Founded in 1739, Wilmington, North Carolina, (population 95,000) was named in honor of Lord Compton, Earl of Wilmington and patron of North Carolina's governor at the time. Originally predominantly an English settlement, second generation Americans and immigrants of Highland Scots and Welsh heritage moved to the region in search of economic prosperity from the naval store industries and large rice plantations nearby.
Wilmington's port, along with the Wilmington-Weldon Railroad, which was completed in 1840, helped establish Wilmington as the largest city in North Carolina up until 1910. As such, Wilmington was the center of construction for what today constitutes North Carolina's largest and richest collection of 19th century urban architecture.
Wilmington also has a strong military history, serving as headquarters for General Charles Cornwallis before his surrender at Yorktown in 1781. During the Civil War, Wilmington was one of the Confederacy's most important ports for transporting war materials. The later fall of Fort Fisher and the subsequent loss of the port to the Union was a significant turning point in the war.
Today, Wilmington remains North Carolina's largest coastal city and a cultural center for southeast North Carolina. Wilmington is home to the Cape Fear Museum, located in the Wilmington National Register Historic District, which offers free in-county student admission and educates visitors of all ages on the history of Wilmington. The Historic Wilmington Foundation and North Carolina's Cape Fear Coast offer guided and self-guided tours of the area, ranging from an African-American heritage trail to a ghost tour.
The community has also been undergoing a restoration and rehabilitation of three of its most noteworthy structures. Over the years, Wilmington's St. Andrew's Church, the manse associated with the church, and the Consolidated Market and Fire Engine House No.3 had deteriorated due to neglect. Thanks to the commitment of the community of Wilmington, the buildings will house an arts center, the city of Wilmington's police department, the Historic Wilmington Foundation, and the Urban Building Corp., LLC.
Designated a Preserve America Community in November 2006.