Revisiting the Bellamy Mansion
Eliza McIlhenny Harriss Bellamy stepped out of her mother’s house at Second and Dock Streets. The War Between the States was over, and the late Confederacy of Southern States was now an occupied and defeated land in the hands of the victorious Union Army.
She took a deep breath, composing herself for the short walk down 2nd to Market. Her destination was the corner of 5th and Market Streets and the site of her own home. It had been taken over by Union General Joseph Hawley, and he and his wife, Harriet, were living in the great white house, one so large and magnificent that the name “mansion” was used when referring to it. Repeated efforts by Eliza’s husband, Dr. John Bellamy, to secure the return of their property had been fruitless.
Mrs. Bellamy decided to take the matter into her own hands. She would call upon the General’s wife. The very idea humiliating to her.
Though only several blocks away up Market Street, the Mansion was on the edge of town. As Mrs. Bellamy passed John Taylor’s house, a severe, fortress-like building on the left side of the street, she recalled the splendid Christmas dinners their families had enjoyed there. The First Baptist Church was still under construction. The one completed spire had been used as an observation post during The War.
Approaching the house, Mrs. Bellamy paused and took in the scene. From the outside, at least, the building, a mere four years old, seemed intact. To the left, down Fifth Avenue, the Carriage House and Stable had survived the Yankee troops as well.
As she climbed the steps up to the parlor level of the house, Mrs. Bellamy looked down at the bare yard, thankful that her garden was still in her mind and not in the ground. What a discomfiting position to be in. To be standing before the door to one’s own home, awaiting admittance! She was allowed entry into the double parlor.
While Mrs. Bellamy was unsuccessful in evacuating the Hawleys from the house on that afternoon, she was restored as mistress of the mansion in September 1865. Dr. Bellamy received a pardon from the U.S. government and his property was returned to him.
It is a tribute to Wilmington’s historic preservation efforts that, if Eliza Bellamy were to walk, today, the route taken in 1865, she would see much which would make her feel at home.
The Taylor House, First Baptist Church – structures which exude a sense of permanence, of stability.
Of course, the Bellamy Mansion is no longer a private home. It is a museum. Many of us visit museums once and having done so say to ourselves, “I’ve been there already. Why should I return?” Paradoxically, in the world of historic preservation, some things change in order to remain the same.
When Ellen Bellamy, last surviving child of Eliza and John Bellamy, died in the house in 1946 at the age of 93, the family home and grounds suffered from benign neglect. The Carriage House/Stable, located on Fifth Avenue and providing vehicle access to the street, was condemned and demolished. The building’s foundation is visible and a good number of bricks remain.
The garden in Eliza Bellamy’s mind did eventually become a reality. She and her family had barely settled into their new home when a yellow fever epidemic forced them to pack up and move to Robeson County. It was not until after the War and the family’s return home when Mrs. Bellamy, a lover of plants, began to plan her landscape.
In 1994, the mansion became the Bellamy Mansion Museum of History and Design Arts. The 10,000-square foot house and buildings on the property have been reconstructed and restored. The carriage house serves as a visitor center.