Site Plan from Karin Kaiser 's NCSU Master of Landscape Architecture  Thesis 1985The buildings (link to 5 recent photos) and gardens (link to 15 historic photos) at 213 Oberlin Road are the physical record of the life of Isabelle Bowen Henderson (May 23, 1899 - May 19, 1969). Trained as a painter, she worked from a broad palette of architectural, horticultural and craft interests to build the world she described in a 1938 News & Observer article entitled Beauty is Everywhere for Housewives:  “In the home where one finds order and simplicity, things perfectly suited to their use, genuine simple things rather than cheap imitations of elegance, one finds a place where children grow up with a feeling for beauty.” Quoting John Ruskin she wrote: “What we like determines what we are, and to teach taste is inevitably to teach character.”

Isabelle with her hybrid irises. Back Garden circa 1960

“Today I bought a collard.  It was one of those new crinkly ones, a gorgeous rosette. No rose was ever more beautiful in form, no iris petal more handsomely veined, no petunia more crisply ruffled.  Its texture was smooth and waxy, with a silver sheen overlaying its rich greenness.  It made one a little sad to cut it up, but I cooked it with a piece of the best ham instead of plain salt pork.  And I wondered how many people who grow them see how beautiful they are.” Young Artist Isabelle in her Studio circa 1938

Surveying Isabelle’s garden and building designs, shaded terrace and bordered walks, portraits, hooked rugs and hand-painted walls, one becomes aware that her feeling for beauty and character is still alive here. 

Early Life

Bowen  was born in Raleigh, the eldest of six daughters of North Carolina State College Treasurer Arthur Finn Bowen. She studied at Peace College, Columbia University and The Pennsylvania Academy of Art.  After graduating, she taught at the Pennsylvania Academy and at  Wake Forest College.

Establishing her studio on Fayetteville Street in 1927, she became a lifetime member and officer of the N. C. Art Society,  later participating in the establishment of the N. C. Museum of Art.  In 1932 she married Edgar H. Henderson (Ph.D.,. Harvard) and moved to Williamstown, Massachusetts where she began her career as a portraitist and developed an interest in early American crafts.

House and Gardens

She returned to live at 213 Oberlin Road in 1937. In 1938 her front garden was first opened to the public and the same year, a full page article in the News & Observer was devoted to her growing prominence as a portrait painter. Ben Williams, former curator of the N. C. Museum of Art has estimated that she produced over one thousand portraits throughout the Eastern United States.  Her works are included in the permanent collection of the N. C. Museum of Art and in the State Supreme Court Building in Raleigh.

In 1951, Henderson won the National Horticultural Award, the highest award given by the National Council of State Garden Clubs, for her “permanent and creative contribution to horticulture”.  Henderson hybridized and maintained 600 varieties of Iris and 527 varieties of Hemerocallis, and wrote articles for many horticultural journals.  She corresponded with Lewis Mumford and Roberto Burle Marx (link to letters) and her gardens were visited by Carl Sandburg and Frank Lloyd Wright.

The house and gardens compose a carefully planned Williamsburg Revival estate developed by Mrs. Henderson. The estate consists of a main house and carriage, herb, tool and guest houses built around a brick terrace. The gardens, subject of local tours, educational programs, and publication during Mrs. Henderson's life, sparked the popularity of the Williamsburg style in Raleigh. 

Henderson left the property to her sister, Phyllis Riley, who, during the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, fought two law suits brought by the City of Raleigh in their attempt to put a five-lane road through the property. In 1985 The property was documented in the MLA thesis by Karin Kaiser   The Henderson House and Gardens was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1989 - link to full nomination here - and is a Raleigh Historic Landmark.

213 Oberlin Road Raleigh, NC 27605
Williamsburg Revival/Colonial Revival
Local/National Designations

Raleigh Historic Landmark

National Register of Historic Places