History and Mission

History

Tryon Palace was colonial North Carolina’s first official center of government. Soon after Royal Governor William Tryon was commissioned as governor of North Carolina in 1765, he determined that an established centrally located capitol in New Bern, strategically positioned between Charleston and Williamsburg, would be vital to the colony’s growth and success. Constructed between 1767 and 1770, the new “Government House” provided elegant living quarters for Tryon and his family and administrative offices including a large room for legislative assemblies.

Tryon brought John Hawks, a talented architect from Britain to design and oversee the Palace’s construction. Hawks prepared a series of carefully drafted plans between 1766 and 1767 and recruited a team of artisans to construct the central building and its flanking Kitchen and Stable wings. Thanks to Hawks’ masterful translation of the English Palladian style to colonial needs, the resulting “Government House” was equal in style and quality to any of the great plantation houses of Tidewater Virginia or South Carolina’s Low Country.  So elegant a building and unlike any others in North Carolina at the time, it soon became known as Tryon’s Palace. The official opening of the Palace was celebrated on December 5th, 1770 with a grand gala, a spectacular display of fireworks and an abundant flow of alcohol.

Less than a year later, Governor Tryon was promoted to New York state Governor, and Josiah Martin was appointed as the new Royal Governor of North Carolina in August of 1771. His time in New Bern and at Tryon Palace was brief, as the Revolutionary War grew stronger and he and his family was forced to flee and return to England in 1775. The Palace and its grounds became occupied by the Union Army till the end of the war. North Carolina’s first state Governor Richard Caswell, was inaugurated at the Palace on January 16, 1777. He lived there, as did his successor Abner Nash (1780 – 1781). The General Assembly held their last session at the Palace in 1792 for the inauguration of Richard Dobbs Spaight as Governor. A final extra session followed in July 1974 on the eve of the state’s capitol move to Raleigh, NC.

After 1974, the Palace was rented out to a private school, a dancing master, and the local St. John’s Masonic Lodge. It’s upkeep was costly and it soon fell into a state of neglect and disrepair. On the night of February 27, 1798, hay stored in the Palace cellar caught fire and the magnificent structure burned quickly and spectacularly to the ground.  With the Palace gone, the Stable Office went on to serve a number of uses for over 150 years.

In the 1920’s efforts to rebuild the Palace started slowly, against significant odds.  The project gained momentum in 1939 when future Palace Director Gertrude Carraway and architectural historian Fiske Kimball found sets of original architectural drawings of Palace by John Hawks in New York and London Archives. North Carolina Governor Clyde Hoey agreed to pursue permission to excavate the Palace grounds. A few years later, Maude Moore Latham, a New Bern native,  established a generous trust to fund the rebuilding project in partnership with the State of North Carolina.

The building that stands today was reconstructed between 1952 and 1959 on the original foundation with Hawks’ detailed plans, and evidence gathered through archeological excavations on the site. Thanks to the efforts of the people of New Bern, state leaders, international craftsmen, and generous dedicated citizens like Mrs. Latham and her daughter, Mrs. John Kellenburger, the Palace’s triumphal 1959 reopening remains a testament to history, community pride, tenacity, and rebirth. The inspiration and efforts of this group of Dreamers led to organizing of the Tryon Palace Foundation, to continue building on their dream of sustaining the Palace for present and future generations.

Mission

The Tryon Palace Foundation’s mission is to engage present and future generations in North Carolina’s rich history, from early settlement and statehood through the mid-20th century. We achieve this mission by collecting, interpreting, and preserving objects, buildings, landscapes, and events that enrich understanding of the making of our state and nation.

The Palace’s period gardens are delightful and perfect for an invigorating stroll or creating a lasting memory.  They are available for weddings and other special events.  What isn’t seen, is the endless hours of gardening and maintenance that is necessary to keep them thriving and beautiful.  A gift to the Foundation ensures their preservation and that their beauty flourishes for future generations to enjoy.

Ways to Support

Were you impacted by your visit to Tryon Palace, or one of our many programs?  Would you like to make a donation in support of the many historical and educational experiences offered?  After the Palace was built in 1770 – till it burned in 1790,  it’s original grandeur had fallen to ruin from lack of funding to maintain it.  Your membership will make a difference in our efforts to preserve Tryon Palace, and continue to share the stories of North Carolina’s history that helped shape our nation.

Become a Member