The Latimer House interprets life in Wilmington, North Carolina, during the Victorian Era through the guise of three generations of the Latimer family. Meander through 14 rooms that are home to over six hundred objects, including neoclassical statues imported from Paris, stoic portraits by the famed antebellum artist William Garl Browne, and dozens of nineteenth-century furnishings original to the home. Marvel at the hand-painted floral pattern gracing the Latimer House foyer and slide your hands up the railing of the heart-pine grand staircase. Your visit to the Latimer House is sure to be unforgettable as the furnished house deceives your senses and transports you one hundred and sixty years back in time.
The house was built for commission merchant Zebulon Latimer (1810 – 1881) and his wife, Elizabeth Savage Latimer (1819 – 1904) in 1852 during Wilmington’s antebellum housing boom. Zebulon Latimer exemplified the individuals who made Wilmington the largest city in the state of North Carolina during the antebellum era: his wealth is attributed to the harvesting of southeastern North Carolina’s naval stores and the ability to retail the naval stores to a global market. Thus, beyond his wharf and merchant store along Wilmington’s waterfront, Zebulon Latimer invested in dredging the Cape Fear River, various railroads, canals, and turnpikes. This wealth culminated in the construction of the Latimer House by masons J.C. and R.B. Wood on the corner of Third and Orange Streets, high on a bluff overlooking the Cape Fear River. The Italianate Revival House emulated the villas from antiquities and its design took instruction from Andrew Jackson Downing’s 1850 publication The Architecture of Country Houses.
April, 1848, is the first documented purchase by Zebulon Latimer of an enslaved African American, and by 1860, eleven enslaved persons worked and lived at the Latimer House. These enslaved African Americans accessed the house via a spiral staircase in the back of the house, tending to the desires of the Latimer family and maintaining the home. Some were cooks, others were coachmen, and still others were leased out by Zebulon Latimer to other households or businesses. Most resided in a small brick slave quarters built in the gardens rear of the Latimer House. Many were baptized and confirmed members of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, founded in 1858 as an integrated, free-pew Episcopal Church just one block east of the Latimer House. An overwhelming majority of the enslaved people chose to leave the Latimer family following emancipation, yet the freedmen remained in contact with the Latimer family, writing letters to their former masters as late as 1874. The final servant serving the Latimer family and residing in the quarters was documented in the 1930 census.
In 1956, the Lower Cape Fear Historical Society, Inc. was incorporated with the mission of disseminating knowledge pertaining to the history of the Lower Cape Fear region. By 1963, the organization raised enough money to purchase the Latimer House from Hebert Russell Latimer, Jr. as its headquarters. Today, the Lower Cape Fear Historical Society, Inc. maintains the Latimer House as a house open to the public six days a week, an archives preserving unique documents highlighting the history of Wilmington, and rental space for the community.
*COURTESY OF LCFHS.ORG