Updated: April 2019
Central to Morganton’s History
Situated on almost an entire city block in downtown Morganton and surrounded by old trees, the Historic Tate House was initially built by Dr. William L. McRee around 1850.
Dr. McRee was a local physician, who died in 1855, at which time Samuel McDowell Tate, at age 25, purchased the property in anticipation of his marriage to Jennie Sophronia Pearson (1843-1902).
Due to the American Civil War (1861-1865), their marriage was delayed to 1866. Samuel and Jennie Tate had ten children.
Dr. McRee built his house in the Greek Revival style with a façade made of Flemish Bond Brickwork. The term Flemish Bond describes a bricklaying technique, where alternate bricks are placed as header and stretcher in every course, which creates a bond of high strength and appealing aesthetics but challenging to lay as it requires great attention to detail.
The house is three bays wide and two bays deep with brick pilasters separating each of the bays. Originally, the windows had twelve-over-twelve sashes, which are still visible on the second floor. The house also featured a pedimented gable roof.
With the completion of the remodeling by Samuel Tate in 1868, the house had been transformed to the more modern-looking Second Empire style, replacing the pedimented gable roof with a mansard roof and adding a large, three-story octagonal tower at its main north façade. The tower is capped with a bracketed mansard roof with dormers placed on the octagon’s alternating faces.
The entrances to the building are to the left and right of the tower and are covered by one-story porches extending on either side from the tower along the main façade.
Built at the same time as the tower, the one-story three-bay extension wing at the southeast side of the rear façade housed the large and elaborate dining room.
The Tate House became part of the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.
About Samuel McDowell Tate (1830-1897)
Samuel McDowell Tate was born on September 6, 1830, in Morganton NC to his parents David Tate (1802-1836) and Susan Maria Tate (1809-1869). His father David represented Burke County in both houses of the North Carolina General Assembly for several years.
When his father died in 1836, age 34, Samuel was six years old. His mother with her two sons then moved to Pennsylvania, where the two siblings attended private schools. After graduation, Samuel became a merchant in Philadelphia PA.
In 1850, he moved back to Morganton NC, setting up a general merchandise store, which thrived as the years went by. During that time, he became involved with the Western North Carolina Railroad, which was building a line from Salisbury NC to Asheville NC with a stop in Morganton. The → Railroad Depot and Museum in Morganton is an excellent example of this period.
Samuel Tate worked as an agent of the Western North Carolina Railroad and as a manager overseeing the railroad’s financial interests. Between 1856 and 1860, he was also the postmaster of Morganton.
During this time, he started to court Jennie Sophronia Pearson, the daughter of Robert Pearson (1807-1867), a wealthy local merchant, bank president, postmaster and first president of the Western North Carolina Railroad.
In anticipation of his marriage to Jennie, he purchased the house from Dr. McRee. Unfortunately, the wedding had to be postponed, when the American Civil War broke out in 1861 and Samuel Tate volunteered to join the Confederate Army. There, he achieved the rank of lieutenant colonel in 1863 at Gettysburg. He assumed the command of the Sixth North Carolina Regiment and led his troops up Cemetery Hill and in the battle on Seminary Ridge.
After the end of the Civil War, the couple finally married in 1866 and started to remodel their new home, which presumably was completed by the time their first child and son Franklin was born in 1868.
As peaceful and accomplished their private life appeared to be, Samuel Tate’s professional life was instead a little turbulent. After his return from the Civil War, the shareholders of the disorganized and bankrupt Western North Carolina Railroad elected him to lead the company as its president. He quickly started to rebuild the railroad, revamping its aging rolling stock and fixing its financials. However, in 1865 Governor Holden removed him from the presidency. In a turn of events, Governor Worth restored him to this post in 1866. Just two years later in 1868, Samuel Tate was dismissed again, but he continued to act as the financial agent of the shareholders and as the trustee for payments of debts.
In the wake of his election to the North Carolina House of Commons in 1874, he sold all his interests in the Western North Carolina Railroad.
During his term in the General Assembly, he sponsored a bill that would allow the state to assume control of the Western North Carolina Railroad. After the bill had passed, Samuel Tate was elected commissioner tasked with reorganizing the Western North Carolina Railroad.
In 1875, the General Assembly passed another bill, which provided for a second asylum for mentally ill patients to be located in the western half of North Carolina. Soon, Statesville, Hickory, Morganton, and Asheville were competing to be considered as a potential site. Samuel Tate, who “artfully worked behind the scenes for his home town,” is credited with bringing the Western North Carolina Insane Asylum to Morganton. The facility opened in 1883. Its name changed to the Broughton Hospital in 1959.
Samuel Tate served on numerous committees, such as the committee for internal improvements, the rules committee, the finance committee, and the Railroad Commission.
In 1891, Samuel Tate helped to influence legislation to move the North Carolina School for the Deaf from Raleigh NC to Morganton. The school opened in 1894 on a beautiful hillside in the southern outskirts of town.
A year later in 1892, Samuel Tate, age 62, was named State Treasurer of North Carolina by Governor Thomas Holt, a position he held until December 1894.
Samuel Tate died in Morganton on June 25, 1897, at the age of 66. He and his wife Jennie are buried at the Forest Hill Cemetery, 1 mile (1.6 km) northeast of downtown Morganton.
100 South King Street, Morganton, NC 28655