Blandwood’s story begins in 1795, when Charles Bland built a four-room Federal style farm house on a wooded hill in rural Guilford County. It predates the founding of the City of Greensboro in 1808.
The house was expanded from four rooms to six rooms in 1822-23 by subsequent owners, Letty Lindsay and Henry Humphreys. The Humphreys were merchants who operated the first steam-powered textile mill in North Carolina, the Mt. Hecla Cotton Mill.
Morehead (1796-1866) first came to Greensboro at age 16 to study under Dr. David Caldwell at the renowned “Log Cabin School.” Upon completing his studies with Dr. Caldwell at age 19, he attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, entering as a junior. Upon graduation Morehead read law with Archibald Murphy, a well-regarded North Carolina lawyer.
At the age of 25, Morehead began his long political career. On August 9, 1821, he was elected by the voters of Rockingham County to serve in the NC House of Commons. Shortly after, on August 25, Morehead married Ann Eliza Lindsay and moved to her childhood home in Martinville. In 1826 he was elected by the voters of Guilford County to the NC House of Commons. Eliza Lindsay and John Motley Morehead purchased the property known as Blandwood in 1827 from Eliza’s step father, Henry Humphreys.
Morehead was elected to serve consecutive two-year terms as North Carolina’s governor from 1841-1845. As a Whig, he supported an ambitious program of internal improvements including a statewide rail and water transportation system, free public schools, more humane treatment of deaf and blind children, prisoners, and the mentally ill. He was criticized by some for supporting suffrage for free men of color, and education and trade among all people of color. These policies were progressive for the Old North State, earning him the nickname, “Father of Modern North Carolina.”
The Morehead family managed operations of the house through enslaved workers. Though few names are known, it is believed Hannah Jones held the role of household duties, and Tinnan Morehead was tasked with care of animals and the gardens. Though Eliza Morehead, raised among families who were Abolitionist Quakers, discouraged enslavement, sixteen people were held in bondage at Blandwood by 1860.
The Morehead family grew to include eight children and continued to live in the six room farmhouse that was Blandwood. Upon the end of his service as Governor, Morehead felt that he could illustrate the new progressive nature of the state by commissioning a dramatic addition to his home. He selected Alexander Jackson Davis, an architect with whom he was familiar as a designer of the North Carolina State House. Governor Morehead was the first governor to serve in the completed State Capital building.
A Center of Influence
Governor Morehead commissioned architect A. J. Davis to design a substantial addition to Blandwood in 1844. When this addition was completed in 1846, it was among the earliest examples of the Italianate style in the nation. As earlier examples have been destroyed, Blandwood has been preserved as the oldest surviving example in the United States. The Davis addition more than doubled the square footage of the old house, and expanded two dependencies to include an office, library, and a kitchen.
Governor and Mrs. Morehead would live at Blandwood until their respective deaths in 1866 and 1868. Their youngest son, Eugene Morehead, was unmarried and living at home, and he inherited Blandwood. After living at Blandwood for a few years, during which he built a windmill-power water pump on the property, Eugene married Lucy Lathrop and they moved to her hometown, Savannah, Georgia.
The last members of the Morehead family to live at Blandwood were Emma Morehead and Julius Gray who purchased the home from Emma’s brother Eugene. During the Gray family’s tenure some changes were made to the interior, but the house remained a center of influence for the community. Julius Gray was one of the founding members of the Greensboro Chamber of Commerce, the Greensboro Bank and Trust and served as President of the Cape Fear and Yadkin Valley Railroad Company. The Gray’s lived at Blandwood until 1896, when most of the family died during a tuberculosis epidemic.
The Keeley Institute
Upon the death of Emma Morehead Gray in 1896, her remaining brothers and sisters were faced with the dilemma of what to do with Blandwood. They were approached by Col. William Osbourne, who wanted to rent Blandwood for use as a Keeley Institute, a franchise of hospitals to treat alcohol and drug addiction. Initially renting Blandwood, the Keeley Institute would purchase Blandwood in January of 1906. Several new buildings were added to the campus, and the two dependencies were torn down, but the main house remained remarkably intact. The Keeley Institute operated at Blandwood until 1961.
Preservation Greensboro Incorporated Saves and Restores Blandwood
By 1966, Blandwood stood empty and in danger of demolition. At this time, Preservation Greensboro Incorporated was formed to serve as a voice for community-wide preservation. Its first project was to save and to restore Blandwood as a museum.
The restoration of the main house took ten years and Blandwood was opened to the public in 1976 as part of the country’s bicentennial celebration. In 1984, after archaeological investigation on the property, the two dependencies, law office, and kitchen, were reconstructed. Morehead descendants and benefactors have assisted in donating several early pieces back to the museum to establish a remarkable collection of period decorative arts that are original to the house.
Blandwood is owned, operated and maintained as a museum by the private non-governmental organization Preservation Greensboro Incorporated.