The Latimer House, built in 1852 by Zebulon Latimer, has housed the Historical Society since 1963 and is open to the public as an historic house exemplary of upper-class life in Wilmington during the Victorian period. With 14 rooms containing over 600 historic objects (including furniture, jewelry, ephemera, tableware, tools, and more,) the Latimer House evokes memories of a highly elegant era.
The house, built in the popular Italianate style, was designed to be symmetrical with a central hallway on each floor opening onto identical layouts to either side. On the first floor, the hallway divides the formal sitting and dining areas on the north side — used for entertaining and special occasions — from the less formal sitting rooms to the south.
Shown here is the southeast parlor. The coal-burning fireplace, like all the fireplaces on the first floor, is solid marble. The chandelier, original to the house, initially was a gasolier operated by coal gas. The house was later converted to electricity by William Latimer, Zebulon's son. The window, which reaches all the way to the floor, can double as a doorway out onto the side porch.
If you are looking for a charming and unique place for your meeting, luncheon, or party, then search no further than the Latimer House! Our Victorian inspired garden is the perfect place for your special photography session or to hone your artistic talents. The tearoom can accommodate your guests in a historic atmosphere. These spots are available seven days a week but reservations are required. Certain restrictions and fees apply. All funds go to support the Lower Cape Fear Historical Society, a 501 (c) (3) non-profit. Call (910) 762-0492 for more information or email at us /latimer-house.
The Latimer House gardens, enclosed in original stucco and lace-brick walls, overlook historic downtown Wilmington, and have been planted largely with flora authentic to the period.
Guided tours of the Latimer House interpreted by our trained docents are available for $12.00 per person. Children and students may tour the home for $6.00.. Members are welcome free of charge. The Latimer House is located at the corner of Third and Orange Streets in downtown Wilmington. Tickets for all three house museums in Wilmington—the Latimer House, the Bellamy Mansion, and the Burgwin-Wright House—are available for $28.00 from any of the museums. The Latimer House is not handicapped accessible.
The house is open for tours Monday through Saturday. Monday through Friday tours are at 11:00 am and 1:00 pm, Saturdays tours are on the hour beginning at 10:00 am with the last tour at 2:00 pm.
Walk and Talk Tours
Join us for an interactive guided tour though Wilmington's colorful history. A trained guide will lead you on an enchanting 1 1/2 hour tour of Historic Wilmington. Tours depart from the Latimer House front porch, 126 S. 3rd Street, Saturdays at 10 am. Cost is $12.00 per person, $10.00 for Military or AAA discount and $6.00 for Children/Students. Group rates for groups of 15 or more are available with reservations. Private tours can be arranged on other days.
Phone: (910)762-0492 Email: /latimer-house
Carolee Wood Morris
She never owned a home. She earned her own bread. Born into Queen Victoria’s Great Britain in 1865, Elisabeth Chant became anything but a typical Victorian lady. As an adult woman alone in an era of Victorian constraints, survival took courage. It required intelligence. After a lifetime’s journey, in 1922 at age 57 she moved to Wilmington, NC. Her plan: to teach art classes. If Miss Chant had chosen another city, Wilmington would today be a different place. This Victorian woman left an enduring legacy in Wilmington.
One of her pupils, Henry Jay MacMillan, described her initial effect on Wilmingtonians when first meeting her. He wrote that “Astonishment replaced curiosity when Miss Chant appeared--a tall, gaunt figure dressed in garments of her own design, entirely disregarding the fashions of the day. Her long, dark mahogany red hair was rolled in coils over each ear and held in place by a cord or bandeau. Her indifference to the opinions of others, her complete faith in herself and her special destiny, made it possible for her to move among the conventional inhabitants of Wilmington with assurance and modesty, quite unconscious of the startling effect her appearance made.
“She spoke in a modulated voice…the variety of her experience and her knowledge…fascinating. Her personality was all of a piece: her appearance, her voice, her mind, her beliefs, and her talent.” MacMillan became a successful artist, having first studied under the exacting tutelage of Elisabeth Chant.
Merle Chamberlain, an archivist of the Lower Cape Fear Historical Society, interviewed Henry MacMillan. She recorded MacMillan’s memories of Miss Chant in the pamphlet “Violet and Gold”. MacMillan opened a window onto his teacher’s activities in and influence over Wilmington’s cultural scene. As an “amazed fourteen-year old “, he and other students were invited to supper in her rented quarters in the Kidder house, located at the corner of Dock and South Third Street.
He described the dinner as elegant but not Southern or even American. Candles and fresh zinnias decorated the table. Miss Chant served “rice with a queer [eggplant] sauce…” in a red lacquer dish. Other courses consisted of “hard-boiled eggs, onions, and tomatoes…toast with…the same kind of sauce…fruit salad with no dressing…doughnuts with marmalade on them and then just plain whole apples.” He described her outfit as “a green silk, kimono-looking dress and a very wide gold lace thing around her head.”
Henry became a devoted student, apt and mature. In letters and observations, his descriptions of Elisabeth illuminate a remarkable human being. Elisabeth found a small house on Cottage Lane beside the Presbyterian Church. She moved in and there spent her most productive Wilmington years. In the Hart Wine House behind her Cottage Lane home, she taught pottery, painting, batik, tie-dying, and jewelry making. Impressionism was not her style. During earlier art activities in Minneapolis, Minnesota, she had helped institute the arts and crafts movement. Temperamentally she favored Far Eastern culture, Druid and Arthurian folklore, medieval tales, and spiritual, idealistic themes. Several of her paintings survive, at times on display locally in the Cameron Art Museum.
She loved to paint flowers. Legends and symbols inspired her. In 1972, an exhibit at the St. John Museum--precursor to the Louise Cameron Art Museum--featured her paintings. The catalog introduction described her as “realistic and romantic…deeply engaged with life; savoring a cup of choice tea, painting a bouquet of tulips, yet…visionary and untouched by material needs.”
For an exhibition in 1993, Anne Brennan of St. John’s, conducted extensive research into Chant’s life and art. As an intern, then a volunteer at St. John’s, Brenda Page, became interested in Chant. Page conducted extensive research on Chant for her Master’s thesis at UNC-k Wilmington. Page wrote a definitive article for “The Bulletin”, published by the Lower Cape Fear Historical Society in Volume LI, No.2-April 2007.
MacMillan stated “Although she herself was all but penniless,” Elisabeth served meals and entertained students and friends in the Cottage Lane residence. She gave generously to the towns’ people and her students. They were her friends. She put on “amusements” for children, entertained guests, encouraged and inspired her pupils. Macmillan credited Miss Chant with instilling in them a professional sense of design. She demanded high standards.
Many of her pupils became leaders in Wilmington. Henry MacMillan successfully worked in the New York and Paris worlds of art, later returning to Wilmington. During World War II he painted memorable war scenes. Photographs of war scenes could not reach a global audience as they did later. In Wilmington MacMillan helped save Thalian Hall from destruction; he was a founder of the Lower Cape Fear Historical Society. He taught classes at the Wilmington Museum of Art School, continuing Chant’s legacy.
Another student was Claude Howell, an iconic Wilmington painter, traveler, writer, and founder of the Department of Art at UNC-W. Howell delighted in depicting local Wilmington scenes. Both MacMillan and Howell have left their own legacies, influenced by their mentor Elisabeth Chant.
Ahead of her time, Elisabeth Chant advocated preservation of historic downtown buildings in an era when no one else had such ideas. Her ideas percolated through her students and friends. She established the Wilmington Art Society which led to the founding of the Museum of Art, eventually morphing into the Louise Cameron Art Museum.
In 1930 the owner of the Cottage Lane house contacted Elisabeth. Isabel Belden Moore would return to Wilmington and reclaim her home. Chant must move. One of Elisabeth’s friends was Margaret Latimer, Henry MacMillan’s great aunt. Margaret offered Elisabeth a place to live in her home at 126 South Third Street. Elisabeth accepted. She lived at the Latimer House for several years, and still taught art. But according to MacMillan, Chant’s grasp of the real world began to slip. MacMillan wrote that Miss Chant’s health declined. She “exhibited failing mental equipment” after the 1930 move.
Miss Chant entered the Catherine Kennedy Home for the elderly at 10th and Princess Streets. There Chant wrote a quite private manuscript which included ideas and fantasies not ever given public exposure. Fantastic and hard to describe, it seems both spiritual and historical. It melds ancient histories, Druid, and Arthurian lore into a vortex of mysteries, visions, and imagination. The manuscript rambles, has no plot, or beginning, nor does it exhibit a theme easily described. Swirls of colors and designs decorate whole pages. Elisabeth had retreated into her imagination, her own world of fantasy. Whatever the century, Miss Chant did not herself fit into any mold.
Elisabeth Chant died in 1947 at the age of 82. Henry MacMillan tells us that “Miss Marguerite Walker, always kind to the unfortunate, arranged for Miss Chant [her friend] to be buried in the Walker lot at Oakdale Cemetery.”
The MacMillan, Latimer, and Cameron families along with many others, gave support to Elisabeth Chant as a person of value. Chant disdained ordinary material possessions. She desired no wealth accumulation. She focused on other treasures: beauty, inward light, artistic dedication, and spiritual discipline. Wilmington is richer for her having lived here.
Her legacy lives on.
Sources of information for this article came from the Chant Files in the archives of the Lower Cape Fear Historical Society.