In the middle of Market Street and Fifth Avenue near downtown sits Kenan Fountain. Wilmingtonians pass it hundreds of times daily—whether heading home from lunch and shopping downtown or a night out on the town. As it happens, the fountain is one of our city’s first acts of preservation.
Donated by the famous Kenan family, it was built in 1921, when Wilmington was just beginning to get a taste of automobile traffic. Over 30 years after its first installation, a movement was started to remove it for the sake of traffic flow. Several people fought for the fountain to stay, to preserve Wilmington’s history. They succeeded, having to sacrifice the lower levels of the fountain, but keeping the top tiers we see today. Among those who fought were Charles Boney Jr.’s grandfather. Boney Jr. is a longtime board member of the Historic Wilmington Foundation, so for him the fountain stands as an important reminder of preservation in our city.
Since 1971 the Historic Wilmington Foundation has participated in National Preservation Month—an event that takes place each May created by the National Trust. They conduct architectural and historic tours, host fundraising events, and, for the past 21 years, hold their Historic Preservation Awards ceremony.
The Historic Wilmington Foundation is responsible for all informational plaques seen on historic houses and structures across downtown. The red-brown plaques denote homes anywhere from 75- to 9 years old at the time of application, while the black plaques are buildings over 100 years old when their application is submitted. The HWF even gives “sea oats” plaques to homes and buildings in beach communities between 50 and 74 years old. Christine Divoky, special events coordinator for the Historic Wilmington Foundation, is adamant about the importance of preserving our city’s rich history.
“I feel like a sense of place—a connection to places we recognize as we grow up—gives us that commonality that makes us a community,” Divoky says. “Preservation ensures we maintain those connections as we go forth and modernize in our future.”
The Historic Wilmington Foundation honors and rewards folks who upkeep historic places—churches, homes, commercial buildings, and historic sites. It could mean remodeling to be period-accurate or equipped to withstand today’s world, or even advocate for a structure to stay intact and part of our community. While the nominees for the awards must be projects completed within the past year, the age of the actual structures vary. They must be at least 50 years old for consideration, but one of 2018’s nominated projects was a structure built in the 1700s.
In this year’s awards ceremony, the foundation will give out 15 awards in various categories, including restoration, rehabilitation, adaptive reuse, preservation leadership, and individual work of merit. “Awards of merit are given to projects, groups and individuals that promote and advance an understanding of historic preservation,” mentions Divoky. This means anything from educating the public on Wilmington’s rich history—like explaining why preserved structures are important—to spreading the word about preservation and piquing interest within the community. The awards committee receives and reviews nominations, which are sent in by members of the community.
The committee is made up of HWF members and staff, local architects, and preservation professionals.
“[They] study the applications and choose those that best represent achievements in and contributions to the preservation picture in our community,” Divoky explains. “There is a standard application form, and they will go through specific criteria, standards for contributing.”
At the end of the day, they consider how it will contribute to the economic or cultural standpoint of the community. Plus, they look toward what demonstrates effective preservation.
“In 100 years, [will] our children and our children’s children look up at these projects, homes, churches, structures, [and] still see the beauty and the history that we have the honor of seeing today?” Divoky asks rhetorically.
The interest goes beyond Wilmington, too, and into all of the Lower Cape Fear region. The foundation reaches out to Brunswick and Pender counties. They create a list of “Most Threatened Historic Places,” which is accompanied by a traveling exhibit to inspire action.
Among the 2018 awards being presented will be the Thomas H. Wright Jr. Award for Lifetime Achievement in Historic Preservation. It’s not given out every year, which makes it extremely rare and special. In the 21 years the Historic Wilmington Foundation has been hosting awards, 2018 will mark the sixth year of handing out the Wright Award. It honors someone dedicated to preservation and has spent a significant amount of time saving the Lower Cape Fear’s history and improving the area’s quality of life by keeping the history alive and allowing the rich, historic part of Wilmington to live on, as accurately and beautifully as possible.
The award is named after the foundation’s first president, Thomas H. Wright Jr. He and his wife, Katherine, have had a major hand in the preservation of our city.
“The Wrights have been incredibly instrumental in encouraging historic preservation through volunteerism, advocacy and financial support,” Divoky notes.
The Wrights are responsible for the preservation of some 20 historic buildings locally, one of which includes the Mitchell Anderson House, Wilmington’s oldest building. They’ve also had a hand in the upkeep of structures along the river, like Elijah’s and the Pilot House, the Governor Dudley Mansion, and the historic A. Scott Rhodes Jeweler on Ann Street. Wright was a member of the Downtown Area Revitalization Efforts (DARE, which has since become Wilmington Downtown Inc.) and was appointed to the Mayor’s Task Force for former Wilmington mayor Ben Halterman in 1977. Halterman was a preservation advocate, and has an award to be given out at the ceremony as well. Plus, the foundation will present a new, unnamed award, and the Residents of Old Wilmington, long-time partners of the foundation, will present their Good Neighbor Award. ROW are a nonprofit organization comprising those who live in the oldest parts of our city, the Downtown Historic Districts between Red Cross and Queen Streets, and from the Cape Fear River up to Eighth Street.
The Historic Wilmington Foundation’s 2018 Historic Preservation Awards ceremony will be held on Thursday, May 24, from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the historic New Hanover County Courthouse. A reception will follow the awards ceremony, which is open to everyone and free.