Founded in 1710, New Bern has no shortage of dilapidated houses and many downtown residences that have seen two centuries or more go by.
While it may seem easy to determine the oldest residence, it is not.
The stable, or west wing, of Tryon Palace could easily be New Bern’s oldest, confirmed building, as it was built between 1767 and 1770. However, it was not used specifically as a residence.
Most of the plaques hanging on the doorways of homes in the Historic District are unofficial and the dates are often based on the owner’s personal research, said John Green, treasurer of the Kellenberger Room.
In the 1930s, the city of New Bern had a program that gave official plaques to historic homes, but it hasn’t been active for over 50 years.
Green said that one of the main reasons many homes are considered older than they are is because periods of architectural styles have lasted much longer than people originally thought. This makes the design of a house an inaccurate way of determining age.
The highest form of precision is found in dendrochronology, which dates a house according to the tree rings found in the original frame.
âIt was done for some of the houses in New Bern and on almost every occasion the houses weren’t as old as we thought,â Green said.
However, this method can only be used when the original crop is accessible and is not made up of newer layers.
Jim Hodges, curator at the New Bern Historical Society, has been trying for several years to find the answer to this seemingly simple question using information gathered from Peter Sandbeck. The historic architecture of New Bern and Craven County, North Carolina.
He cites and explains two reasons surrounding the records and the time for difficulty.
âFirst, over 250 years have passed since these structures were built, and while detailed records have ever existed, most of them have been lost, altered or forgotten. Second, most of these structures were built over a period of several years. if not decades, âHodges wrote in a blog post for the Historical Society.
Hodges said he was not an authority on the matter, but vaguely concluded that the following houses were the best contenders for the title of Oldest New Bern House: Alston-Charlotte House, Francis Hawks House, the Forbes House and the Elijah Clark House.
Located at 823 Pollock Street, Sandbeck writes that the Georgian-style Alston-Charlotte House could have been built as early as 1747, when the lot was sold to James Alston. It is confirmed that the house was built in 1774.
Green is skeptical of this period.
âThere is hardly a house that dates back to the 1740s,â Green said.
His best guess for New Bern’s oldest residence is the Patrick Gordon House located at 213 Hancock St.
In 1740 the lot was ceded to a Johnathan Bangs and then sold to Patrick Gordon in 1768. Evidence from a map in 1769 shows that no house had been built on the property. A letter written by Gordon in the summer of 1771 confirms that the house was at least under construction that year.
The crowning plaque in the garden of Francis Hawks House, which moved to 517 New St. in the 1970s, states that the house was built in 1748. This is probably not true.
According to Sandbeck, the evidence found in the deeds shows that the house was most likely built in 1763.
The Forbes House at 715 Pollock St. is estimated to have been built between 1760 and 1770.
The Elijah Clark House is located at 616 Middle St. and built, at least in some form, in 1765, according to Sandbeck.
A definitive answer to the question of which historic house is the oldest in New Bern has yet to be found and may never be reached.
Growth and Development reporter Julia Masters can be reached at [email protected] or 828-318-3108.