This majestic mansion and gardens offers some guests a glimpse into the beyond for their price of admission.
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Built for a prominent North Carolina slaveholder and his family, the Bellamy Mansion on Market Street in Wilmington’s Historic District is a majestic relic of a bygone era. Today, you can tour the mansion and nearby servant quarters, and purchase souvenirs in the former carriage house. For a few unsuspecting guests, however, this glimpse at a bygone era is a little too real. It’s said some members of the Bellamy family never left.
Designed by Wilmington architect James F. Post in 1859, this 22-room Greek Revival and Italianate-style mansion took nearly two years to build. It was completed in 1861, just as North and South were embroiled in civil war. Dr. John Dillard Bellamy (1817-1896) commissioned the home for his large family and their closest servants and slaves. Dr. Bellamy was an ardent secessionist who owned over one hundred slaves throughout North Carolina.
In early 1865, the family fled Wilmington during an outbreak of yellow fever, but wouldn’t return until the fall because the Union Army had occupied the city and were using their mansion as a headquarters. Union General Joseph Roswell Hawley wasn’t keen on returning the property to an unabashed rebel. He wrote, “having for four years been making his bed, he now must lie on it for awhile.”
Dr. Bellamy and his wife had ten children, only a few of whom went on to have families of their own. Two daughters, Eliza and Ellen, never married and lived in the house until their deaths. A fire in 1972 damaged the home, and in 1989 its beleaguered owners donated it to the Historic Preservation Foundation of North Carolina for restoration and use as a museum.
According to Bellamy Mansion intern and UNCW English major Kasey Baker, many guests feel unease ascending the stairs into the dark and spartan fourth floor. Designed as the children’s living area, this would have been the happiest floor of the house, but visitors have reported feeling uncomfortable, ill, and the strange sensation of being drawn up into the cupola. Today, old steamer trunks occupy the dimly-lit wooden stage where the Bellamy performed plays, adding to the dusty and antiquated interior.
According to legend, Ellen Bellamy loved to read the newspaper as an elderly woman, and her ink-stained hands left smudge marks on her bedroom wall that refuse to be cleaned off, even to this day. A visitor from Leland, North Carolina wrote of his encounter with a female spirit (possibly Ellen) on TripAdvisor. “I’m not much of a believer when it comes to ghosts, but when I was on the top floor, I saw a female figure out of the corner of my eye,” he wrote. “Thinking it was my wife, I went over to the nursery where I saw the figure and no one was there. Turns out I was the only person up there.”
Others report feeling cold drafts, hearing doors slam, disembodied voices, and piano keys. According to Alan Brown, author of Stories from the Haunted South, employees at the mansion have heard the sound of heavy boots walking on the wooden floors, and seen the ghost of a man dressed in black they believe to be a Union officer. Alarms have been tripped without apparent cause, and Ellen’s wheelchair has appeared at random places around the mansion.
During restoration of the brick slave and servant quarters, workers discovered talismans hidden in the corner wall, including a small pipe and an animal’s jaw bone. The superstitious slaves probably left them as good luck charms or to ward off bad spirits. It’s one thing to read about such curious practices, but another to see them firsthand.
The Bellamy Mansion Museum, 503 Market Street in Wilmington, North Carolina, is open Monday through Saturday, 10:00am to 5:00pm and Sunday 1:00pm to 5:00pm. Guided tours are available every hour on the hour, but you can take a self guided tour anytime. Admission is $12 for adults and $10 for seniors. Other discounts are available. Tour tickets are purchased in the gift shop. For more info, call (910) 251-3700.