A Charlotte landmark and the largest historic inn in the area is celebrating a major milestone this year. The Duke Mansion, which has about 17,000 visitors a year for weddings and corporate meetings, turns 100 and the non-profit that runs it is using the occasion to throw a year-long party. We sat down with Cyndee Patterson, the President of the non-profit, to talk about the history of the 32,000-square-foot, 20-bedroom Myers Park house—including a visit from JFK—and all the plans for marking this grand occasion.
Tell us a little bit about the history of the mansion.
I think we’re really lucky that until the 70’s it was always in the hands of a family. We almost lost the house a few times. In the 1960’s fire destroyed the third floor and the family living there at the time decided to completely restore it. Then in the 1970’s it was converted in to condos. It was luck that Rick and Dee Ray, founders of Raycom Sports, went to look at a condo there in the late 80’s and decided to buy the whole house and convert it back into a house. In 1996 they sold the house to the newly formed non-profit that would run the house. It opened as the historic inn that you see now in 1998.
Why do you think the house has such staying power?
I’m thrilled because Charlotte is such a new city. We’re not Charleston or Philadelphia. The few things that we do have that are historic, it’s nice to see them preserved. . . . [The Duke Mansion] will be there forever as a part of Charlotte’s history. It’s not just that it’s a big white beautiful house, it’s the people that lived there that built this city—each one of them had a hand in building this town. They were all very active civically, all business people creating jobs in Charlotte. It represents the economic development of Charlotte because Mr. Duke built it and without Duke Energy and Power, there wouldn’t have been textile mills and we really wouldn’t have the Charlotte we have today.
Tell us about some of the noteworthy guests that have been here over the years.
The Cannons, who owned this house at one point, their daughter was married in the main hallway to John Hersey who wrote the book Hiroshima, and one of her previous beaus was here for the wedding. She had been in love and her father decided she should take a trip around the world, (that’s where she met Mr. Hersey) but right before she left for the trip she was very heavily involved with and thought she was in love with a guy from Massachusetts. He came to the wedding and his name was John F Kennedy. She almost married JFK and he came for the wedding. We also had just about the entire cast of Homeland here. During the first two seasons of the show the mansion served as the Vice President’s house and very often when they needed to look like they were in a hotel room, they shot those scenes here. When Brody was arrested, that happened in one of our rooms.
What are some of the standout features of the house?
The marble hallway everybody talks about how beautiful it is. It’s been there since Mr. Duke put it in in 1920. The sleeping porches are also noteworthy. There are four, usually two bedrooms connect to one sleeping porch. People would pull their beds onto the porch and spend the summer sleeping out there under the fan because it was cooler outside than inside.
Buck Duke, the founder of Duke Energy was one of the original owners and obviously the most noteworthy but there were some other interesting homeowners along the way?
The man that founded WBT radio owned the house and he owed the Buick dealership and the reason he bought the radio station was to promote his Buick dealership, so WBT was “Watch Buicks Travel. That’s how they came up with WBT.
You’ve got some pretty cool changes coming to the house that will make it more accessible to the public?
By late spring 2016 we hope to have all the ground completed. We’ll have a total of seventeen gardens. This is such a walking neighborhood, there will be a gate and we’re going to allow the public to come walk the grounds just about whenever they want.
How are you celebrating the 100 years?
We’re going to have a series of history lectures focused on the house. In the spring we’ll have a panel of people who lived in the house. The last weekend in August we’re going to do a three-day open house free for the public. And of course we kicked things off with our grand New Year’s Eve party.