Masonboro Sound Historic District: An ‘Oasis of Extraordinary Beauty’ Threatened by Clearcut Development

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A large oak tree sits at the entrance to the Live Oaks Mansion, built in 1913 in coquina – tons of seashells have been mixed and pressed into concrete for its walls. (Port City Daily / Mark Darrough)

WILMINGTON – Between the mouths of Hewletts and Parsley creeks, along the Intracoastal Waterway, is a cluster of 19th and early 20th-century resort cabins, Colonial Revival style homes, and several early mansions -war – including an Italian Renaissance house built in 1913 aptly named ‘Live Oaks. “

The mansion was designed by famous architect Henry Bacon, who designed the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC and the Confederate Memorial in downtown Wilmington. It stands out for its coquina limestone exterior walls – tons of seashells have been mixed and pressed into the concrete – and its two-story octagonal shape. The house is surrounded by porches and crowned with a glass dome, topped with a pineapple-shaped finial, as described in a request sent to the US Department of the Interior in 1992.

PART 1: ‘Not a sacred threat’: HWF aims to protect Northside’s historic value from development

The area consists of 10 historic houses and 13 other dwellings, including former servant quarters and boathouses. After an application was submitted by officials at the North Carolina Office of Archives and History (OAH), the Lush Sound Side District was added to the National Register of Historic Places in October 1992.

In addition to the historical and architectural significance of the 23 remaining historic structures, the OAH has called the Masonboro Sound Historic District an “oasis of extraordinary physical beauty.”

“[I]It is also important for the natural beauty and luxuriance of the landscape, itself historic, which exerts a strong hold on the visitor and the residents. . . . The views to the east, across Masonboro Sound and along the marshy shoreline, punctuated only by the docks, give the neighborhood a vital cohesion, effectively connecting all of the neighborhood’s properties with a sense of timeless beauty that has endured ever since. [the first home was built here prior to the Revolutionary War]», Depending on the application.

The marsh at the edge of the Intracoastal “gradually dries up as the land rises to a narrow mound, the backbone of the neighborhood,” on which most historic homes have been built in the face of the noise on along vast lots of Masonboro Sound Road.

But the area will soon be home to a 170-home development called “East & Mason,” where a large strip of coastal magnolia and pine trees covering a 64-acre plot was recently felled by Robuck Homes, Inc. The Raleigh-based company, has developed more than 58 properties in Raleigh and the North Carolina coast for nearly a century, according to its website. These included WyndWater in Hampstead, and soon, the development of Winding Marsh further north along the Intracoastal at Ogden, in northern New Hanover County.

At the eastern end of the partially cleared lot is an old cottage once used as a servant’s quarters for the Hill-Anderson Cottage, which also adjoins the Robuck Lot 450 feet to the south in the southeast corner of the development. Built in 1835 and moved onto Masonboro Sound Road to its current location in 1986, the wood-shingle cabin was one of the state’s first coastal vacation homes, according to Travis Gilbert, executive director of Historic Wilmington Foundation (HWF).

The Hill-Anderson Cottage, built in 1835, is the oldest house in the area. (Port City Daily / Mark Darrough)

The Hill and Anderson families came to the little cabin to escape from town, about 10 miles west on the Cape Fear River. In 1906, the house was purchased by Admiral Edwin Anderson, a naval officer who received the Medal of Honor for his bravery during the 1914 American intervention in Veracruz. Gilbert said the historic charm of coastal homes and old trees, including centuries-old living oaks, is threatened by modern development.

The HWF is pushing for the city to include federally protected historic neighborhoods like Masonboro Sound – and, likewise, Carolina Place, Ardmore, Brookwood and Northside – under the stricter protections of the Wilmington Historic Preservation Commission.

“The development pressure here is cannibalism. The story repeats itself. . . . Here they are clearcutting entire swathes of this Registered National Historic District in order to build, once again, single family homes so people can enjoy Masonboro Sound. It is an antithesis to preserve the character of Masonboro Sound. “

East & Mason Developers LLC, a subsidiary of Robuck Homes, purchased the property for $ 6.6 million last November, according to the Wilmington Business Journal.

Gilbert said that last summer, the HWF placed an easement on a servants’ cottage, dubbed the “dollhouse,” as part of negotiations with Robuck to keep the exterior of the house and the trees nearby. An easement placed on the welcoming Hill-Anderson cottage in 1991, five years after it moved across the street, was the HWF’s first easement to protect both the exterior and interior architecture of a historic home, according to Gilbert.

The back of the “Doll House” overlooks a large space cleared of its trees for the future East & Mason development. (Port City Daily / Mark Darrough)

PART 2: Should the city protect Carolina Place as a local historic district?

The Hill-Anderson Cottage is the oldest structure in the district, and “one of the very few pre-war resort buildings remaining on the North Carolina coast,” according to the HWF.

Many pre-war and colonial summerhouses were built in the district centuries ago, but were either destroyed by fires or negligence, Gilbert said. According to the OAH, before a second phase of construction from the 1830s to the 1870s, it was an “important summer resort since the end of the colonial period”.

William Hooper, a lawyer from Wilmington and one of three North Carolinians to sign the Declaration of Independence, built a large resort residence on the sound before the War of Independence. On March 14, 1931, it was destroyed by fire. Its new owners, a son of a German diplomat and his wife, replaced the house with a large neo-colonial house in 1933, which still stands today.

“The structures that are here today are pretty much a second generation of sound chalets, built not only on the remnants of pre-war and colonial homes, but sometimes salvaged,” Gilbert said. “And the oldest remains were used to build what exists today.”

Gilbert called the Live Oaks mansion “a pretty unusual design by a pretty unusual guy,” Henry Bacon, buried in Oakdale Cemetery near the Northside neighborhood. He pointed out the irony that the man who designed the Lincoln Memorial also designed the Confederate monument in downtown Wilmington. He should also be recalled for this pre-war mansion on Masonboro Sound, Gilbert said.

The historic Masonboro Sound district is not as well known as other neighborhoods closer to downtown, as fewer people are familiar with these old sounding houses, according to Gilbert. But its preservation is important, not only to protect homes, but also to complement environmental conservation.

“Historic preservation affects so many other causes,” Gilbert said. “Here in Masonboro Sound, you see the marriage of historic preservation and environmental protection – being clearcut sensitive, being sensitive to [stormwater] drainage in the Intracoastal, sound and ocean. By protecting these historic structures, we are not only protecting the architectural and historical significance of these structures, we are also protecting these lots from clear cutting.

See more photos of the historic Masonboro Sound district below:

A stone monument recognizes a house built by William Hooper, a Wilmington lawyer who signed the Declaration of Independence. His house was destroyed by fire in 1931. Two years later, a neo-colonial house was built in his place; the quarters of the servants for the house are visible behind the monument. (Port City Daily / Mark Darrough)
The main entrance to the Live Oaks Mansion as a rain storm passes over Masonboro Sound. (Port City Daily / Mark Darrough)
A sign located at the east end of the Robuck property presents the future East & Mason development. (Port City Daily / Mark Darrough)
Most of the houses in the neighborhood are modern. When the OAH submitted an application to the federal government in 1992 to list the neighborhood in the National Register of Historic Places, there were 10 contributory houses and 10 non-contributory houses (those that were not recognized as historic structures). More no-contribution homes have been built since, and developer Robuck Homes has cleared many trees for the future 170-home subdivision called East & Mason. (Port City Daily / Port City Daily)

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