Rebuilding Tryon Palace

Tryon Palace

Tryon Palace
Tryon Palace was completed in 1770 as a shining example of North Carolina’s colonial history. North Carolina’s first permanent capitol stood for 28 years, but in 1798 it suffered a devastating fire that left only the Stable Office intact. At the beginning of the 20th century a determined group of historians and preservationists advocated for the rebuilding of Tryon Palace. One dedicated group of women who had grown up in New Bern and wished to preserve the history of Tryon Palace began spearheading the preservation efforts in the 1940s. They were known as the Dreamers: Gertrude Sprague Carraway, Minette Chapman Duffy, May Gordon Latham Kellenberger, Maude Moore Latham, and Kate B. Reynolds. The Tryon Palace Commission was established in 1945 by the North Carolina General Assembly to oversee the rebuilding of Tryon Palace. Funding for the reconstruction was paid for with a trust established by Maude Moore Latham, and the state agreed to purchase additional properties.  Based on English architect John Hawks’ original plans, construction began in 1952 and ended in 1959 with a fully rebuilt Tryon Palace, complete with the Governor’s Palace, Kitchen Office, a refurbishment of the Stable Office, and surrounding gardens.

This colonial banknote from circa 1775 was engraved by William Tisdale (1734-1796). A New Bern resident and silversmith, he served in several political offices during the Revolutionary Era and early American republic. In 1779 Tisdale was responsible for engraving the Great Seal of North Carolina. This banknote features the only known image of Tryon Palace rendered in its original lifetime. A close examination of the image suggests that Tisdale was indeed familiar with the palace. It features the familiar Georgian architectural details; the east and west wings carefully mirror each other while the windows in the main hall all align from the first to the second floor. The engraving also shows the enclosed colonnades which run between the east and west wings or Kitchen and Stable offices. The smoke emanating from the east wing chimney also indicates that Tisdale was familiar with the layout of the Palace and the busy schedule of the Kitchen Office.

Maude Moore Latham (1871-1951) was the original chairman of the Tryon Palace Commission and served in that position until her passing in 1951. A native of New Bern, Latham held a life-long dream of seeing the Palace rebuilt. In 1939 she began actively campaigning for the reconstruction by financing the publication of Old Homes and Gardens of North Carolina, which advocated for the restoration of Tryon Palace. In January 1944 she established the Maude Moore Latham Trust Fund, for the restoration of the palace and later gave the remainder of her estate—$1,115,000—to the Tryon Palace Commission in 1951.

Gertrude Sprague Carraway (1896-1993) was one of the original Tryon Palace Commission members from 1945. She served as commission member until 1956 when she became administrator of the Tryon Palace Restoration, a position she held until 1971. Carraway located the original building plans and played a key role in the reconstruction of Tryon Palace. As administrator, she worked tirelessly to ensure that the Palace guides were well versed in the building’s history and decorative arts. Carraway rejoined the Commission in 1976, when she served as a member until her passing in 1993.

May Gordon Latham Kellenberger (1893-1978), the daughter of Maude Moore Latham, was born in New Bern. Kellenberger dedicated her life to preservation and conservation efforts from an early age. Following in her mother’s footsteps she was a strong and continuous advocate for the reconstruction of Tryon Palace. Kellenberger served as vice chair for the Tryon Palace Commission from its founding until 1951 when she became chairman after her mother’s passing. She remained the chairman of the Commission until her own passing in 1978, tirelessly working to support and promote the Palace.

John A. Kellenberger (1885-1973) came to North Carolina for business, and during WWI he worked extensively with the Red Cross in Greensboro where he met his wife May Gordon Latham. Kellenberger strongly supported his wife’s work on behalf of Tryon Palace and joined the Commission in 1951 as the finance officer; in 1953 he took on the additional responsibility of treasurer for the Commission. He held both of these positions until his passing in 1973.

Morley Jeffers Williams (1886-1977) served as archeologist and landscape architect for the Tryon Palace reconstruction. Before coming to New Bern, Williams had worked on several projects at Stratford Hall, Monticello, and Mount Vernon. For his work, he relied heavily on his background in engineering and horticulture, and the training he received at Harvard University in landscape architecture and city planning. As with many of his projects, he worked with his wife Nathalia Uhlman, a MIT-trained architect. Williams’ archeological investigations revealed few details about Tryon Palace’s original gardens, which forced him to base his designs on information discovered at other historic sites and common 18th-century garden plans.

Gregor Norman-Wilcox (1905-1969) was hired in 1957 as the Palace’s first curator to oversee the furnishing plan. A graduate of the Cleveland School of Art, Norman-Wilcox worked briefly as an interior designer before joining the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. There he became curator of decorative arts, and took sabbaticals for special projects like furnishing Tryon Palace. On these special projects he frequently worked with his wife Grace A. Steen, a specialist in Oriental art.

During the fall 1953 Tryon Palace Commission meeting, members were able to view the progress being made on the Stable Office restoration and take part in the archeological excavations on the Palace grounds.

George Street
After the fire of 1798 the main building of Tryon Palace was destroyed, and the Kitchen Office quickly deteriorated. Only the Stable Office was left standing. The palace land was divided into plots and sold in an effort to recoup the losses suffered from building and attempting to maintain the Governor’s Palace. George Street eventually extended to the Trent River and plots were established along the newly established section of George Street. Builders began constructing houses in 1800 that led to the creation of a vibrant community that continued to grow and thrive through the Civil War, and both World Wars. When the reconstruction of Tryon Palace began, the community of George Street relocated to other areas of New Bern and the buildings were either relocated to other locations or demolished. 

In this aerial photograph of the George Street neighborhood taken Friday August 13, 1954, many of the area’s original features that were either demolished or moved during the reconstruction can still be seen. Along the Trent River the George Street Bridge exits over the water, and most of the original houses and trees are still standing.

The Esso Station was located at the southeast corner of George and South Front streets. It was one of several filling and service stations that served the South Front Street businesses and customers using the George Street Bridge. This photograph was taken c. 1958, before the Esso Station was demolished as part of the Tryon Palace reconstruction.

There were several small markets located in the George Street area, which were supplied by shipping on the Trent River. Parrott’s Market, located at the northwest corner of George and South Front streets, was one of those markets. The building was demolished as a part of the Tryon Palace reconstruction.

The south side of the 600 block of South Front Street, between Metcalf and George Street, was located along the Trent River. This area, like most of New Bern’s waterfront, was industrialized, containing multiple businesses, like Sandlin Battery, Tom’s Seafood and Tommy Davis’ Service Station.

This photograph shows the east side of the 200 block of George Street. Many of the buildings in the area were rented, making it difficult to discover who resided in the homes; however property deeds reveal who owned the land and buildings. Building 2 was owned by Eveline Land. Buildings 3 and 4 were owned by Jennie Coward, and Building 5 was owned by Nena Hamilton. Nena Hamilton owned several properties in the George Street area.

This photograph shows the west side of the 200 block of George Street. Building 1 was owned by Nena Hamilton. Building 2 was owned by Mamie Broadstreet. Building 3 was occupied by Mrs. W.J.B. Burrus. Building 4 was owned by W.H. and Ida Winfield. Building 5 was owned by Katie B. Gaskins. Building 6 was occupied by Mr. R. Nassef. Building 7 is the McKinley-David-Duffy House.

The Shell service station was located at the northwest corner of George and Pollock streets. This station, with its mission style architecture, was later acquired by the Palace and converted into the first visitor center, the Waystation.

Rebuilding Tryon Palace
Reconstruction of Tryon Palace began in 1952 and followed the architectural plans developed by William Graves Perry, which were based on John Hawks’ design. Perry incorporated minor changes to ensure that the building would meet North Carolina building codes, and be comfortable for visitors. The most notable change was the inclusion of an air conditioning system that required the rooms in the basement to be reconfigured. The majority of the building was completed by 1957 when work on the gardens began. The gardens were designed by Morley Jeffers Williams, who used what limited archeological evidence he uncovered and gardens designs contemporary to the Governor’s Palace in developing his plans. 

Aerial view of the construction of the Palace, taken after the completion of first floor.

Progress photograph taken by Bill Gulley on March 1, 1956, which shows the Stable Office and Governor’s Palace.

Taken March 30, 1956 while the main building of the Palace was still under construction. This photograph captures the view from the entrance hall looking north down George Street.

In the northeast room of the Palace basement the original bricks from the 18th century can still be seen in the lower section of the wall.

Furnishing the Palace
Tryon Palace’s curator and the Commission’s furnishing committee faced the challenge of determining how the different rooms were used. John Hawks’ two sets of architectural plans offered differing descriptions of room uses.  This complication has since been resolved by researchers after receiving a copy of the 1783 Don Francisco de Miranda letter, in which Hawks describes the building room by room to Miranda. In the 1950s researchers did not have access to this information, and as a result, early furnishing plans sometimes failed to reflect the original uses of the rooms. The furnishings were acquired from the United States and Europe, each reflecting the different markets that the Tryons and Martins would have had access to in the late 18th century. The initial collection was donated by Maude Moore Latham as a part of her estate, and many of the pieces are still on display today, including the library bookcase on display in the palace drawing room. 

This image shows the décor of the front entrance hall when the Palace first opened.

The southeast area of the Council Chamber furnished for a meeting of the colonial assembly.

Upstairs sitting room, which would have been a part of the family’s private rooms. This room was very popular when the Palace opened and appeared in several publications.

The former dining room as it was furnished when the Palace opened in 1959. This room has since been reinterpreted (based on new research), as the sitting room.

Grand Opening 
Tryon Palace’s grand opening began with a 19-gun salute by 12 U.S. Marines from Camp Lejeune on April 8, 1959, and lasted through the weekend with the public opening April 10. Opening ceremonies included May Gordon Latham Kellenberger, chairman of the Tryon Palace Commission, presenting Governor Luther Hartwell Hodges with a key to Tryon Palace, officially handing the building over to the care of the state of North Carolina. The presentation of the palace key was followed by a ribbon cutting ceremony at the palace front gate. State legislators then entered the palace to convene the 1959 North Carolina General Assembly. This was the first time since 1793 that the North Carolina General Assembly met in Tryon Palace’s council chamber. According to witnesses, the Senate gathered in the Council Chamber and the House of Representatives met in the cellar.

On April 8, 1959 crowds gathered outside the Palace gates eagerly anticipating the grand opening of Tryon Palace.

The Second Marine Aircraft Wing Band from Marine Corps Airstation Cherry Point played on the Palace’s front lawn on April 8, 1959 as visitors passed through the inner gate of the Palace.

On April 8, 1959, the North Carolina General Assembly convened in Tryon Palace’s Council Chamber. This was the first time since 1793 that the legislature convened at the palace.

Credits: Story

Curatorial Team
Siobhan Fitzpatrick
Kristie DaFoe
Alyson Rhodes-Murphy

Object photographs by Cole Dittmer

Historic images from the Tryon Palace Collection.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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