For 130 years, North Carolina’s Executive Mansion has been home to more than two dozen state governors and their families. Built in 1884-85, when the Queen Anne style was at its height of popularity in America, the Executive Mansion features most of the characteristics associated with that architectural design: steeply pitched roofs, pronounced gables, projecting chimneys, rich textural surfaces, and an abundance of ornamental spindle and scroll woodwork. Its size and ornamentation were intended to symbolize North Carolina’s commitment to modernization and economic growth and to capture the spirit of the “New South.”
Raleigh is 143 miles from Charlotte, approximately a 2 1/2-hour drive.
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In the aftermath of the Civil War, the “Governor’s Palace,” on the site of today’s Memorial Coliseum, had fallen into such disrepair as to become uninhabitable. Gov. Thomas Jarvis, who championed the construction of a suitable home for the state’s executive officer, lived in a rented hotel room for his entire term in office, as had his immediate predecessors. After much debate and delay, the state legislature finally authorized construction of the governor’s home. Whenever possible, all labor and materials necessary for the mansion’s construction were furnished by convict labor from the state penitentiary. Although the exterior was completed in 1885, financial shortages and legislative gridlock delayed completion of the interior for another six years. Gov. Daniel Fowle was the first to occupy the home, officially taking up residence in January 1891. The finished cost of the mansion was $58,843.
Over the years, improvements continued to be made, but the first major refurbishing was not until 1925, during Angus McLean’s administration. The interior received a neoclassical makeover, with ivory paint, clear windows, and fluted Corinthian columns replacing the brown tones, stained glass, and heavy Victorian woodwork. A second facelift in 1949, during W. Kerr Scott’s term, included a complete modernization of the kitchen. By the late 1960s, however, the mansion was in need of extensive rehabilitation, and many concerned individuals thought the home should either be demolished or converted to use as a museum.
Instead, the mansion was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1970 and the decision was made to completely refurbish the home. Gov. James Holshouser and his family lived in a Raleigh suburb for nine months while the renovations were completed. The project included new plumbing, electrical, and heating and air conditioning systems; repairs and improvements to the roof and basement; and refinishing, repainting, or repapering all the floor and wall surfaces of the 35,000-square-foot building.
Today the Executive Mansion is once again a proud symbol of the Tar Heel State. Tours are by reservation, last about an hour, and include the first floor only. Among the public rooms visited are the ladies’ parlor, gentlemen’s parlor, library, ballroom, fFormal dining room and morning room. Each of these rooms opens off the grand entrance hallway that extends through the center of the house. Paintings, furnishings, and personal effects seen on tour give visitors a taste of North Carolina’s flavorful history.