The Benjamin Ellis House: The revival of a New Bern Icon

The Inn is an old, historic B&B located in the heart of quaint downtown New Bern, NC. The inn is only four blocks away from the former Royal Governor’s residence Tryon Palace, one block from the New Bern Riverfront Convention Center and just steps away from quaint stores, art galleries, restaurants, and other popular attractions of New Bern. The Harmony House Inn enjoys a rich 165-year history with its mysterious and often unfounded origins that add to its intrigue and allure among guests and local historians alike.

The house was built in 1853 by the successful turpentine merchant Benjamin Ellis and his wife Eliza. The initial layout of the house was a classic “two and two” – two rooms downstairs and two rooms upstairs with a center staircase. While still in the Ellis’ ownership, the house was expanded twice –once in the late 1860’s and again in the 1880’s, making it the twelve room house it is today. The house was also occupied by union soldiers (Company K, Forty-Fifth regiment, Massachusetts Volunteer Militia) during the Civil War from 1862-1865.

After Eliza’s death in 1899, the house passed to their children. Folklore tells us there was a falling out amongst the siblings that led them to split the house in half. They moved the west side over nine feet, added a second staircase, a hallway, and a front door. This changed the layout of the house that turned it into a duplex. The siblings lived side by side for over twenty years never speaking to each other. Although it’s an intriguing tale, there is no way to verify its true authenticity.

Once the house left the Ellis family, it’s history turned a bit hazy. It seems there were either apartments or offices in the upstairs rooms for some time and an antiques store in what is now the parlor.

How did it turn into an inn, you ask? The Hanson’s purchased the property in the early 1980’s and decided to turn it into an inn to give the house a new meaning and purpose. With this idea in mind, and trying to disconnect from the house’s somewhat negative past, the Hanson family opened the inn under the name “Harmony House Inn Bed & Breakfast” in 1985. The Inn was renamed the Benjamin Ellis House in 2018.

In 2016 Gretchen and Tracy Du Peza became the newest innkeepers and have recently completed renovating a portion of the main floor, refinishing all the hardwood flooring, expanding the dining room, adding a guest powder room and creating a full commercial kitchen.

As a curious note, during the latest renovations, Gretchen and Tracy discovered a hair tonic bottle dating back to 1860s, a silver plate fork with engraved initials ‘BEE’ (it is presumed that it belonged to Benjamin and Eliza Ellis), and a Pepsi cola bottle dating back to 1905.

The Benjamin Ellis House Today

Today the House is a grand 8,000 square foot, Greek Revival style two-story home. The inn is furnished with a unique blend of locally handcrafted and fine furniture, European, African, and American artwork, antiques and other memorabilia.

This unusually spacious house features three ground-floor guest suites, each with a private bathroom and six second-floor guest suites. Two of the suites are luxury King suites featuring bathrooms with whirlpool tubs. Each room is named after the Native American names for local rivers and decorated with entirely different color pallets and themes.

All rooms include a full modern private bath, an assortment of soaps and shampoo, a ceiling fan, state-of-the-art in-room climate control, a smart HD flat-screen TV, a decorative fireplace, completely free Wireless Internet Access, smart phone charging station, comfortable sitting chairs, a dresser, and a closet.

The nine-foot-wide hallways allow space for a cozy reading nook, a game corner and an upstairs seating area. The inn also boasts a spacious parlor and a dining room where guests can enjoy delicious breakfasts from European specialties to traditional American cuisine.

The Du Pezas have also decided to bring tastes from all over the world by offering occasional seasonal dinners as well as special cooking classes. There are plans to offer special events such as an Easter brunch, Mother’s Day high tea, Swiss National Day celebration, wine or olive oil tastings, and reservations to host bridal showers among other activities.

Aside from their fixed rates and prepared packages, Gretchen and Tracy offer specialized packages to meet particular needs, itineraries and events.

Meet the innkeepers: Gretchen and Tracy Du Peza

Tracy hails from Mystic, Connecticut and spent over 30 years in the computer industry with leaders such as Compaq Computer and Hewlett Packard. Before retiring, he was Director of Sales Operations for HP’s Central and Eastern Europe Division.

Gretchen comes from Washington, DC and also has a background in business operations and inventory control. After marrying Tracy and having children, she ran two home based businesses – first a desk top publishing business and later as a sales consultant for a multinational kitchen products reseller.

The couple then moved to Europe, specifically Germany, where Gretchen served as a board member of an International Church in Munich. Later on they moved to Zurich, Switzerland where she served on the board of the Zurich International School for nine years. She also ran an English language library and was President of the American Women’s Club for several years.

In addition to spending 15 years in Europe (3 years in Germany and 12 years in Switzerland), early in their marriage, Gretchen and Tracy also lived in Johannesburg, South Africa, for three years. In 2014, they returned to the United States where, as fate would have it, they became interested in owning an inn after spending their anniversary weekend in a local New Bern B&B.

It is with this background of multicultural and business experiences that Gretchen and Tracy Du Peza have infused the Harmony House Inn with international artwork, cuisine and a new vision while still keeping the inn’s history preserved and celebrated.