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Wilmington, North Carolina
Congratulations! By virtue of the fact that you're at this site, consider yourself among the luckiest, if not the most sagacious, of explorers for having chosen Wilmington and North Carolina's Southern Coast as your destination.
Previously known as New Carthage, New Liverpool, Liverpool, New Town and Newton, this east-bank settlement was named Wilmington by Governor Gabriel Johnston to honor his friend Spencer Compton, Earl of Wilmington. By 1740 the incorporated City of Wilmington was the largest in North Carolina, with a population of 13,500 city residents in a county that numbered 28,000 residents.
Wilmington prospered as a major port, shipbuilding center and producer of pine forest products. Tar, turpentine and pitch were central to the economy, and lumber from the pine forests was a lucrative economic resource. At one time, Wilmington was the site of the largest cotton exchange in the world. The waterfront bustled with sailing ships, and steam ships crowded together to pick up or unload precious cargo.
James Sprunt's chronicles, published in 1916, paint a vivid picture in the book's foreword. Sprunt writes: "From early youth, I have loved the Cape Fear River, the ships and the sailors which it bears upon its bosom. As a boy I delighted to wander along the wharves where the sailing ships were moored with their graceful spars and rigging in relief against the skyline, with men aloft whose uncouth cries and unknown tongues inspired me with a longing for the sea, which I afterwards followed, and for the faraway countries whence they had come."
Downtown Wilmington remains the historical core of the community and is still in many ways the neighborhood that defines the region. Suburbs may flourish, but there is something fascinating -- even compelling -- about the historic homes and buildings downtown, with their intimate proximity to the river. Both visitors and residents are affected by a sense of lingering ghosts. Important events happened here, in places that are still standing . . . places that have not been obscured by modern architecture or lost in the trends of a constantly changing American culture.
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