Wilmington, NC: Movie-Making Capital of the East

Bob and Harry took us on a tour of historic Wilmington.
Bob and Harry took us on a tour of historic Wilmington.

Wilmington, North Carolina: A Happening Seaport Destination

By Stephen Hartshorne

Wilmington, North Carolina, is known as “Hollywood East” because of all the movies and television shows that have been made here and in nearby Southport, from “Firestarter” in 1983 to “Iron Man 3” in 2013, with hundreds and hundreds of movies and television shows in between.One reason movie and television producers choose Wilmin

Susan Wilzer plays that harp at the Bellamy Mansion in Wilmington.
Susan Wilzer plays that harp at the Bellamy Mansion in Wilmington.

gton and Southport is the availability of skilled technicians in the area, due in large part to the decision by Dino De Laurentiis to locate his production company here back in 1983.

Matlock’s House

On my visit, I got to see Matlock’s house, the house from “Crimes of the Heart,” and a bunch of locations from “Dawson’s Creek,””One Tree Hill,” and many others. Recent productions include “Under the Dome,” “Revolution,” “Safe Haven,” and “We’re the Millers.”

Wilmington is also host to five major film festivals including the Cucalorus, which screens 150 films each year chosen from thousands of submissions from all over the world.

Azaleas and Venus Fly Trap

But besides the movies and television shows, this bustling seaport is a happening destination with magnificent architecture, swinging nightlife and a host of cultural attractions like the antebellum Bellamy Mansion, the Burgwin-Wright Mansion, and Thalian Hall, one of the oldest theaters in the US.

Other attractions include a WWII-era battleship, the US North Carolina, and the Wilmington Railroad Museum, the North Carolina Aquarium, and historic Fort Fisher, which guarded the mouth of the Cape Fear River during the Civil War.

Joel Finsel and Ian Murray, the bartenders at Manna, demonstrate the fine points of mixology.
Ian Murray, the bartenders at Manna, demonstrate the fine points of mixology.

There are beautiful island beaches, harbor tours, ghostwalks, and horse-drawn carriage rides, and, of course, the famous Azalea Festival. Wilmington is the azalea capital of the world, and it’s also the only place in the US where the Venus fly trap grows wild.

Magnificent Architecture

We took a carriage ride around town to see the many historic buildings, including the Burgwin-Wright Mansion, which Lord Cornwallis used as his headquarters during the Revolutionary War. The downtown National Register Historic District covers 230 blocks, with a variety of architectural styles dating back to the 1700s.

One reason Wilmington has so many intact buildings is because the Civil War battle for the city, the last major battle of the war, was fought at Fort Fisher, about 15 miles to the south and the city itself was not bombarded.

The Bellamy Mansion

Wilmington is the only place in the US where the Venus fly trap grows wild.
Wilmington is the only place in the US where the Venus fly trap grows wild.

The crown jewel of Wilmington’s architecture is the Bellamy Mansion, which is one of the only surviving antebellum mansions that still has intact slave quarters.

Having survived the Civil War, the structure also survived years of neglect after it was abandoned in 1946, and a serious fire in 1972, but it has been beautifully restored by the Historic Wilmington Foundation and Preservation North Carolina.

Touring the mansion is a real journey back in time, with period furniture, historic artifacts and interesting exhibits chronicling the lives of the Bellamy family and the enslaved persons who built the house and staffed the household.

Watch a video of Susan Wilzer playing the harp at the Bellamy Mansion.

Cocktail Tour

For a tour of Wilmington’s nightlife, we joined culinary guide Liz Biro for her “Drinks Downtown” tour, starting out at Manna, a gourmet restaurant specializing in innovative American cuisine and cocktails.

We sampled esoteric cocktails like the Lavender Citrus Blossom and the Elderflower Fizz, and learned about the fine art of mixology from bartenders Joel Finsel and Ian Murray. Their tip for avoiding a hangover is to take a shot of Fernet Branca at the end of the night.

Then it was on to the Front Street Brewery, where we learned about the very latest trend — beer cocktails — from Brewmaster Kevin Kozak.

Cupcakes and wine in Wilmington NC
Jody Carmichael of Hot Pink Cupcakes

Our last stop was a new business, Hot Pink Cupcakes. Everybody loves cupcakes, but here they are served with wine. Proprietor Jody Carmichael pairs her custom-made cupcakes with just the right vintages to please discerning palates. The next step: cupcakes and cocktails. Sign me up!

Top Chef

We ended our evening with a wonderful dinner at CATCH Modern Seafood Cuisine, where we met television’s “Top Chef” favorite Keith Rhodes. Rhodes specializes in “upscale low-country cuisine,” everything from pan-seared red grouper to cajun fried oysters — yum!

For more information about Wilmington, visit wilmingtonandbeaches.com

 

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Stephen Hartshorne
Stephen Hartshorne is the former associate editor of GoNOMAD.com. He writes a blog called ArmchairTravel about books he finds at flea markets and rummage sales. He teaches in local public schools in the Pioneer Valley and lives in Sunderland, Mass.