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Is the Cotton Exchange haunted? Was there a fire?

Ken Little

The Cotton Exchange in 1973, prior to its restoration. From the Dr. Robert M. Fales Collection, courtesy of the New Hanover County Public Library.

The quaint collection of shops and businesses at 321 North Front St. is housed in a 19th century building put to many uses by succeeding generations of Wilmingtonians.

Nancy Bullock, manager of The Cotton Exchange, believes there may well be a ghostly presence in the building, which has been in constant use since the 1850s.

“Though I have been here nearly 23 years, I have not encountered a ghost, but there seem to be a few ghostly inhabitants. The Scoop and Top Toad have mischievous ghosts, which wreak havoc in their shops after closing,” Bullock said.

The rambunctious spirits knock down displays, unfold shirts, pour syrup on countertops and unplug fixtures, Bullock said.

“Many tales have been written about the specters which frequent the Dahnhardt Building,” Bullock said, the name of the building in the 1880s when it was a three-story mariner’s saloon.

One couple, she said, “wanders through occasionally, always dressed in beige and in the fashion of the 1920s, and disappears.”

The German Café has an apparition that appears at the dinner hour, Bullock added.

“A Victorian-dressed woman will be seen standing at the top of the steps leading to the upper dining room. And The Golden Gallery is visited by a man in a black top hat and long black coat. He just stands quietly in the corner of the shop for a moment and then becomes invisible,” Bullock said.

“These are just a few of our friendly ghosts!” she said.

There was indeed a fire at the building, in 1974, “just prior to the renovation of the buildings that were unoccupied,” Bullock said.

“Nearly one-third of the complex was gutted by the fire,” she said.

Sutton Council Furniture, located at the Front Street entrance between the two lanterns, was destroyed in the blaze.

As a result of the 1974 fire, which were followed by hurricane-force winds that leveled the back wall, the building now exists as two stories, with a three-story façade on Front Street

“As a result, The Cotton Exchange has a beautiful patio and breezeway!” Bullock said.


What is the Cotton Exchange?

Why are there brick semi-circles in the pavement on Front Street at the Cotton Exchange?

What is considered the most haunted place in Wilmington?


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