The Burgwin-Wright House was built as the town home for wealthy merchant and planter John Burgwin. Eight years before the Town of Wilmington, North Carolina was established, John Burgwin was born in England in 1731, a second son who would have to seek his own career and fortune. At the age of 19, Burgwin arrived in Charleston South Carolina and three years later married Margaret Haynes, daughter of Roger Haynes, a wealthy landowner of Wilmington. Through this marriage, John began to acquire real-estate. At this time he established himself as a successful Wilmington merchant and became active in local affairs, holding several minor offices. Margaret died in 1770 as the Burgwin –Wright House was being completed.
The Burgwin-Wright House was built as a remarkable example of Georgian architecture, one of the finest examples in the state. At the same time that The Burgwin-Wright House was being built, Burgwin was transforming his plantation house on Goose Creek north of Wilmington, “The Hermitage,” into a similarly impressive house that included an English landscape garden.
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John Burgwin began to spend a good deal of time in England. By 1784 he had become an American citizen and returned to North Carolina with his family, residing at the Hermitage where Burgwin died and was buried in 1803.
As Burgwin began to spend more time in England in the 1770s, Charles Jewkes, his business partner in the firm Burgwin, Jewkes, and London, rented the house at Third and Market Streets. Jewkes’s wife, Ann Grainger Wright, was a widow with three children, Thomas, Mary, and Joshua Grainger.
From January through April 1781 the British occupied Wilmington under Major James Craig. For 18 days in April Cornwallis was headquartered in Wilmington. His prominence and that of the Burgwin-Wright House has since linked them. His horses were stabled in St. James Church across Third Street and for many years the Burgwin-Wright House was known simply as the Cornwallis House.
Thomas Grainger Wright, having grown up in the house, purchased it from John Burgwin. He and his wife, Susan Bradley, raised their family and lived out their lives here. Their son, Dr. Thomas Henry Wright was born and raised in The Burgwin-Wright House and brought his bride, Mary Allen here where they raised their children, two of whom died serving in the Civil War. Dr. Wright practiced medicine, but became more and more involved in business as a director of the local railroad, an officer of the local bank, and a merchant. Dr. Wright was Senior Warden at St. James Church located across Third Street where he was a driving force in construction of the 1839 Gothic Revival structure that we see today. In 1845 he made changes to the entrance of the house, adding a Palladian doorway and Ionic pilasters, and a south wing. Dr Adam Empie Wright, son of Mary and Thomas, was the next owner. He had trained at the University of Medicine in New York and served as a surgeon in the Civil War. He was the Last Wright to live in the house.
The house was sold by Adam Empie Wright to William McRary and his wife Martha Wiggins. Martha lived in the house until she died in 1907, leaving the house to her sister, Rowena Wiggins who lived here until her death in 1930.
Establishment of the National Society of Colonial Dames of American in North Carolina (NSCDA –NC) with headquarters in Wilmington. A primary mission of the Society is historic preservation. Currently 41 properties are owned outright by the Corporate Societies. This will be the future owner of the Burgwin-Wright House.
The Burgwin-Wright House was purchased to restore as headquarters for NSCDA –NC. As early as 1931 there had been interest in the Society acquiring this historically important and architecturally impressive house.
The exterior restoration was completed on the Burgwin-Wright House under the direction of master architect Mr. Erling Pederson.
NSCDA –NC turned over the Burgwin-Wright House for use as a club for officers of the Armed Services for the duration of the Second World War and the NSCDA –NC funds were invested in war bonds. The house was returned to the Society in 1945.
NSCDA –NC secured funds to complete the interior restoration.
Sam Hughes of MacMillan of New York was commissioned to create a furnishing plan and Henry Jay MacMillan to purchase furniture from England.
The Burgwin-Wright House was opened to the public. The following year business offices were set up for the Society in the house.
The downstairs restoration was completed. Rooms were rented to local organizations for meetings.
The kitchen was restored and furnished. The house was recognized in an article by Richard Pratt in his book, A Guide to the Early Homes of America.
Initial work began to restore the garden bordering Third Street under the direction of Mr. Alden Hopkins of Williamsburg. The mortgage on the house was paid off
Land purchased for the formal gardens bordering Market Street.
Mr. Donald Parker of Williamsburg presented plans for the new 18th century gardens. The house was recognized in A History of Notable American Homes by Marshall B. Davidson.
The Burgwin-Wright House was roofed with cedar shakes supervised by architect Mr. Leslie N. Boney, Jr.
Haywood Hall in Raleigh was left to the NSCDA –NC.
NSCDA –NC received an award of merit from the Historic Preservation Society of North Carolina.
The Burgwin-Wright House received a Historic Wilmington Foundation Plaque. A major restoration was begun to replace the Colonial Revival portico with period banisters and columns.
A North Carolina Historical Highway Marker was placed in front of the Burgwin-Wright House recognizing John Burgwin.
Noted food historian Nancy Carter Crump visited to evaluate and advise on developing the use of the kitchen for interpretation.
Open-hearth Colonial cooking demonstrations began.
Tthe National Trust for Historic Preservation presented their prestigious Trustee Emeritus Award for Excellence in the Stewardship of Historic Sites to The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America "for acquiring, restoring, and interpreting a collection of historic properties that offer invaluable opportunities to experience the rich variety of America's heritage."
First joint period Christmas celebration with the 1860s Bellamy Mansion Museum.