A Profile: Historic Wilmington Foundation, Community Preservation Leader

Since 1966 the Historic Wilmington Foundation (HWF) has worked to protect and preserve the irreplaceable architectural and historical resources of the Lower Cape Fear region. The Foundation was established in 1966 by a group of citizens concerned about the demolition of Wilmington’s historic buildings. A revolving fund (the first of its kind in NC) was set up to enable the HWF to save historic properties by buying them, placing protective easements on them to ensure their continued protection, and selling them for rehabilitation. The Foundation purchased and saved the Wright Murphy House in 1967 with the revolving fund. Since then the funds have also been creatively used to make loans and guarantee loans from banks. Nearly one hundred and fifty properties have been directly saved by HWF with its loans and easements.  Hundreds more have been preserved because of the Foundation’s influence. We have also been successful in saving houses by having them moved and rehabilitated on a new lot.

The Historic Wilmington Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, and donations made to the Foundation are tax deductible to the fullest extent of state and federal law.

The Foundation’s plaque program has been in place since 1966 and it recognizes the historic significance of buildings over 75 years old (50 years in beach communities). More than 550 plaques have been researched and approved for historic buildings throughout New Hanover County and beyond. The research is kept on file at the Foundation headquarters and in the North Carolina Room of the New Hanover County Library.

The HWF sponsors educational programs for our members and the community. In the past we have hosted numerous seminars, exhibits, and lectures on topics including: vanished buildings of Wilmington, historic architecture, Rosenwald Schools, and Wilmington’s role in the American Revolution and the Civil War. The Foundation offers a series of two preservation tax credit workshops called Preservation for Profit and Live in a Landmark. The workshops have educated hundreds of realtors, developers, property owners, architects and contractors, and government officials. Historic Wilmington has also sponsored book signings, and tours of the City, Wilmington cemeteries and Bald Head Island. Each year we celebrate National Preservation Month in May with a host of events, including the Preservation Awards for projects and achievements in restoration, infill, rehabilitation and research. During Preservation Month the Foundation releases it annual list of the region’s most threatened historic places (first introduced in 2006). In 2012 we produced a unique traveling exhibit of the most threatened places was produced; the exhibit travels to the regions’ public libraries and other sites.

The Foundation hosts four annual events that promote community awareness of the organization and our work. These events are important fundraisers and vital to our success. The Home Tour during April’s Azalea Festival features historic and contemporary houses of various styles and attracts many residents and visitors. The Foundation hosts a 5K Run for Preservation and one mile walk in September. This popular event is a unique midweek evening race through historic downtown Wilmington and culminates in a post-race party. In late fall HWF hosts a Fundraising Luncheon, a chance for supporters of historic preservation to come together to support and celebrate the Foundation’s accomplishments and mission. In December we hold a Holiday Party for our members to celebrate the season and another year of the Foundation’s preservation successes.

Historic Wilmington has a wonderful program of guided and self guided walking tours. The first is collaboration with the New Hanover County Schools for Tar Heels Go Walking a guided tour of downtown Wilmington’s architecture, public art and history for area third grade students. Beginning in 2013 the Foundation initiated a series of guided architectural walking tours in two historic neighborhoods.
The HWF also has an active community outreach. We are an important resource for advice on historic renovations and repairs and provide rehabilitation product advice and technical assistance. The Foundation also has a special membership category called Preservation Resources Network, a group of talented professionals who work in the preservation field. This membership category has contractors, architects, masons, consultants, painters and much more. HWF staff regularly provides tax credit information and assistance and an apartment listing of members who have rental property available in the historic neighborhoods.

Wilmington has eight National Register of Historic Places districts and the Historic Wilmington Foundation has played a pivotal role in the creation and designation of all of them. The Foundation has administered grants, provided matching dollars for City grants and educated the public about the designation of districts with lectures and tours. Beginning with the creation of the Wilmington Historic District in 1974 HWF has played an integral role in establishing the National Register Districts of Masonboro Sound, Carolina Place, Westbrook Ardmore, Sunset Park, Carolina Heights and Brookwood. Today HWF continues to work to have Forest Hills neighborhood added to the National Register of Historic Places. The Foundation also worked for the creation of the City of Wilmington’s local historic districts in the downtown area as well as in Carolina Heights.

The deRosset House and St Andrews Church are notable examples of the Foundation’s work to preserve the City’s architectural heritage. The deRosset operates as the highly successful City Club and the St Andrews Church was transformed into the successful Brooklyn Arts Center a community arts, entertainment and wedding facility on the City’s north side.

The Historic Wilmington Foundation is a non-profit membership organization. We rely solely on the generosity of our members and friends to accomplish our mission. Our funding sources include membership dues, corporate and private gifts, foundation grants and moneys collected from fundraising events. We receive no government grants. Please join with us and help protect and preserve the region’s architectural heritage!