The Essential Guide to: Wilmington, North Carolina

Including the Cape Fear Coast

Wilmington has many natural advantages. A port city protected from the ravages of the Atlantic, it was founded on the Cape Fear River about 1729. The river has been important to the city. It was the highway that brought the early settlers and, as the colony became productive, gave them a way to export their goods. By the 19th Century, Wilmington had become a major seaport, and the largest city in North Carolina. During the War Between the States (some say Civil War), the peculiar geography of the lower Cape Fear allowed Wilmington to remain open, even after other Southern seaports were closed by the blockade. The railroad link to Weldon, North Carolina, for a time the longest in the world, made Wilmington a major supplier to General Lee's army.

The 20th Century was less kind to Wilmington. Although the area profited from defense spending during WWII, the declining importance of water-based transportation and the closure of the railroad in the late '50's relegated Wilmington to backwater status.

Wilmington's decline in the post-war years has now turned out to be something of a blessing. While other cities were actively converting their historic buildings to glass and concrete, Wilmington had neither the money nor energy. Now that other cities are discovering their mistakes, Wilmington has awakened to find itself blessed with a fine collection of colonial, Greek Revival, Victorian, and Italianate architecture spread through a charming, historic downtown.

In the last few years Wilmington has realized that it has a future as well as a past. Nature has given the area wide beaches (high-rise free), protected recreational waterways, and a mild climate. Residents have contributed an easy-going lifestyle, a first-rate movie industry, and a growing university that gives the downtown a nightlife enviable for a city of this size. Wilmington is a city that can suit many tastes.

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