Tryon Palace is known for being North Carolina’s first permanent state capitol, but we’re remembered for capturing imaginations. Walk in the footsteps of colonial governors, stroll through more than 16 acres of beautifully-sculpted gardens, or travel back in time for an interactive experience that blends the 1830s with 21st-century technologies.
Tryon Palace, located in New Bern, North Carolina, is a replica of the mansion built in the late 1760s for the Royal Governor of the Province of North Carolina. Completed in 1770, Tryon Palace served as the first permanent capitol of North Carolina and home to the family of Royal Governor William Tryon. Also the seat of the province’s Colonial government, it was seized by rebel troops in 1775 and retained that role through the creation of the State of North Carolina in 1789. Tryon Palace was the site of the first sessions of the general assembly for the State of North Carolina following the revolution and housed the state governors until 1794. In 1798, fire destroyed the original Palace building.
An extensive 30-year campaign to rebuild the Palace and restore the grounds was launched by the people of New Bern, state leaders, world craftsmen, and generous, dedicated citizens such as Maude Moore Latham. Their efforts led to the triumphant reopening of the Palace in 1959. Today, the Palace lives on as a testament to history, community, and rebirth.
In the 1930s, a movement began to preserve Colonial New Bern. The movement was bolstered by the discovery of the original Palace plans. Mrs. James Edwin Latham, a New Bern native, asked the state to assist the restoration efforts in 1944 and opened a trust fund committed purely to restoring the Palace. The General Assembly organized the Tryon Palace Commission in 1945. This Commission consisted of 25 people appointed by the governor, with the task of rebuilding the Palace using the original plans. The state agreed to be responsible for the Palace once it opened to the public.
Mrs. Latham did not live to see the rebuilding of the Palace. After her death in 1951, her daughter Mae Gordon Kellenberger oversaw the efforts. The first obstacles to overcome were moving as many as 50 or more buildings, rerouting U.S. Highway 70, and building a new bridge over the Trent River. These structures covered the foundations of the original building. Archaeological work also had to be done before construction could begin. Once it did, craftspeople from all over the United States were recruited. There were also visits to the United Kingdom to procure period-accurate furniture. Finally, the public was able to visit it for the first time in 1959.
The Tryon Palace Historic Site includes several structures besides the main building. The Stable Offices is actually the only original structure still standing. The Kitchen Office is separate from the Palace, as was usual at the time. After the 1798 fire, the grounds were divided into lots and sold. In the early 1830s, a house (George W. Dixon House) was built for George W. Dixon, a wealthy merchant tailor, who was also a former mayor of New Bern. The Robert Hay House, built at the start of the 19th century, was purchased in 1816 by Robert Hay, a Scottish immigrant and wagon-maker. The John Wright Stanly House is an outstanding example of Georgian architecture and has served as home to several generations of a remarkable family. Members of the Stanly family took active roles on the stage of American history during the American Revolution, the early national period, and the Civil War. The New Bern Academy was the first school in North Carolina established by legal mandate, in 1766. Like the Palace, the original academy building was destroyed by fire, this one in 1795. The current structure was built between 1806 and 1809.
The Palace’s 16 acres (65,000 m2) of gardens span three centuries of gardening history. Anchored by 20th-century Colonial Revival interpretations of earlier periods, these also include an 18th-century Wilderness Garden featuring native plants that greeted the first European settlers in this area and lush displays favored by the Victorians.
While Governor Tryon seems to have had little interest in horticulture, two maps of New Bern drawn by Claude J. Sauthier in 1769, when the Palace was still under construction, reveal two different garden plans.
More than two centuries later, in 1991, Palace researchers discovered yet another plan. In the collections of the Academia Nacional de la Historia in Venezuela they found a garden plan Palace architect John Hawks gave to Venezuelan traveler Francisco de Miranda, who admired the Palace greatly when he visited New Bern in 1783. This plan suggests a strong French influence instead of the more-to-be-expected English garden style.
It is likely the work of Sauthier, who was born in France in 1736 and trained as a draftsman. In 1763 he wrote a Treatis on Public Architecture and Garden Planning that reflects a strong influence of two 18th-century French master gardeners, one of whom trained with the designer of Versailles.
Sauthier came to America before the Revolution to work as a mapmaker. In 1768, Governor Tryon employed him to draw a series of North Carolina town maps, including one of New Bern. Similarities of style between the town maps and the garden plan discovered in Venezuela suggest that Sauthier created them all.
None of the historic garden plans has ever been implemented at the Palace. The current gardens were designed by Morley Williams at the time of the Palace Restoration. Before undertaking the Palace project, Williams had served on the faculties of Harvard and North Carolina State Universities and assisted in the restoration of the gardens at Mount Vernon and Stratford Hall. His designs are in the colonial revival style that was widely employed in the mid-20th century.
With the opening of the North Carolina History Center in 2010, the gardens now include an area filled with a diversity of riparian plants native to the river edges of coastal North Carolina. These survive both in flood and drought, and provide food and shelter for a variety of wildlife
In October 2010, Tryon Palace opened the North Carolina History Center, a 60,000-square-foot (5,600 m2) facility on six acres. It features interactive technology and living history programs. The new building contains two major museums — the Pepsi Family Center and the Regional History Museum, a museum store, two orientation rooms and a larger programming space usable as classrooms, a 200-seat state-of-the-art performing arts hall, a waterfront café, and program and administrative space.
Visitors enter the Pepsi Family Center via a virtual time machine that takes them to the year 1835 in Craven County. Here, historic roles can be adopted that allow for a number of hands-on activities. The Center provides an intergenerational, interactive learning adventure for parents and children working as teams: sailing a ship, distilling turpentine and producing naval stores, piecing an electronic quilt, and helping the shopkeeper find merchandise for customers in the dry goods store.
The Regional History Museum has been transformed from a conventional artifact-based museum to one that incorporates layered contextual graphics, multimedia and visitor interactivity. It takes the visitor on an exploration of the interrelationships of the central coastal area of North Carolina with the world, teaching how local events influenced, or were influenced by, state, national and international events.
The North Carolina History Center is housed in a 60,000-square-foot (5,600 m2) building on a six-acre site on the Trent River adjacent to the Governor’s Palace (west side) and downtown New Bern (east side). The site is a former industrial or Brownfield land site. It was classified as a Superfund property and a major contaminant of the Neuse River basin. Administration of remediation was handled under the North Carolina Superfund, part of the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
This is a green-designed project including the construction of wetlands that filter storm-water run-off from a 50-acre area of the New Bern Historic District. The run-off is captured in a large underground cistern that recycles the water for irrigation and replenishment of the wetlands. The parking area also has a permeable surface allowing for absorption of run-off. The building is constructed of recycled materials. A commissioning agent has insured the operational efficiency of all mechanical and electrical equipment. And, the North Carolina History Center is planned for LEED certification at the silver level (Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design).
The landscape features outdoor exhibits to encourage visitors to explore the natural history of the central coast as well as the story of naturalist and explorer John Lawson, who lived in eastern North Carolina in 1710. Knowledge of the settlers’ 18th-century land use educates visitors about environmental best practices in the 21st century.