North Carolina Historic Sites
The Cupola House In Edenton
Have you ever wondered how small towns in colonial America evolved and what they are like today? What was it like to live in Edenton, North Carolina in 1758 and what has sustained one of the main architectural treasures, the Cupola House, for 250 years?
Fascinating as the history of the Cupola House is, the more significant story is about the people of Edenton and their unfailing commitment for 90 years as the Cupola House Association to rescue and preserve the property. The house has withstood the challenges of time facing hurricanes, wars, and near destruction from neglect. It stands today as a relevant and real reminder of our nations past. The Cupola House story encompasses a broad span of time condensing within its walls and gardens a vision rarely seen, as if time stood still.
Saving the Cupola House
Early in 1918, a group of Edenton’s concerned citizens stepped forward to save the Cupola House. The Cupola House was in need of immediate attention if it was to survive. All of the land around the Cupola House has been sold for commercial property. Only a 10’ area in the front and 10’ in the back remained of the original property. The house was lost in a jingle of weeds and in total disrepair.
These situations led to the formation of the Cupola House Association, which would buy, save and restore the house to its original grandeur. Over the years, the adjoining property was re-acquired by the Association and is now home to the nationally recognized Cupola House Gardens. Many of the original collections and furnishings were saved or re-acquired. This action by Edenton’s citizens was the first such instance to save an historic building in the state of North Carolina and one of the first initiatives nationally.
The Cupola House has a broad base of volunteer support. Over 25 “weedeers” meet weekly to care for the heritage gardens surrounding the house. Over 220 members support the house through annual dues.
The Future of the Cupola House
Hurricane Isabel hit Edenton in 2003 causing major damage throughout the area. The Cupola House appeared unscathed; however, the high winds and heavy rains exacerbated and already aging and damaged roof. Water seepage in the walls has worsened due to loss of tightness and separation in the shingled roofing. This water entering the structural walls has deteriorated the plaster and caused paint to peel. A restoration of the roof and interior began in 2009.
National Significance of The Cupola House
The Cupola House was built in 1758 by Francis Corbin, land agent to Robert Carteret, Earl of Granville, last of the Lord’s Proprietors who owned over one half of the Province of the Carolinas. Corbin was instructed to build an impressive building to conduct the Lord’s Proprietor acquisition, and tax collection. Over 800 ships arrived here regularly from England, Europe and the West Indies. When the Cupola House was built, Edenton was the second largest port in the colonies. The Cupola House was literally at the center of the stage during America’s Colonial Era.
The building’s Jacobean design is the finest example of this architectural type south of New England. The impressive interior molding and woodworking make The Cupola House a rare connection to the life of a refined and wealthy colonial businessan. It stands as a reminder of cultural and economic growth during the latter years of British rule into the 19th century.
The Cupola House is a true “House Museum” marking a time in history as an example of the transition from tyranny to independence and stands as a reminder of the struggles economically and culturally through a major period of our nation’s history. The house and its treasured collection tell a story studies today by students from universities and state preservationist on a regular basis.
The Cupola House Gardens annually participate in the National Garden Conservancy Tour. This event provides their organization and tour participants the opportunity to view completely documented Colonial Heritage Gardens surrounding an original Colonial Period building.
The Cupola Hose is recorded in the Historic American Building Survey completed in 1940 through the U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service. Framed prints of the detailed drawings are being sold at the Barker House and the Edenton Visitor’s Center.
Want to know more? Check out the ultimate source for Cultural Resources in North Carolina, NCDCR.
added: December 18, 2008
updated: December 7, 2010