One of downtown Wilmington’s few remaining Colonial-era homes – and the only one that operates as a museum – has been largely restored to its original splendor, following an estimated $250,000 renovation. Crews painstakingly refurbished the Burgwin-Wright House over 18 months, returning much of the home’s interior to how it originally looked in the early 1770s.
Located at 224 Market St., the Burgwin-Wright House & Gardens occupies the former location of the first city jail. Following the recent project, the house’s dining room, parlor, bedrooms, library and study now appear as they did when local official and merchant John Burgwin first built the house – original paint colors included.
“Touring a house as authentic as ours is a treat since many homes are restored to what was appropriate for the time but not necessarily the actual colors and materials,” said Burgwin-Wright House & Gardens Museum Director Christine Lamberton.
To determine Burgwin’s chosen palette, officials enlisted the help of local preservationist Ed Turberg. After analyzing the paint through numerous scrapings, the unique colors were determined, helping to return the home’s walls, ceilings and woodwork to how they looked when Burgwin moved in.
“This is dramatically different from how the house looked prior to the restoration project,” said Joy Allen, executive director of The National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in the State of North Carolina (NSCDA-NC). “Decades of wax were removed from the floors, to bring out the honey hues [of the] old growth heart pine. We opted to use a light coat of polyurethane on the floors to protect, even though the wood would have been raw back in the day.
“After the restoration we also changed the furnishing plan to better reflect how the interior might have looked in the Colonial era,” Allen added.
While aesthetic authenticity played a large role in the Burgwin- Wright House’s restoration, essential maintenance prompted the project. Whereas the interior’s refurbishment took about eight weeks to complete, according to Lamberton, major repairs prompted the 18-month project.
“The house needed to be climate- controlled with new efficient units because the older system would fail during the warm weather,” Lamberton explained. “Not only did staff and visitors suffer, but the collection did as well.”
The temperature issue also caused some of the damage to the Georgian-style home’s plaster, Allen said. Other less visible repairs included reglazing the home’s aging windows, fixing the drainage system of the circa 1744 outdoor jail cells, and more.
“It was difficult due to logistics in regards to working around the work – having tours and school groups, as well as workers in the house at the same time,” Lamberton noted. “Some days were loud and dusty.”
Since the refurbishment was completed in late-spring, residents and visitors alike have been drawn to the downtown Wilmington destination. While the amount of additional interest the changes have generated is difficult to gauge mid-season, said Lamberton, “we do know that we have visitors come in because of the restoration.
“Those who have [previously] visited the house were, of course, very excited to see the changes and happy to know that the house was being cared for,” she said. “Those who have never been here become more interested when they hear about the recent work.”
What’s more, the museum saw record attendance numbers in 2017. To that end, this year’s numbers are looking up.
“We have a lot of people from all over the country and Canada,” said Lamberton. “We also get a lot of international visitors … we have had visitors from Switzerland, Australia, France, Poland, Sweden, Russia, Turkey [and] Argentina in just the last few weeks.”
While the mansion and its gardens boast artifacts and beautiful sights, historic preservation is at its roots. One of the main goals of the Burgwin-Wright House is to provide visitors with a true experience of Colonial Wilmington.
“Our interpreters utilize the house and its collection to help visitors have a better understanding and appreciation for the complex lives of the people who lived and worked here,” Allen said. “This so-called material culture helps our interpreters provide insight into their habits, beliefs and values, as well as how they are relevant to the present.”
According to the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce, funding for the recent restoration was made possible by a gift from Lillian Bellamy Boney, a longtime member of The National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in the State of North Carolina. The N.C. Society of Colonial Dames saved the Burgwin-Wright House from demolition by purchasing it in 1937.