Oh, The Places We've Saved!

Since its establishment in 1966, Historic Wilmington Foundation has saved hundreds of historic buildings.

Each old building and its history is different, and HWF has utilized creative problem solving, along with the support of our strong preservation-minded community, to sustain houses, commercial structures and neighborhoods in three counties. Here’s how:

  • Preservation Easements: In its early days, HWF often purchased structures and rehabbed them, selling them with protective covenants (easements) in place. Such deed restrictions contractually protect properties in perpetuity, and HWF holds preservation easements on many area houses—272, to be exact. Today, owners of old houses and buildings choose to have HWF hold preservation easements so that those structures cannot be torn down or altered to the point that their historic integrity is lost.
  • Donation & Relocation: On occasion, owners have donated buildings to HWF with the stipulation that the structures be moved from their original site.
  • Advocacy, Education and Negotiation: HWF strives to serve as an advocate for buildings, fighting for the creation of historic districts; offering workshops and original reclaimed materials at Legacy Architectural Salvage to encourage smart stewardship; working with homeowners to negotiate rehabilitation agreements and preservation covenants; connecting with City or government officials to use ordinances to find preservation solutions; or simply to publicize the existence and availability of a property.

As rescued buildings transformed from derelict to desirable, HWF’s passion for preservation spread throughout our community and sparked a renewal of our greater downtown historic area, which thrives today.

“We shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us.” – Winston Churchill

Here are just some of the properties we’ve preserved:

212 South Second Street (Wright-Murphy House, c. 1830)

The one that started it all! In 1967, this “Wilmington Plain” house became the first property HWF bought and saved using preservation easements.

213 South Second Street (Northrop-Oldham House, c. 1829)

319 South Front Street
Purnell-Empie House, c. 1835-1857


FUN FACT: In December of 1966, HWF awarded its first historic plaque to the Italianate style Purnell-Empie House! Since awarding a plaque to the Purnell-Empie House, the Plaque Committee of HWF has facilitated the placement of more than 670 plaques in New Hanover County.

The Nun Street Project

In the early 1970s, Historic Wilmington Foundation wanted to make a major impact in the community, a goal it achieved on Nun Street. In 1972, five houses were saved on one block: 

Second Street Urban Restoration Project

In 1978, Historic Wilmington Foundation undertook a two-phased Urban Restoration Project. HWF purchased and refurbished five deteriorated houses in the 500 block of South Second Street, selling four in 1979 and one in 1980. Also in 1980, HWF acquired two other houses on the block and sold them for rehabilitation by the new owners.

The Second Street Urban Restoration Project caused a domino effect in creating an attractive urban neighborhood, as seven other houses in the immediate area were rehabilitated by their owners. 

  • 511 South Second Street (W. H. Taylor House, c. 1882)

  • 512 South Second Street (Reaves-Orrell House, c. 1915)

  • 513 South Second Street (Redd House, c. 1894) 

  • 514 South Second Street (William J. Reaves House, c. 1900) 

  • 516 South Second Street (Bremer House, c. 1900) 

  • 517 South Second Street (T. J. Gore House, c. 1900) 

  • 518 South Second Street (Reaves Allen House, c. 1894)

23 South Second Street
DeRosset House, c. 1842, 1854, 1874, 1913

The preservation of the Italianate style DeRosset House was the most significant and extensive preservation project undertaken by HWF. Used as HWF’s headquarters for years, it was also the site of Cape Fear Shakespeare’s first productions in the early 1990s, staged on the large back porch. In near ruinous condition and threatened with demolition when purchased in 1975 (see below), the DeRosset House is now the thriving City Club! 

501 Nutt Street
Atlantic Coast Line Office Building, c. 1900

In 1900, the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad added a three-story office building to the c. 1882 Wilmington and Weldon Railroad warehouse. In 1980, the owner contracted with a demolition company to raze the office building. Thinking that was the beginning of the end of the physical evidence of the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad, HWF bought off the demolition contract, in partnership with the North Carolina Division of Archives and History. When the entire complex sold in 1983, the new owner rented the office building to the Wilmington Railroad Museum. 

400 South Front Street
Governor Dudley Mansion, c. 1825, 1843, 1885, 1895, 1930)

The former home of North Carolina’s first popularly elected governor, the Dudley also once served as Historic Wilmington Foundation’s headquarters. HWF worked to achieve state recognition for the structure, gaining it additional protection.

114 North Eighth Street (John E. Taylor House, c. 1884)

In 1987, HWF purchased 114 North Eighth Street to prevent the condemned building from being demolished. The John E. Taylor House is the last surviving building constructed by local African-American builder Henry Taylor, who built the Italianate-style home for his son, John E. Taylor. Born into slavery, Henry Taylor was a prominent carpenter and citizen in Wilmington during the mid and late 19th century. Although few specific projects have been attributed to him, Taylor family tradition associates him with the construction of the immense Bellamy Mansion.

A graduate of Howard University, John Taylor was a prosperous businessman and the first African American appointed to the role of Deputy Collector of Customs for the Port of Wilmington. It’s worth noting that Henry Taylor’s other son, Robert Robinson Taylor, was the first African American to graduate from MIT and one of the first professionally trained black architects in the United States!

23-25 North Front Street (MacRae Building, c. 1878)

The MacRae Building had a prosperous start: In constructing the commercial building, Donald MacRae used the latest construction material for his storefront—cast iron. The classically inspired structure housed menswear stores and various departments of MacRae’s Wilmington Gas Light Company. After 1913, it was home to the Grand Theatre and the McClellan Store.

But from 1968 to 1975, the vacant building’s only occupants were pigeons. Then Historic Wilmington Foundation stepped in, acquiring a 90-day option on the property for $500 in order to save the deteriorating structure. This is the first instance of HWF’s use of an option. Rather than outright purchasing a property, which can be quite expensive, taking an option on a property allows a non-owner, like HWF, the necessary time to find a preservationist to rehabilitate the building and abide by the rehabilitation agreements and protective preservation covenants. 

To find a buyer, HWF got creative with its marketing, posting this rhyme in the window: “Don’t leave me to the building inspector, find me a buyer who’ll be my protector, or choose a limerick as you pause, and, you may win four passes to see ‘Jaws.'”

Not only was this HWF’s first use of an option as a preservation tool, but it was also the organization’s first foray into preserving commercial structures!

310 Bladen Street

Originally slated for demolition in order to make room for an apartment building, the owner of City Block Apartments donated the 1890s bungalow to HWF in 2018. Though the home’s moving path was short (just two blocks!), it was a large endeavor to make it all come together. Now that 310 Bladen has been relocated to Swann Street, it’s in the process of being rehabilitated. A beautiful example of adaptive reuse, this special piece of our city’s built history will soon be a seafood restaurant and an exciting new addition to North Fourth Street. CLICK HERE to watch Greg Uhl of Uhl, Inc. give a quick overview of the project’s progress!

Pictured (right): 310 Bladen before its move. Check back for our “after” photo reveal! 


Castle Street

Grace Street

Here are a few more downtown treasures—irreplaceable, preserved and protected!

307 and 309 South Second Street: In 1975, HWF saved these neighboring houses, both built in 1890. 

Masonboro Sound Road (Anderson Cottage, c. 1840)

In 1988, the Anderson Cottage was donated to HWF with the stipulation that it be moved to a lot on Masonboro Sound Loop (also donated). The Anderson Cottage is the first preservation project HWF undertook outside the city limits and the first to include the interior in the protective covenants.