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

View from the Upper Porch of the 1815 Duncan House
Architectural historian Tony P. Wrenn wrote the introduction to Mary Warshaw's Beaufort book: Porchscapes. 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.” 

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."