Daily tours of the Manor House provide a unique opportunity to admire the grandeur and craftsmanship of coastal plantation living. The Manor House at Poplar Grove was built by a few skilled slaves descended from the Foy family through the Gullah Geechee traditions of pre-revolutionary slaves brought down from Onslow County through the marriages of prominent Revolutionary War families in New Bern, including Colonel Henry Rhodes and Captain James Foy, Sr.
The construction skills of Foy male slaves, included well-developed trades in blacksmithing, masonary, woodworking, saw milling, and plaster of Paris molding and skim work. Agriculturally, the skills of successfully growing sweet potatoes and peanuts in the sandy soil of the coastal Carolinas mirrored the farming techniques of West African practices introduced by the Spaniards.
The wealth of the Foy family was built upon the skills of these pre-Revolutionary African fathers and mothers, who trained their sons and daughters to practice a trade most valued by white planters to ensure the close network of their family ties and the care in which they may or not receive from a plantation owner or business merchant. The enslaved sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, in the Foy family household were gifted as dowry to help start the homes of the newly married sons and daughters of Captain James Foy, Sr., of Onslow County.
If not through marriage dowries, then by inheritance, the lives of the Foy household slaves could change dramatically, so that slave families were split up among Foy family descendants from New Bern to Wilmington to Winston-Salem, and other parts unknown. Onslow County records indicate that a male slave of one Foy family escaped to find his young family which had been deeded to another Foy descendant, and that one Foy master was much crueler to his slaves than his younger brothers.
It is this journey of sons and daughters, masters and slaves, that led Joseph Mumford Foy, grandson of Captain James Foy, Sr., to construct his own family home and plantation compound with the trade and agricultural skills of his male slaves, in particular. Upon completion, Joseph Mumford Foy took out an insurance policy on his newly constructed house and kitchen on April 25, 1853. The description of which reads as follows:
Poplar Grove in New Hanover County on South of New Bern Road 12 miles from Wilmington, 1/4 mile from Scotts Hill. House of wood with brick basement, tin roof, scuttle. Kitchen, wood, both new. House 2-1/2 stories, 42′ x 34′, 4 chimneys, 12 fireplaces, double piazzas on one side. Kitchen 1-1/2 story, 30′ x 15′, 1 chimney, 3 fireplaces, cook stove. House ’15 from kitchen. No other building having chimney within 100′.
This well-constructed home, strategically located for railroad and water shipments, was constructed not only by Joseph Mumford Foy’s inherited male slaves, but also the slaves provided to set up his household through the marriage of his wife, Mary Ann Simmons Foy.
Since 1853, the house and grounds of Poplar Grove have undergone periods of peak production and gradual decline, only to be resurrected again and again because of its historical value to the local community of Scotts Hill, North Carolina, and its representation of southern coastal life in the Lower Cape Fear Region and as an echo of the Gullah Geechee traditions of its former slaves.
The property, including Manor House, was purchased from the Foy family in 1971. The house and remaining outbuildings, including the kitchen and smokehouse, underwent extensive renovations. In 1980, the house and grounds were opened to the public for guided tours, including a tea room for light lunches in the brick basement, and a Country Store and gift shop in a former three car garage adjacent to the north side of the manor house.
After three decades of public viewing, the manor house had suffered considerably, both from daily wear and tear, and from several hurricanes in the 1990s that crippled the “double piazzas” that overlooked the layout of what was once a thriving farm, supporting more than seven tenant farming families – the descendants of Foy household slaves who remained on the plantation after Emancipation.
Since January 2013, the Manor House has gone through several stages of restoration, renovation and preservation. Most notably was a new roof, which after years of minor repairs, had caused serious leaks along all four exterior and interior walls. The interior French gutter system was also repaired where possible, replaced as necessary, then fully lined, and finally restored at a considerable expense.
Work was completed on the north side principle rooms of the Manor House in 2013, including plaster repairs and paint matched to an original color of pale yellow.
Two fire places were stripped in the dining room and front morning room. Once stripped, the fireplaces revealed several varieties of wood, including pine, poplar, and oak, evidence of several previous additions. Consensus was to apply a walnut stain to the fireplaces to complement the major architectural element in the main hallway, the original walnut staircase.
On the third floor north back bedroom, a master bath added in the 1970s was gutted and turned into a beautiful bridal suite, so that a bride and her wedding party could dress and properly prepare to descend the main staircase in full regalia.
In the summer of 2013, the “double piazzas” on the back of the Manor House were completely replaced, including new beams, flooring, posts, and columns as well as a new back staircase, which also had to be replaced.
If you have driven by Scotts Hill in the last year, then certainly you will have noticed the exterior of the Manor House is now its original white. The shutters are in serious disrepair and to replace will come at quite a large expense. We have plans to start a shutter campaign!
In the winter of 2014, renovations continued on the interior of the Manor House, including the south side rooms, the upstairs’ floors, and the basement gift shop.
The two parlors on the main floor were emptied of furniture, carpets, family heirlooms, paintings and Victorian prints, so that plaster repair, trim work, and painting could begin.
The Sherwin Williams paint colors for the front and back parlors were selected based upon an earlier sample of red faux marble trim dating from the late Victorian period, which was a very popular technique at the time,though quickly became out of fashion just as wallpaper featuring Greek columns also went out of fashion.
Because red marble has a wide color spectrum representing a variety of corals, reds, oranges and purples, Silk Brocade in the front parlor references not only the historic colors of Charleston but also southern coastal cities stretching along the Gullah Geechee Corridor and the port city of New Orleans. The front parlor was traditionally where the man of the house retired after dinner. This more formal and masculine room was also the most publicly viewed room.
The back parlor at Poplar Grove was a more private and informal room, where babies were born and where the sick were tended. To complement the stronger Silk Brocade color, Youthful Coral was chosen for the back parlor. This color is also referenced in the stitching of the original Foy family parlor set.
Like the north side rooms, the hardwood floors in the four south side principle rooms were refinished from 40 years of public tours.
Because the main central hallway and winter bedroom had been transformed to mimic a northern brownstone walk-up for an Oprah Winfrey production, The Wedding, in the 1990s, the dark and flowery late Victorian wallpaper was removed and a color for the walls was chosen from a Foy family bedspread from 1857.
The siding on the north side wing require complete replacement as well as two windows in the bridal suite that face the back of the property. Dependent upon funding, donations and public support, we have plans to finish gutting the basement and basement rooms on both wings. One side of the basement wing was once a respite for Robert Lee Foy, Sr.’s prized chickens, and the other designed as sleeping quarters for the Whitings’ chauffeur, cousins of the Foy family who came down from New York during the hunting season by rail – their car as well!
Poplar Grove is not supported by county, state or federal funding, but through donations and revenue generated by tours, fund-raising events, and facility rentals. As a non-profit organization, all income supports the operational costs of maintaining 15+ acres, several outbuildings, the Manor House as well as animal and school programs, and more mundane but necessary costs, such as utilities, waste disposal, insurance, and taxes.
Such positive changes are taking place so that future generations can continue to experience the history of one family, who lived the American dream through all the political and social turmoil that is living in a democracy. From Civil War to Civil Rights, the Foy family household, both white and black, had to continually negotiate the sea tides of change in southeastern North Carolina.
Come see what is on the other side of the northern New Hanover County line.
Welcome to Pender County! Welcome to Poplar Grove!