Throwing it back this Thursday with my trip to Wilmington, North Carolina. My sister and I drove the four hours from our home in Hampton Roads to this awesome city to do a little family research. We packed our bags and made our way down highway 17 on Easter weekend of last year. Unfortunately, we didn’t think to check to make sure the Main Library in Wilmington would be open on a holiday weekend. It wasn’t.
Never fret. My sister and I always know how to take a bad thing and make it into a good thing. And by that I mean an excuse to bar hop across the city instead of doing a ton of family research.
We stayed in a hotel about two miles from the downtown area of Wilmington. It was a pretty straight shot down Market street until we started seeing the houses speckled in the charm of yester-year. The area was beautiful with old and new mixed in together to create the charming city of Wilmington. I am a huge fan of historic architecture. I snap pictures left and right and probably look like a crazy tourist in every city I visit, even in my own back yard. I’m a sucker for mural walls and any hidden nook and cranny of a city that looks appealing to the eye and this city had it all.
On Friday night we did do a little online research with the help of a website called familysearch.org. This research had us scratching our heads even more than before with our three times great grandfather, William W. Castine (Casteen). He is John Bryant’s father. According to our search, William W. seems to have married at least three times and bore children from two of his marriages. We are still working to sort out the details about the senior Mr. Castine. I hope in a future post I will be able to tell his life story. He seems to be proving harder than not to track down. We are stuck. At a genealogical stand still with him. If this were a novel, I would kill him off to get the story to progress because of a serious case of writers block. He and John Bryant were the main reasons we came to Wilmington, to unlock the secrets of the Castine gentlemen. Any who, lets drink some beers, go over our Pinterest board and call it a night!
We wake early and drive downtown to Chestnut Street. One thing I don’t like about traveling to a different city is parking. I never know where to park and never seem to have enough change for street meters. I will remedy this the next time I make any plans to go somewhere new. Well, like I said before, we didn’t check to make sure the Main Library would actually be open for our research. We decided to get breakfast and make a plan.
I, of course, suggested Bourbon Street as soon as I saw it on the corner of a street after we parked closer to the water. I, having been married only a few months before in City Park in New Orleans, was craving a café au lait and beignets. No luck on the café au lait but a great cup of coffee and a very enthusiastic waitress. I wished I remembered her name to give her the credit she deserves. She was running that floor almost all on her own. The restaurant was decorated with knick knacks and purple, green and gold. It screamed kitche NOLA and I was just waiting for someone to shout out “who dat”. It was perfect and the Eggs Benedict were delicious.
Over breakfast we decided to stay and explore the city instead of heading home a day early. So, our next stop was the Cotton Exchange on North Front Street. This building was fantastic. If you don’t know what the Cotton Exchange is, it’s a collection of eight buildings that date back to the late 19th and early 20th century. It’s named the Cotton Exchange because of the Old James Sprunt Cotton Exchange building, which occupies most of the shopping complex.
The buildings ranged from a warehouse that stored flour to boarding houses and a saloon. I could probably write a post on these buildings and their history myself but if you would like further information I suggest using Wikipedia at wikipedia.org or shopcottonexchange.com. The brick buildings were littered with shops and a few places to eat. I have to say that my favorite shop was Elizabeth’s Ladies Boutique. They had reproductions that made me feel reminiscent of the Edwardian Period and hats, hats, hats.
From shopping we went to eating and decided on Paddy’s Hollow. An Irish pub tucked into one of the courtyards in the exchange. The food was great pub food and the beer was much needed. Being only April, it was a little muggy and warm in the city. We sat and relaxed in a large booth and planned our next move.
We walked around downtown. Meandering in and out of many shops mostly filled with souvenirs and books and candles. Typical tourist fares of any city. The light rain was refreshing but we wanted to escape somewhere and wait for it to pass. So after almost two hours of wandering we decided to visit the Bellamy Mansion Museum on Market Street; A beautiful example of antebellum architecture to feast the eye upon…and history too! It was built for John Dillard Bellamy and his wife and nine children on the eve of the Civil War. And seeing how we were here in regards to our own Civil War veteran it seemed fitting to visit this historic site. The mansion now serves as a museum and offers daily tours and educational programs. It’s a 10,000 square foot home with three floors and a restored slave quarters and gardens. It wasn’t too expensive to get in and it was a welcomed haven from the rain outside.
We started out on the guided tour after we were able to explore the slave quarters alone but somehow managed roaming the house on our own.. Chandeliers and mantles and pocket doors. Oh my! The house was meticulously restored to its grandeur and it looked beautiful. I think the coolest thing was on the top floor. It was a water pump and cistern that showed how they were able to get water up on the top floors and eventually run plumbing in the bathrooms. Very interesting to say the least. Last on our tour of the mansion was the fourth floor belevedere. The sight from the top of the mansion was outstanding, being able to see a sweeping view of the city around us.
We spent the afternoon driving around the city and tried to locate the locations of previous addresses that we knew of thanks to census records and directories. We didn’t have any luck. One address looked like a warehouse had taken over and the other a convenience store. After that we visited Bellevue cemetery, which I believe is currently named Oakdale Cemetery on North 15th Street. All I can say is that cemetery is not alphabetically accurate. Jumping between letters as they added on is the only explanation I have. It took us a while to find him but when we did it was worth it.
John Bryant lay next to his wife Minerva on a corner plot near the back part of the gardens. We scoped around and found many other members of the family. The only thing we could not find for certain was a grave marker for Miranda, his daughter. She passed very young (I will tell this story in an upcoming post when I finish JBs story). My sister and I want to start a family fund to purchase her a new marker. It only seemed right. We sat for a few moments, feeling like we really knew this person after being able to read his own words just a few weeks prior. I felt saddened by his story but also happy to be able to share in it and have it as my heritage.
Next…drinks of course. We ventured to The Husk on South Front Street and you guess it…this was also once a building that housed feed. It was a nice little bar with only a few patrons on that hot afternoon. The bar tender was great and it was a nice place to relax and recharge our phones. They did offer an assortment of beers and a good looking menu but we were saving our appetite for the Riverboat Landing restaurant.
This was a neat little gem right on the water on Market Street offering southern, French and Mediterranean dishes in a circa 1857 building with private waterfront balconies.
Yes, we chose to eat on a private balcony facing the water with a view of the Cape Fear River and the Battleship North Carolina.
I had the spinach ravioli and some fruity mixed drink I can’t remember the name of but enjoyed at the time. It was moderately priced but it was our splurge having dinner on the private balconies overlooking the streets below as the sun set.
We stopped in at another little bar before hitting up the Blind Elephant. This was by far my favorite spot in Wilmington. It was hidden down a back alley and we were told about it from another bartender. Apparently it was a word of mouth kind of place. It was reminiscent of a 1920s prohibition bar. The drinks were all hand crafted and stellar. They had a man playing piano tunes of a bygone era and black and white moving pictures on the wall. If you ever get the chance to try elder flower liquor do it. My favorite drink of the night was called “The Jive”. It contained gin, lime, simple syrup, cucumber and elder flower liquor. It was crisp and went down easy. I am a gin girl myself so I enjoyed this drink very much.
After the roaring twenties, our last stop of the evening was the KGB bar on Princess Street. They had a great court yard with tables out front behind the iron doors that led you into the bar. The drinks were amazingly good and the whole bar had a really neat vibe. There we ended up talking to a couple about family research and they said they have traced their family back hundreds of years. I think it made my sister and I very excited to be on our journey of tracing our roots.
Waking up feeling less than refreshed after our night out, we packed up our bags to make our way back home in time to snuggle up to our kiddos. But first we had one last stop in Castle Hayne. This excursion led us down many twisted two lane country roads to a church having Sunday service and people dressing in their Easter best. This was the resting place of William W. Castine buried across from a church in Castle Hayne, in a small little grave yard next to the road. His maker was worn but it took us no time to find it. After not being able to make out the words on his headstone, we ran back to the car for a pencil and paper to see if he could make a rubbing of some sort. “Twas hard to part with thee, But thy will O God be done.”
He was 91 years and seven days old when he died on July 18, 1903. This feeling of sitting in front of him was different than that of his son’s grave. We felt like we had barely scratched the surface on this man that lay in the ground beneath our feet. Soon we reassured ourselves that we would know more.
The trip was a success in my eyes. Even though we were not able to hunker down in the library for the weekend, we were able to see the place that our relatives grew up and lived their lives. To walk the same streets and see the same buildings they would have been able to enter and buy supplies in, we were now enjoying refreshments and music. The world will never stop changing, but I am glad that Wilmington, North Carolina is doing its part to preserve the history within its city limits. I hope to return to Wilmington in the future and may do so this summer. If not for family research at least for the drinks!
Thanks for reading!