You are here
The Executive Mansion, the official residence of the North Carolina governor, is one of the earliest Queen Anne structures in the state and its design represented a modernizing South. It was first occupied in 1891.
The residence is located in Burke Square, two blocks north and east of the State Capitol at Union Square, and one of the original five green squares in William Christmas’s 1792 Plan of Raleigh. It sits at the western end of the historic Oakwood neighborhood, today serving as the symbolic threshold between the city’s residential and administrative districts. The Executive Mansion is the third official governor’s residence in Raleigh. The earlier buildings were located, respectively, on the corner of Fayetteville and Hargett streets and the site of what is now the Memorial Auditorium at the end of Fayetteville Street.
In 1883, under Governor Thomas Jarvis, the legislature passed a bill funding a new governor’s residence on Burke Square. Jarvis commissioned Philadelphia architect Samuel Sloan to design the mansion. Sloan, and his assistant Adolphus Gustavus Bauer, relocated to Raleigh to work on the Executive Mansion. William Hicks, an architect and building supervisor from Central Prison, oversaw construction by inmate labor. Sloan’s first major commissions in North Carolina include the First Presbyterian Church and First Baptist Church in Wilmington, both just prior to the Civil War, and he continued to build throughout the state, including Memorial Hall at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. Sloan designed several other projects in the south, notably Longwood, an octagonal house in Natchez, Mississippi. Sloan died in 1884, six years before the completion of the Executive Mansion, and Bauer took over construction.
The Queen Anne style made its American debut in Sloan’s hometown at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876. Conjuring images of English ancestry and wholesome country living, the style became popular during the industrial revolution. In North Carolina, the style represented a southern community with pastoral roots emerging as a modern and sophisticated society. Sloan’s design for the Executive Mansion has a generally symmetrical form, uncommon in Queen Anne houses, but here it provides a more formal presence befitting an official residence. The massing includes multiple steep gable roofs and chimneys with elaborate corbeling. The roof has polychrome scalloped shingles, and several porches and balconies show influence from English architect Charles Eastlake. In 1883, a local paper praised Sloan’s design as “artistic,” “ornate,” and “modern,” with “ample porches, hallways, [and] windows, which every house in this climate should have.”
Sloan originally planned to use Anson County sandstone for the exterior but the state legislature required pressed brick made from Wake County clay and manufactured at the Central Prison. While brick machines began to appear prior to the Civil War, they were much more prevalent after the war, with North Carolinians submitting hundreds of patents for them. Sloan had to content himself with sandstone trim. Several other North Carolina materials were used in construction including oak and pine as well as marble for the steps. The brick herringbone walkways still show inmate signatures.
The first floor is organized around a large, ninety-foot-long central hall with sixteen-foot ceilings and elaborate woodwork. Fluted Corinthian columns, added in the 1920s, divide the space. A grand staircase at the end of the hall features heart pine balusters with carved oak leaves and acorn finials representing the “City of Oaks.” There are two drawing rooms—referred to as the ladies’ parlor and the gentlemen’s parlor, respectively—and a small library. This main floor also includes a ballroom and a dining room that can seat up to twenty-four. The ballroom was originally located upstairs, with a music room on the first floor, but in the 1920s the upstairs was reconfigured and the downstairs music room became the official ballroom. The second floor houses the first family’s living quarters; the upstairs walls have simpler finishes.
When the Executive Mansion first opened, the grounds amounted to a mud field. Pioneering American forester Gifford Pinchot, also involved with the Biltmore Estate [NC-01-021-8058], suggested a simple plan with native trees and green plantings. In 1960, First Lady Jeanelle Moore commissioned a detailed plan for the grounds but there were no funds for implementation. A brick and iron wall added during the Robert Scott administration (1969–1973) influenced the design of the grounds and underscored a need for more formal plantings. In 1985, with the support of the Junior League of Raleigh and the North Carolina Association of Nurserymen, First Lady Dorothy Martin implemented a more elaborate plan with several Victorian-style gardens, a kitchen garden, and wooded playground.
In the emerging New South, the Executive Mansion was viewed locally as the pinnacle of good taste. It influenced several other houses in the area, including the similar looking Hawkin-Hartness House (1885) and stands out as a restrained and elegant example of the Queen Anne style in the post–Civil War South.
In 1970 the Executive Mansion was placed on the National Register of Historic Places and opened to the public for scheduled tours. It has been maintained by the Executive Mansion Fine Arts Committee since 1973 and has been in continuous use by the state’s first families since its construction.
Anthony, Robert G., Jr. “Governor’s Mansion.” NCpedia. Accessed February 12, 2019. http://www.ncpedia.org/.
Bishir, Catherine W., and Michael T. Southern. A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Piedmont North Carolina. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003.
Bushong, William B., and Catherine W. Bishir. “Hicks, William J. (1827-1911).” North Carolina Architects and Builders: A Biographical Dictionary. North Carolina State University Libraries, 2014. Accessed February 12, 2019. http://ncarchitects.lib.ncsu.edu/.
Bushong, William B., and Catherine W. Bishir. “Sloan, Samuel (1815-1884).” North Carolina Architects and Builders: A Biographical Dictionary. North Carolina State University Libraries, 2014. Accessed February 12, 2019. http://ncarchitects.lib.ncsu.edu/.
North Carolina History Project. “North Carolina Executive Mansion.” North Carolina History Project: Encyclopedia of the Old North State. Accessed February 12, 2019. http://northcarolinahistory.org/.
Schalck, Harry. “Samuel Sloan.” (1994). NCpedia. Accessed February 12, 2019. http://www.ncpedia.org/.
Whiffen, Marcus, and Frederick Koeper. American Architecture, 1607-1976. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1981.
Zehmer, Jack, and Sherry Ingram, “North Carolina Executive Mansion,” Wake County, North Carolina. National Register of Historic Places Inventory–Nomination Form, 1970. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C.
If SAH Archipedia has been useful to you, please consider supporting it.
SAH Archipedia tells the story of the United States through its buildings, landscapes, and cities. This freely available resource empowers the public with authoritative knowledge that deepens their understanding and appreciation of the built environment. But the Society of Architectural Historians, which created SAH Archipedia with University of Virginia Press, needs your support to maintain the high-caliber research, writing, photography, cartography, editing, design, and programming that make SAH Archipedia a trusted online resource available to all who value the history of place, heritage tourism, and learning.