Walking Wilmington

Touring the city by sidewalk

Residents and visitors have an opportunity to experience Wilmington history and culture at the sidewalk level on several new and established walking tours.

Touring the city’s oldest suburbs

The Historic Wilmington Foundation Inc. (HWF) rolled out two new tours in May.

The STREETCAR TOUR offers the story of Wilmington’s first suburbs – Carolina Place and Carolina Heights off Market Street – with four homes in the Mansion District as the heart of the area.

The FOREST HILLS TOUR gives insight into the city’s first automobile-oriented suburb.

The tours were created with the assistance of University of North Carolina Wilmington professor Will Moore and graduate students from the public history program, according to historic foundation officials.

Historic Wilmington Foundation Executive Director George Edwards and a team of guides, including bring history to life for participants.

On the Streetcar Tour, participants learn facts regarding evolution of the early neighborhoods. The term streetcar neighborhoods emerged with the advent of electric streetcars in America in the late 1800s, Edwards says during the tour’s inaugural outing.

Wilmington had horse drawn carriages, but electric streetcars allowed the city to expand farther, maintaining its status as the largest city in North Carolina into the 20th century.

Beginning in Carolina Place, Edwards describes the architecture of revival, Queen Anne, and bungalow styles as walkers learn to identify signature columns and flared porch roofs.

We peer down alleyways – a common element of turn-of-the century neighborhoods – where residents could come and go from the back of the house. 

“Homes in Carolina Place never lost value in the crash,” says Delinda Harrelson, a tour guide and real estate consultant who remodels old homes. Homeowners who seek that neighborhood have a passion for older homes, she says.

Crossing Market Street on foot requires steady nerves and sturdy shoes, but entry to Carolina Heights next to the Wilmington National Cemetery is worth the hustle.

Looking down tree-arched Princess Street, Edwards shows the group a photo of a young neighborhood, its street still lined with saplings.

The tour ends with questions about the elegant mansions built by wealthy heiress Mary Bridgers and her sister, two women who wanted to live next to one another and had the funds to build on prestigious Market Street. One of the houses now serves as home to the UNCW chancellor, and one to the UNCW alumni association. 

Strike out on your own

For those who like to go at their own pace, there are self-guided tours of the area also in the works.

Dan Camanche, writer and treasurer for the Historic Wilmington Foundation, and retired New Hanover County history librarian Beverly Tetterton set up a team to devise a self-guided, inexpensive app to download on a smartphone, Edwards says. 

Visitors can stop, read, and pull up images. The team hopes to introduce the app this summer. 

Wilmington Downtown Inc. also has an app in the design phase that includes fee and free activities for children.

“We’ve got a committee working on a series of tours, and the first one is for families and kids,” says John Hinnant, president and CEO of the downtown group. “It’s a mobile app with geocaching, historic preservation, history, and education components.”

Finding a tour that suits you

A number of local walking tours are available to appeal to different interests from architecture to ghosts:

Forest Hills Tour: Meets at Forest Hills Global Elementary School, 602 Colonial Drive

Streetcar Tour: Meets at Coastal Shopping Center, corner of South 17th and Market streets
Both are Saturday 10 a.m., weather permitting, $10
762-2511 (www.historicwilmington.org)

Culinary Adventures with Liz Biro
Tour topics include downtown restaurant walking tours, farmers market tours and cooking classes, brunch strolls on Castle Street. Prices vary, reservations required
545-8055 (www.lizbiro.com)

Ghost Walk of Old Wilmington: Adults are $13, seniors/students/military are $11, and under 6 are free
Haunted Pub Crawl: $17.50;  must be at least 21 years old
Hollywood Location Walk: Adults are $13, seniors/students/military are $11, and under 6 are free
772-1410 (Tickets and schedule info at www.hollywoodnc.com or at Black Hat Shoppe, 8 Market Street)

Trip with Triplett
Historic tour of downtown or tour of Oakdale Cemetery; adults $8 and students $3
392-6753 (www.tripwithtriplett.webs.com)

Tour Old Wilmington
Hidden history in Victorian times, customs, and folklore. Adults $12, children 12 and under free with family
409-4300 (touroldwilmington.blogspot.com)

Cape Fear Segway
See historic homes and the riverfront on a Segway with guide, also has Hollywood tour; $35-55; must be at least 13 years old
251-2572 (www.capefearsegway.com)