Thursday, July 11, 2019

The Henderson-Dunn House

or the strange things that happen to old houses

Henderson-Dunn House, northwest corner of Metcalf and Broad streets, photograph c. 1880.

by John B. Green III

New Bernians sometimes tear houses down. We are also known to move houses to new locations. Less well known is the local habit of taking houses apart and scattering the bits about town.  Many an historic house in downtown New Bern contains mantels or doors or flooring that were once in other historic structures.  In one extreme example, a 1960s house contains the decorative finish of an entire early-19th century room removed from the family home before it was demolished. Yet for all of this, a still stranger fate befell the Henderson-Dunn House - that of having its second floor severed from it first floor and both parts moved to different locations in New Bern. There they were reborn as single- story residences. And since neither structure now needed a staircase, its parts went into storage in a third location!

Sited on Lot 260 on the northwest corner of Metcalf and Broad streets, the Henderson-Dunn House was designed in the Italianate-style popular in New Bern from the 1850s through the 1880s. The two-story frame structure featured plain siding with prominent corner pilasters, a full-width front porch, and a low hip roof with broad overhang supported by sawn-work brackets with turned pendants.  Although the precise construction date of the Henderson-Dunn House is not known, it may have been the house advertised for sale on June 15, 1859 by Benners A. Ensley as a "Valuable property for sale in the town of Newbern" and as the "House and lot on the corner of Metcalf and Broad Streets . . .  where he now resides." Ensley had purchased Lot 260 on the northwest corner of Metcalf and Broad streets at a foreclosure sale January 20, 1859 for the considerable amount of $2,000.  The previous owner, Benjamin M. Cook, had purchased the property for $800 in 1847, a sale price which probably indicated that the lot was vacant at that time. Considering the increase in value between 1847 and 1859 it is possible that the house was constructed by Cook during his twelve-year ownership.

Ensley apparently had no takers for the house in 1859 and, following the Civil War, again attempted to sell it. He advertised the property on  March 27, 1866 as the "Valuable residence property . . . on the Northwest corner of Broad and Metcalf streets, with large and commodious dwelling and out-houses attached."  Again, no buyers stepped forward, and by 1869 Benners A. Ensley was bankrupt. Amos Wade, one of Ensley's creditors, purchased the property at a sheriff's sale on June 29, 1869. Wade sold the house and lot to Lisette E. Henderson four years later in 1873 for $2,500.

Henderson-Dunn House, northwest corner of Metcalf and Broad streets, photograph c. 1930.

Lisette E. Henderson was the wife of George Henderson, New Bern insurance agent and businessman.  The house on the northwest corner of Broad and Metcalf streets would serve as their home for the rest of their lives - she dying in 1914 and he in 1932.  It would later become the home of their daughter Emma Henderson Powell Dunn. Mrs. Dunn was long involved in the preservation and promotion of New Bern's history, serving in 1921 as the organizing and first regent of the Richard Dobbs Spaight Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution and as one of the founders of the New Bern Historical Society in 1923. She published the first illustrated guide book to New Bern and its history in 1905 - New Bern, North Carolina, Founded by De Graffenried in 1710, Colonial New Bern, New Bern of Today.

Title page, New Bern, North Carolina . . . Colonial New Bern, New Bern of Today, 1905

Emma Henderson Powell Dunn died in 1956 and the house passed to her nephews. One year later the property was sold to New Bern businessmen Robert L. Stallings, Jr. and D.L. Stallings.

And now for the strange fate of the Henderson-Dunn house alluded to in our first paragraph - the separation of the first and second floors.  Once severed, the first floor was moved approximately 1.24 miles to a lot on National Avenue just beyond the National Cemetery. There it received a new roof and became a single-story residence. It survived at the new site for more than forty years before it was finally demolished.  The second floor was moved approximately two miles to a new site on Stallings Parkway where it survives to this day.

House said to be the second floor of the Henderson-Dunn House, Stallings Parkway, New Bern. Photo by the author.

But what of the orphaned staircase?  The stair, now in pieces, was stored beneath a nearby house on Metcalf Street and about 1990 donated to the New Bern Preservation Foundation which then sold it to a private collector.

Stair newel post, Henderson-Dunn House. Photo by the author.