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The Five-Point Weekend Escape Plan

Explore History and Good Eats in Wilmington

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3. What to Do

Immerse yourself in Wilmington's Civil War history at the Bellamy Mansion, which recently uncovered some of the best-preserved slave's quarters in the country.  

Dive into Southern history at the Bellamy Mansion Museum ($10), a 10,000-square-foot Greek Revival and Italianate house built for physician and planter John Dillard Bellamy and his family just before the start of the Civil War. Located in the heart of downtown Wilmington, the mansion now includes a museum of history and design arts, with a special emphasis on the free and enslaved black artisans responsible for the house’s construction and the crafting of the intricate décor items and artworks found inside. The museum opened in 1994 but started a new chapter in 2013 with the unveiling of some of the best-preserved urban slave quarters in the entire country. They’ve since been fully restored, and you can now tour them as part of the grounds tours, which are offered every hour. Outside, wander the re-created gardens, brimming with 150-year-old magnolia trees, oyster-shell paths, and dozens of varieties of flowers.

Stroll the 67 lush acres of Airlie Gardens ($9), which were first planted here on the grounds of a 19th-century estate in 1901. The city has hosted an azalea festival each year since 1948, so it’s no wonder that there are more than 100,000 of the flowering shrub here, alongside an immense collection of camellias and the centerpiece Airlie Oak, which dates back to 1545. Built between a tidal creek and a man-made lake, the gardens are dotted with hidden gems like the 1835 Mount Lebanon Chapel and an early-20th-century coquina pergola. Don’t miss the Minnie Evans Sculpture Garden, dedicated to the onetime gatekeeper who was also an outside artist exhibited at the Whitney. As a tribute to Evans, a number of local artists created sculptures and mosaics, including the showstopping Bottle Chapel, made from more than 4,000 colored bottles. Check the gardens’ site for seasonal events like a summer concert series, an annual fall oyster roast, and a festive holiday light display.

Step back in time at the Burgwin-Wright House & Gardens ($10), one of only three colonial-era houses—and the only one open to the public—in Wilmington’s 200-square-block National Register Historic District, the largest in the state. The Georgian mansion, built circa 1770 on the foundations of the city jail, is furnished with antiques and objets d’art that date back as far as the 18th century. Out back you’ll find gardens designed by the landscape architects behind Colonial Williamsburg, including an orchard with figs and pomegranates, an heirloom rose collection, a “physic” garden with medicinal herbs, a kitchen garden with herbs used in colonial cooking, and a formal parterre garden with decorative flowering trees. Last year, the house added a thoughtfully curated shop: Instead of colonial-themed tchotchkes, you’ll find Moravian cookies from historic Winkler Bakery in Winston-Salem and books like Andrea Wulf’s The Brother Gardeners—a surprisingly gripping tale about the birth of modern horticulture.

Published on Nov 20, 2014 as a web exclusive.

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