Review: Burgwin-Wright House (Wilmington, North Carolina)


My family has a condo at Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina and I've grown up going there my entire life. However, other than going to the Battleship, I recently realized that I had never been to any of the historic sites in Wilmington. So the last time we were down at the coast a few weeks ago (before all of this Covid-19 panic happened), we decided to choose a house and go to it. We sort of picked one at random, but I think we set the bar high for future historic site adventuring.


The Burgwin-Wright House is the oldest property in Wilmington and the only house remaining from the colonial era that is open to the public. It's a beautiful example of Georgian architecture and a great way to learn about what life was like in Wilmington before the Revolutionary War. When the house is open to the public, you can take a guided tour with one of their docents. Our tour guide was incredibly knowledgable and did a great job at answering questions and keeping everyone engaged.

The Burgwin-Wright House sits on the property that once housed the original Wilmington jail, which was built in 1744. After failed attempts by the local wealthy men to get the city to move the jail away from the city center, it mysteriously burned down in 1768. John Burgwin bought the land and by 1771  was living on a house built on the site. The outdoor and basement jail cells still exist and can be seen on the tour.


John Burgwin was the second son of an English merchant who immigrated to America in hopes of making his fortune. He started out in Charleston, but later moved to Wilmington. He was known to be tall and charming made his fortune as a merchant before also becoming a plantation owner and government official. His political career included everything from being Justice of the Peace to the personal secretary to the royal governor. When he married Margaret Haynes, her family eventually gave the couple over 1,000 acres of land including Castle Haynes and Hermitage Plantation.


In 1799, Burgwin sold his town house to Joshua Grainger Wright, a member of the family for whom Wrightsville Beach is named. by 1846, there were eight children living in the house so the Wright family made an addition that doubled the square footage of the house. The last member of the Wright family to live in the house died in 1930 and the house almost was torn down for a gas station. However, the Colonial Dames of America in North Carolina saved it and turned it into a historic site.

The house is now presented as it was in 1770. (The addition is used as office space and storage.) Even the paint has recently been restored to its 1770 appearance. The house boasts a handful of pieces original to the Burgwin and Wright families and is otherwise filled with mostly European period pieces. One of the most lovely pieces is the 1810 Boston pianoforte. The house was built with long leaf pine, which is still oozing sap. Not many buildings made of this wood remain because it is so flammable. Because the house is still shifting, the floors are slightly sloped which can be vertigo inducing for some and at least a bit strange for others.



The guided tour I was on did a great job of balancing discussing the house itself, the Burgwin family, and the enslaved workers who lived in the house. While they don't know that much about the specific people who worked in the house because of a lack of records, they do know that the Burgwins had at least ten enslaved workers in the house at any given time, with many more on their plantations. It's refreshing to see a site that embraces its complicated history rather than ignoring it.

The house is now presented as it was in 1770. (The addition is used as office space and storage.) Even the paint has recently been restored to its 1770 appearance. The house boasts a handful of pieces original to the Burgwin and Wright families and is otherwise filled with mostly European period pieces. One of the most lovely pieces is the 1810 Boston pianoforte. The house was built with long leaf pine, which is still oozing sap. Not many buildings made of this wood remain because it is so flammable. Because the house is still shifting, the floors are slightly sloped which can be vertigo inducing for some and at least a bit strange for others.


When I visited, the house was in the midst of renovations (hence the scaffolding on the outside in my photo). You can also visit the free-standing kitchen behind the house which would originally have been the jailor's quarters. There are also colonial gardens, including a kitchen garden and fig trees, that you can explore. The next time you're in Wilmington, I highly recommend checking out this beautiful and history-filled home. If you would like more information about the Burgwin Wright House, you can visit their website.

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