This Day in NC History: A house fire that led to historic preservation

On December 12, 1989, the ca. 1751 Palmer-Marsh house at Historic Bath caught fire, but what could have been a tragedy was turned out to be a win for preservationists.

The fire stripped off fifteen layers of exterior paint. The site took the opportunity to conduct an analysis of the historic paint, called chromo-chronology, on both the interior and exterior of the building. The analysis determined that the entire exterior of the house – siding, shutters and doors – was originally painted Spanish brown. Spanish brown, or red ochre as it is sometimes called, is part of a large family of natural earth pigments whose color is produced from iron oxide (rust) or the mineral hematite. It was a very stable and inexpensive paint and the most commonly used color throughout the colonies during the eighteenth century.

Although the color may not appeal to modern aesthetics, the faithful re-creation of the original exterior paint scheme furthers efforts to achieve the most historically accurate interpretation of the state’s historic buildings. Now a National Historic Landmark, the home reflects a more authentic visual picture. It reopened to the public in June 1993 and remains an important attraction at Historic Bath.

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online at

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *