Davis House Survival

The Davis Hotel, Beaufort, NC
In a late 2009 email, shortly after he finished his introduction to Porchscapes - The Colors of Beaufort, North Carolina, architectural historian Tony P. Wrenn wrote his recollections of how The Davis House was saved from destruction:
“In 1970 the Duke University Marine Lab planned to tear down the three houses behind the Davis House thirteen-bay porch, Beaufort's longest and one of the state's most notable, and construct something to better house students and others who came to work in Dr. John Costlow's facility.

“Jean Kell felt, and she may well be right, that there are certain forces which control such things, and the force, one presumes the good one, had planned for me to be in Beaufort at just the time when the bulldozers were pulled into position to the rear of The Davis House to begin its destruction. This is the same force I assume that brought you to Beaufort to do what you are now doing.

“What Jean wrote is essentially true except that I don't think I was actually the savior of the houses and their porch, but rather the facilitator that led to their saving.

“I remember it in this way. Jean saw the dozers being moved into position, rushed to find out why they were there, then as speedily moved to find me and tell me I had to do something about it, that that porch should not be allowed to go. I went to find Costlow and found that he had already done whatever he could to stave off demolition but had come up short, since the property forces that control Duke, the University, were in control and not the Marine Laboratory, but he welcomed my getting involved if I could.

“I sought H.G.Jones [NC Dept. of Archives and History], told him of the situation and my feeling about the importance of those porches and told him Costlow felt he might be able to reach people at Duke, including Terry Sanford, then President of the University, and possibly get the demolition stopped. H.G. agreed that I could act as his agent and sell the value of the houses and their porch, so Costlow began his calls, ultimately reaching the final person he needed to reach, pitching the importance of the porches to Beaufort, and their historic and architectural value. I don't actually remember whether I talked or not, but believe that I did have a chance to talk about the porches, Waterman's feeling about them and my own, which H.G. supported. I also don't know whether or not Sanford called H.G., but we shortly got the word that the bulldozers would still do some work to the rear of the Davis House, but that the Front Street fa├žade was saved.

1940 Photo - Thomas Waterman
“In writing about the porch in my report, I note: The Davis House porch, mentioned above by Waterman, actually covers three houses, one of them eighteenth century (125), one early (123) and the other (121) late nineteenth century. Before the porches were joined in their present manner, in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, all three houses already had two-story porches. The entire composition, thirteen bays long, is, as Waterman says, 'effective.' Its length does not confuse the viewer, however. The builder has used two types of turned Doric posts, alternating top and bottom and has raised the second floor balustrade slightly in the center, thereby visually preserving the identity of the three structures while giving them a common porch.

"As you so beautifully show in your Porchscapes book, the porch is an integral part of the architectural, social and cultural lifestyle of the South and of North Carolina. Among all the memorable porches in the state, the Davis House porch is one of the great ones. That the powers at Duke University did not allow it to be destroyed 40 years ago indicates an awareness of the obligations that public institutions have to our past, and the lasting results of acting on that awareness." - Tony P. Wrenn