For almost 200 years, sailing ships entering Beaufort Inlet and Bulkhead Channel into Taylor's Creek have viewed the Duncan House anchoring the west of the Beaufort waterfront. Built by James Davis in 1815, Davis sold the original east side in 1820 to Captain Benjamin Tucker Howland; the selling price was $1000. Twelve years later, Captain Howland, father of Elicia Howland Duncan, sold the house and his part of their business to his son-in-law Thomas Duncan IV—all for only $600. Sometime after 1832, Thomas Duncan IV added the western half of the house. The lower level was built using several ships’ masts as supporting pillars. This level was used as a ship chandlery and store, patronized by visiting ships as well as local residents; it became known as “Duncan’s Store.”

Report from John P. Wood - SHPO

North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources
State Historic Preservation Office
May 18, 2012
(Below transcribed, for easier reading, from an original copy)

From:   John P. Wood – North Carolina State Historic Preservation Office
To:       Victor Flow
 Richard Hall – Joyce & Assoc. Construction, Inc.
 Kyle Garner – Town Planner

SUBJECT: Duncan House, 105 Front Street, Beaufort, Carteret County

At the request of Mr. Flow and his representative, on May 3, 2012, Claudia Brown, Scott Power, Reid Thomas and I met for approximately three hours onsite with Richard Hall at the Duncan House in Beaufort. Town Planner Kyle Garner was also present. The purpose of the meeting was to examine the condition and integrity of the building. The Duncan House is a contributing property in the National Register-listed Beaufort Historic District. On-site inspection consisted of visual examination of the exterior of the building, the interior rooms and the attic. Where accessible, spaces behind the attic knee walls and the crawl space were also examined. Digital photographs of these spaces were taken and copies of these photographs have been provided to Mr. Hall and Mr. Garner in CD format.

1913 Sanborn Map
Key to 1913 Sanborn Map
1913 Sanborn Map
O = Slate or Tin Roof
X =  Shingle Roof
Visual inspection revealed that the building experienced numerous alterations throughout the historic period. The house originated with the eastern portion, a ca.1800 two-and-a-half story side-gable dwelling. During the second quarter of the nineteenth century a two-and-a-half story side-gable addition was added to the west elevation of the existing house. At the same time, a two-story porch was added to the south (front) elevation, while a two-story addition that may have either been an open porch or enclosed space was built across the north (rear) elevation of the enlarged structure. To accommodate the front and rear additions, the roof pitch of the original portion of the house was modified, creating the current roofline. The change in the roofline and the front and rear additions resulted in a cohesive building mass. Prior to 1900, a one-story gable-roof wing with inset porch was added to the north elevation of the rear addition. A masonry cistern with a barrel vault roof and stepped parapet ends is located immediately adjacent to the inset porch. By December of 1913 a second one-story gable roof wing with an integral porch had been added to the western end of the early nineteenth-century rear addition resulting in the existing building footprint.

There also were numerous alterations to the interior of the house throughout the historic period, many of which provide insight into changes in the use of interior spaces. For example, when the two-story addition was added to the rear of the building a stair was constructed in this space. The original stair in the ca.1800 portion of the building was removed. The layout and finishes in the larger of the western-most rooms on the first floor are consistent with the oral tradition and documentation, which indicates that this space served as a commercial or utilitarian space, a ship’s chandlery. The smaller of these two rooms, which historically had no windows on the western elevation, likely functioned as the non-public secure store room for the store. Based on historic photographs, the first-floor windows on the western elevation are later additions, likely contemporaneous with the second, one-story gable-roof wing that was added to the north elevation. Lack of windows in this location adds credence that this area of the house served as commercial or utilitarian space as security would have been a concern. Another interesting feature is the presence of the hanging flue and its original supporting truss system in the western gable end of the house. This indicated that the store room space was historically not heated, and that the second-floor room above the store was heated by means of a stove that was vented through the flue. Woodwork is present from all periods of the house’s development.

The house has been rehabilitated in recent times and has been equipped with two modern kitchens, modern bathrooms, and upgraded mechanical and plumbing systems. These most recent changes have not adversely affected the historic character and integrity of the house.

The Duncan House is in good overall condition and retains a high degree of historic integrity. The building is structurally sound, showing little evidence of deterioration or damage. In our examination of the crawlspace, we noted that despite the building sitting close to the ground, the deterioration of the sills and elements of the flooring system appear to be minimal. It is also interesting to see the use of ballast stone and shell in the construction of the foundation piers and chimney base of the earliest portion of the house. No settlement was noted in the masonry foundation.

The structure can be easily and cost effectively rehabilitated. Financial incentives, such as utilization of the rehabilitation tax credits could make the rehabilitation of the house even more attractive. Our office is happy to work with the owner and contractor, providing technical assistance and guidance for its preservation and rehabilitation. Without knowing either the owner’s desired use of the existing spaces for the overall programmatic use, we can not provide specific recommendations for its rehabilitation at this time.

The Duncan House is a very important property in the Beaufort Historic District. Historically this house, as well as this part of Beaufort, was considered to be important, as is evident from the large number of historic photographs that show both the house and this end of Front Street. With the loss of historic properties on the waterfront, the Duncan House is now the only historic building visible from Gallants Channel as you enter Beaufort from the west making the building immediately noticeable and visually prominent. As a house form, it is an excellent representative example of a building exhibiting the iconic Beaufort-style roof and double-tier porch. The Duncan House is also very important as a rare-surviving example of a building that includes both residential and commercial spaces. The way the house expresses change over time is another of its significant aspects. It not only shows how the differentiation of private domestic space and public commercial space dealt with historically, but also in a larger sense it speaks to the evolution of the domestic, commercial, and social realms in the town of Beaufort.

As architectural historians, we greatly appreciated the opportunity to look at the Duncan House and would be happy to make a return visit for a closer study that could yield additional information about the building’s history. We look forward to working with you as you develop and carry out plans for the house.

NOTE: 1913 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map images added by author of this site.