Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Colonial Revival

or how a business man and an architect "overhauled" an 18th century house

By John B. Green III

Coor-Bishop House, 200 block New Street, detail from a ca. 1900 photograph. New Bern-Craven County Public Library
To most observers the structure known today as the Coor-Bishop House appears to be an early 20th century example of the Colonial Revival movement in American architecture.  Few realize that it is in fact a colonial structure dating from the late 1770s.  The house visible today is the result of the 1906-1907 remodeling of a much older structure.

Coor-Bishop House, detail from a ca. 1900 photograph, showing the gable end of the house facing the Neuse River. New Bern-Craven County Public Library
The house is believed to have been constructed by New Bern merchant James Coor in the late 1770s.  As originally built, the house was a large two-story center-hall plan residence, two rooms deep, with a gable roof and two interior chimneys.  It was constructed on the northwest corner of East Front and New streets and faced New.  Coor sold the house to Thomas Emory in 1778.  In 1806 it became the town home of George Pollock, one of the wealthiest planters in the state.  It was here in 1819 that Pollock entertained President James Monroe and Secretary of War John C. Calhoun during their visit to New Bern.  By the late 19th century the house was the property of the Manly family who sold it to New Bern merchant E.K. Bishop in 1900.

E.K. Bishop, from Carraway, Crown of Life, 1940.
Edward K. Bishop (1860-1951) was a successful commission merchant and dedicated churchman and philanthropist.  After acquiring the Manly property Bishop hired New Bern's prolific architect Herbert Woodley Simpson to design plans for remodeling the old home and W.E. Brock to supervise the construction.  The result was a near complete rebuilding of the house, inside and out, between 1906 and 1907.  As the New Bern Daily Journal remarked on May 1, 1907, the original house had been "overhauled to such an extent that the identity is essentially lost."  Not only was the appearance of the house changed but it was also reoriented on its lot by being moved back several feet and turned ninety degrees to face East Front Street and the Neuse River.

Herbert Woodley Simpson (1870-1945), New Bern architect.

Coor-Bishop House, first floor plan by Herbert Woodley Simpson.
The only significant portion of the original house remaining after this drastic remodeling was the fine mahogany-trimmed stair, a near duplicate of the stair in the John Wright Stanly House. 

Coor-Bishop House as remodeled 1906-1907. New Bern Historical Society
While the Coor-Bishop House today is a fine example of the Colonial Revival style, and while it is good that the 18th-century stair was saved, we are left wondering what the rest of the original interior was like and what happened to it.  A clue to its disposition may lie in an advertisement which began running in the Daily Journal the month the reconstruction was completed.