Often, one’s first impression of Raleigh’s Merrimon-Wynne House is its size — it is huge! Ever since I first photographed the house with my trusty Kodak Instamatic camera back in the 1960s, I have been intrigued by its architecture and beguiled by what wonderment possibly lay within. Now, many years later, I finally got my wish. Goodnight Raleigh had the opportunity recently to photograph the interior of the mansion, and I can tell you — it’s, well, huge!
The Merrimon-Wynne House was built about 1875 as the centerpiece of a park-like setting on N. Wilmington St. for Augustus S. Merrimon, a prominent Raleigh jurist. At the time of his death in 1892, he was Chief Justice of North Carolina’s Supreme Court. In 1899 Lula B. and A.F. Page (of the Wake County Pages) purchased the property from the Merrimon estate. Soon after, her husband died, and Lula married J.S. Wynne, of Raleigh. Twenty years later, in 1919, the Wynnes deeded the house to Peace College, and thereafter it became known as “Wynne Hall.” It served its first stint as a dormitory from then until 1934.
From 1935 until 1965 the mansion was occupied as the residence of Peace College president W.C. Pressly. After his retirement in 1965, Wynne Hall reverted to dormitory use. With the development of the Halifax government mall in the early 1970s, the state acquired the house and converted it to office space. It was used as such for the next 32 years. In 2008 the developers of Blount Street Commons purchased the house and moved it to its current site at the corner of Blount and Polk streets.
Now safely anchored at its new site, the boldly ornamented Italianate urban villa is a delight to the eye. The sturdy, two-story frame house features full-length windows crested by heavy decorative cornices. A doublet of a pair of projecting bay windows and porches complements the massive body of the house. Access to the north porch is gained only through the floor-to-ceiling windows of the double parlors.
The porches are supported by thick posts ornamented with applied bosses and brackets with pendant drops. Scalloped wooden swags studded with with stylized stars accentuate the decorative mix. Some observers have suggested the trim of the porches depicts ‘gears, bolts and rivets.’ I tend to doubt this characterization, though, as the ornamental detail of Merrimon-Wynne was fairly typical of other fashionable homes built in Raleigh at this time. But perhaps in this case, with far more exuberance!
The interior consists essentially of eight large rooms on two floors, organized around a wide center hall. A massive, curving walnut staircase winds it way up three flights to the attic.
The staircase’s original solid walnut, hexagonal newel post was heavily ornamented with bosses and four lion’s heads. Unfortunately, it disappeared sometime during the building’s occupancy as offices.
The prinicpal rooms throughout the house are spacious, and feature 14-foot ceilings, full-length windows and heavily-molded walnut wood trim. Unfortunately, the woodwork has been painted over with institutional white paint, probably during the state’s tenure.
Each room features a fireplace framed by an elegant oak mantlepiece. The sole surviving original Florence marble mantle is on the first floor in the northeast parlor. The others appear to date from an early 20th century makeover of the house.
The Wynnes also apparently reworked the entry hall at this time, opening up the space with a neoclassical archway leading into the northwest parlor.
Once facing demolition, the age-worn Merrimon-Wynne House has been preserved — now it awaits a caring new owner who might restore the mansion to its former beauty — definitely a win-Wynne situation for all.
This year the Merrimon-Wynne House is one of the historic properties featured on the annual Oakwood Candlelight Tour (Dec. 12- 13). So, if you have ever walked past this house and thought, hmmm…, now is your chance to see for yourself the incredible interior of this Raleigh architectural landmark.
Special thanks to Hollis Guerra, Kathleen Formidoni and Peter Rumsey for their assistance to Goodnight Raleigh in bringing the story of the Merrimon-Wynne House to our readers.