The Bellamy Mansion in Wilmington, North Carolina, was built 1859-1861 by Dr. John Dillard Bellamy for his wife Eliza and growing family of eventually 10 children. Located in the downtown area, Bellamy Mansion includes the house, slave quarters and surrounding gardens. Its history includes a horrific fire, subsequent restoration and recent slave quarters renovation. It is open to the public for tours as well as events. This author asked Operations Manager Leslie Randle-Morton a few questions about Bellamy Mansion and her role there.
Interview with the mansion’s operations manager, Leslie Randle-Morton
What is your background?
Born and raised in Tupelo, MS, I attended the University of Mississippi and received my bachelor's degree in elementary education in 2003. After teaching language arts and social studies at the middle school level for almost a decade in Pontotoc, MS, my husband and I relocated to Wilmington, NC, where I pursued and obtained my master's degree in public history from the University of North Carolina Wilmington in 2016. My dream since I was a small child was to work in a museum in some capacity. I have loved history for my entire life, and working in a house museum ended up a perfect fit for all of my loves and skills.
How did you come to serve in this capacity?
Whilst in graduate school, I obtained a part time job at the Bellamy Mansion Museum working on the weekends giving tours and managing the site. Eventually, I also took on the role of archivist and in-house researcher where I was able to develop educational programs, historical exhibits, and maintain the museum's collections. I was tapped for the full time position of Operations Manager when a colleague moved to the West coast, and it was just remarkable timing as I had recently graduated from UNCW.
Is the "museum" mentioned on your website the house itself?
The Bellamy Mansion Museum is a site comprised of 2 original buildings (the 1859 slave quarters and the 1861 mansion) along with 2 reconstructed buildings (the carriage house which is now our visitors' center and gift shop space and the poultry shed which is now the restrooms).
What is your favorite item in the museum?
We are not a fully furnished house museum which was intentional when the museum opened as a stewardship property of Preservation North Carolina in 1994 (we are celebrating our 25th anniv. as a museum under Preservation North Carolina this year). We consider ourselves more like a community hub as we host almost 50 events a year and are a rental space for private events like weddings. My "favorite" part of the museum is the original slave quarters. The two-story brick building, once ubiquitous in cities where slavery was legal, is now a rare building. It is my favorite part of the site because the structure, which is one of the only restored urban slave dwellings open to the public on the East coast, allows visitors to learn about the realities of slavery in cities in an authentic setting. Most visitors' knowledge about American slavery comes from resources that often only involve rural slavery--from literature to Hollywood productions.
What seems to be the most popular with visitors?
Being a house museum, people get excited about the entirety of the site--the fact that you can learn about the lives of the wealthy Southern planter family and the lives of their domestic enslaved workers in authentic settings. Often, antebellum house museums do not retain original outbuildings like the original slave quarters--many were converted after the Civil War and then torn down once they fell into disrepair--so the opportunity to experience a virtually intact urban antebellum compound is fascinating to visitors including international visitors.
What is the oldest item in the museum or on the grounds?
There are some furnishings which date back to the early 19th century--antiques the family brought with them when they moved into the home in 1861. The oldest structure is the slave quarters--completed in 1859 by enslaved workers to house the enslaved laborers Dr. Bellamy employed to build the mansion between 1859-1861.
What do you enjoy about working here?
There is never a dull moment working at an historic site which also hosts many events and sees approximately 28,000 visitors per year. I enjoy the historical research and exhibit design aspect as well as giving tours to school children, but I equally enjoy the event planning and hosting. The only aspect of my job that I frequently complain about is the sheer number of stairs I climb and descend each day.