Walking Tours

Specialized tours of Wilmington, led by HWF’s Executive Director Travis Gilbert and other renowned historians.

The Historic Wilmington Foundation regularly offers free walking tours for small groups, focused on our region’s multi-faceted and diverse storylines through our irreplaceable built history.

When & Where

Typically one-mile in length, each tour begins at HWF’s headquarters, located at 211 Orange Street. Tours start at 2:00pm, concluding at 3:30pm, unless indicated otherwise. 

RSVP & CLAIM YOUR SPOT

Interested in attending one of our FREE walking tours? Scroll down to see our upcoming tour schedule and sign up by clicking the “Register Now” button!

These special tours are FREE, but donations are cheerfully accepted!

ABOUT YOUR GUIDES

HWF’s Executive Director Travis Gilbert (pictured, left) leads many of our walking tours, though it is our honor and joy to collaborate with other local organizations and historians to frequently bring in guest guides! Through these partnerships, we are able to engage more deeply with our history and paint a complete picture of where we’ve been—and where we’re going. Each (free!) tour is specialized, and so are our guides! No matter who is leading the way, you’ll be entranced by their knowledge and storytelling. Details about individual tours can be found, below. 

Upcoming Tours

Date TBD: Topic TBD

Check back for updated offerings of our beloved walking tours!

Past Tours

 

Sunday, April 28, 2024: Heritage Trees

Join us for a free guided tour through Wilmington’s heritage trees—a vital part of our landscape and history—in celebration of Arbor Day! The City of Wilmington’s Heritage Tree Program is dedicated to the identification and preservation of heritage trees, which are defined as significant trees due to their age, rarity, grouping, overall beauty, or historical significance. This walking tour is presented as a partnership with the Alliance for Cape Fear Trees and the Wilmington Tree Commission.

 

February 18, 2024: Wilmington’s Architectural Couples 

In honor of Valentine’s Day, this walking tour will explore downtown Wilmington’s historic buildings that are best absorbed in pairs. These pairings are largely thanks to the architectural rhythm established by James F. Post, Henry Bonitz, L. H. Vollers, and others. Some historic buildings are exact twins, such as the Goodman House and its sister Queen Anne house on N. 6th Street. Other couples are not quite exact, but their architectural features, scale, and massing allow each building to speak to one another, such as the Hankins-Bannerman House and Storm House on Ann Street. 

 

December 10, 2023: Houses of Worship

Wilmington’s thriving port delivered great religious diversity to the hills overlooking the Cape Fear River. The Port City’s skyline is dotted with steeples, testifying to the breadth of religious activity in Wilmington and chronicling the city’s religious history. Famed architects and local contractors partnered to construct Wilmington’s places of worship. This walking tour will explore Wilmington’s rich religious history, including the Anglicans’ role in the founding of Wilmington, the 19th century evangelicalism of Wilmington, and the religious experience of minority groups, such as African-Americans and the city’s Jewish heritage.

 

November 12, 2023: Veterans & Wilmington’s Built History

Commemorations to veterans are embedded throughout Wilmington’s historic landscape. Over 2,000 veterans served aboard the USS North Carolina during WWII before its berth across the Cape Fear River from Wilmington in 1962. Across the river is Orange Street Landing, which honors Black Wilmingtonians like Loyalist Revolutionary War veteran Thomas Peters and Union Civil War veteran William Benjamin Gould. Both veterans enlisted to further the cause of freedom. Just a few blocks away sits the Hannah Block Historic USO, named after “Mrs. WWII Wilmington” in honor of Block’s contribution to the home front during the second World War. This walking tour will explore these historic sites (and more) in honor of Veteran’s Day. 

 

October 27, 28, 30, and 31, 2023: Lantern & Lore (The History Behind the Ghost Stories)

Learn the true story behind the local lore! For four nights only, we’ll unravel ghost stories and ghoulish legends, tracing them back to Wilmington’s past—the history is oft more frightening than the embellished tales!

 

Sunday, October 22, 2023: Architecture of the Boney Family

Led by Charles Boney, Jr., this walking tour will guide attendees past a plethora of historic structures shaped by notable architects within the Boney family.

 

Sunday, September 24, 2023: Chimneys & Chimney Swifts

Join the Cape Fear Audubon and Historic Wilmington Foundation on an evening walk in historic downtown Wilmington to appreciate beautiful, historic chimneys, and the charismatic birds that need them. We will be appreciating classic Wilmington architecture, and discussing the value of conserving some of that architecture for an unlikely beneficiary: the Chimney Swift! Chimney Swifts take advantage of chimneys for nesting and community roosting during various times of the year. Wilmington is home to some wonderful, large chimney swift roosting spots that can be easily viewed downtown. This evening tour (5-7:30pm) will start with a walk viewing beautiful historic chimneys and finish at a viewing spot where we can watch a flock of chimney swifts enter a roosting chimney—a spectacular site that no one should miss! 

 

Sunday, April 23, 2023: Wilmington’s Heritage Trees

Join us for a free guided tour through Wilmington’s heritage trees—a vital part of our landscape and history—in celebration of Earth Day and Arbor Day! The City of Wilmington’s Heritage Tree Program is dedicated to the identification and preservation of heritage trees, which are defined as significant trees due to their age, rarity, grouping, overall beauty or historical significance. This walking tour is a partnership with the Alliance for Cape Fear Trees and the Wilmington Tree Commission.

 

Sunday, March 19, 2023: Sunset Park

Explore the Sunset Park Historic District and learn about this early 20th-century planned community developed by the Fidelity Trust and Development Company. While strolling the streets of this residential, historic neighborhood, you will learn how the World Wars affected the development of Sunset Park and its architecture. Special attention will be given to identifying Craftsman Bungalows and four-squares.

 

Sunday, March 5, 2023: Porches, Piazzas, and Porticos

Wilmington is well known for its front porch culture, which has existed since the town’s founding in 1739/1740! This walking tour will focus on the architecture and use of Wilmington’s outdoor living spaces, from 19th century side piazzas that are trademarks of the Italianate style, to the Neoclassical Revival porticos from the early 20th century. Participants will learn how to identify the orders of columns, especially Wilmington’s distinctive Temple of the Winds columns. Particular attention will be paid to rear porches that were later enclosed and how to identify this trend in Wilmington’s built history.

 

Sunday, December 18, 2022: Wilmington’s Houses of Worship

Wilmington’s thriving port delivered unparalleled religious diversity to the hills overlooking the Cape Fear River. The Port City’s skyline is dotted with steeples, testifying to the breadth of religious activity in Wilmington and chronicling the city’s religious history. Famed architects and local contractors partnered to construct Wilmington’s places of worship. This walking tour will explore Wilmington’s rich religious history, including the Anglicans’ role in the founding of Wilmington, the 19th century evangelicalism of Wilmington, and the religious experience of minority groups, such as African-Americans and the city’s Jewish heritage. 

 

Sunday, November 13, 2022: A Hike to Freeman Cemetery

Cemetery preservationist Christopher Eaton will lead a small group on a hike through this historic, Black cemetery in southern New Hanover County. Freeman Cemetery was established by Alexander and Charity Freeman, who owned land along Myrtle Grove Sound in the mid-19th century. Later, much of their land became known as Seabreeze, a Black beach resort in the mid-20th century. Today, the abandoned cemetery is preserved through volunteer, community efforts.

 

Thursday-Sunday, October 28-31, 2022: Lantern & Lore (The History Behind the Ghost Stories)

Learn the true story behind the local lore! For four nights only, we’ll unravel ghost stories and ghoulish legends, tracing them back to Wilmington’s past—the history is oft more frightening than the embellished tales! 

 

Sunday, October 23, 2022: Wilmington’s Halls, Lodges, and Castles

The historic meeting spaces of Wilmington’s benevolent and fraternal organizations are a celebration of adaptive reuse. Monteith Construction, the Children’s Museum of Wilmington, and even Slice of Life are located within former halls. This walking tour will explore the built history behind downtown’s former Masonic Lodges, Knights of Pythias Castles, and Lyceum Halls. Special attention will be given to symbols embedded within architecture that reveal the buildings’ former uses. The tour will conclude with a discussion about the Historic Wilmington Foundation’s commitment to the preservation of Giblem Lodge, North Carolina’s second-oldest Black masonic temple.

 

Sunday, September 18, 2022: Gregory & Its Neighborhood

In 1868, the American Missionary Association purchased land at the corner of Nun and S 7th Streets in order to establish a mission for Wilmington’s freedmen’s community. Since that pivotal year, this neighborhood has played a crucial role in the evangelicalization and education of Wilmington’s Black community. This walking tour will explore the built history that has survived—and the built history that hasn’t survived—in the neighborhood of Gregory Congregational Church in honor of its 152nd anniversary.

 

Sunday, June 12, 2022: Wilmington’s Soda Pop District

Wilmington’s newest district is thanks to a commitment to adaptive reuse! Explore the Soda Pop District, from its adaptive reuse of the 1945 Oldsmobile Buick Dealership into Hi-Wire Brewing and the current rehabilitation of the Coca-Cola Bottling Works. The walking tour will explore other architectural gems in this neighborhood, including New Hanover High School, Trinity Methodist Church, and Hughes Bros – who recently celebrated their 100th anniversary!

 

Sunday, May 15, 2022: Wilmington’s Historic Preservation Movement

Celebrate National Preservation Month by exploring the history of Wilmington’s historic preservation movement in downtown Wilmington. Learn about the movement through the built history preserved by organizations such as the Historic Wilmington Foundation, Preservation North Carolina, Lower Cape Fear Historical Society, and Colonial Dames. Your guide will chronicle the creation and expansion of Wilmington’s local historic districts. Special attention will be given to properties with historic preservation easements—or legal agreements protecting the property.

 

Sunday, April 24, 2022: Wilmington’s Heritage Trees

Join us for a free guided tour through Wilmington’s heritage trees—a vital part of our landscape and history—in celebration of Earth Day and Arbor Day! The City of Wilmington’s Heritage Tree Program is dedicated to the identification and preservation of heritage trees, which are defined as significant trees due to their age, rarity, grouping, overall beauty or historical significance. This walking tour is a partnership with the Alliance for Cape Fear Trees and the Wilmington Tree Commission.

 

Sunday, March 20, 2022: Brick Masons Robert & John Wood

Robert and John Wood constructed many of Wilmington’s 19th-century brick residences, houses of worship, and commercial structures. The Wood brothers’ career, launched by the construction of St. James Episcopal Church in 1839-1840, resulted in the construction of several Wilmington landmarks, including Thalian Hall and the Latimer House. Bricks were manufactured at a kiln along Smith Creek, north of Wilmington, by enslaved persons often hired out by their enslavers to the Wood brothers. This walking tour will use the Wood brother’s career to explore Antebellum building patterns and labor practices in Wilmington. Sites will include preserved structures and lost structures attributed to the Wood brothers, such as the Front Street Methodist Church and 1874 U.S. Post Office.

 

Sunday, November 14, 2021: Wilmington’s Pattern Book Houses

Architectural pattern books contributed to the spread of several architectural styles in Wilmington. Pattern books were published volumes of floor plans and elevations that could be replicated by local architects and builders. The pattern books were typically organized around a particular style of architecture. Famous pattern books include James Gibbs’ Book of Architecture, Andrew Jackson Downing’s Architecture of Country Houses, and the works of Mindard Lafever. The tour will explore the pattern books’ influences upon the DeRosset House, Edward Savage House, William B. McKoy House, and more! 


S
unday, October 10, 2021: Wilmington’s Heritage Trees

Join us for a free guided tour through Wilmington’s heritage trees – a vital part of our landscape and history! The City of Wilmington’s Heritage Tree Program is dedicated to the identification and preservation of heritage trees, which are defined as significant trees due to their age, rarity, grouping, overall beauty or historical significance. As part of a partnership with the Alliance for Cape Fear Trees and the Wilmington Tree Commission, three tour guides will lead the way: Travis Gilbert (HWF Executive Director), James Gregory (Wilmington Tree Commissioner and Alliance for Cape Fear Trees board member), and Bill Jayne (Alliance for Cape Fear Trees board member).  

 

Sunday, September 19, 2021: Porches, Piazzas, and Porticos

Wilmington is well known for its front porch culture, which has existed since the town’s founding in 1739/1740! This walking tour will focus on the architecture and use of Wilmington’s outdoor living spaces, from 19th century side piazzas that are trademarks of the Italianate style, to the Neoclassical Revival porticos from the early 20th century. Participants will learn how to identify the orders of columns, especially Wilmington’s distinctive Temple of the Winds columns. Particular attention will be paid to rear porches that were later enclosed and how to identify this trend in Wilmington’s built history. 

 

Sunday, May 30, 2021: Adaptive Reuse: Salvaging History & Saving Environment

Andy McGlinn, chair of Cape Fear Sierra Club, will lead a tour focusing on adaptive reuse and exploring the connection between preserving our irreplaceable built history and natural world. Giving new purpose to underutilized or deteriorating buildings, adaptive reuse has numerous benefits for our economy, environment, and culture. Circumventing both demolition and construction, adaptive reuse can reduce urban sprawl by repurposing existing buildings within the city—and it’s often cheaper than making an entirely new building. Perhaps most importantly, adaptive reuse restores a building’s heritage features for future generations.

On this tour, Andy McGlinn will highlight examples of adaptive reuse right here in Wilmington, including St. Thomas Church, Burgwin-Wright House, and Edward Teach! One notable and timely stop is the New Hanover County library, formerly the Belk-Beery department store—currently under threat of demolition as Project Grace plans move forward. To learn more about Historic Wilmington Foundation’s advocacy to preserve and protect the historic built resources on this city block, visit our Current Issues page

 

Sunday, April 18, 2021: Memorialization in Wilmington

War memorials hold a prominent role in the landscape of downtown Wilmington. In honor of Memorial Day, this walking tour will explore the memorialization of Wilmington’s veterans from the Revolutionary War through the World Wars. The tour will discuss details about the memorial’s creation, a critique of their artwork, and the memorial’s evolving interpretation through time. Particular attention will be placed on the modern relocation of the WWI monument and Confederate monuments.

 

Sunday, March 21, 2021: Women’s History Month

Led by local (and legendary!) historian and Plaque Committee Chair Beverly Tetterton, this timely tour will honor and celebrate the contributions of women in the Cape Fear region. The former special collections librarian and chief of the New Hanover County Library’s North Carolina Room, Beverly has also served on Wilmington’s Historic District Commission for a decade and authored Wilmington: Lost But Not Forgotten. In 2020, she was presented with the StarNews Media Lifetime Achievement Award. She and Dan Camacho created Wilmington History, a historic walking tour app. NOTE: Only one tour is offered on this date (2:00pm-3:30pm). 

 

Sunday, February 7, 2021: Black History in Wilmington

Islah Speller, founder of the Burnett-Eaton Museum Foundation and Journey Wilmington’s African American History Tour Guide, will lead February’s tour, in honor of Black History Month! Known as the “Sugar Hill Tour,” this route will include sites such as St. Stephens AME Church and the Telfair House. To read more about Speller’s local tours, click here: Heritage Tour Explores Wilmington’s Rich African American History (StarNews).

 

Sunday, January 3, 2021: Places of Worship

Wilmington’s thriving port delivered unparalleled religious diversity to the hills overlooking the Cape Fear River. The Port City’s skyline is dotted with steeples, testifying to the breadth of religious activity in Wilmington and chronicling the city’s religious history. Famed architects and local contractors partnered to construct Wilmington’s places of worship. This walking tour will explore Wilmington’s rich religious history, including the Anglicans’ role in the founding of Wilmington, the 19th century evangelicalism of Wilmington, and the religious experience of minority groups, such as African-Americans and the city’s Jewish heritage.

 

Sunday, November 1, 2020: Architects of Wilmington: Henry Bonitz (1872 – 1921)

Henry E. Bonitz was the son of German immigrants who ushered Wilmington’s architecture into the 20th century. With a degree from present-day North Carolina State University and the tutoring of Wilmington’s architect-builder James F. Post, Henry Bonitz forever altered the cityscape of Wilmington, from the city’s commercial heart to the quiet residential districts. Stylistically, one can trace Bontiz’s career by following the city’s pilasters and Romanesque windows. When Wilmington’s reach stretched towards the beach, Bonitz followed, by designing pavilions at Wrightsville and Carolina Beaches. This walking tour will explore Wilmington at the turn of the 20th century through the life and works of Henry Bonitz. (Fun fact: In 2019, HWF awarded Ben & Christine Cochran and The Renovation Co. a Preservation Award for the restoration of the Bonitz Building at 213 Princess Street!)

 

Sunday, October 4, 2020: Architects of Wilmington: James F. Post (1818 – 1899)

Shortly after Wilmington became North Carolina’s largest city, James Francis Post arrived on the shores of the Cape Fear River. For the next fifty years, Post defined Wilmington’s cityscape as we know today, from the Bellamy Mansion to the New Hanover County Courthouse. Together, Post and Wilmington nurtured one another: the city providing the opportunities and the architect-builder providing the vision. Post’s career exemplifies life in 19th century Wilmington, from his employment of enslaved and free black laborers, contracts with the railroads, and service in the Confederate military. His career is chronicled by the ledger books preserved by the Lower Cape Fear Historical Society. This walking tour will explore 19th century Wilmington through the life and works of James F. Post.