Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Knock, Knock

By John B. Green III

Door knocker, c.1935, from the John Wright Stanly House.
The New Bern-Craven County Public Library has been located for more than forty-six years at the northwest corner of Johnson and Middle streets. It's present red-brick building was constructed between 1967 and 1968 and was remodeled and enlarged in 1991-1992.  Many older residents, however, remember the library's previous location, the historic John Wright Stanly House.

Post card, c. 1960, of the New Bern Public Library (John Wright Stanly House).
This architecturally and historically important house was constructed ca. 1779-1783 by New Bern merchant and patriot John Wright Stanly.  President George Washington is said to have stayed in the house during his visit to New Bern in 1791. The American Civil War saw the house used as Union General Ambrose Burnside's headquarters following his capture of the town in 1862.  Originally constructed at the southwest corner of Middle and New streets, the Stanly house faced Middle Street and occupied half a city block. By the late 19th century, under the ownership  of the Bryan family, the grounds had acquired dense Victorian plantings.

Photograph, c. 1900, of the John Wright Stanly House.
By the early 1930s the John Wright Stanly House had fallen upon hard times. The Stanly corner lot was sold to the federal government for the construction of a new post office and federal courthouse and the house itself was moved to the rear portion of its grounds and turned to face New Street.  The Stanly House, at its new location, was purchased in 1935 by the New Bern Library Association.  It was renovated and restored with funds and assistance from the Emergency Relief Administration and the Works Progress Adminstration. The library moved into its new quarters in April and May of 1935 where it would remain for the next thirty years. By the early 1960s the John Wright Stanly House was deemed to be inadequate for library purposes and plans were set in motion to build a modern facility. The present lot at the corner of Johnson and Middle  streets was secured, the library was moved to temporary quarters at 311 East Front Street, and the historic John Wight Stanly House was given to the Tryon Palace Commission. The Commission decided to move the house to George Street adjacent to the Palace complex and, for the second time in its long existence, the Stanly House sprouted wheels and set off for its new home.

John Wright Stanly House rounding the corner of New and Hancock streets, 1966.

The New Bern-Craven County Public Library reopened in its spacious, new building on February 25, 1968.

Post card, c.1968, of the New Bern-Craven County Public Library.