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What is the oldest house in Wilmington?

Ben Steelman

That’s a tough question, in part because a lot of the city’s oldest buildings aren’t being used as residences anymore.

While Wilmington is a comparatively old city (for North Carolina, at least), surprisingly few buildings survive from the 1700s. Most of the early structures were wood, and firefighting technology was fairly primitive, so a number of fires in the late 1700s and early 1800s destroyed much of Wilmington’s earlier heritage.

In the Downtown Wilmington Historic Districts, the Mitchell-Anderson House (sometimes called the Smith-Anderson House), 102 Orange St., Wilmington [Map this], dates from about 1740, the year the town was chartered. Built in the Georgian style in Flemish bond brick, the house underwent several alterations and expansions, but its original lines can still be discerned. Edward Mitchell, a planter, acquired the lot in 1738 for 24 pounds, and sold it to John Smith in 1744 for 250 pounds, suggesting that the house was added in the interim. In the 1800s, the house belonged to Edwin A. Anderson, a local physician, who kept his office in the little L-shaped building next door at 104 Orange St. Today, the building houses offices.

The DuBois-Boatwright House, 14 S. Third St., Wilmington [Map this], dates from 1765, built by John DuBois, a merchant and alderman. It is on the National Register of Historic Places but is presently unoccupied and in need of considerable restoration.

The nearby Burgwin-Wright House, at 224 Market St., Wilmington [Map this], dates from around 1770, but its foundations apparently contain parts of the old county jail, dating from the 1740s. It is now maintained as a house museum by the Colonial Dames.

In the Lower Cape Fear area, oldest-house honors clearly belong to Sloop Point, near Hampstead in Pender County. At least a part of it, according to historians, is the oldest surviving building in North Carolina. Built around 1726 by planter and political leader John Baptista Ashe, it was substantially expanded around 1760 with the addition of the front porch, the present roofline and rear shed rooms. The name comes from its location above Topsail Sound, near where trading sloops (one-masted sailing ships) made landfall.

Sloop Point’s design resembles houses on the Caribbean islands, where Ashe and other local planters traded. One unique feature of the house is its double doors, which swing in and out from the corners of the fireplaces, allowing access both from room to room and to the front porch. Sloop Point is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Currently a private residence, it is not open to the public.

In Brunswick County, parts of the main house at Orton Plantation, 9149 Orton Road SE, Winnabow [Map this], date from 1735. The house remains a private residence, but the surrounding gardens are open to the public.

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