The Graylyn Estate
In the 1920s, it became fashionable for captains of industry to leave their grand homes in the city centers of America and head to the nearby countryside where they had the space and money to construct estates even grander than the ones they owned in the city.
In 1925, Nathalie Lyons Gray purchased 87 acres of pasture land and cornfield from R.J. Reynolds, Inc. Nathalie and her husband Bowman, set out to build the home of their dreams. With an exterior build with a Norman Revival style, the interior with a neo-classical design of the Adamesque period, the living room in Georgian Revival, and the sunroom in an Italian Renaissance design, The Graylyn Estate emerged as one of the largest private homes in North Carolina. The house boasted 60 rooms and 46,000 square feet of space with remarkable interior styling and details which remain a hallmark of The Graylyn.
The Gray family enlisted artisans and craftsmen from all over the United States to make their home a masterpiece in itself. The Manor House showcased an imported 15th century French carved doorway, custom ironwork, hand-painted tile motifs, and rare Louis XV paneling imported from Paris. Guests and family accommodations were just as impressive. Each of the original bedrooms on the second floor had private baths. Amenities were very lavish and truly unique for their time. This included gold-plated fixtures, solid marble tubs, heated towel racks, built-in scales, and a shower with 17 shower-heads are what made Graylyn a vision of luxury and opulence.
The Grays' attention to the elaborate design of their home extended to the intricate networks of pipes and wires. The home is wired with over 160,000 linear feet of copper wiring with water and steam lines made of solid brass. Graylyn also boasted an original telephone system consisting of fifty outlets and a radio system, which channeled high-fidelity entertainment to the major living areas of the house. A floodlight system controlled from the main building aided in the security efforts of the watchmen. Such luxuries were at the cutting edge of technology for the 1930s.
The Grays moved into the completed house in 1932. Shortly after, in 1935, Mr. Gray passed away and Mrs. Gray lived in the house until 1937. Each son lived on the estate for the first years of marriage. In 1938, Mrs. Gray married Benjamin Bernard and she lived in the guest cottage, now called Bernard Cottage, until her death in 1961.
In 1946, Mrs. Gray and her sons gifted the estate to the Wake Forest University. Through the years, the home and land have had many uses, including university programs and community service.
On June 22, 1980, a fire started on the third floor of the house during a performance on the lawn by the Winston-Salem Symphony. An audience of nearly 7,000 watched as the third floor of the unoccupied manor house was destroyed and the roof was extensively damaged. The first and second floors experienced smoke and water damage as well. The following day, then President of Wake Forest University, James Ralph Scales, announced, "Graylyn will be rebuilt." The Wake Forest Board of Trustees and administration, with the support of the Gray family and other community leaders, decided to restore the house to its original appearance and to use the home as an educational conference center.
Edwin Bouldin Jr. was commissioned to the four-year project of the restoration of The Graylyn Estate. The conference center officially opened on January 1, 1984. Today, this glorious and historic estate boasts 86 private guestrooms and 15 meeting rooms and is considered to be one of the finest conference centers in America. To this day, it continues to be owned and operated as a non-profit organization by Wake Forest University. The Graylyn's primary mission is to support the University by funding student scholarships.