Joel Lane, the “Father of Wake County,” whose Georgian manor house survives on West Hargett Street, can also be credited with the genesis of another of Wake County’s architectural treasures, the Mordecai Mansion, most often called the Mordecai House by residents of the capital city. Colonel Lane began the house in 1785 and presented it as a wedding gift to son Henry and his new bride, Mary (Polly). When the newlywed Lanes took up residence the house stood just one and one half stories and contained three rooms. Soon, four daughters joined the Lane family.
Henry Lane died relatively young, at age 33, leaving widowed Mary with the responsibility of turning the ailing farm into a profitable enterprise, a task at which she summarily succeeded. After Mary’s passing, the Lane’s eldest daughter Margaret (Peggy) married a successful Jewish attorney from Warrenton named Moses Mordecai. Besides being non-observant in his faith, Moses had chosen for his bride a young Episcopalian woman, causing strain in the relationship with his family. Moses and Peggy were blessed with three children, living at the home built by Colonel Joel Lane until Peggy died in childbirth in 1821. Moses then married Ann (Nancy), Peggy’s younger sister, who bore him one more daughter.
In his will, Moses left money for the enlargement of the house and Nancy, acting as the executor, oversaw the addition of the massive south wing. Under Nancy’s direction, the modest house became a majestic neoclassical mansion adding eight additional rooms. Due to his bequest, the house began to bear the name of Moses Mordecai. Nancy continued to live in the home throughout her life, and raised all the Mordecai children as Episcopalians, attending Christ Church on Capital Square in Raleigh.
At the age of 21, Moses and Peggy’s son, Henry, inherited the house. He took for his bride a distant cousin, Martha Hinton. Under Henry Mordecai, the plantation expanded to a massive holding of over 5,000 acres. Like all large southern plantations, the Mordecai’s relied on the labor of slaves, holding some 100 to 120 individuals in bondage to work the land. The Civil War, and subsequent end of slave labor, brought an end to the profitability of the plantation. The family began to sell parcels of land, raising money in order to reinvest.
Henry Mordecai died in 1875, and the family continued to live in the house, still selling off parcels of land, as needed, to reinvest the money until Miss Patty Mordecai died in 1949, leaving the house to her youngest nephew, Burke Haywood Little, who was the last family member to own and live in the house. When Mr. Little’s health failed, he negotiated a deal with the City of Raleigh: the city would pay for his medical care for the remainder of his life. In exchange, the city would receive title to the property upon his death, on the condition that it be operated as a historic site.
Other structures have been relocated from across Wake County and North Carolina to join the Mordecai Mansion in what has become a historic park, operated since 1979. Along with the Mordecai Mansion, the additional structures on the property comprise some of North Carolina’s most important treasures: the birthplace of President Andrew Johnson (c. 1795), the Badger-Iredell Law Office (c. 1810), the Allen Kitchen (c. 1842), and St. Mark’s Chapel (c. 1847). All are open for the public to see and enjoy.
The Mordecai Historic Park is located at 1 Mimosa Street in Raleigh, NC. Tours are offered on the hour, Tuesday – Saturday from 10am – 4pm, and on Sundays from 1pm – 4pm. The last tour begins at 3pm. For admission rates, special events, and more information, call 919-857-4364.