The William Hollister House in New Bern Gets New Life
If you have ever visited Tryon Palace in New Bern, North Carolina, you probably walked by the William Hollister House located at the corner of Broad and George Streets. And if you have been to New Bern recently, you may have noticed that the home has had a major renovation bringing it back to its original beauty. Rachel Brown Hall and Bill Cobb, both Class of 1984 at Davidson College, bought the home in 2018 and renovated from 2018-2021. They worked with the New Bern Historical Society, the State of North Carolina, Preservation Foundation of NC, _Tryon Palace, and architectural historian, Peter Sandbeck, to ensure the historical accuracy of the renovations. Rachel and Bill purchased the house from the Palace after it stood empty for over 20 years.
The William Hollister House was built in 1839-1841 by ship owner, banker, and merchant, William Hollister, who had moved to New Bern from Connecticut in the late 1700s. Mr. Hollister was a founding member of New Bern Presbyterian Church (now First Presbyterian Church) and a quiet but very prominent member of New Bern and North Carolina society.
The home retains its original floor plan with amazing woodwork. It was one of the last Federal side-hall designed homes to be built in New Bern and it features Greek revival interior accents. The home stands three stories tall with a brick basement. There is a north and a south parlor as well as seven fireplaces. The staircase has mahogany handrails and spindles and wave brackets.
The interior walls are all horsehair plaster, and the floors are original heart pine. The tin roof (tin over cypress shingles) is original, as are most of the windows. Some of the windows are actually signed (most likely with a diamond) by various Hollister family members.
There is another Davidson connection in addition to current owners, Rachel and Bill. William Hollister (grandson of the home’s original builder and owner) graduated from Davidson College in 1916. We think William’s father also graduated from Davidson as did William’s son. Several other Hollister men also attended Davidson, most recently William and Robert who were at Davidson with Rachel’s father and Chuck who was at Davidson with Bill’s father. The Hollister family also intermarried with other New Bern families with Davidson ties.
The house retains two mostly benevolent ghosts. One, who is believed be Janet Hollister, the original mistress of the house, tends to reside on the first floor. No one has actually seen her, but you smell her spectacular perfume and also sense her presence. The second ghost, believed to be Thomas Hollister, is a former freed slave who was the original William Hollister’s butler and right-hand man. He resides in the basement and has been seen by two of the home’s restoration workers. Neither person worked in house at the same time and neither knew each other, but each gave the same exact description of the apparition. Thomas can be truculent, especially if you are behaving poorly (one of the workers was a junkie), cussing, or causing a problem. He clearly protects the house. Thomas also has a quirky side, as he likes to turn on the basement lights from time-to-time.
The house was part of the Union Army headquarters complex (paymaster’s office) during the Civil War. New Bern was the first major Confederate port captured by the Union and was under Union occupation from March 1862 to the end of Reconstruction.
The William Hollister House has been on The National Register of Historic Places since 1972.
Bill and Rachel love to display the house and love visitors. Stop by when you are in New Bern!
Allyson Ray has lived in and loved Davidson since 1996. She is a retired financial planner who enjoys retirement more than anyone she knows.