The Bellamy Mansion
The Bellamy Mansion today is a museum of design arts and history located in historic downtown Wilmington. Despite its primary function of being a museum, this magnificent 22 room mansion has endured a long series of impressive events throughout time, giving it an aura of undying southern charm, elegance and survival. This historical background of the mansion makes it one of downtown Wilmington's most important attractions.
The mansion was built between 1858 and 1861. It was built using laborers of enslaved carpenters and local, freed African American artisans, and utilized Italian and Greek Revival-styling throughout its design. The method of construction and style makes it one of the finest examples of historic architecture in the state of North Carolina.
It was originally built as a private residence for Dr. John D. Bellamy and his family. John Bellamy moved to Wilmington in the early 1830s to study medicine under Dr. William James Harriss. After a brief period in Philadelphia to continue his medical studies, he returned to Wilmington and married Dr. Harriss' eldest daughter Eliza, eventually taking over Harriss' practice upon his death in 1839. John and Elizabeth welcomed four children into the home they lived in on Dock Street and eventually had five more children from 1852-1859 after they moved across the street into the former governor's residence. It was around this time that Bellamy commissioned the house to be built to accommodate their growing family.
It was indicated that ideas for the grand style of the house came from Dr. Bellamy's first child, a daughter who had seen a similar design on a home while at school in South Carolina. Bellamy hired James F. Post, who previously designed and worked on Thalian Hall. Using the enslaved and freed laborers, elaborate woodwork and plaster moldings were incorporated throughout the mansion. Though Bellamy wanted a classically constructed residence, he was very interested in modern innovations. Things such as gas chandeliers, door sized windows that opened, an advanced ventilation system for cooling and hot and cold running water provided luxurious comforts that Bellamy felt were important to the family's own personal comfort.
In addition to being an extremely successful physician, Bellamy also became the owner of a turpentine distillery, a stockholder in the Wilmington Railroad and a director at the Bank of Cape Fear. His prosperity continued to grow through the second half of the 19th century as was evidenced by the grandeur of the Bellamy mansion. Shortly after moving into their new home in 1861 and following a grand housewarming party, North Carolina succeeded from the Union and war would soon be on the mansion's doorsteps.
For a time, the Bellamy family continued to reside at their new home while the war raged around them. However, an outbreak of yellow fever in the Wilmington area forced John Bellamy to move his family to Grovely Plantation to escape the epidemic. Attempts to return to their residence on Market Street proved fruitless as Union ships constantly attacked Fort Fisher, quite near to where they lived. After the Fort fell to Federal Troops in January 1865, many of them moved into the area and began to occupy the nicer homes in Wilmington whose owners had fled during the war, including the Bellamy Mansion. After the war was officially over, much of the land and property of Dr. Bellamy was taken by the Federal Government. Several attempts by the family to reclaim their home proved unsuccessful. After receiving a presidential pardon from President Andrew Johnson, Bellamy was able to retrieve the commercial buildings he owned and plantation land but did not receive permission to move back into their mansion until September 1865.
After moving back into their home, the Bellamy family continued to make improvements and add on to the mansion. In the 1870s, Mrs. Bellamy made plans to have the residence enclosed by a pretty, black iron fence and also wanted to have a beautiful garden of her own design on the grounds. This fence and the gardens can still be seen at the mansion today, thanks to careful maintenance over the years. The years went by and the Bellamy children grew into roles of doctors, farmers, politicians and parents themselves. Dr. Bellamy passed away in 1896 and his wife Eliza about ten years later. The daughters would continue to live in the house until their deaths in 1929 and 1946. Eventually, fourth generation Bellamy family members started Bellamy Mansion Inc. to help with the preservation of the mansion. In 1972, the mansion would endure one hardship as arsonists set fire to it. The fire was extinguished but the Bellamy mansion suffered a large amount of damage to the interior.
With the help of the Bellamy Mansion Inc., family members and community members, funds were raised over a couple decades to help with the restoration of this historic structure. The fire caused a great amount of wood and plaster destruction in large part because of the water used to extinguish the fire as well as flame and smoke damage. During these two decades, the slave quarters and exterior structure were able to be restored and in 1989, the Bellamy Mansion Corporation made the decision to donate the residence to the Historic Preservation Foundation of North Carolina in order to further efforts to restore the rest of the mansion. By 1994, the mansion was fully restored and became the Bellamy Mansion Museum of History and Design Arts.
Today, visitors can tour the Bellamy Mansion which houses rotating exhibits of history, preservation stories and design. The gardens are the focus of a grand tour during the famous North Carolina Azalea Festival every year. In addition to being a museum, the mansion provides a beautiful and historic setting for weddings and other special events. Despite the trials and hardships of war and fires, the Bellamy Mansion remains a symbol of elaborate and beautiful southern architecture while giving visitors a glimpse of American history that has stood the tests of time and survived.
Terms: Bellamy Mansion
Information on Historic Downtown Wilmington: Bellamy Mansion.