Mattocks House - National Register of Historic Places

South side facing White Oak River 
Littleton photo (before 1983) - NC Archives & History

WILLIAM EDWARD MATTOCKS HOUSE - from the National Register of Historic Places. Nomination prepared by Daniel Pezzoni 11-2-88. Officially Listed 3-22-89. Photo and drawings were part of the nomination.

The William Edward Mattocks House stands above the White Oak River on Front Street in downtown Swansboro, North Carolina. The one-and-a-half story, double pile, frame, board-and-batten sided house was begun in 1901 and finished during the 1910s. In plan, the house is rectangular, with a center stair hall flanked by pairs of rooms. Stylistically the house may be considered Colonial Revival, since it was built to resemble an early eastern North Carolina house type, the coastal plain cottage. A steeply-pitched gabled roof, dormers, an engaged porch, and a full basement contribute to the builder's conscious evocation of local architectural tradition. 

The house site slopes abruptly from Front Street, which bounds it on the north side, before leveling off in a large back yard. Originally the house stood within fifty feet of the water, but in the 1940s the lot was extended approximately one-hundred feet with spoil dredged from Swansboro's harbor. The house perches on the sloping portion of the lot, resulting in a one-story street front and a two-story river elevation. The original brick pier and frame basement under the street side of the house, which contained the kitchen and dining room, was replaced with a concrete-block basement in the middle of the twentieth century. At that time the basement was also expanded into the formerly open space under the river half of the house.

The steeply-pitched house roof is enlivened by two gabled dormers on its north slope and three on its south slope. The dormer gables are sheathed in decorative scalloped wood shingles; the sides are sheathed in plain, square-edged shingles. Rived shingles that formerly covered the entire roof now survive only at the eaves under the back porch roof. Above the roof rise the corbelled cap of a brick interior chimney and the mid-twentieth century replacement upper stack and cap of an interior brick flue. The roof engages a two-tier porch facing the river, with turned posts and balusters. The second tier of this porch formerly wrapped around the west gable end.

Detail from above - Click to enlarge
Detail from above - Click to enlarge
The board-and-batten siding of the house is painted white (as it was originally). The east gable end of the house is weatherproofed by a double thickness of vertical boards rather then board-and-batten. In the apex of the gable on this side is a small wooden plaque in the form of a five-pointed star. Another plaque in the west gable no longer survives. These plaques may have had Masonic significance. Windows in the gables and dormers are six-over-six sash whereas the tall windows of the first floor are four-over-four sash. The front windows and possibly others were formerly fitted with louvered wooden shutters painted dark green. The street entry is provided with a transom and sidelights. Concrete steps dating to the middle of the twentieth century replace original wooden steps.

The well-preserved interior of the William Edward Mattocks House displays late Victorian styling similar to that found in contemporary Swansboro houses. Walls and ceilings are sheathed in beaded tongue-and-groove and flush board. Reentrant corners in the rooms and hallways are trimmed with narrow chamfered strips. Doors are hung on a variety of decorative machine-made hinges. In an upstairs bedroom is a handmade peg rail. The mantel in the southwest first-floor room has a decorative chamfered friezeboard and a brick hearth. The two stairs in the center hall are the most ornamental features of the interior. The stair to the upper floor has a chamfered newel post, balusters with square cross-sections, and a molded stringer. The stair to the basement has a chamfered newel post, molded railing, and turned balusters identical to those of the back porch balustrade (the stair woodwork dates to the 1910s). In addition to its circulatory function, the center hall of the house also originally served as a summer living area.

Standing beside the William Edward Mattocks House on its east is a diminutive one-and-a-half-story frame house built circa 1931 by Mattocks' daughter, Dorothy Sanders, and operated as a cafe. The house mimics the form and detailing of the William Edward Mattocks House, with board-and-batten siding, a steeply-pitched gabled roof, and gabled dormers. Originally only a lean-to room (now a bathroom) extended off the back of the house; later another lean-to was built beside it, fully enclosing the back side of the house. Probably at the same time as this addition (which may have been made in the early 1940s) the upper story of the structure was finished, an exterior stair and kitchen were added on the west gable end, and the structure was made into apartments. The only other structure presently standing on the property is a mid-twentieth century frame shed.

A number of structures that formerly stood on the Mattocks property are now gone. A long one-story board-and-batten sided frame structure with servants’ quarters and William Edward Mattocks’ woodworking shop stood in place of the circa 1931 café structure. A combination privy and dressing room for bathers projected over the water behind the house and a narrow pier extended into the river. A high picket fence bounded the property on its east side, shielding the backyard from adjacent industrial activity. Roses were trained on an arched trellis passageway through this fence. The property was originally bordered by birch trees on its west and north sides. Two birches (probably volunteers or replacements rather than original stock) stand on the west property line.


The 1901 William Edward Mattocks House is locally significant under Criterion C of the National Register, as a conscious architectural evocation of a much older local house form, relating it to the contemporaneous Colonial Revival movement. The house is also significant under Criterion C as an example of Victorian craftsmanship produced in Swansboro (a proposed National Register district) during the last decade of the nineteenth century and the first two decades of the twentieth century. The William Edward Mattocks House acquired its significance during the protracted period of house construction from 1901 into the 1910s. The adjacent cafe structure, built to resemble the main house, acquired its significance for the year of its construction circa 1931.


William Edward Mattocks (1858-1954) was the son of Edward William Ward Mattocks (b.1833), a Swansboro and New Bern merchant, teacher, and livery owner. According to family tradition, William spent his childhood and school years in Swansboro, New Bern, and rural Duplin County, North Carolina. As a young man he went to sea and eventually served as a ship captain in the Eastern Seaboard coasting trade.  Incidental evidence suggests that he had ties with a shipyard in Boston. Mattocks gave his occupation as "marine engineer" in the 1900 census of population.

"In the mid-1890s Mattocks, settled in Swansboro where he 1ived permanently except for a brief period in the 1920s when he worked as a sawmill operator in South Carolina. William and his wife “Molly” Findeisen Mattocks (b.1859) lived in his father's house in town until his own house was ready for occupancy after 1901. Mattocks bought the property (a former water lot, or landing) upon which he built his house, on January 1, 1901 (Onslow County Deed Book 74, page 442). 

According to family tradition, Mattocks performed some of the carpentry in building his house but the majority of the work was performed by prolific Swansboro carpenter Robert Lee Smith (1872-1942). The two are also credited with the construction of Swansboro’s first graded school, a two-story frame structure that stood on the northern outskirts of town. Mattocks also built small boats and furniture and probably worked for one of several sawmills located in Swansboro.  Although there is no evidence that he received a college education, Mattocks is said to have been proficient in Latin and in general well-read. He had drafting abilities, as demonstrated by his copy of Swansboro's original 1772 town plat, which he executed in 1914. Mattocks was a high-ranking member of the local Masonic lodge; his wife Molly was a member of the order of the Eastern star, affiliated with the Masons.

By 1931 William and Molly’s daughter Dorothy Sanders had taken on the responsibility of running the Mattocks household. In about 1931 Dorothy built the one-and-a-half story café structure immediately adjacent to her father’s house. This café also stood next to a service station which fronted on the newly-constructed North Carolina Highway 24, and Dorothy may have hoped to attract some of the trade brought into the town by the new highway. Also during this period the Swansboro harbor was linked to the Intracoastal Waterway, and William, Molly, and Dorothy supplemented their income by renting out some of the numerous bedrooms in the main house to sailors and others. Upon Dorothy’s death in 1973 the house passed to her sister Zelma Merrell, who owned it until her death in 1986.


Family tradition holds that William Edward Mattocks modeled his home on an early Mattocks family house. Although this earlier house has not been identified, the form of the 1901 house suggests that its model was an early representative of a common local house type, the coastal plain cottage. The defining characteristics of a coastal plain cottage are a one- or one-and-a-half-story main house block with a front porch and rear shed rooms engaged under a single house roof. A good example of the form is the late eighteenth century Jonathan Green House, which stands on Main Street in Swansboro across from the site of William Edward Mattocks' childhood home. The coastal plain cottage form is largely confined to the tidewater areas of the southeastern United States.

The William Edward Mattocks House is unlike the one- and two-story center-hall and two-room plan houses built during Swansboro's lumber boom in the last decade of the nineteenth century and the first quarter of the twentieth century. The coastal plain cottage form that Mattocks chose probably characterized Swansboro's earliest houses, those built during the decades following the town's founding in 1770. No coastal plain cottages are known to have been built in Swansboro after 1865, and the form persisted as a viable house type only for small landholders and tenant farmers in rural areas of Onslow County at the time Mattocks built his version. The William Edward Mattocks House is therefore clearly a revival and not a late product of a continuous vernacular tradition.

The question remains whether Mattocks chose to revive a local Colonial/Federal house form for purely personal reasons, or whether he was influenced in his decision by the then-current Colonial Revival movement. Mattocks' scholarship and his contacts with the Boston area (a seedbed of the movement) suggest that the latter was the case. The William Edward Mattocks House is still idiosyncratic. Mattocks departed from typical Colonial Revival practice in choosing an eastern North Carolina prototype for his design, and he relied on local expertise, materials, and detailing in the construction of his house. The William Edward Mattocks House is therefore significant for its position between several distinct cultural phenomena: the nationwide academic movement of the Colonial Revival, the late Victorian styling of a coastal lumber town, and the vernacular building traditions of the Carolina coast.


Interviews with Daisy Moore (long-time Swansboro resident; and Mattocks family acquaintance), and Jill Simpson and Jacquelin Moss (William Edward Mattocks descendants).

Littleton, Tucker. Along the Path of History: A Self-guided Tour of the Old Port Town of Swansboro, with an Introduction to Its Maritime History. Swansboro, NC: Swansboro’s 200th Anniversary Celebration Committee, 1983.

_________________. Collection, including photographs of the William Edward Mattocks House. Located at the Search Room of the North Carolina State Library, Department of Archives and History, Raleigh, North Carolina.

Onslow County Deed Records, Onslow County Court House, Jacksonville, North Carolina.

Pezzoni, Dan. Onslow County Multiple Property Documentation Form. 1988. On file at the Survey and Printing Branch of the Department of Archives and History, Raleigh, North Carolina.

United States Census of Population. 1900.

No comments: