Cobblestone streets overhung with stately shade trees are central to Wilmington's downtown ambience, and on just about any given day a horse-drawn carriage clip-clops along and a driver stops, starts, points, gestures and impedes traffic in every direction at numerous points of interest in the course of delivering a historic narrative peppered with restaurant recommendations.
Springbrook Farms is a charter member of CONA, Carriage Operators of North America, and has been doing this for 22 years, with rescued horses that are humanely treated. On a rotating basis, pairs of its 12 percheron draft horses pull carriages of tourists through the waterfront district or, more often than not, spend their days in a pasture.
The standard carriage tour begins on Market Street between Water and Front streets. Reservations are not needed for 45-minute daily tours that run year-round, April through October, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. and, November through March, from 11 a.m. through 10 p.m. Call 910-251-8889
Trolley tours also bump along these bricklaid streets, regaling riders with sights of lavish mansions, stately museums, birthplaces of notable persons, TV and movie locations, African-American history and Civil War shipyards. Tours depart on the hour, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., from Dock and Water streets. Evening tours during the summer months are extended to 6, 7 and 8 p.m. and private tours are available. Contact the Wilmington Trolley Company at 910-763-4483.
American Heritage Tours focus on the African-American experience, and load up the bus in front of the Wilmington Hilton between Grace and Princess streets. Major attractions include the Burnette-Eaton Museum, Pine Forest Cemetery, Williston High School, St. Luke's A.M.E. Zion Church and Bellamy Mansion. Call 910/371-2848 or write firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ghost walks are another way to connect with Wilmington's dark and murky past, and the same company offers a haunted pub crawl to investigate any spirits that might be on tap. These tours are purely for entertainment purposes, and may or may not contain any actual factual content.
Sooner or later your tour guide will dramatically deliver a quote from Colonel William Lamb, who said in 1864, "I'd much rather be in battle than in Wilmington, for at least in battle I have a chance of not being killed."
The walks begin at the Black Cat Shoppe on Market Street and proceed with a litany of murder, disease, war, slavery, piracy, suicide and domestic violence. This will get you in the mood to walk down 275-year-old alleys and tread warily upon the unmarked graves of thieves, murderers and various tortured souls. With 29 "active" sites in town, the tour stops vary nightly, and special holidays call for special tours. Call 910-794-1866.
And don't forget the Battleship USS North Carolina, looming at anchor somewhere off the downtown docks, also has paranormal activity stemming from thousands of World War II sailors who apparently never quite disembarked.