Wilmington, NC Historic Preservation’s Dozen Distinctive Destinations

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The National Trust for Historic Preservation has named Wilmington, North Carolina as one of America’s Dozen Distinctive Destinations for 2008. Wilmington sits on the banks of the Cape Fear River.

Wilmington has endeavored to preserve and renovate the many Victorian homes that line the cobblestone streets of the original square mile city. Wilmington has all the charm of a city rich in distinctive homes of late 1700 and early 1800s. Most are mansions and are very stately. The grounds and gardens are still maintained with immaculate attention to preservation efforts.

Wilmington was incorporated in 1739 but its accessibility was difficult. The port is 28 miles from the mouth of the Atlantic  and roadways were poorly maintained or nonexistent.

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There was sickness from the damp living conditions and lack of proper sanitation methods. It was a small town of 5,000 just before the great surge of the railway in the 1840’s. At that time it became a main port for cotton, tar–the main ingredient in ship building( It keeps the joints of the timber leak free), cotton, peanuts, rice, tea, and naval supplies. Below you will see what it looks like today with a hint of the old.

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The area experienced the most growth during this time. With the improvement of roads, bridges, and added railway, many sea captains and commission merchants moved to the area.

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The area has participated in several wars. Historical highway markers are frequent along the streets.

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Wilmington’s WW2 ship building industry delivered 243 ships for the war. Wilmington was active during the Revolutionary war as headquarters for Cornwallis.It was an important city during the Civil War as goods and supplies were delivered to the Confederate troops. The location of the port was difficult for the British or Union soldiers to capture. Fort Fisher would hold off any attacks leading to the Cape Fear keeping the port open.  The Wilmington port was taken in 1865 and by cutting off supplies to the Confederate troops the war ended soon after.

A few homes have markers indicating they were built in the 1700s but many more were built during the 1800s when roadways were improved. The people came from the North where land was no longer easy to obtain and they came from the East where opportunities to trade proved profitable.

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Below, is the Latimer House. It is the headquarters for the Wilmington Historical Society. I took a tour yesterday to learn more about what industries built the Cape Fear River historic district and to gain insight about the lives of these families during the late 1700s to mid 1800s.

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Historical home markers are displayed on the front of each house indicating the original owner and interesting facts.

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This home was built in 1852 for the Zebulon Latimer family. Zebulon was a commission merchant as were many who built the grand mansions of this area. The merchants usually represented an industry that imported and exported goods. Almost every historical marker names the owner as a merchant, sea captain, or member of the political family.

The further you move from the center of the Cape Fear River, the smaller the houses become. They are very quaint and built during the same time frame. They housed the workers who manned the ships, ran the shipping yards, built the ships, and ran the warehouses. During the freedom of the slaves, many of those freed slaves sought work in the mills and shipyards providing much needed manpower for those growing times.

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Clearly you can see home meant everything to the people of this port city. It was isolated for much of it’s early life and the social network of neighborhoods is an indication of their desire to gather on front porches and share stories of the day. Many of the men were involved in dangerous work and those easy afternoons on the front porch were important to their sanity. Gardens and landscaping tells us that many from Europe had their influence on the beauty. Formal gardens live right along with cottage style and some in harmony on the same property. They shared plant samples with each other making all the gardens a sum of all the varieties.

There is so much more to tell! I will continue to post pictures of my trip to Wilmington until I run out of things to say about it.

It’s very difficult to take a picture from a distance in this area. There are so many trees lining the streets.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. PGL says:

    NC is simply beautiful Anna with all those lovely old streets & landmarks. We have areas of VA like that too.

    ** OH yes! Virginia is just as beautiful. I love the little town of Dayton, VA. I was there last Autumn and it took my breath away. I have a lot of old house photos from there too.

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  2. Cinj says:

    I love those wonderful old homes and gardens. I was drawn to them when we were looking at houses to buy, but they were too close to neighbors or some such thing. Victorians are my favorite which may explain partially how my daughter got her name. Other reasons too of course but….

    ** I love them too but…they are tons of maintenance. I admire those who can do it so I can enjoy it.

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  3. Cynthia says:

    Oh, what beautiful homes. When my husband and I lived in the South (that feels like forever ago now!) we used to love to go for walks to admire the beautiful old neighborhoods full of grand old homes with their majestic oaks draped in Spanish moss. The South does have some beautiful homes. But Portland, Oregon does too and perhaps one day I will take a few pictures of some. You have inspired me! 🙂

    ** OH Yes! Please do share! I love seeing homes from all over the country. I am imagining that you have a real Frank Lloyd Wright presence. I’m especially fond of the craftsman/cottage look like my house and they seem to all be built in the same neighborhoods along with Victorian. It’s the two basic types that build America. I saw a great deal of the farmhouse style across the midwest.

    I like the mossy trees too but I tell ya, I just got back home and it’s 40 degrees cooler with less humidity. I had a sinus headache every day down at the coast. It is good to be home!

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