The Cotton Exchange

The Cotton Exchange in Wilmington today is a shopping center where visitors can go to pick up and discover a variety of treasures. It is made up of more than eight historical buildings that date back to the late 19th and 20th centuries. Located on what we now know as Front Street in Wilmington, it contains various shops and dining facilities all contained within these restored historical structures. It got its name from the addition of the Old James Sprunt Cotton Exchange building into the complex. This business claimed to be the largest cotton exporter on the coast until 1950.

When the Atlantic Coastline Railroad left the port city of Wilmington in the early 1960's, many industries went with it and the business area greatly deteriorated. Abandoned and un-furbished buildings were left behind. In order to build Wilmington back up to its former prosperity, the Wilmington Redevelopment Commission began to demolish these buildings to make room for new and improved ones. Eight buildings that were being used as furniture storage were scheduled to be demolished but before it could happen, a partnership of J.R Reaves and M.T. Murray bought the buildings with the intent to renovate them and use as retail space.

Their overall plan was to keep most of the buildings intact with their original architecture and add just a few needed modern features, giving visitors a place to go shopping for modern pleasantries and objects within a charming and historical setting. Exposed walls and original wooden beams can be seen throughout these buildings as well as period furniture and lamps once belonging to old Wilmington custom houses. When The Cotton Exchange opened in 1976, it received open praise and various awards from the North Carolina Preservation Society and the American Institute of Architects.

The Cotton Exchange complex today is comprised of five different sections. The Wood Seed Building used to be a Chinese Laundromat in 1917 and a seed company in 1938. A barber shop that railroad employees used was also at this location. The Bear Building was home to a wholesale grocer back in 1913. The O'Brien building was the local headquarter site for Sears, Roebuck and Company around 1930. The Granary Building, which is located on Nutt Street, housed a milling company that produced grits, hominy and cornmeal. The Dahnhardt building, which dates back to 1884, was a three-story saloon frequented by mariners. The commission of the Cotton Exchange in historic downtown Wilmington added many new jobs to the area when it opened and continues its journey in economic growth and expansion, all while providing visitors the opportunity to browse amidst the restored remnants of history.

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Information on Historic Downtown Wilmington: Cotton Exchange.

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