Ayr Mount, a Federal-style plantation house built in 1815 just outside historic Hillsborough, N.C. was home to William Kirkland and four generations of the Kirkland family for the next 170 years. In 1984, a nephew of the widow of the last direct Kirkland descendant sold the house to Richard H. Jenrette, who has meticulously restored and furnished Ayr Mount with period antiques and decorative arts, including many original Kirkland furnishings.Ayr Mount, unlike the other houses in the Classical American Homes Preservation Trust collection, looks deceptively simple, even austere on the outside. There are no soaring columns proclaiming its classicism. On the other hand, Ayr Mount is far grander – especially in the interior – than one might expect from a first look at the exterior. The ceiling height of 14 feet is unusual for this period as is the elaborate Federal period woodwork found throughout the house. Ayr Mount also was the first major residence built of brick in this area of colonial wood frame houses. At the time of its construction, at the end of the War of 1812, Ayr Mount was considered the finest residential structure in this central Carolina area.
Ayr Mount’s classical architectural design, with a two-story central block and flanking single story wings on either side, became the prototype for many similar houses in North Carolina in coming years.
Ayr Mount stands today on 265 acres – about half Kirkland’s original acreage – and includes several miles of winding paths for walking. The Poet’s Walk, a mile hike around Ayr Mount itself, offers the serenity of woods, meadows, the twisting and sparkling Eno River, and other features – including the old Indian Trading path, once the principal route to the interior of North Carolina, and the Kirkland family cemetery.
Inside Ayr Mount there are displayed many Kirkland pieces which indicate the original furnishings were stylish. These have been supplemented by Duncan Phyfe antiques and other decorative arts of the period. Of special interest is William Kirkland’s portrait, hanging in the place of honor over the dining room fireplace, where it has hung since 1815. Among the more recently acquired items of interest are a rare complete set of 51 etchings of North Carolina architecture by Louis Orr.
Only eight miles from Duke University campus and ten miles from the University of North Carolina campus at Chapel Hill, Ayr Mount is just outside the Hillsborough city limits. Hillsborough itself is one of the oldest communities in North Carolina and was an important center of trade at the time of the American Revolution, serving briefly as the state capital when the then capital of New Bern was held by the British. Hillsborough is full of charming old colonial houses, but Ayr Mount is the crown jewel and well worth a visit.