Home of Distinction: Southern Sanctuary

BY Marimar McNaughton

To their graves they took the location of the lodge that they built from hand-hewn logs on Masonboro Plantation though its legend lives on in local lore. Now divided and even subdivided the boundary lines of the old plantation have been erased yet that vanished way of life still hangs like a mysterious veil over Masonboro Sound.

Sometimes the dull roar of the Atlantic Ocean reaches the railings of the wide porches that grace the landmark homes hidden down long and winding lanes to the waterfront. At night great horned and barred owls call and respond and in the high cloudless days of summer the cries of the osprey mean that dinner is served as the powerful seahawks ferry their fresh catch plucked from the sound back to the nest.

The limbs of great oak trees draped in Spanish moss arch over Masonboro Sound Road shading what is perhaps the oldest roadbed in the county. Here the planners of the American Revolution met at the home of William Hooper one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence; foot soldiers marched to Fort Fisher during the Civil War; and Peter Dugan a western-New-Yorker-cum-Virginia-schooled-veterinarian drove en route from the home he shared in Porters Neck with his wife Cynthia to the animal clinic he established near Monkey Junction.

“I used to love driving down Masonboro Sound Road because it was so beautiful ” Pete says. “I told [Cynthia] ‘One day we’re going to build something down there;’ our dream was to move here and buy some property on the water.”

“Like everyone ” Cindy adds. The couple begin and end each other’s sentences. Their talents and tastes like bookends complement and mirror one another. Her commute to PPD took her in a different direction and it wasn’t until they were invited on a private plane ride that they beheld the bird’s-eye view of their future homesite. When Pete discovered a For Sale sign posted near Crown Point he announced “There’s a piece of property on Masonboro Sound Road and I want it.”

What the Dugans found on Pine Marsh Drive was cleared land with the vestiges of a house built in the 1950s a few foundation bricks and two gnarled live oak trees — at least 100 years old — on the acre and a third facing the Intracoastal Waterway and Masonboro Island.

What they built was a Greek Revival mansion befitting the majesty of Masonboro.

Cindy born in Raleigh lived in New Orleans from age 6 to 13.

“That’s where my love of this architecture started — historic plantation homes on the Mississippi.” A self-proclaimed tomboy she says she rode horses and her weekly trips to the stables took her down historic River Road past the famed Oak Alley Plantation. Together Cindy and Pete planned their home inspired by the low country architecture of Cindy’s childhood years and what they both loved about the historic homes they discovered in Charleston.

“There’s something about this style of home that always fascinated me ” Pete echoes. “I don’t know why.”

“The reason why we chose this spot is because we love everything — the wildlife is … just phenomenal. This house was built so that we can enjoy the outside from the inside ” Cindy says pointing to the large Palladian windows looking over Masonboro Sound and the Intracoastal Waterway.

After New Orleans her family moved to La Jolla California where she spent her teenage years boating. “We love water sports. The premise was to be out on our boat and be waterskiing every single day ” she says.

“The biggest boater now in our family is our little daughter ” Pete says. When she is not playing in her enchanted groundfloor playroom Alexandra 3 loves to go to the beach on Masonboro Island to build castles in the sand.

“We have the boat and the little johnboat. We’ll take the johnboat over to Masonboro Island two or three times a week in the summertime ” Pete says.

“To get in the boat with her early Sunday mornings is big excitement for us ” Cindy adds. “To be there for hours is a lifestyle for so many people here in town. That is the biggest draw. It’s the obvious one.”

The public eye has been drawn to the Dugan home since it was completed five years ago. It has been on the Historic Wilmington Foundation homes tour and in 2007 it was the scene of the Cape Fear Garden Club’s Azalea Garden Tour ribbon cutting. The engaged second-story portico was the staging area for the Azalea Belles and their attending Summerall Guards from the Citadel. Trussed up in petticoats and dress grays the impressive façade was the perfect backdrop for hundreds of visitors special guests and Queen Azalea LX.

Greeted today by an authentic lawn jockey the Dugan family and friends cross a paved brick entry past ornate iron gates that open into a circular river-rock drive. In the center is a cast-iron planter filled with cascading bougainvillea in season. Leaded glass fanlights and gas-fired carriage lanterns flanking the front door reset the period as does the small cannon inside the wrought-iron-and-brick wall that surrounds the property.

Nothing transports the house back in time as much as the interior foyer where a graceful curved stair with Jeffersonian spindles and a custom-turned newel post reiterates the acanthus leaf theme found in column capitals Scamozi and egg-and-dart details throughout the dining and living rooms. The latter was inspired by the White Ballroom in Nottoway Plantation in White Castle Louisiana.

The library was designed around a hand-carved 18th-century English oak cabinet that Cynthia Dugan’s mother Phyllis Parrish found in a Wilmington antique gallery.

“There’s a little bit of fun history about this cabinet ” Cindy says.

Originally made for a church the panels depict the birth of the baby Jesus and Christ’s crucifixion. The Dugans believe that it was intended to keep the wine under lock and key. Molds of the attending lions and the egg-and-dart details were made to expand the size of the original piece to create a built-in bar that anchors the corner of the library opposite the fireplace. “It’s a little bit of an evolution ” Cindy says. Adjoining the library is Pete’s billiard room.

Throughout the home floors are planked in six-inch heart pine. The supple wood wears the patina of the guests who have crossed the threshold. “It gives it character ” Pete says.

Most of the cooking is done outdoors on the grill and the entertaining on the southeast porch. “That’s the best room in the whole house ” Pete says. “In the summer there’s always a breeze there.”

“In addition to the entertaining ” Cindy adds “a lot of the porches in the back and the porch on the side have to do with the symmetry of the house and the architecture but a lot of it has to do with homes we saw in Charleston and fell in love with that we thought were so beautiful.”

Creating a Home of Distinction

These contractors helped make it happen

Peter and Cynthia Dugan

Lisle Architecture & Design —
Kathryn Ross project architect

David James & Co. —
Tim Sullivan superintendent



Appliances — Atlantic Appliance

Audiovisual — Sound Decisions

Kitchen Hardware — Atlantic Appliance

Plumber — Intracoastal Plumbing

Electrician — MHC Electric

Electric Fixtures — Kitchen & Lighting Design

Hardwood Supplier — Cape Fear Riverwood

Hardwood Installer — Jackson Floors

Countertops/Installer — Italian Tile Design

Cabinets — KraftMaid

HVAC — American Residential Services

Staircase — Port City Staircase

Interior Columns — Chadsworth Columns

Fireplace — Italian Tile Design

Faux Painting — Jody Punis

Antiques — River Galleries Wilmington Ida Manheim Antiques New Orleans

Rugs — Gallery of Oriental Rugs



Landscaping — Gunnell Landscaping Inc. Gardens by Design

Putting Green — Playnation