Russellborough doesn’t look like much now, but once upon a time, these ruins were one of the nicest homes along the North Carolina coast. Now, its spaciousness comes from the cavernous pavilion that protects the houses’ remains.
By the outline of stone and brick on the excavated ground, though, the house must have once been quite impressive. The stump of a stone fireplaces rise from the edge of the far foundation. A round brick cylinder marks the location of an indoor well. The house apparently had a secret passage that allowed residents to escape trouble, too.
Russellborough once served as the home for North Carolina’s colonial governors, Dobbs and Tryon. Built in 1751 by Captain John Russell, the house stood 56 x 65 feet and rose two stories. Several outbuildings completed the estate.
The house sat on the edge of Brunswick Town, a settlement on the west bank of the Cape Fear River. Russellboro was offered to Governor Arthur Dobbs as an incentive to move to there, which he did in 1758. By 1759, though, he moved to New Bern to escape the climate.
In 1760, Dobbs’ eventual successor, William Tryon, moved to Brunswick Town. When Dobbs died in 1765, Tyron was appointed new colonial governor—just in time to catch flak from local citizens over the British Stamp Act. Citizens put Tryon under house arrest. Tryon, too, eventually moved to New Bern.
The relocation of the governor—apparently made permanent in 1776 when the British burned Russellboro during the Revolutionary War—led to the eventual decline of Brunswick Town, which was soon eclipsed by the growth of nearby Willmington. Today, little remains of the settlement beyond ruins, the skeleton of St. Philip’s Church, and the pavilion-protected foundation of Russellborough. The area is administered by the state as a North Carolina Historic Site along with the remains of the Civil War-era Fort Anderson.
(My thanks to Mike Powell and Wally Rueckel of the Brunswick Civil War Roundtable for taking the time to show me Russellborough, Brunswick Town, and Ft. Anderson)