North Carolina Historic Sites
Executive Mansion Built By Prison Labor
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt once said that North Carolina’s Executive Mansion had the most beautiful interior of any Governor’s residence in America. Not too shabby for a structure built from native materials with prison labor.
The Governor resides in the current Executive Mansion at 200 Blount Street in downtown Raleigh, the state’s fourth official structure to house governors.
The first was New Bern’s Tryon Palace, a palatial Georgian-style home built in 1770 for the royal governor. It was abandoned in 1792 when Raleigh was named the new capitol city. The state selected a two-story frame structure at the corner of Fayetteville and Hargett streets in 1797 as the second official governor's palace. In 1816, Boston builder James Calder completed a two-story brick "palace" that housed 20 governors from 1816 to 1865. When General William T. Sherman moved out after the Civil War, the palace was unfit for residence. Zebulon B. Vance was the last NC governor to live there.
It was not until 1883, that North Carolina’s General Assembly authorized construction of the current official Executive Mansion. Architects Samuel Sloan and A.G. Bauer designed the residence. Colonel William J. Hicks, warden of the state penitentiary, supervised the eight-year construction project using prison labor and native products such as clay, sandstone and timber. Prisoners' names can still be found etched in the brick and sandstone. Governor Daniel G. Fowle and his family were the first occupants in January 1891. They lived in the unfinished building until the governor's death in April of that same year.
One of the finest examples of Victorian Queen Anne architecture in the state, it is characterized by steeply pitched roofs, a cupola, porches, patterned chimneys, and richly colored textural surfaces. Inside, there are 15 rooms: the Gentleman’s Parlor, Ballroom, Library, the Dining Room, Ladies Parlor, Morning Room, living and dining area, southwest bedroom, northwest bedroom, east bedroom, south central bedroom, northeast bedroom, southeast bedroom, a kitchen, and the family den. Fourteen fireplaces stand ready to warm the mansion, and portraits of North Carolina’s previous governors are displayed throughout the home.
There are a number of unique features in the home, beginning with the Gentlemen’s Parlor. A red handmade rug here depicts four major events in North Carolina history: the 1540 NC expedition of De Soto, the funding for Sir Walter Raleigh’s unsuccessful colony on the Outer Banks, the 1795 establishment of the nation’s first state university, and the 1903 Wright brothers flight. In the Library, bookcases, handmade in Asheville, are lined with NC history books, and the walls are adorned with historic documents and state maps.
A San Domingo mahogany table seats up to 24 people in the Dining Room. An Austrian chandelier lights the room, which was a gift from a German woman in return for the kind treatment she received in NC at the end of World War II. Sixteen-foot high ceilings accommodate the huge North Carolina Christmas tree governors traditionally light on Thanksgiving Day.
The Executive Mansion was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1970. Tours of the Executive Mansion are by reservation only and should be scheduled at least two weeks in advance. Parties with more than ten people should call (919) 807-7950. For groups of ten or fewer, call (919) 807-7948.
Want to know more? Check out the ultimate resource for North Carolina's Cultural Resources, NCDCR.
added: December 19, 2008
updated: December 6, 2010