Tryon Palace, Where North Carolina History Comes Alive

Tryon PalaceTryon Palace, Where North Carolina History Comes Alive

Tryon Palace in New Bern

Steep yourself in North Carolina history with a visit to Tryon Palace in New Bern, home to our state’s first permanent capitol, stunning gardens and landscapes, and the North Carolina History Center.

The First State Capitol

At the time of Deputy Governor William Tryon’s arrival from London in 1764, North Carolina had no established capital – colony documents were carried on a wagon between the Colonial Assembly’s various meeting places. To resolve this inefficiency and centralize administration, William Tryon hastened to establish a permanent seat of government in North Carolina. Bringing with him English architect John Hawks, Tryon persuaded the Colonial Assembly to construct a government house in New Bern, thereby setting the colony’s capital in a central location on North Carolina’s coast.

This grand structure, built as a testimony to the might and power of Britain and the source of much ire in pre-Revolutionary days, eventually became the capitol of the new state of North Carolina. The Palace was the site of the oaths of office taken by the first state governor, Richard Caswell, and the members of the first Council of State in January 1777, followed by the convening of the first session of the North Carolina General Assembly in the Palace the following April. President George Washington visited the Palace in 1791 as part of his southern tour declaring it “a good brick building now hastening to ruins.” As the population of the growing state pushed westward, the capital followed suit. Raleigh was eventually chosen as North Carolina’s new capital in 1792, but the state did not hold its first assembly meeting in the new capitol building until Dec. 30, 1794. The Palace in New Bern, falling further into disrepair, was rented as meeting space for St. John’s Masonic Lodge and as classrooms for the New Bern Academy. The structure was destroyed by fire in 1798.

A statewide movement began in the 1920s to reconstruct and restore Tryon Palace. Prominent cultural leaders across North Carolina planned and coordinated the movement. In 1944, Maude Moore Latham of Greensboro established a trust fund to restore the Palace if the state would agree to obtain the property and operate the completed Palace as a state historic attraction. The gates to the Palace were opened in 1959, welcoming North Carolinians to a celebration of the state’s important and unique place in America’s history.

Modern-Day Encounters With History

Today, Tryon Palace offers a wide variety of encounters with history to nearly 180,000 visitors each year. Historic buildings and 22 acres of period gardens provide the setting for living history programs featuring historic characters, and crafts, as well as domestic skill demonstrations like cooking and quilting. Frequent opportunities to engage in the past include learning early dances, playing colonial games, or discovering the stories of historic North Carolinians.

Other historic buildings open to the public include the ca. 1780 John Wright Stanly House, built by a patriot who engaged in privateering to advance the American Revolution. The Stanly House is also the birthplace of Civil War General Lewis A. Armistead, a great grandson of John Wright Stanly. The ca. 1805 Robert Hay House (open for special events and tours only) is interpreted as a living history house with members of the Hay family and neighbors sharing town gossip with interested visitors. There is also the ca. 1830 George W. Dixon House, lived in by a New Bern tailor and town official, who fell on hard times.

Tryon Palace’s grounds also include 22 acres of gardens that offer nearly three centuries of gardening history. From the 18th-century Wilderness Garden, with its native plants that greeted the first European settlers in this area, through the lush displays favored by the Victorians, to 20th-century Colonial Revival interpretations of earlier periods, the gardens at Tryon Palace offer visitors an almost endless variety.

Nearby, the 60,000-square-foot North Carolina History Center opened in the summer of 2010 and coincided with the 300th anniversary of New Bern’s founding in 1710. The History Center features exciting interactive exhibits for all ages in the Pepsi Family Center, as well as a Regional History Museum that expands your understanding of the past by exploring the cultural, economic, and natural history of the region. Located on the Trent River, the History Center also provides a unique introduction to the historic sites, homes and landscapes located throughout Tryon Palace.

Want to know more? Visit the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources.

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