An often overlooked historical date for New Bern was April 8, 1959.
That was the day that May Gordon Latham Kellenberger and North Carolina Gov. Luther Hodges cut the ribbon at the front gates of the rebuilt Tryon Palace on Pollock Street.
The Palace, of course, is the symbol of why New Bern is known as the Colonial Capital and in the past 60 years it has become the jewel in the tourism crown the city proudly wears.
Bill McCrea, the current executive director, calls the vision to rebuild the Palace “amazing,” adding “One wonders if such a monumental project could happen today.”
Rebuilding North Carolina’s first colonial capital brought New Bern into the limelight of state history.
And, for six decades, it has served the city well.
“The beauty of New Bern and its water orientation brought national attention to Tryon Palace and, in return, Tryon Palace aided the tourist economy of New Bern and Craven County,” McCrea said. “The redevelopment of downtown as a thriving business district is the result of the focused attention of the city and Swiss Bear. Today, New Bern and Tryon Palace blend history, gardens and a beautiful downtown into the total package for the community and its visitors.”
While supported by state and private funding, the Palace was in the long line of private and governmental entities hit by state budget cuts, beginning in 2012.
He said the Palace has survived and is solvent today because of strong public support.
“Through the dedicated support of our donors and advocates, the hard work of our volunteers, and the ingenuity of the staff, we enter our 60th year as a world-class museum and historic site,” McCrea said.
For fiscal year 2017-18, McCrea said the Palace funding saw $2.4 million in total state expenditures, and $2.2 million in total private expenditures.
A report by the Tryon Palace Commission to the North Carolina Legislature for fiscal year 2017-18 also showed $641,000 in gate admissions, which go toward a Sites and Garden Fund. The 2005 General Assembly-approved fund supports full time and temporary part-time maintenance personnel along with necessary repairs, renovations and maintenance.
“Revenue also comes from rentals of the site for special private events like weddings, sales from the Museum Store, and ticket sales for our events,” McCrea said. “As a state site, the Tryon Palace Commission helps fund our operations and keeps our doors open and lights on. Our collections and exhibits are under the care and stewardship of the Commission.”
The commission is made up of 25 members appointed by the Governor. They come from across the state and manage the Latham Trust for Tryon Palace.
Private funding comes through the Tryon Palace Foundation, which was formed in 1993. It is funded through donations and memberships of the community.
“The Foundation pays for the diverse and extensive programming we offer at Tryon Palace – from lectures to educational programs to cultural performances,” McCrea said. “Palace staff carefully plan these programs to ensure they reflect the mission of the Palace and provide a return on investment to our donors. We are a community asset and want to ensure we continue to reflect the community who supports us with their money, their time, and their emotional support.”
The Palace currently has a permanent staff of 54 full-time employees and 30 part-time employees. There is also a volunteer force from New Bern and surrounding communities of about 1,000 people,
The Palace, which added the North Carolina History Museum in 2010, continues to maintain and add to its attractions, he said.
“2019 is a great year for programming at Tryon Palace. We have a new lecture series called ‘First Fridays,’ which will cover various topics on the first Friday of each month,” he said. “We have introduced a second Revolutionary War-era interpretive unit, the 82nd Regiment of Foote, which is our British interpretive unit. In August, we will host our second annual Live and Local Beer Festival.”
Another project, coming in September, will be the second in a series of African American history symposiums. They will cover the topic of the United States Colored Troops.
Programs which have become visitor-favorites continue, such as the Glorious Fourth, Lantern on the Lawn, the Multicultural Fair, Garden Lovers’ weekends and the Christmas holiday Candlelight tours.
“As long as the people of Eastern North Carolina continue to ask for them, Tryon Palace strives to be a place where the community can gather to explore their history, share their present, and look forward to their collective future,” McCrea added.
Information about the Palace is online at tryonpalace.org
Charlie Hall can be reached at 252-635-5667 or 252-259-7585, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Facebook at Charlie Hall.