

The Information Series contains reference material about Gurney H. Kearns, his family, and Crown Hosiery Mills.

The Correspondence Series (1959 items) contains the incoming letters and copies of the outgoing letters of Gurney H. Kearns during 1923-1963. Most of the correspondence from June, 1927, to April, 1931, is missing, and the quantity declines after 1943. The principal topic is Kearns' personal financial business. References to Crown Hosiery Mills are scarce. During 1923-1927 Kearns' real estate investments are the predominant topic. They include buildings, apartments, rental property, land and related transactions with real estate agents and insurance companies. Activity was considerable in North Carolina, especially in Greensboro and High Point, but also elsewhere, notably in Washington, D.C., and during 1926-1927 in Florida. During 1931-1943 the Depression's effects are evident, as Kearns' business is more concerned with managing debts, loans, and property than with acquisition. After 1943 the letters relate more to personal and family matters. Items of note concern Oak Ridge Institute (1925-1926), Springfield Friends Church (Dec. 18, 1936), Concord Methodist Church in Randolph Co. and Methodist churches in High Point (1937), church indebtedness in the Western N.C. Conference (Nov. 17, 1938), and Christianity and business (May 22, 1938).

The Everett, Zane and Muse Series (450 items) contains their letters to Gurney H. Kearns and copies of his replies during 1932-1952. Everett, Zane and Muse, an accounting firm located in Greensboro, N.C., handled business for both Crown Hosiery Mills and for Kearns personally, and the correspondence represents both interests. There are references to a variety of loan, tax, insurance, property, accounting, and other legal and financial matters. Many of the same transactions can be found in the Correspondence Series.

The American Trust Company Series (196 items) consists of their letters to Kearns and copies of his replies during 1939-1944. The American Trust Company, a bank in Charlotte, N.C., handled business for both Crown Hosiery Mills and for Kearns and other members of his family. The principal topics are loans and related insurance and property matters. These letters are sometimes more informative about transactions than the correspondence with Everett, Zane and Muse. There are occasional references to economic conditions.

The Duke University Series (1066 items), 1931-1965, contains Kearns' incoming and outgoing correspondence, mostly 1935-1962, with faculty, officials, graduate students, alumni, and doctors at the University, and others. The principal topic is the endowment that he established in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences for the support of graduate students in religion, especially those preparing to become college and seminary teachers. In 1935 Kearns began the Gurney Harriss Kearns Fellowship in Religion that was expanded in 1951 into the Gurney Harriss Kearns Foundation for Graduate Study in Religion with an endowment of $100,000. At the time of Kearns' death in 1962 there had been 62 Kearns Fellows. The correspondence concerns the founding and development of the endowment, the property supporting it, the Kearns Fellows, the Department of Religion, the Divinity School, Duke University, Kearns' church, and the churches and schools where some of the former Kearns Fellows located. The principal correspondent, 1935-1962, is Dr. H Shelton Smith, James B. Duke Professor of American Religious Thought. Other correspondents include Kearns Fellows, doctors whom Kearns consulted at Duke Hospital, businessmen involved with the endowment property, and various officials of the University, especially President Robert Lee Flowers in the 1930s and 1940s.

The High Point College Series (304 items) concerns this Methodist school where Kearns was a trustee from 1934 until he retired to emeritus status in 1960. The files include primarily letters to and from Kearns and officials of the college and minutes, reports, and memoranda from its board of trustees and subordinate committees. There is considerable information about fund raising, finances, development, and administration. Correspondents include Gideon I. Humphreys, president in the 1940s and a continuing correspondent, Dennis Hargrove Cooke, president in the 1950s, Wendell Melton Patton who assumed the office in 1959, trustees, and occasionally faculty and other persons. The papers are minimal before 1942, limited during most of the 1940s, and relatively numerous during 1949-1959.

The Miscellaneous Series contains a ledger, 1919-1935, for Gurney H. Kearns' personal finances. There is also a folder of letters and printed material, 1939-1960, concerning Wesley Memorial Methodist Church in High Point, including a sermon by its minister opposing the election of John F. Kennedy to the presidency because he was a Roman Catholic.

The Crown Hosiery Mills Series consists of minutes, financial papers, and extensive account books. The minutes (photocopies), 1913-1935, also include records of stock issued, 1913-1929, and dividends, 1916-1931. The financial papers, 1935-1939 and 1947, are varied and not numerous, but they contain some useful data. There are 94 account books including: the ledger, 1913-1917; inventories, 1913-1936; and trial balances, 1921-1933; index and profit and loss accounts 1921-1947; cashbooks, 1913-1921, including trial balances, 1934-1944; cash journals, 1921-1950; time books and payroll, 1913-1934; payroll, 1922-1927; order books for labels, bands, riders, and transfers, 1926-1930; sales commission book, 1937-1949; and voucher records, 1913-1921. These volumes include the earliest ledger and journal. Later ones are absent, but some summary figures can be found in the trial balances and in the profit and loss accounts. The time books and payroll provide names of employees, hours worked, and wages paid during the first two decades of the mill's operation.

Biographical / historical:
Date Event
Gurney Harriss Kearns born Sept. 12 on family farm in Guilford County near High Point, N.C.
Attended Trinity College, later Duke University
Associated with brother Oscar E. Kearns to establish Kearns Furniture Co., High Point
Married Katherine Whittier Ragan of High Point
Founded Crown Hosiery Mills at High Point
Became trustee of High Point College
Initiated Gurney Harriss Kearns Fellowship in Religion at Duke University for graduate study
Endowment at Duke University increased to $100,000 as the Gurney Harriss Kearns Foundation for Graduate Study in Religion
Became trustee emeritus of High Point College
Died November 19 at High Point
Acquisition information:
The papers of Gurney Harriss Kearns, a textile manufacturer, were a gift to the Rubenstein Library in 1977 by Crown Hosiery Mills, High Point, N.C.
Processing information:

Processed by: Duke University Special Collections Staff

Completed ca. 1977

Encoded by Stephen Douglas Miller

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Preferred citation:

[Identification of item], The Papers of Gurney Harriss Kearns, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.