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Published August 11, 2017

Webb Estate: Legend of Raleigh’s Abandoned Mansion

After exploring dozens of abandoned Raleigh neighborhoods, underground malls, hidden graveyards, and secret tunnels, I thought I’d dug up every secret my city had left. So imagine my thrill when I discovered that back in 2014, Raleigh had its very own abandoned mansion, an undercover palace right on the border of Durham, with its own sinister legends: The Webb Estate.

The Webb Estate is a more recent addition to the creepy, abandoned monuments of Raleigh’s past. Named for the splashy, charming con-artist who once lived there, for years the mansion sat unused in a forested corner of Wake County. While the mansion has finally reached a happily-ever-after, bought in 2014 and brought through construction and restoration, let’s travel back in time to when an abandoned mansion once sat in Raleigh.

Inside A Con-Artist’s Hidden Mansion

Approaching the enormous 10,000 square foot house, you might mistakenly believe the estate is centuries old. Piles of rotting, sunburned wood and broken slabs of drywall littered the front lawn of a place that once graced the covers of business magazines. Rough graffiti tags lined nearly every reachable surface, as if to curse its former owner, James Webb, for lying and swindling. Short, brittle columns greet those who ascend the stone steps, inviting you to enter.

Inside, many walls are beyond bare, stripped of wiring, plumbing, and even insulation. They were purged by squatters and ill-minded explorers, set on re-taking every last cent of value back from James Webb. Few things remain intact, but what does remain gives us a glimpse of the man who smiled while stabbing investors in the back. The railings have ornate, branching designs. Bookshelves are still level, built straight into the wall. An empty rectangle on a wall indicates where a TV once hung. Most curiously, a ceiling mural in the foyer remains nearly untouched, marred only by a tattered chandelier probably torn from the mural like an arm from a socket.

Though the Webb estate could house as many as a hundred people, the resentment surrounding James Webb’s greed permeates the building — squatters don’t remain for long. Even urban explorers sometimes don’t make it past the front hall, terrified that the weight of the mansion will finally give out and crush any underneath.

Gaudy Grecian design-work shows Webb’s tacky, but expensive taste. It almost feels like entering the remains of a villain’s secret lair. And that may not be too far off from the truth.

As it stands, James Webb himself is currently serving jail time for taking the money he hoodwinked from investors and building himself this seat of luxury. But for all his boom and bluster, Webb was also a man of caution and secrecy. The location of his abandoned estate, while impressively large, remains secluded behind a nondescript driveway somewhere in northern Wake County. Neighbors may pass the house every day and not know it’s there.

James Webb’s Mortgage Fraud and Broke Investors

According to WRAL, James Webb was sentenced to 27 years in prison. “Authorities said Webb carried out his fraudulent activities on investors in addition to financial institutions, telling investors that he would use their money to purchase, renovate and resell properties to first-time home buyers in various states, including North Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee. He also persuaded investors to purchase properties that were purportedly renovated and worth about $65,000 each, from him.”

So what tale does the Webb Estate tell? It’s a sour story of greed, theft, and the decay. It’s also cautionary tale of how flash and style tempt those who are willing to believe. More than that, though, it’s a tale of how luxury built on lies can crumble so easily. Imagine what stories remain hidden beyond the Oak trees.

Want to learn more? Check out this post from Lost Carolina for great images of their exploration from before its restoration! And for those thinking of exploring this house today, don’t. The house has a new owner who is restoring it from the grounds on up.

Love learning about abandoned neighborhoods? Check out this abandoned neighborhood in Cary, and this abandoned neighborhood in Raleigh!

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  • Greg Trombley

    Greg

  • I'm an RDU-based novelist and passionate champion of scientific progression. Nature and science live side-by-side in my heart. I clean dinosaur bones in my spare time, and love reading about local history. All my articles.

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