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What’s the story behind the building where The Copper Penny is now located?

Ben Steelman

Photo courtesy of the New Hanover County Public Library.

Funny you should ask. From 1914 to 1934, the little building at 109 Chestnut St. was home to the StarNews – or at least its granddaddies, the Wilmington Morning Star, the afternoon Daily News and the Sunday Star-News.

The two-story structure was erected in 1902 by Col. K.M. Murchison as offices for the Southern Express Co., which moved over from its former home at 14 Princess St.

The Southern Express Co. moved out in the fall of 1913, according to news clippings in the New Hanover County Public Library, and the Morning Star, which had been headquartered since 1909 in the Orton Hotel building on North Front Street, moved in. The Wilmington Morning Star Co. – a consortium of local businessmen who had taken over the paper from its founder, Maj. W.H. Bernard, after his retirement – held their first board of directors meeting in the new building on May 13, 1914.

In 1934, the newspaper moved over to the Murchison National Bank building (the old First Union building) at 201 N. Front St. (It would stay there until moving to its present location, at 1003 S. 17th St., in 1970.)

Thereafter, 109 Chestnut St. was home to a variety of businesses, according to the Wilmington City Directory. In 1938 and 1940, it held the local offices of the Prudential Insurance Co. (and, briefly, the Glasgow Hicks Insurance Co.) For more than a decade, until 1952, it housed the offices of Lenox G. Cooper Insurance Agency, and for a while in the 1940s, James Book and Stationery seems to have shared the building.

Lots of people remember La Mode, a women’s clothing store, which occupied the building from the early 1950s until 1978. Port City Office Suppliers moved in from a couple of years in the early 1980s, followed by Choice Fashions from 1983 to 1987.

After standing vacant for several years, Cassidey’s All-American Eatery (later Cassidey’s Grill and Public House) moved into the building in 1991 and stayed for a decade or so. It was followed by The Shanakee, an Irish pub and restaurant, which gave way to The Copper Penny in 2004.

Lots of old-timers will remember the Friendly Cafeteria, which stood next door at 111 Chestnut St. (in a building no longer standing) from 1921 till the early 1970s.

Back in the 1980s and 1990s, a number of StarNews reporters rented upstairs apartments at 109 Chestnut.

Tracking the early history of the StarNews, by the way, is tricky, since the newspaper office seems to have moved frequently. First issued on Sept. 27, 1867, as an evening paper (and switching to morning a few weeks later), it was located for a time above the Edwards & Hall Grocery on Water Street between Market and Dock. It then relocated some months later to Custom House Alley, near the location of the present Alton A. Lennon Federal Building. (All this is according to a 1946 “Along the Cape Fear” column from the StarNews.)

By 1875, according to the City Directory, it was on Front Street between Market and Princess. In 1876, it relocated to 10-12 Princess St., where it would remain until its move to the Orton building in 1909. (The Orton, of course, burned in a spectacular fire on Jan. 21, 1949, that destroyed much of North Front.

The only vestige of the old hotel is the Orton Pool Room (now known as Orton’s Underground) at 131 N. Front St. According to former owners, Willie Mosconi set a world record in 1953 at the Orton by running 365 consecutive balls without a miss. (He’d break that record the following year, running 526 straight balls in a straight-pool exhibition in Springfield, Ohio.)


How did the Star-News get its name? Was it ever called anything else?

On the corner of Third and Chestnut streets is a sculpture of an animal on a pole. What is the animal and why is it there?


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