The Latimer House Museum

 


Latimer House
Monday – Saturday, 10am – 3pm, Departing on Each Hour   
Or by Appointment– Call 910-762-0492 to Schedule
There are no self-guided tours of the Latimer House Museum

 

Adults: $12
Military ID: $10
Student ID: $6
Children Under Five: Free
Triple Ticket: $30
Purchase Tickets Here

 

Escape the bustling twenty-first century for the quiet repose of the Latimer House Museum, which interprets life in Wilmington, North Carolina, during the Victorian Era through the guise of three generations of the Latimer family. Meander through fourteen rooms that are home to over six hundred objects, including marble statues imported from Paris, stoic portraits by the famed antebellum artist William Garl Browne, and dozens of nineteenth-century furnishings original to the home. Marvel at the hand-painted floral pattern gracing the Latimer House foyer and slide your hands up the railing of the heart-pine grand staircase. Your visit to the Latimer House is sure to be unforgettable as the furnished house deceives your senses and transports you one hundred and sixty years back in time.

Latimer House

The house was built for commission merchant Zebulon Latimer (1810 – 1881) and his wife, Elizabeth Savage Latimer (1819 – 1904) in 1852 during Wilmington’s antebellum housing boom. Zebulon Latimer exemplified the individuals who made Wilmington the largest city in the state of North Carolina during the antebellum era: his wealth is attributed to the harvesting of southeastern North Carolina’s naval stores and the ability to retail the naval stores to a global market. Thus, beyond his wharf and merchant store along Wilmington’s waterfront, Zebulon Latimer invested in dredging the Cape Fear River, various railroads, canals, and turnpikes. This wealth cumulated in the construction of the Latimer House by masons J.C. and R.B. Wood on the corner of Third and Orange Streets, high on a bluff overlooking the Cape Fear River. The Italianate Revival House emulated the villas from antiquities and its design took instruction from Andrew Jackson Downing’s 1850 publication The Architecture of Country Houses.


Latimer House

April, 1848, is the first documented purchase by Zebulon Latimer of an enslaved African American, and by 1860, eleven enslaved persons worked and lived at the Latimer House. These enslaved African Americans accessed the house via a spiral staircase in a concealed, back room of the house, tending to the desires of the Latimer family and maintaining the home. Some were cooks, others were coachmen, and still others were leased out by Zebulon Latimer to other households or businesses. Most resided in a small brick slave quarters built in the gardens rear of the Latimer House. Many were baptized and confirmed members of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, founded in 1858 as an integrated, free-pew Episcopal Church just one block east of the Latimer House. An overwhelming majority of the enslaved people chose to leave the Latimer family following emancipation, yet the freedmen remained in contact with the Latimer family, writing letters to their former masters as late as 1874. The final servant serving the Latimer family and residing in the quarters was documented in the 1930 census.


Latimer House

In sixteen years, Elizabeth Savage Latimer gave birth to nine children, yet only four boys survived to adulthood. Henry Gould Latimer (1845 – 1929) was trained as an artist, painting many admired works on display at the Latimer House today, including his 1918 painting of Wilmington’s famed Dram Tree. The second eldest son, William Latimer (1852 – 1923) attended Columbia University and practiced law. In 1888, William Latimer served as president of Wilmington and Seacoast Railroad, which took passengers from downtown Wilmington to Harbor Island near modern-day Wrightsville Beach. This railroad served as a precursor to the electric trolley lines that transported thousands of visitors to Wrightsville Beach, known at the turn of the twentieth century as the “playground of the South.” William Latimer and his younger brother Edward Savage Latimer (1857 – 1901) established Acme Fibre Company, which produced pine fibre bagging and matting. The youngest son was named Hebert Russell Latimer (1861 – 1887), who unfortunately succumbed to tuberculosis at the young age of twenty-eight, but not before fathering two children, Hebert Russell Latimer, Jr. (1885 – 1966) and Empie Latimer (1886 – 1948). These Latimer grandchildren were raised in Europe following their father’s death and both graduated from Princeton University. Both grandchildren served in WWI, Hebert Russell Latimer, Jr. receiving the medal cross and Empie Latimer receiving the Croix-de-Guerre for their bravery under fire.


Latimer House

When Hebert Russell Latimer, Jr. and Empie Latimer returned to Wilmington following the conclusion of WWI, only William Latimer’s widow was residing at the stately Latimer House. In 1922, this widow, Margaret Iredell Meares Latimer (1862 – 1956) built an addition onto the rear of the house to accommodate a modern kitchen. That same year, an artist by the name of Elisabeth Augusta Chant (1865 – 1947) arrived in Wilmington bent on creating an artist colony in the city. By 1930, Elisabeth Augusta Chant was renting a room at the Latimer House, and it was during this time she painted The Conversation, which depicts Margaret Iredell Meares Latimer, Herbert Russell Latimer, Jr., and Empie Latimer seated in the parlors. Since the Latimer House never left the family, many of the furnishings painted in The Conversation appear in their same location today.
In the same year of Margaret Iredell Meares Latimer’s death, the Lower Cape Fear Historical Society was incorporated with the mission of disseminating knowledge pertaining to the history of the Lower Cape Fear region. By 1963, the organization raised enough money to purchase the Latimer House from Hebert Russell Latimer, Jr. as its headquarters. Today, the Lower Cape Fear Historical Society maintains the Latimer House as a house museum open to the public six days a week, an archives preserving unique documents highlighting the history of Wilmington, and rental space for the community.