Houses Inside Houses

Updated: Mar 12, 2020

Did you know that older structures are hidden inside some of our historic homes? Over the centuries a number of New Bern’s homes have been remodeled and enlarged. Sometimes, the Colonial-era frames were kept in place and reused, along with existing woodwork and staircases. So now, that earlier house is hidden within its newer—though still historic—architectural wrapper.

For example, the George H. White House at 519 Johnson Street, above, was enlarged around a small four-bay house built in late Georgian or early Federal times. In 1890, the heavy braced timbers of the century-old home were reused when White added a fifth bay, two enclosed chimneys, a second story, and modest Victorian trim on a new front porch. White was a prominent black lawyer and political leader. According to Peter Sandbeck, White was an energetic advocate for state-wide education and teacher training. He was also an important legislator, serving in the NC House of Representatives, then our state Senate, and later for two terms in the US Congress.

There is a pre-Revolution house within the Coor-Bishop House at 501 East Front Street. The original structure, a high-style Georgian, was built circa 1778 by James Coor. In 1904, prominent architect H.W. Simpson incorporated the original entrance hall and staircase into the striking Colonial Revival we see today. According to a 1903 photograph, the Georgian had two stories and a full gabled attic. Stylistically, the Georgian elements that remain have much in common with the Coor-Gaston, Smith-Whitford, and John Wright Stanley houses.

Dating the work done during renovations over scores of years relies on knowledge of older building styles and ownership records. For example, restoration a few decades ago revealed the remains of a one-room home within the Brinson-Fulshire House at 213 Johnson Street. Records date the original home to 1778, making it an early Federal― the first floor still retains the low ceilings of the original cottage. And since the exposed faces on the two interior chimneys have the distinctive bonding pattern used circa 1815, major expansion likely occurred then. Judging by the Greek Revival woodwork throughout the house, additional remodeling occurred around 1835.

The Forbes House at 717 Pollock Street, above, is more a house-beside-a-house than a house inside one, though still worthy of mention. Originally built circa 1775, the cottage was one and a half stories with a brick kitchen basement. In 1803, wealthy merchant Stephen Forbes attached a two and a half story structure to the cottage. Despite the significant remodeling, fine woodwork and elements from both the Georgian and Federal periods were retained where the two structures overlap. For example, the simple Georgian winder stair and simpler Georgian mantels remain at the older hearths, harmonizing with fine Federal details including carved mantels and moldings.

These are just a few of New Bern’s houses inside houses. More exist, and still more are sure to be discovered as remodeling and repair unwrap the juicy inner architecture of our historic homes.

[Artwork by Paul C. Reilly]




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