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What are the best sources for local history?

Ben Steelman

In Wilmington, two good places to start are the local history room on the second floor of the New Hanover County Public Library, 201 Chestnut St., Wilmington [Map this], and the Cape Fear Museum, 814 Market St., Wilmington [Map this], which has extensive exhibits on local and regional history.

The Latimer House at 126 S. Third St., Wilmington [Map this], a Victorian house museum and the headquarters of the Lower Cape Fear Historical Society, has an archive and a small library, plus a gift shop where plenty of local history books are on sale.

The bookshelf for Southeastern North Carolina history is so heavy, the choices are nearly endless. Two good, brief surveys of the region are “Cape Fear Adventure” by Diane Cobb Cashman (now out of print) and “Historic Wilmington and the Lower Cape Fear” by Chris Fonvielle. “New Hanover County: A Brief History” by historian Lawrence Lee, published by the N.C. Division of Archives and History. solidly covers the 1700s and 1800s but unfortunately chronicles events only through the 1970s.

Two much longer studies are “Wilmington, North Carolina, to 1861″ and “Wilmington, Port of North Carolina,” both by historian Alan D. Watson, a professor at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. You might have to head to the library to find these.

Some other, more specialized books.

* “Society in Colonial North Carolina,” by Alan D. Watson.

* “Redcoats on the River: Southeastern North Carolina in the Revolutionary War” by Robert M. Dunkerly.

* “African Americans in Early North Carolina: A Documentary History” by Alan D. Watson.

* “The Wilmington Campaign: Last Rays of Departing Hope” by Chris Fonvielle, a look at the Civil War in the region with an emphasis on late 1864 and 1865.

* “Confederate Goliath” by Rod Gragg, a popular account of Fort Fisher in the Civil War.

* “Chronicles of the Cape Fear” by James Sprunt, a vintage history of the region, originally published in 1914 but still consulted.

* “Ballots and Fence Rails: Reconstruction on the Lower Cape Fear” by William McKee Evans, covers the years after the Civil War.

* ” ‘We Have Taken A City': The Wilmington Racial Massacre and Coup of 1898″ by H. Leon Prather, remains the best single account of the events of 1898. “Democracy Betrayed: The Wilmington Race Riot and Its Legacy” edited by David Cecelski and John Hope Franklin, is a good supplement with papers by several noted historians, but newcomers should start with Prather.

* “A Sentimental Journey: Memoirs of a Wartime Boom Town” and “The Journey Continues,” both by Wilbur D. Jones Jr., cover the Wilmington home front during World War II.

* “Wilmington, North Carolina: An Architectural and Historical Portrait” by Tony Wrenn, published in 1984, remains the best survey of local historic buildings. A fascinating companion is “Wilmington: Lost But Not Forgotten” by Beverly Tetterton, about often-beloved buildings that aren’t there any more.

* “Historic Photos of Wilmington” by Wade G. Dudley, is a coffee table book with period images many from the collections of the New Hanover County Public Library and Cape Fear Museum. For more photos, check out the collections by Susan Taylor Block for Arcadia Publishing: “Wilmington Then and Now,” “Along the Cape Fear,” “Cape Fear Lost,” “Cape Fear Beaches,” etc. Similar volumes are “Carolina Beach” by Elaine Blackmon Henson and “Wilmington, North Carolina,” a postcard history by Ann Hewlett Hutteman.

* “A History Lover’s Guide to Wilmington and the Lower Cape Fear” by Jack E. Fryar Jr. surveys historic sites you can visit in New Hanover, Brunswick, Pender and surrounding counties.

* “Echoes of Topsail” by David Stallman looks at Pender County’s historic coast.

* For Brunswick County, sources include “Joshua’s Dream” and “Joshua’s Legacy,” both by Susan Carson, and “The Story of Brunswick Town and Fort Anderson” by Franda Pedlow.

There are plenty of others, but this will give you a start.

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One Response to “ What are the best sources for local history?”

  1. On April 27, 2011 at 12:18 pm David Lewis wrote:

    Susan Taylor Block is the best social historian around.

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