The Bellamy Mansion, built between 1859 and 1861, is a Greek Revival and Italianate style mansion, located on Market Street in the heart of downtown Wilmington, North Carolina. It is one of North Carolina’s finest examples of historic architecture.
Background and Design
Designed with Greek Revival and Italianate styling, this twenty-two room house was constructed with the labor of both enslaved skilled carpenters, and local, freed black artisans. The architect James F. Post, a native of New Jersey, and draftsman Rufus Bunnell, of Connecticut, oversaw the construction of the mansion. Originally built as a private residence for the family of Dr. John D. Bellamy, a prominent planter, physician and businessman, the Mansion has endured a remarkable series of events throughout its existence. The home was taken over by Federal Troops during the American Civil War, survived a disastrous fire in 1972, was the home to two generations of Bellamy family members, and now due to extensive restoration and preservation acts over several decades, the Bellamy Mansion is a fully functioning museum of history and design arts, and a stewardship property of Preservation North Carolina, a private nonprofit organization dedicated to the protection of historic sites in North Carolina.
John Dillard Bellamy, M.D. (September 18, 1817 - August 30, 1896) married Eliza McIlhenny Harriss (August 6, 1821 – October 18, 1907) on June 12, 1839. Over the next twenty-two years Dr. and Mrs. Bellamy would welcome ten children to their family. Elizabeth (Belle) (1840–1900) would be the first, followed by Marsden (1843–1909), William James Harriss (1844–1911), Eliza (1846–1929), Ellen Douglass (1852–1946), John Dillard Jr. (1854–1942), George Harriss (1856–1924), Kate Taylor (1858-1858), Chesley Calhoun (1859–1881), and Robert Rankin (1861–1926).
As a young man, John Dillard Bellamy, Sr. had inherited a large piece of his father’s plantation in South Carolina, along with several slaves. John soon moved to Wilmington, North Carolina, to begin studying medicine with Dr. William James Harriss. John would later marry his eldest daughter, Eliza. Leaving for two years in 1837 to study at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, he would return to Wilmington in 1839 to marry Eliza and take over Dr. Harriss’ medical practice after Eliza’s father’s untimely death in July. By 1860, as the Bellamy family prepared to move into their new home on Market Street, their family now included eight children aged one to nineteen. Along with the ten members of the Bellamy family, living at the household were also nine slaves. In 1861, Robert Rankin would be the last of the children, and the only one to be born in the mansion on Market Street.
The sons of Dr. John D. Bellamy would follow in their father’s footsteps and become successful students and career men in and outside of Wilmington. Marsden, the eldest of the sons, would become a prominent trial attorney in Wilmington. William would have a successful medical practice of his own, just as his father and grandfather had before in Wilmington. George had become a farmer and took over Grovely Plantation, land that his father had purchased in 1842, in Brunswick County, North Carolina. The youngest son, Robert, would become a successful businessman in the pharmaceutical industry. John Jr. would attend Davidson College, and the University of Virginia Law School and eventually become a successful politician in the conservative Democratic Party. From 1899 -1903 John Jr. would represent North Carolina as a United States Congressman. Chesley Calhoun would unfortunately die at the young age of twenty-one, while studying at Davidson College.
Only one of the four daughters of Dr. and Mrs. John D. Bellamy would marry and have children. Elizabeth (Belle) married William Jefferson Duffie of Columbia, South Carolina on September 12, 1876. They would have two children, Eliza (Elise) Bellamy Duffie, and Ellen Douglas Duffie. Of the other three daughters of Dr. and Mrs. Bellamy, Eliza and Ellen would live out their days unmarried in the family mansion on Market Street, while Kate Taylor died as an infant in 1858. All together, the children of Dr. and Mrs. Bellamy would have thirty children of their own.
After their wedding, Bellamy took over Dr. William James Harriss' medical practice in July 1839. The Bellamys lived in the Dock Street home of Eliza’s now widowed mother, Mary Priscilla Jennings Harris. Upon his death, Dr. Harriss left behind his wife, along with seven children and fourteen slaves who were also living at the household. John and Eliza would welcome four of their own children into the Dock Street home before they moved across the street in 1846 to the former residence of the sixteenth Governor Benjamin Smith. It was here, from 1852-1859, that the next five of the Bellamy’s ten children were born.
Dr. Bellamy’s prosperity would continue to grow through the second half of the nineteenth century, as he was not only a successful physician and landowner, but also now the owner of a turpentine distillery in Brunswick County, a director of the Bank of the Cape Fear, and a stockholder in the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad. In March 1861 the family prepared to move into their new home on Market Street, and held a housewarming party. The party was described as a grand occasion, but just two months later on May 20, 1861, North Carolina officially seceded from the Union. As Dr. Bellamy was known to be secessionist, he assumed the honor of heading the welcoming committee when Jefferson Davis visited Wilmington in late May.
Marsden Bellamy, the eldest of the sons, had enlisted in the Scotland Neck Cavalry volunteers before the official secession, and later enlisted in the Confederate Navy. Just a few months later, his younger brother William would join the Wilmington Rifle Guards. Even those who had constructed the Bellamy Mansion would join in the war effort on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line. The architect, James F. Post had joined the Confederate artillery, and even helped to build various structures at Fort Fisher and Fort Anderson. As he had since returned to the north after his duties were completed, draftsman Rufus Bunnell had joined the Connecticut regiment of the Union Army.
Even an enslaved plasterer, William B. Gould, who had worked on the house, had managed to escape from Wilmington with several other slaves on the night of September 21, 1862. Eight slaves rowed a small boat down the Cape Fear River to a Union blockage ship, where Gould and some of the others joined the Union navy. Gould had kept an extensive diary during the war, which is thought to be one of only a few diaries written by a former slave, serving in the Civil War, in existence today. Gould would later continue plastering in Massachusetts, where he would marry and have eight children. His great grandson, William B. Gould IV, in the 1990s, edited Gould’s diary into a book titled, Diary of a Contraband: The Civil War Passage of a Black Sailor.
As the war continued, the Bellamys remained in residence at their new Market Street home. However, as the effects of the war and the deadly outbreak of a yellow fever epidemic had begun to spread throughout Wilmington, the family took refuge at Grovely Plantation. When they returned to Wilmington, they will have to return to Grovely time after time, as Union ships continued to bombard nearby Fort Fisher. On January 15, 1865 Dr. Bellamy and his family learned that Fort Fisher had fallen to the federal troops under General Alfred H. Terry. This was a devastating blow to the Confederacy, as Wilmington was the last major port supplying the southern states.
As the family was still at Grovely Plantation, Federal troops arrived in Wilmington on February 22, having pushed many of the Confederate troops inland. Union officers took shelter in many of the nicer homes in town whose owners had left for safety. They occupied the Bellamy House to be headquarters for the military staff. On March 1, 1865 General Joseph Roswell Hawley was placed in charge of the Wilmington District and assigned the Bellamy House. Soon after, the General’s wife Harriet Foote Hawley, an experienced war nurse, arrived in Wilmington to help tend to the wounded.
During this time, General Hawley refused Dr. Bellamy entry into Wilmington. After the official end of the war, the Federal Government seized southern property, including land, buildings, and homes of Dr. Bellamy. Mrs. Bellamy had traveled into Wilmington to meet with Mrs. Hawley hoping to retrieve her home. It certainly wasn’t easy for Eliza Bellamy to be entertained by a “yankee” in her own home, but she tried her best to be polite. General and Mrs. Hawley left for Richmond, Virginia soon after, however the home was still being occupied by other Union soldiers.
It is assumed that because of his political views and his status as a large slaveholder, Dr. Bellamy's home retrieval process was lengthy. In the summer of 1865, Dr. Bellamy sought a pardon to reclaim his property. By August 21, he would personally receive a Presidential Pardon from Andrew Johnson to retrieve his plantation land and commercial buildings, but the Bellamy House on Market Street was still under military control. Eliza wrote a letter to her daughter Belle, who was at college, describing her joy that they could again enjoy their home. By the end of September 1865, the Bellamy family sought to return to their home in Wilmington.
Dr. Bellamy finally obtained his property, but he now had to hire freed workers for the turpentine distillery, Grovely Plantation, and the family home on Market Street. He resumed the practice of medicine to gain the extra money needed to pay off debts brought about by the building of the mansion, the war, and military occupation. In the early 1870s as the children grew older, Mrs. Bellamy along with her daughter Ellen, made plans to surround the property of the home with a beautiful black iron fence, which would enclose a picturesque garden to be laid out by Mrs. Bellamy herself. She could now pursue her hobby of horticulture. This fence and the garden have been maintained throughout the years and remain on the grounds of the mansion today.
Throughout the rest of the nineteenth century, the children of Dr. and Mrs. Bellamy would go on to live their lives as successful businessmen, farmers, politicians, doctors, homemakers, fathers and mothers. Dr. Bellamy would pass on just before the turn of the century in 1896, and his wife Eliza would pass away roughly ten years later in 1907. Eliza and Ellen, the daughters of Dr. and Mrs. Bellamy would live the rest of their days in the mansion, Eliza passing on in 1929 and Ellen in 1946. In February 1972 fourth generation members of the Bellamy family started the Bellamy Mansion, Inc., in order to begin preservation and restoration of the historic home. Sadly, one month later arsonists set fire to the home. Luckily the fire department was able to put out the flames, but not before extensive damage was done to a large amount of the interior.
Design and construction
It is unclear where the idea for such an elaborate structure, with a full colonnade came from, but certain signs point to the artistic eye of Belle, the first Bellamy child. While studying in South Carolina, she had taken a liking to a nearby home in Columbia that featured a similar design, and so she shared her ideas with Dr. Bellamy and eventually with the draftsman, Rufus Bunnell. Dr. Bellamy hired James F. Post, an architect in Wilmington who had already designed Thalian Hall. In May 1859 Post hired Bunnell to be an assistant architect. Henry Taylor was another carpenter who worked on the house. Born to a white man who was also his master, he was known to be nominally a slave, but treated free. Drawings for Dr. Bellamy’s new home would be produced though the late summer and early fall months, and in October the excavation of the construction site began and the foundation was laid.
After the New Year most of Bunnell’s drawings were complete and most of the building supplies had been ordered from New York, including the large Corinthian columns, along with various blinds and window draping. By February a large portion of the pine frame had been erected, and in March the cornices and the tin roof were completed on the mansion. On the property would also be a slave quarters, and a small carriage house, both made of red brick. Among the men building the main house along with the slave quarters, and carriage house were a number of slaves from Wilmington, several freed black artisans, and other skilled carpenters from the area. William B. Gould and other slaves and artisans executed their fine skills on the plaster moldings of the interior of the main house, and extensive woodwork throughout the entire twenty-two room home. The Corinthian columns had arrived and been mounted in early April 1860. The home had now begun to take the form of Bunnell and Post’s ultimate vision.
Although Dr. Bellamy wanted his home constructed with classic style, and in an old reliable fashion, he was very much interested in modern utilities, and innovations that would allow his family to live in comfort. The house was equipped with running hot and cold water, which was supplied by a large cistern and pump. The mansion was even furnished with gas chandeliers to light the large rooms. The channeled tin roof allows for quick and effective drainage, and insulation; and due to Wilmington’s high heat and humidity levels in the summer months Dr. Bellamy also wanted the large, door-sized windows of the first floor to open all the way, disappearing into the wall. This allowed for nice cross breezes to circulate through the home, and also multiple walkways to and from the wrap-around porch.
Because the children’s rooms on the top floor did not have these large windows, another way to ventilate their living space was needed. Each of the small bedrooms on the top floor would have vents that would travel up and empty into the belvedere at the very top of the mansion. On hot days, the windows of the belvedere could be propped open to create a vacuum effect that would naturally cool the upper floors of the home. Besides the various modern features, the home was also outfitted with luxurious wood, iron and metal works, along with stylish rugs, furniture, and décor. Although Dr. Bellamy was described as a man with somewhat conservative taste, he needed his home to be both modern and comforting, especially with such a large number of people living in it.
The Bellamy's architectural character blends classical and Italianate styles. The house is relatively simple: two main stories, a wide central hall with entrance, and four rooms on each floor.
After the devastating fire in March 1972, Bellamy Mansion, Inc., faced a whole new set of challenges regarding restoration of the historic home. The fires had caused extensive plaster and wood destruction. Further damage came from the water needed to extinguish the blaze. Over the next two decades more Bellamy family members and community volunteers joined to raise awareness and funds for restoration.
Through the 1970s and 1980s, Bellamy Mansion, Inc., worked to complete exterior restoration of the main home and the servants' quarters in the rear of the property, and to raise the funds for the interior renovations. About 1989, the corporation decided to donate the property to the Historic Preservation Foundation of North Carolina. This turned the mansion into a public, historic site. Over the next few years the necessary interior restoration tasks were completed, and in 1994 the Bellamy Mansion Museum of History and Design Arts officially opened.
Today the Bellamy Mansion is a fully operational museum, focusing on history and design arts, and a Stewardship Property of Preservation North Carolina. The facility often features changing exhibits of history and design as well as various community events, including the annual garden tour of the famous North Carolina Azalea Festival in Wilmington. In 2001 the carriage house at the rear of the property was reconstructed and became the museum’s visitor center, and office building. An authentic and unique slave quarters serves to depict the conditions in which slaves lived. Acting as a non-profit organization, the Bellamy Mansion is home to many volunteers from the Wilmington community, many of who are knowledgeable of the Bellamy family and the history of the home itself. Tours are given at the museum Tuesday – Saturday from 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM (with the last tour starting at 4:00 PM) and Sunday from 1:00 PM – 5:00 PM (with the last tour starting at 4:00 PM). Aside from being an operational museum, the Bellamy Mansion is also available for weddings and special events rentals. The structure is located at 503 Market Street in Wilmington and on the Web at www.bellamymansion.org 
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Bellamy Mansion.|
- Bisher, Catherine W. The Bellamy Mansion Wilmington North Carolina: An Antebellum Architectural Treasure and Its People 2004 PNC Inc.
- Cashman, Diane Cobb. History of The Bellamy Mansion. January 1990.
- Bishir, Catherine W. The Bellamy Mansion: An Antebellum Architectural Treasure and Its People. Raleigh: Historic Preservation Foundation of North Carolina, Inc, 2004.
- Bellamy Mansion - official site