Upgrades to HVAC System Help Tryon Palace Remain Steward of North Carolina History

Visitors to Tryon Palace will soon see signs of construction around the grounds due to an ongoing project to update the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system in the Governor’s Palace. Parts of the current system are original to when the reconstructed Palace was built in 1959, and require constant maintenance. Small areas in the Palace and grounds will be closed for the duration of the project; a date of completion has yet to be determined.

Heating, cooling, and humidity control are important in Tryon Palace to ensure the proper preservation of artifacts in the Palace. Fluctuations in temperature and humidity can cause dimensional changes in objects, such as warping, shrinkage, and swelling, as well as loosening of joints and popping of veneer. Chemical changes can also occur to adhesives, paints, finishes, gilding, and metals when temperature and humidity cannot be regulated. High humidity is likely to create issues with mold spores and insects, while low humidity can create brittleness in paper, textiles, and paintings.  

“The new HVAC system will enable us to be better stewards of the museum collection by establishing an acceptable range of temperature and humidity,” said Alyson Rhodes-Murphy, Director of Collections, Tryon Palace. “The new system will also be zoned to address the temperature and humidity differences between the north and south sides of the building, which can be very drastic.”

Construction efforts include removing the ceiling of the Palace Cellar to access the old equipment and install new equipment. To preserve the historic pieces currently in the Cellar, Tryon Palace staff carefully emptied the rooms, painstakingly packaging and inventorying the fragile artifacts. During the construction, these items will remain in storage and will once again be featured in the Cellar on the completion of the project. Photo documentation of the rooms will ensure the post-construction Cellar looks exactly the way it did before construction began.

“When I came to work here in 2007, the system was not running as it had been designed due to failure of key components,” said Randy Gurley, Facilities Maintenance Supervisor, Tryon Palace. “The system was failing to keep the buildings cool in the summer and warm in the winter, not to mention that it would not control humidification. All of the staff at Tryon Palace are responsible for the building and the collection in some way. From a collection standpoint, it is great for the artifacts and the building, but from a maintenance-operation standpoint, it is long overdue.”

Tours to the Palace and grounds will be minorly impacted by this renovation. Tours of the Palace will continue as usual, but the Cellar will be inaccessible until the project is complete. Guests will still enjoy full tours of the first and second floors of the building. 

“It’s important to us for visitors to hear the whole story of the building regardless of this temporary closure,” said Amber N. Satterthwaite, Director of Education, Tryon Palace. “The Cellar was a busy area for the Governor’s staff, and guests will learn about the staff and their jobs throughout the Palace complex. In the Kitchen Office, costumed interpreters will continue to cook 18th-century recipes and discuss the lives of servants in the Royal Governor’s household.”

Outside of the Palace, the Kellenberger Garden will serve as a staging place for a temporary HVAC system that will maintain safe temperature and humidity ranges during construction. Throughout the renovation, the Kellenberger Garden will remain closed. The Tryon Palace Gardens staff plans to take full advantage of the closure to give the Kellenberger Garden a beautiful facelift.

“The garden staff is excited about the renovations of the Palace HVAC system and the opportunity it gives us to reimagine and renew the Kellenberger Garden,” said Hadley Cheris, Gardens and Greenhouse Manager, Tryon Palace. “The Kellenberger Garden is one of our feature gardens, and we look forward to bringing it back to its former glory while also incorporating in modern color theming and increasing its year-round flower display.”

Although the Kellenberger Garden will remain closed during the renovation, Tryon Palace’s 15 other gardens will be open and blooming throughout the project’s duration. Gardens staff will be on the grounds and happy to assist any visitors who may require assistance to navigate around the closed Kellenberger Garden.

Despite the impact the renovation will have on Tryon Palace operations, visitors to both the Governor’s Palace and gardens can rest assured they will still get the full Tryon Palace experience. For the staff – who are enduring a few months of extra work, stress, and inconvenience – the HVAC replacement project will be a step in the right direction toward continuing and improving their mission of preserving Tryon Palace, New Bern, and North Carolina’s rich history.