The People's House
A restoration of the governor’s mansion shows off a successful marriage of history, elegance and comfort, as well as First Lady Carla Markell’s emphasis on volunteerism.
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When Charles Hillyard III built Woodburn in 1798, he erected what was considered then to be a Middle Period Georgian palace, with Flemish bond brickwork and an interior that boasted superior Georgian woodwork. Hillyard’s 10 children filled its halls with joyful noise. When he died at 54, his daughter, Mary, bought the house. She lived there with her family for 11 years.
Many families have since called Woodburn home. During the 1840s and 1850s, it served as a station on the Underground Railroad. It has even been the subject of a few spooky tales. In 1815, residents were convinced that Hillyard’s ghost trod the staircase and polished off unfinished glasses of wine. Others have claimed that a ghost crashed Mike Castle’s inauguration party.
The state bought Woodburn in 1965, and, starting with Governor Charles L. Terry, the mansion became the official residence of the governor of Delaware.
At 3,584 square feet, Woodburn is one of the smallest governor’s mansions in the country. Though it is no palace, it is one of the finest period houses in Delaware. It has provided solace and shelter for many, and it has hosted thousands of public tours and legislative lunches. But time has had its way with Woodburn, expunging features that were once beautiful.
When Jack Markell was elected governor in 2008, the first lady, Carla Markell, believed it was time to give back to Woodburn the kind of warmth Woodburn has given the people of Delaware. Now fresh and inviting, the newly restored mansion reflects the cordiality of the Markell family and the unpretentious nature of its matriarch.
New chenilles, damask and textural linens complement freshly painted walls of taupe and blue. Layers of paint were stripped from intricate crown moldings. Heavy drapes were removed, allowing uncluttered, graciously appointed rooms to bathe in natural light.
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