Tony P. Wrenn and the Importance of Beaufort's Architectual Treasures

View from the Upper Porch of the 1817 Duncan House
Forty-two years ago, architectural historian Tony P. Wrenn wrote, "Certainly Beaufort has architecture, historical and educational value of a type equaled by only a handful of other southeastern coastal towns. Certainly its restoration potential is great, and its economic value, as visitation increases, immense. That value, in education, in pride, and in dollars, can be realized only if the existing lure—Beaufort—survives. Both its relative rareness and completeness argue for its survival.  Its potential educational and economic value argues for its survival. Indeed, its destruction would be an act of vandalism." 1

Two years ago, architectural historian Tony P. Wrenn wrote the introduction to Mary Warshaw's Beaufort book: Porchscapes, The Colors of Beaufort—Three Centuries of History Woven Through Art and Words. In that introduction, Mr. Wrenn wrote, “In November 1969 Dr. H.G. Jones, of the then North Carolina Department of Archives and History, asked me to undertake a study to locate and copy documentary material relating to Fort Macon, constructed between 1826 and 1834, and then undertake an architectural survey of Beaufort.”

Mr. Wrenn continued describing the setting, “After the Beaufort survey was completed I returned to Beaufort twice to “house sit” Jean and Copeland Kell’s second-level home at The Cedars. There was very little difference looking out over the Atlantic from views owners had in earlier years. Sitting on the second-level porch, reading, dreaming, having a meal, listening to the pianist who lived downstairs, made almost every day dream time. One could look almost directly south, across Town Marsh and Bird Island Shoals to Fort Macon and the open beach beyond. The fort itself was hidden behind sand barriers, but the Coast Guard Station was within ones line of vision and the fort easy to spot in relation to the station.

“The channel into the state port at Morehead City crossed directly across Beaufort’s waterfront and ships entering and leaving the port presented broadside views to Beaufort. Fishing boats came and went, and at any given time there may have been twenty or more in the harbor—the cut between Town Marsh and Front Street. During the menhaden season one could almost walk across the water to Town Marsh by stepping from boat to boat. Sail was frequently seen, as was the occasional grand yacht that had strayed from the Inland Waterway.

“Wild marsh ponies grazed on Town Marsh. Porpoise occasionally broke water at play in the cut, within a hundred feet of Front Street. There was never a time when there was nothing to see or feel, for sea breezes always kept the porch comfortable and peaceful. I can never again think of Beaufort without thinking of the serenity, comfort and peace of that porch.” 2 

After learning that the new owners of the Duncan House had applied for permission to demolish the house—that anchors the west end of Front Street, Wrenn wrote, 

 "The demolition of the Duncan House, which has been called the 'signature house' of the Beaufort Style,  whose location makes it Beaufort's most memorable house, would not only be a great loss, but a tragedy for the town and the state." 3

Some of Beaufort's Historic Homes 
Compiled from Paintings by Beaufort Artist Mary Warshaw
Click to Enlarge

1 Wrenn, Tony P., Beaufort, North Carolina, Raleigh, NC, North Carolina Department of Archives and History, December 1970, page 18. 
 
2 Wrenn’s report includes an "inventory listing of Historic District properties, with buildings of historical and architectural importance identified, as are those of importance as part of the Beaufort scene that provide a landscape and geographic setting for the town, each identified by street address, name when known, date then assigned, ownership, use and whether occupied. The survey took place in 1969-70, when the entire district was walked, photographed, mapped, and submitted to the state with notes on the district and on individual properties. The report is illustrated, with both documentary photographs and those taken at the time by Wrenn and Archives and History staffers. It served as the basis for the entry of Beaufort on the National Register of Historic Places, and the town was entered on the Register in 1974."


"After the Beaufort survey, Wrenn "was commissioned by the state to do architectural surveys of New Bern and Wilmington, sites that shared Beaufort's southeastern North Carolina location on the water. The Beaufort House type did not show up in these cities, and was not known to the north of New Bern. Subsequently in counting the number of Beaufort houses that evidence the Beaufort House style, it is clear that the number in Beaufort, makes it the largest collection in North Carolina and most likely the largest in the nation.

"The Beaufort variations are important in American Architectural history, and clearly the collection is of statewide importance, and should be considered nationally important. as well."

 
3 Personal email to Warshaw.