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Open to Visitors: Azalea Festival allows a close peek into Wilmington’s historic district

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The Azalea Festival, “celebrating spring Southern style,” brings with it various events taking place throughout the city, from parades to concerts, to art shows to tours. The largest of its kind in the state, the festival attracts over 200,000 visitors every year, and gives locals and tourists a rare opportunity to see the historic side of Wilmington through some of its events. One of its most popular is the Historic Wilmington Foundation’s Home Tour, which takes place on Saturday the 12th, from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m., and Sunday, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

historic home

HISTORIC APPEAL: Cumming-Duls House is one stop on the Historic Home Tour during the 2014 Azalea Festival. Photo courtesy of Laura Trivett

The tour reflects a variety of architectural styles in the Port City. Originally set up by the residents of Old Wilmington, it first began as a fundraiser; however, the residents were unable to sustain it and passed it on to the Historic Wilmington Foundation, which has been holding the tours for 22 years. Proceeds raised from the tour benefit the foundation, a private nonprofit organization with a mission to protect and preserve the irreplaceable historic resources of Wilmington and the Lower Cape Fear. The 2014 tours will feature nine houses and one church.

“We aim to show a wide variety of homes and religious buildings on the tour,” Laura Trivett, special events and marketing director of the Historic Wilmington Foundation, says. “Historical architecture isn’t restricted to mansions, so we like to also show beautifully renovated modest buildings, as well. We feel that a variety is important.”

Although some guests are only care about seeing the mansion-type houses, diversity keeps its interest high. “The tour would become stale if all we [featured were manisons,] and most attendees appreciate variety,” she notes. But the feedback speaks for itself through ticket sales. The tour sold 1,600 tickets at last year’s festival, which have more than doubled since 2004 when they reached 700.

Attendees will be given a background on the architecture of each house, along with historical and personal accounts from some of the homeowners. “We pride ourselves on the amount of research we do on each house,” Trivett expresses. There are trained docents throughout the two days to answer questions on the stops. All of the homes are occupied by homeowners or tenants, with some choosing to stay during the tour and act as docents within their own homes.  Roughly 175 volunteers staff this event annually.

“[Some homeowners] take the opportunity, with the complimentary tickets that we give them, to view the other houses,” Trivett notes. “Our docents are experts on their houses and attendees can expect to thoroughly enjoy seeing the interiors of these buildings that they would never see otherwise and learn a lot in the process.”

According to Trivett the home tour fits in well with the Azalea Festival.  “With so much going on downtown, and usually beautiful weather with all the azaleas blooming, our historic district  [is] at [its] finest,” Trivett notes. “It’s such an exhilarating time of year, and I think everyone feels that.”

Houses featured include:

Williams-Belden House, 116 S. 4th St.

The rear section of this Italianate style house was built between 1810 and 1840 by either William Gile , who owned the land until 1813, or William Wilkinson who purchased the property until the mid-1800s. The front section of the house was constructed in the 1880s by then owners Isabel Williams Belden and Lois Belden.


Edward S. Latimer House, 208 S. 3rd St.

Developed between 1882-83 for Edward Savage Latimer and his wife, Anna Giles Huske, the Italianate-style house-plan mirrors the house next door, owned by Edwards’ brother Henry G. Latimer. Yet, the Henry Latimer House has a second French empire, mansard roof which gives it another floor. The Edward Latimer House remained in the family until 1937.


Elliot-Brown House, 2118 S 2nd St.

Built in 1897, the Queen Anne-style home was thought to be designed by architect Henry E. Bonitz. It was built for Mary Taylor Elliot, who was the widow of William P. Elliot, a merchant and co-owner of the Elliot and Utley Steamboat Line. The house was bought by master printer Earl Williams in 1934.


Holt-Wise House, 1713 Market St.

This stop is only open Saturday, April 12th. Designed by Burrett H. Stephens, the Neoclassical Revival-style residence was built in 1908 for cotton manufacturer and president of Delgado Cotton Mills, Edwin Cameron Holt, and his wife, Delores Delgado. In 1916 Jesse Hargrave Kenan Wise, heiress, philanthropist and life member of the Ministering Circle and North Carolina Society of Colonial Dames of America, bought it. Her heirs deeded the house to the University of North Carolina in 1969. The house was restored by the UNCW Alumni Association in 1993 and subsequently remodeled in 2007.


Conrad Meister House, 1915 Market St.

The Shingle-style home was constructed for Conrad Ludwig Meister and his wife, Esther Frederickson Meister. They moved to Wilmington when he became head draftsman for Atlantic Coast Line Road.


J. Lowell White House, 318 N. 18th St.

The Colonial Revival house was built in 1925 for Joseph Lowell White, a superintendent of Transportation of the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad. The house was later sold in 1957 to William Osler Humphrey, manager of New Hanover County ABC Board, and remained in his family for 29 years.


Neil M. McEachern House, 214 N. 6th St.

The Neoclassical Revival architecture was built for Neil McEachern and his wife in 1904. After Neil’s death in 1929, his wife and children continued to live in the house until 1941, before it was sold to Ruth and Sheilds Bruce Tabb where they remained in the dwelling for 30 years. A major renovation was carried out between 1998 and 2003 by David and Cindy Nathans.


Parmele-Williams House, 213 N. 6th St.

The interior framing and roof of this house has remained the same since 1849 when it was built by Anthony Adrian Wanet, a native of France, merchant and planter. It was later purchased in 1868 and altered to a Neoclassical Revival style in 1917 before being sold again in 1925 to the Williams family. It remained in their family for 22 years. The Historic Wilmington Foundation preserved it and moved from 316 North 3rd St. to its current location in 1997.


St. Stephen Ame Church, 501 Red Cross St. 

The church was built between 1880 and 1886 for the African Methodist Episcopal Congregation in Wilmington. It’s an example of late Gothic Revival architecture and was designed by church member Lewis Hollingsworth. Several congregants helped with its construction.


Yopp-Goodman House, 215 N. 6th St. 

Built in 1850 for William John Yopp, a Wilmington and Weldon Railroad Freight agent and his wife, the Italianate home had a rear section added in 1870. It was sold to William and Bernhardt Goodman, natives of Germany, in 1888. They added the Queen Anne-style porch and tower. The house remained in the Goodman family for 84 years and was saved for preservation by the Historic Wilmington Foundation in 1995. It was then moved from 106 North 5th Avenue to its current location.

Tickets are available at local Harris Teeters ($2 off with VIC card), The Ivy Cottage, The Fisherman’s Wife, The Transplanted Garden and A Proper Garden.



Historic Home Tour 2014

April 12th – 13th, 1 p.m. – 6 p.m.
Sunday, 1 p.m. – 5 p.m.
Tickets: $25-$30
Laura Trivett: 910-762-2511

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Encore Magazine regularly covers topics pertaining to news, arts, entertainment, food, and city life in Wilmington. It also maintains schedules and listings of local events like concerts, festivals, live performance art and think-tank events. Encore Magazine is an entity of H&P Media, which also powers Wilmington’s local ticketing platform, Print and online editions are updated every Wednesday.

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