When you pull up the long dirt drive of Purdie Hall, a grand house materializes out of the trees, and a pack of sweet pups greets you at the car.
It’s a surreal experience. Change out the car for a horse and buggy, and it feels like you’ve driven straight back into the early 19th century.
From this far off 87 in Tar Heel, you don’t hear much traffic. Instead, you hear a symphony of chickens clucking in their coop, birds chirping overhead, and a chorus of jarflies.
Something about the property brings stillness to the mind – and peace to the soul.
I’ve wanted to see Purdie Hall for years – and there it stood. A 200-year-old relic. A survivor.
Andrew Ownbey met me at the brick walkway. We stood in the light drizzle of Ophelia as he talked about how God opened the doors that allowed him to purchase Purdie Hall in 2018.
Standing on the porch, Andrew talked about the man who built the house, James Samuel Purdie.
James, son of Hugh Purdie, was raised by his mother, Elizabeth O’Neal, and Col. James Richardson at Harmony Hall. James served alongside his stepfather as a private on the Continental Line.
He married Sarah Bailey of Wilmington, and the young couple settled down the river from Col. Richardson. They had two children: Elizabeth and James Bailey Purdie.
Their first home was a modest dwelling situated on 1,920 acres. The family supported themselves by using the longleaf pines on their property to produce turpentine, tar, and other naval stores.
During the 1780s, James dabbled in politics and served as sheriff of Bladen County.
Though the Purdies had vast land holdings, they continued to live in their small home until James amassed enough wealth to build a larger house on the south side of the river.
Purdie Hall was completed before 1809 on a bluff overlooking the Cape Fear. The opulent new home boasted Flemish bond brick construction, double porticos on the front and back, and nine-over-nine windows.
It’s easy to imagine what the house might have looked like when the Purdies moved in. In my mind, I see it in its original ocher shade with cedar shingles, haint blue porch ceilings, and jostling boards on either side of the entryway.
Unfortunately, I don’t think Sarah lived to see it. She is not buried in the Purdie Family Cemetery that Andrew pointed out off to the right of the Federal-style house. If she is, it is in an unmarked grave. The first known burial in the cemetery was Elizabeth O’Neal Purdie Richardson in 1808.
From the porch, Andrew guided me into the narrow center hall. A staircase rises to the right. We walked past it into the kitchen.
On the way, I noted how much work has been done to bring Purdie Hall back to life – and how much more needs to be done.
The kitchen has antiques stuffed in every nook and cranny. Andrew is a historical preservationist and antique dealer. We chit-chatted about his work and our families. His wife is a midwife who homeschools their two daughters.
It made me smile. An old school family living in an old school house. It’s perfect.
After a cup of coffee, Andrew guided me into the office/library. The room is littered with history books and artifacts he discovered around the grounds. Musket balls, boot scrapers, and E. A. Poe bricks.
In the office, Andrew continued telling me about the Purdie family. After Sarah Bailey Purdie passed away, James married Mary Jane Smith.
Mary was pregnant at the time of James’s death in 1818. James provided for his widow and unborn child in his will but left the bulk of his estate, including Purdie Hall, to his son, James Bailey Purdie.
The widow married Alexander McDowell. The two helped manage the estate throughout the Antebellum period until their deaths.
James Bailey Purdie married Ann Maria Smith. The couple had three children: Sarah Ann Purdie, John Wesley Purdie, and Thomas James Purdie. Presumably, they were all born in Purdie Hall.
When James passed away in 1835, the grand home passed to Ann Maria. Sarah Ann died a year after her daddy.
By 1850, the Purdie estate included 500 acres of improved land and 2,812 acres of unimproved land.
Andrew stopped his story to ask if I knew about Purdie Hall’s connection to Stonewall Jackson. I did not. He stood and led me across the hall into the dining room. A print of Stonewall hangs over the fireplace.
Thomas James Purdie was the regimental commander who issued the orders resulting in the friendly fire incident that claimed Stonewall Jackson’s life on May 2, 1863.
Thomas was killed in action the next day. His body was returned home to Purdie Hall by train, where he was laid to rest in the family cemetery.
As Andrew talks about the other children of James and Ann Purdie, he leads me up the stairs onto the rear second-story portico. A narrow staircase ascends into the attic.
On the way up, Andrew points out the original shingles hidden beneath a home addition and an access door to the roof. The large room extends from end to end of the home. It could easily be converted into another living space.
A few random objects are stored up there – one of the original octagonal portico columns and a lid from a shipping container.
The shipping container lid came from Purdie Landing. In need of a quick and easy way to ship their goods to Wilmington, the family created a dock behind their home on the Cape Fear River.
You can’t see the Cape Fear from the house today. Woods block the view, but it’s easy to imagine standing on the upper porch watching goods drift by on the river below.
The landing was likely in use when Ann deeded her son, John, the family home, and a portion of property before she passed away.
John served in the North Carolina House of Commons, 1858-1859, and the Senate, 1868-1869. The 14th Amendment prevented him from running for office after the end of the Civil War.
Andrew gave me a brief tour of the upstairs, where the Purdie family bedrooms were. They’re used for the same purpose today, though an indoor restroom has been added.
After peeking in the bedrooms, Andrew led me downstairs into the basement. I was amazed to find it has its own fireplace and exit to the side yard. The room serves as a laundry room and storage space. It’s packed full of furniture Andrew is restoring for his clients.
We made our way back up to the hall and made small talk with his wife in the center hall. Andrew said Purdie Hall passed from John to his wife Sally to be held in trust for their children in 1884.
John’s descendants owned the home until 1946 when they sold it to S. A. Bledsoe. It was sold multiple times over the years. Bledsoe sold the property to Dr. David Lloyd Pate, who then sold it to the Mitchell family.
It sat vacant for decades before the Ownbey family moved in.
As I gathered my things to leave, Andrew gifted me with a book about North Carolina Architecture. It was the sweetest gesture. He and his family are the epitome of Southern class.
I confessed to him that I found Purdie Hall in 2018 when the historic home was listed for sale. I begged Brandon to take me to look at it. He said no. Even if we could afford the property, we couldn’t afford the restoration. He was right.
Purdie Hall needed to go to a family who could bring it back to its original luster – and it did.