Modern Living in Historic Spaces
By Naari Honor
There is this special place in Wilmington where paved roads turn into red brick, and the smell of magnolia trees permeates the air. Tourists flock here to take in the sites, but for Wilmington residents, this area is home; rich in history and robust with progress.
The Historic District of downtown Wilmington, encompassing 230 blocks, is considered one of the largest historic areas listed on the National Registry. Within this space, you can find quaint shops, a beautiful Riverwalk and a plethora of historic homes. And it is within these homes that one can experience the past while living in the present.
“The Historic District is filled with homes, from modest cottages to grand mansions and everything in between,” says Phoebe Bragg, President of Residents of Old Wilmington. “The houses vary in age, architectural style and interior design. The thing they have in common is that each home is unique.”
Residents of Old Wilmington (ROW), is an all-volunteer, non-profit organization that is rooted in the historic perseveration of downtown Wilmington neighborhoods. The organization’s major fundraising event, the Backdoor Kitchen Tour, will see it’s 14th year on October 12, 2019. The tour will feature nine historic homes owned by ROW members and families.
“Our members volunteer their houses, and our BDKT committee selects a variety of styles, sizes and ages of the homes in order to give our guests a cross-section of life in the Historic District,” Bragg comments.
The tour came about in 2005 in an effort to raise money for the community. Former ROW President Alice Mitchell formed a committee during her tenure to research the best ways to fundraise. Inspired by home tours in Charleston, South Carolina and Key West, Florida, the Back Door Kitchen Tour began.
“Because all ROW members live in the downtown historic district in unique houses, that was a perfect fit for us,” says Bragg.
This year’s tour includes Queen Anne, Victorian and Greek Revival style homes. Despite the tour being called the Back Door Kitchen Tour, the event actually allows residents of historic homes to open up their doors to the public to showcase how modern folks live in historic spaces. Attendees are able to explore only the main floor of the home.
“People love to have the opportunity to step inside an old home,” says Michael Smith, owner of the 1899 Queen Anne home that will be onview for the tour. “Even though the focus is the kitchen, participants get to see and enjoy the entire downstairs of the home.”
Patrica and Paul Lawler moved into their 1860 Greek Revival style home located on Walnut Street in March of 2007. Tour guests will get to walk the 150-year-old original pine floors and view the rooms that were once used as a waiting room, exam rooms and a pharmacy.
“The house was a doctor’s office for almost 40 years, and that’s why we have two front doors,” Patricia Lawler explains. “It was Dr. Daniel Roane, an African American physician that was here. This was his clinic, and he lived two doors down”.
Peter and Pam Gonzales are two chefs at heart that poured their soul into designing the perfect kitchen for cooking, entertaining and fellowship. The kitchen includes a state-of-the-art Sub-Zero refrigerator and wine storage cooler as well as a beautiful royal blue BlueStar eight-eye range.
“Friends will say that we have too many (ranges),” says Pam. “I say we have just enough; four for him and four for me!”
One of the oldest homes in Wilmington and on the tour is the Hogg-Anderson home built in 1810, which is owned by husband and wife Patricia and Lew Lobosco.
“It was a Salvation Army hospital for girls,” Lew says as he reads from a copy of the newspaper clipping announcing the hospital’s opening. “When the girls came here, they had to have a birthing room.”
As many as 73 girls resided in the home, and 59 babies were birthed in the space before the site was relocated in 1925. In addition to this, the home was used in 1918 by the Red Cross to make bandages for World War I soldiers. It is estimated that 50 to 100 women met in the home every morning to take part in the task.
Mary Grace Denton and Peter Maloff have lived in their 1870 Neoclassical home located on Walnut Street for close to three years now. Dr. Robert Martin Fales, physician and author of the book “Wilmington Yesteryear,” had the home constructed and practiced in it for many years before moving into the Murchison building.
“In the original home this was Dr. Fales waiting area,” Mary Grace comments as she points around the living room. “And that is where he saw his patients. This door leads out onto the porch and there’s a different sidewalk down the side of the yard, so it was truly a separate entrance for the patients.”
Like many ROW members, the couple did not do any major renovations, which in turn helped with preserving much of the home’s character.
Every home on the tour has its own story and embodies an air of uniqueness. While the tour is designed to raise money, it is also an opportunity for visitors to learn the history of many of the homes they pass by on a daily basis.
Proceeds from the Back Door Kitchen Tour go back into the community—another way the organization fosters a sense of community, progress and pride for all Wilmingtonites.
“The money we raise stays in downtown,” says Bragg. “ROW has given grants to DREAMS, Kids Making It, the Children’s Museum and our battleship. Last year we made donations to the Bellamy Mansion and Burgwin Wright House for hurricane repairs”.
Of all the beautiful homes on the tour, just which kitchen would Phoebe Bragg love to see again if given an opportunity?
“I would revisit my mother’s kitchen. It was the heart of the home and our gathering place. It was filled with sunlight and overlooked fields and cow pastures. She had a flour bin where she kept her dough bowl, and she made biscuits twice a day,” says Bragg.
Wilmington has had its share of good and bad when it comes to the town’s history. But it is efforts like these that help the community move further towards progress and healing.
To learn more about the Residents of Old Wilmington and the Back Door Kitchen Tour, visit the organization’s website at www.rowilmington.org