A glorious estate where everything transcends the ordinary, Graylyn is a place rich with history and a reputation for satisfying guests. A unique blend of old world
charm, innovative technology, and a personal touch, Graylyn promises to create a memorable experience.
Captains of the industry in the 1920s were leaving their grand homes in the city centers of America and heading for the nearby countryside to build even grander estates. In 1925, Nathalie Lyons Gray purchased eighty-seven acres of pasture land and cornfields from R.J. Reynolds, Inc. Nathalie and her husband, Bowman, set out to build the home of their dreams. With nearly 60 rooms and 46,000 square feet, Graylyn had emerged as one of the largest private homes in North Carolina.
Remarkable interior styling and details are a hallmark of Graylyn. The Gray family employed artisans and craftsman from across the United States in order to make their home a masterpiece in and of itself. The Manor House showcased an imported fifteenth-century French carved doorway, custom ironwork, hand painted tile motifs, and rare Louis XV paneling imported from Paris. Guest and family accommodations were equally impressive. Each of the original bedrooms on the second floor had private baths. Amenities were very lavish and truly unique for their time. Gold-plated fixtures, solid marble tubs, heated towel racks, built-in scales and shower with 17 shower heads were what made Graylyn “the showplace of the city.”
The Grays’ attention to the elaborate design of the 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. Today, the owners continue their commitment to technology by continuously improving systems to modern day standards.
The Grays moved into the completed house in 1932. After Mr. Gray’s death in 1935, Mrs. Gray lived in the house until 1937, and 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 the sons gave the estate to the Wake Forest School of Medicine. It was first used as a psychiatric hospital from 1947 until 1959, and then for academic programs. In 1972, Gordon Gray bought Graylyn back from the medical school and on the same day, donated it to 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 James Ralph Scales, speaking for the university announced, “Graylyn will be rebuilt.” The Wake Forest University 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., the architect who had restored the nearby Reynolda Village for the university, was commissioned to direct the four-year Graylyn project. The conference center officially opened on January 1, 1984. Several different management companies have managed Graylyn during its time as a conference center. In July 2001, Wake Forest University assumed management of its property and has since provided essential funds for the properties continuous maintenance and restoration.