William Madison Randall Library

Buildings & Landmarks: Kenan House
Date Opened: 1969
Location: 1705 Market Street
Sarah Graham Kenan (1876-1968)
Above, Kenan House circa 1968. Below, sisters Jessie Wise (center) and Sarah Kenan (right).

Building History

This home was constructed in 1911 for the president of the Atlantic Coastline Railroad, Mr. Thomas Emerson. It was sold to Mrs. Sarah Graham Kenan (known as "Miss Sarah") in 1923 and remodeled by the New York Company - Carrier and Hastings. Following a fire, it was rebuilt by Schultze and Weaver in 1931. Upon Mrs. Kenan's death the house was donated to the University of North Carolina Wilmington by Frank Kenan. Since 1969, it has served the university as the residential home of the chancellor. Mrs. Kenan affectionately called the neoclassical-style home "Sunnyside."

Following Dr. Leutze's retirement as Chancellor, Kenan House was renovated. $1.22 million was spent on renovations, upgrades, and maintenance. No state funds were used for this project. A porton of the funds came from the Kenan Family Foundation. Other non-state sources of funds were interest on deposits and gifts. The mansion on the corner of 17th and Market Streets has eight fireplaces, six bathrooms, molded ceilings and more than a dozen rooms.

Since the fall of 2004, Chancellor DePaolo has resided here with her husband Fred Wharton. She consulted with Tom Kenan throughout the restoration, as her goal was to remodel the home so that it resembles Miss Sarah's design and styling as much as possible.


The Kenan Family, immigrants from Ireland, arrived in colonial North Carolina in the 1730s, settling first in the Duplin County area and later coming to New Hanover County. Sarah Graham Kenan, a Wilmington native, lived in the family home at 202 S. 3rd Street. Her siblings included William Rand, Jessie Hargrove and Mary Lily Kenan, wife of railroad tycoon Henry Flagler. Sarah married her first cousin, Graham Kenan, a 1904 graduate of UNC and an attorney in New York. Upon his death in 1920, Sarah returned to Wilmington and purchased the house on Market Street to be closer to sister Jessie Wise who lived two houses down. The sisters frequently traveled to New York, Florida and Europe using Wilmington as a winter stopping point. The last ten years of her life she remained at her Market Street home year round. As benefactors of their sister Mary Flagler's estate, the remaining Kenan's created charitable foundations, which greatly benefited North Carolina academic institutes throughout the state.