History of Wilmington

History of Wilmington

History of Wilmington

Wilmington and the Cape Fear area have a storied history that dates back to 1524, when Giovanni da Verrazano—the first known European explorer to arrive in the Cape Fear region—described it to King Francis I of France as “as pleasant and delectable to behold, as is possible to imagine."

Since being incorporated in 1739/40, Wilmington has undergone a number of transformations, growing from a small backwater town in the late 1700s into the largest town in the state by 1840 and one of the most important ports on the East Coast.  Railroads followed the port activity, and during the Civil War Wilmington became “the lifeline of the Confederacy”.  

Wilmington officially became a city in 1866, and the river and railroad related businesses continued to grow throughout the rest of the nineteenth century. Prosperity reigned with the growth of the railroads, although in the early 1900s the Piedmont textile towns overtookWilmington in size. 

World Wars I and II brought a resurgence of shipbuilding in the area, with thousands of workers employed here by the North Carolina Shipbuilding Company in the 1940s.  In 1945, the North Carolina Legislature approved the State Port Authority, which is still an economic engine for the entire state.

Even with the booming port, railroads were king in Wilmington.  But in 1955, the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad announced that it was moving its headquarters to Jacksonville, Florida.  Hundreds of families left town with the railroad, and Wilmington began another transformation through the work of the newly organized Committee of 100 to attract a more diversified industry.

Corporate giants like General Electric and Corning located facilities in the area, and new tourist attractions like the battleship U.S.S. North Carolina added new flavor.  In the 1980s the movie industry came to town, making Wilmington the third largest film location by the 1990s, behind only Los Angeles and New York.

With the opening of Interstate 40 in 1990, tourism swelled, as even more people across the Southeast discovered the beaches, river and historic district (the largest in the state) that add to the ambience of this unique city.  Once again Wilmington is thriving, ranked as one of the fastest growing cities in the nation in the ‘90s.

For a more detailed history of Wilmington and the Cape Fear area, please visit the New Hanover County Public Library website.

Source: Wilmington Chamber of Commerce


Contact Information

Photo of Jennifer Farmer Real Estate
Jennifer Farmer
Coldwell Banker Seacoast Advantage
110 Dungannon Blvd Suite 100
Wilmington NC 28403
Mobile: 910.297.9811
Fax: 800.880.5364