In The News
Duke Mansion retains legacy of luxury, charm.
By AMANDA J. MILLER / Staff
©The Atlanta Journal - Constitution
The bowels of the Duke Mansion once had space for 14 cars.
When James Buchanan "Buck" Duke owned the place in the early
1920s, it was outfitted with a carwash, auto service area and gas pump,
though it's doubtful that the founder of American Tobacco Co. and Duke
Power, for whom Duke University is named, filled his own tank.
Living like the rich and famous on an overnight trip, we thought it too
common to ask.
Well, actually, we were in one of the lowest-priced rooms of the 20 in
the mansion, formally known as the Duke Mansion Historic Inn and Meeting
Place, now a bed-and-breakfast and corporate retreat.
But even in a third-floor, dormer-window "treetop room," only
large enough for a queen bed, desk, easy chair and TV, we felt as special
as the guests staying in the Dukes' former spacious bedrooms, with their
king beds and French doors leading to private screened sleeping porches.
Perhaps even as privileged as the guests in the best room in the house
--- the one honeymooners choose --- not only spacious with a king bed,
but also with a Roman spa tub and shower for two.
Though the Dukes and their daughter Doris slept in grander quarters than
we did in this 32,000-square-foot home, they walked the same beautiful
grounds. And perhaps felt the same sense of peace visitors do today.
Their old homeplace was built in Colonial Revival style in 1915 by Zeb
Taylor, but Buck Duke tripled its size. The home has changed hands several
times since Duke died in 1925, and its grounds have shrunk from 14 acres
to 4.5. At one time, the home was split into condominiums, but it was
rescued by Rick and Dee Ray, founders of Raycom Sports, in 1989. They
restored it, and eventually sold it to the Lynnwood Foundation, a nonprofit
corporation that has maintained the home since 1996.
The home, on the National Register of Historic Places, welcomes corporate
gatherings, charity functions, family reunions, business travelers or
couples and families looking for a special getaway. The inn is operated
as a nonprofit with all of the proceeds being used to preserve it.
The mansion is a monument to elegant and lavish living, with a staff
worthy of its mega-rich former owners:
- A houseman, polishing the marble entryway when
we checked in, recommended we stroll the grounds
and the surrounding neighborhood of upscale homes
set amid giant trees surrounding Myers Park.
Within walking distance are antique shops, art
galleries, gift shops, clothing boutiques and
restaurants. The mansion is two miles from uptown
Charlotte and four miles from Southpark Mall.
- The afternoon desk clerk overheard us oohing
over the chandeliered ballroom, big enough to
accommodate 100, and lamenting that we couldn't
try it out. He popped a CD into the room's elaborate
stereo system and left us to our private dancing.
- A staffer serving cocktails to lawyers gathered
for a corporate retreat
in the mansion's solarium asked if we'd like one, then suggested we
might enjoy it in the library, where games and videos are available
- The night desk clerk discussed the merits of
several restaurants in all price ranges for our
evening meal. We opted for the Providence Cafe,
a trendy restaurant with an eclectic selection
and fun atmosphere, because it was within walking
distance. (Try the grilled yellowfin tuna with
a honey tamari glaze, Asian slaw and jasmine
rice cake, and steamed broccoli for $16.95, or
slow-roasted prime rib with whipped red potatoes
and steamed asparagus, with au jus and horsey
sauce, petit $15.95, or large $18.95.)
- Groundskeeper John Neville took us on a tour
of the estate, showing us the 14-car basement
and the flowers, shrubs and trees he tends, including
a tulip poplar that is one of the historic Treasure
Trees in Mecklenburg County. Neville also grows
a garden for executive chef John Morey. Heirloom
tomatoes, squash, spinach, eggplant and other
vegetables and herbs go straight from the garden
into dishes prepared for group functions and
for breakfasts. In spring and summer, a packet
of herbs from Neville's garden is placed in each
guest room, along with a recipe.
Dan and Delia McMullen of Charlotte were celebrating
their 12th anniversary the same weekend we visited
with an overnight getaway from their 6- and 8-year-olds.
We shared a table in the library for a full, any-way-you-want-it
breakfast --- pancakes, waffles, eggs Benedict,
eggs-over-easy, omelets, cottage fries, fruit,
a dizzying array of choices, plus wonderful cheddar
The McMullens had stayed in a second-floor room that was originally part
of the home's guest wing, and toasted their anniversary with gin and
tonics on their screened porch.
"On our honeymoon in Barbados, we drank gin and tonics on our balcony, so
this was a nice reminder of that time," Delia McMullen said later. "It
was a perfect retreat within our own city and a special way to celebrate our
12th anniversary. We truly felt like we were guests in an elegant Southern home."
Just the way the Dukes, who were noted for their hospitality, would have
IF YOU GO
Charlotte is about 240 miles from downtown Atlanta, about a 3 1/2- to
four-hour drive. Take I-85 north to Exit 34, N.C. 27 east toward downtown.
To visit the Duke Mansion, merge onto Freedom Drive, which becomes
South Clarkson Street; then merge onto I-277 north/U.S. 74 east and
take the 2A Exit (N.C. 16 South/Kenilworth Avenue/Third Street/Fourth
Street); take the Kenilworth Avenue ramp and turn right, then left
on East Morehead Street, which becomes Queens Road. Turn left onto
South Edgehill Road to Hermitage Road. Information
The Duke Mansion, 400 Hermitage Road, Charlotte, NC 28207.
1.888.202.1009; www.dukemansion.com. Rates $169-$249, includes full breakfast;
rooms have fine linens and robes, a dedicated data port, personal voice-mail,
and a television with a VCR; 24-hour front desk; accessible rooms for
people with disabilities; entire inn is nonsmoking. Check for spring
and summer specials; when we visited in July, our room was $125.
Providence Cafe, 110 Perrin Place, Charlotte, NC 28207. 704-376-2008;
www.providencecafe.com. Appetizers $2.50-$10.95; salads, $5.50-$9.95;
entrees, $13.95-$21.95; desserts, $4.95; extensive wine list, speciality
martinis and specialty coffees.
Charlotte Convention and Visitors Bureau, 500 S. College St. Suite 300,
Charlotte, NC 28202. 800.722.1994; www.charlottecvb.org