|The front entrance to Liberty Hall which used to be the side door before the street realignment|
|The once front entrance to Liberty Hall. Now the side door.|
Liberty Hall in Kenansville, the county seat of Duplin County, is just one example. Built by the Kenans, who have been part of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill since it became the first public university in the United States (Kenan Stadium, Kenan-Flagler Business School, anyone?), the family estate has been a house museum since 1968, after a member of the Kenan family, Frank, deeded it to Duplin County and the family established an endowment to restore and maintain it.
From the North Carolina Historic Markers Society:
The first member of the Kenan family to live in America arrived in Wilmington from Ireland in 1736. Once established, Thomas Kenan married and had several children at his home on Turkey Branch in what is now Sampson County. Thomas’s son, James, inherited his father’s wealth and became an integral figure in the Colonial Assembly, Provincial Congress, Revolution, and North Carolina’s Constitutional Conventions. James Kenan lived at his father’s home, which he named “Liberty Hall” during the patriotic fever surrounding Independence. The first Kenan family home burned by 1800. Descendants of the first Kenans built another home, also called "Liberty Hall," in the present town of Kenansville in the early nineteenth century. Subsequent generations lived in the house, over the years making several architectural changes. In time the property passed down to Frank Kenan who donated it to the county in 1964. The house was then restored, furnished, and opened as a museum in 1968.
The financial resources of the Kenan family long have been made available to the public through ongoing philanthropic gifts to the University of North Carolina and various Duplin County organizations, including "Liberty Hall." The Kenan family funded most of the restoration and furnishing of the house and its twelve outbuildings. The house features eleven rooms and two formal entrances, one of which is accentuated by a classically inspired portico. Many of the furnishings in the home can be traced to ownership by Kenan family members or are pieces similar to those owned by the family.
Of particular note to the history of "Liberty Hall" was the marriage of Mary Lily Kenan to multi-millionaire Henry Flagler on August 24, 1901. Flagler’s immense fortune was gained from oil, railroads, and a multitude of other investments and he lavished much wealth on his bride, many years his junior. The Flaglers moved to Florida and, after Henry’s death in 1913, Mary remarried only to die a few years later. Through the actions of her estate, endowments were established at UNC to fund professorships and building campaigns. Furthermore, their winter home in Florida was subsequently transformed into the Flagler Museum.
The house is also stands out from other house museums in that more than 50% of the furnishings are original to the house. Amazing considering that the house stood empty and was used for storage from 1910 to 1964 when it was donated to the county.
And we were the only visitors to that house the two hours we were there the Saturday that we were at the beach . . .