Romance, History & Class: Charlotte’s Duke Mansion

The Duke Mansion. Photo courtesy: Lynnwood Foundation

With impending snow and frigid temperatures looming in the forecast for Southern West Virginia, Allison and I made the decision to mark the ninth year of our marriage by heading south. Not too far into Dixie, but just enough to escape the abominable reach of icy road conditions and single-digit wind chills.

Our chosen target: Charlotte, North Carolina.

The straight shot provided by Interstate-77 puts the Queen City barely two hours from the West Virginia Stateline, but thanks to a history dating back to 1755, Charlotte is a distinctly southern community that carries the unique charm of a 21st century “New South” city.

By the time we crossed Lake Norman we had shed our heavy coats and roughly a half hour later, we were just yards from Bank of America Stadium, home of the Carolina Panthers.

According to the GPS on the dash of my vehicle, we were only 2 miles from our destination, The Duke Mansion.

“I can’t believe we’re only a couple miles from a secluded estate,” whispered Allison, as we drove under the shadows of Charlotte’s Center City skyscrapers.

As we continued driving through one of the city’s most historic neighborhoods, I couldn’t help but notice the unusual layout of many of the streets. I would later learn that this is the result of the fact that a century ago, Charlotte experimented heavily with trolley cars and later converted their tram lines into streets for automobiles.

In a matter of seconds, the towering buildings of uptown Charlotte had given way to large hardwood trees and historic mansions.

At last, we had arrived.

Driving up the steep entrance that leads to the Duke Mansion, we passed a massive tulip poplar on the corner of the property; the 300-year-old tree is a rarity in its neck of the woods, as most of this section of Charlotte had been cleared and served as cotton fields during the 1800s.

As we approached the front entrance to the 102-year-old house, we were greeted by a large water fountain.  And there it was: The ornate “H”-shaped, 2 1/2-story Colonial Revival style mansion I had been anxious to see all week.

Immediately, I couldn’t help but notice the opulence of this upscale inn.  Optional valet parking, attentive professional staff, and the home property itself, all gave testimony to its grandeur (Click Here to read the history of the mansion).

Moments later, we had checked in at the front desk and were walking alongside a friendly staff member to our second story guest room.

No swipe cards here, guests to this historic mansion use old fashioned metal keys to access their room — this is a nice touch, as it adds to the feeling of being in a Roaring Twenties mansion.

Opening the door to the Nesbit Room (#207), we were greeted by a long hallway that led to our bedroom.  To the right was a luxurious bathroom.

PHOTO: Nesbit Room Appalachian Magazine
PHOTO: Nesbit Room
Appalachian Magazine

Walking into the bedroom for the first time, I was immediately impressed with the height of the ceiling, which reminded us of the inescapable fact that we were staying in a mansion that had previously served as the home to many of the South’s most prominent individuals…  As a matter of fact, a heartbroken John F. Kennedy once attended the wedding of a girl many historians claim was his first love at this very estate, a quarter-century before becoming President (Click here to read that incredible story!).

Just beyond the draped French doors was the sleeping porch which overlooked the garden and fountain down below.

The following day, Allison and I enjoyed a cup of coffee in the hanging swing of the shared porch in the quietness of the morning — blissed to the reality that only a mile away was Charlotte’s busy I-277.

Unfortunately, it was still winter and our morning coffee on the back porch was cut short — we vowed to return in a handful of months and sip sweet tea while we watched a southern sunset.

As we enjoyed our breakfast and then strolled through the grounds of the historic estate, I couldn’t help but appreciate how the mansion was so easily accessible and yet cosmos away from the world only a mile to our north.

Each room in The Duke Mansion is individually decorated.  Ours featured a letter desk which reinforced the emotion of having stepped back in time into the world of the 19th-century industrial barons.

Another incredible observation made while spending a night at the mansion was the level of pride each member of the staff brought to work.  It was clear that the high caliber employees place great attention to detail and service – going out of their ways to open doors for guests, providing service with a smile and exceptional facilities are all standard fare.

When the weather is warm, guests to the mansion can enjoy a 3-minute walk through the Myers Park neighborhood to several chic restaurants and shopping venues, including the Manor Theatre – a classic theater that first opened in 1947.

In addition to Panera Bread, Ben & Jerrys, and Starbucks, that are all within walking distance, other stores and eateries include Fenwicks Restaurant, Ginbu 401 and Stagioni.

On the way back home, Allison and I discussed the many things we love about Charlotte — a forward-looking city with endless miles of greenways, things to do and a vibrant atmosphere; yet equally impressive is that at its core, Charlotte is still a friendly southern town that hasn’t forsaken its roots.

Here’s to Charlotte and the desire to get back to one of its greatest gems as soon as possible!

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