Monday, April 27, 2015

NC Wilmington, Wilmington Convention Center, Wilmington Railroad Museum

     We are 7 miles up the Cape Fear River in Wilmington NC.  Today we are taking a look at the waterfront in this historic community.

     This stretch of land was inhabited by the Algonquin Indians up until the 1720's when English colonists began populating the area.  The area was alternately called "New Carthage," "New Liverpool" and "Newton" before the current name of Wilmington emerged around 1740.  By 1767 two thirds of the population was African slaves who primarily worked in the timber and naval stores trades.

Wilmington riverfront around 1920

     Wilmington then became a hub for trade, and the railroads and shipping industries became the predominant industries.  As we saw in yesterday's article, the area became a large ship manufacturer in the mid 1900's.  But through tremendous efforts of the local citizenry, most of the debris of those eras is now cleaned up and the city has remade itself.

     This is an Embassy Suites hotel and parking garage going up beside the brand new convention center in Wilmington.  The riverwalk that started over a mile back down the river is being extended here, making it the longest on the east coast of the United States.

     A large marina that is protected on three sides has been added alongside the already mostly calm river.  

     Work is wrapping up on this phase of the project, and they are readying for the next.  I am told over a half billion dollars have been spent putting this site together.

     The convention center itself is over 100,000 square feet. In all of the hallways old photos show scenes in and around Wilmington from years past.

     The banquet facilities are large and airy - there are two adjacent rooms this size with a retractable wall between.

     There is also a large commercial kitchen . .

. . and a big exhibit hall.

     The old photographs lining the wall are really remarkable - this one is about eight feet tall.

     Numerous smaller pieces adorn the walls, each clearly marked with the date and the scene it depicts.

     This really is a world class facility, and I am sure that tens - if not hundreds of thousands of additional visitors a year will be attracted.  

     Right next door is another item of interest - the Wilmington Railroad Museum.

     Executive director Mark Koenig, who was part of the committee that put together the artwork next door at the convention center, was kind enough to spend some time with us.

Mark Koenig
     The museum has space constraints that have not allowed it to be on as grand a scale as Savannah's Railroad Museum, but it makes up for it with great content.

     The exhibits focus on the trades, occupations, tools and workplaces of the railroad industry.  Here is part of one exhibit that tells the story of all the women who took jobs with the railroad during the war.

      The exhibits manage to be quite informative without being overly cluttered.  

     One exhibit talks about the history of the Railroad Police.  Here is an arrest log from back in the 1930's.

     It seems most of the arrests were for "train hopping," a common thing back in the great depression as men tried to find work.  In a railroad car outside the museum a scene depicts just such an arrest.

     We met several modern day "train hoppers" at the Rainbow Gathering in Florida a couple of months ago, and I have to say none of them had clothes this nice.  Other areas in the museum document the codes that these "hobos" left in different places to alert their fellows to danger or lead them to resources they could utilize.

     There are a lot of small exhibits of interest - the above is a piece of "slag" that builds up in the coal burners over time, and  replacement brake shoe for a train car.

     I don't know exactly who was responsible for it, but Wilmington seems to have some of the best collections of relevant old photos of anywhere we have been so far.  Here is a local train crossing the river.

     One of the museum's most interesting exhibits is the 1,200 square foot model train "city" in the back room.

     Scores of talented local craftsmen donated some 50,000 hours to put together an accurate depiction of Wilmington in the 1940s.

    Included are scenes from local industries just out of town, like this aggregate facility and traveling circus.  There is even a wedding and a funeral to be found amongst all the other activities.

     Speaking of activities, Mark and a whole bunch of other railroad enthusiasts got together and spent a year of preparation in order to set the world record for the longest model train.  They set up next door in the newly opened convention center's exhibit hall back in April of 2011.

     When completed, the train included over 30 locomotives and 1700 freight cars.  The record length of 925 feet was over 30 feet longer than the old record.  The train traveled 750 feet, well past the required distance it had to run under its own power. 

     When you come to Wilmington, if you have any interest in the railroads this museum is a good spot to spend a relaxing afternoon learning a bit about an industry that has been crucial to our economic growth.

     On another subject, this is the worst time of year for our fellows who struggle with asthma.  If you are from the south, you know about this pine pollen issue.  It gets everywhere.      

     But spring also brings frequent rain showers, so it doesn't seem to be long before it is all washed away.  

     Azaleas, plum trees, pear trees and roses are all coming into bloom here at the moment.  I always love the riot of color that spring brings.  Here are a couple of roses I found attractive.

     Which brings us to today's "Faces in the Crowd."  I have always wanted to capture "The Look" - as in when someone give us "The Look."  Well, I captured a friend's teenage daughter giving her brother "The Look."

     So, if you didn't know what "The Look" looks like, now you do.  Look out for it.

     And today's parting shot:

Tomorrow we will head back out to the coast and explore the beaches the border Wilmington.  Meanwhile, Click Here if you can donate a few dollars to help me along the way with this journey, Click Here to read today's meditation, and EMAIL me here. 

Have an awesome day !!

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