The Port of Wilmington was bustling place during the turn of the nineteenth century. Ship captains wheeled along the Cape Fear River, dance hall music beckoned weary sailors and cotton was king. The growing town of Wilmington was home to some of the largest cotton producers in the world, which created a thriving economy along the coast. Through the efforts of local residents, the Cotton Exchange has been preserved for future generations to enjoy. Restaurants and shopping boutiques now fill the buildings once utilized by the South's signature crop.
Constructed prior to the Civil War, the Sprunt Building was once the largest flour mill and hominy mill in the southern states. In 1920 the building was redesigned by Alexander Sprunt and his sons for cotton exportation. Cotton grown in the Wilmington area was shipped throughout the United States and to Europe. The building has been in constant occupation since the final nails were pounded in the mid-1800's.
A wholesale grocery utilized the Bear Building in 1913. Mother Nature wrought havoc on the structure in 1974 when both a hurricane and a fire destroyed the third floor's rear wall. The building remained in use as a two-story business with the third-story facade.
Wood Seed Building
The Wood Seed Building was used as a storefront for a variety of businesses after construction was completed in 1917. A Chinese laundry occupied the interior until the 1930's, when E.C. Moore's Wholesale Notion Company took over and began making and selling sewing needs. In 1938, T.W. Wood and Sons Seed Company became the new owner and supplied the needs of local farmers. The seed company shared the space with a Winslow Merrick, a local barber popular with railroad travelers and executives.
Sears Roebuck and Company occupied the O'Brien building during the 1930's. Today, stain glass salvaged from Wilmington houses adorn the walls of the structure. A thick glass door which once protected the money inside an Atlanta bank from the same time period is the front entrance to the O'Brien Building.
Drinks and piano music flowed from inside the three-story Danhardt Building during the late 1800's. Known as a popular saloon with mariners, it provided lively nightlife along the waterfront. In 1900, a peanut cleaning and wholesale grocery business owned by W.B. Cooper moved into the building.
Boney and Harper Milling Company occupied the Granary Building during the early 1900's. The business produced approximately 4,000 bushels of cornmeal, hominy and grits daily under the Diamond B trademark.
Front Street Entrance
The LeGwyn Printing Company occupied the main building along North Front Street in the early 1900's. Sometime in the mid-1900's the Sutton-Council Furniture Company moved into the building selling handmade furniture.
Nutt Street Entrance
This section of the Cotton Exchange complex was used as a loading and storage area for the milling companies. Step across a threshold of history as you walk over steps constructed of materials salvaged from debris found along the burnt areas of the Bear Building.
The Cotton Exchange, while no longer a shipping hot spot, is a vibrant part of downtown Wilmington. Guests can mix dining with historical discovery after browsing the shopping boutiques located inside various buildings. Visit the restaurant's website or the online Cotton Exchange directory for additional information and printable menus.
The German Cafe — Located inside the Wood Seed Building, The German Cafe specializes in traditional German cuisine and alcoholic during both lunch and dinner hours.
Paddy's Hollow Bar & Grille — Located inside the Wood Seed Building, Paddy's Hollow Bar & Grill is a Victorian style pub serving both lunch and dinner.
Scoop Ice Cream & Cafe — Try something sweet to top off your meal at the Scoop Ice Cream & Cafe. Located inside the Wood Seed Building, the cafe offers frozen yogurt, ice cream and sandwiches.
The Basics — Locate the Sprunt Building and then pull up a chair to enjoy a gourmet soul food menu. The Basics serves breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Discover handmade clothing, jewelry and art while shopping at the Cotton Exchange. Locally owned boutiques also feature cooking items, coastal inspired clothing and home décor.
Bear Building Stores
- Hummingbird Station sells homemade chocolates and nature-inspired gifts.
- T.S. Brown Jewelry sells handmade crafts, loose gems and customized jewelry settings.
Dahnardt Building Stores
- The Celtic Shop features imported Irish and Scottish goods and housewares.
- Fire & Spice Gourmet offers cooking sauces, spices and rubs. Cooking aprons, dishware and North Carolina wines can also be found along the shelves at this Cotton Exchange shop.
- Atlantic Barn and Timber Company sells gazebos, fireplace mantles and pergolas.
- Just for the Holidays features seasonal items for the home, and specialty ornaments and décor for Christmas and Halloween.
- Paws, Claws & More features stuffed animals as well as crochet and knitting supplies.
- Pure Life Health Food and Vitamins offers herbal teas, minerals, vitamins, healthy snacks, books and soy candles.
- Revolution 9 sells classic rock apparel, bumper stickers, jewelry, and various tie-dye items.
- You Are My Sunshine offers maternity wear and baby items.
Granary Building Stores
- Emory's Crystals offers jewelry and home décor crafted from or adorned with colorful glass crystals.
- Top Toad features resort apparel and accessories for women.
- Two Sisters Bookery features books, lamps, literature related gifts and bookends.
O'Brien Building Stores
- Cape Fear Footwear offers footwear for men, women and children. Brands routinely available insdie the store include Laurel Burch, Taos, Rainbow, Gummies and Cobian. Also available from this merchant are ladies handbags, sunglasses and accessories.
- Caravan Beads sells a wide array of beads and jewelry making materials. Jewelry making classes and private parties are also among the services offered by this Cotton Exchange merchant.
- Crescent Moon sells handmade art and décor created from both metal and glass. The store routinely features the work of close to 100 local artists.
- Down to Earth offers locally created aromatherapy items and gifts.
- Elizabeth's Ladies Boutique sells casual, formal and bridal wear for women. Shoppers will also find hats, accessories and socks to match outfits found inside the store.
- The Golden Gallery features watercolor paintings and digital photography by local artists.
- Occasions...Just Write sells stationary, greeting cards and home accessories.
- Ping's Tibet features handmade creations and art from China and Tibet.
- Port City Pottery & Fine Crafts specialize offers a gallery of art and craft items created by local artists. Items routinely featured in the store include baskets, pottery, woodworking creations, fiber art, sculptures and jewelry.
Sprunt Building Stores
- Fidler's Gallery and Wrigley's Clocks sells works of wall art, customized wood frames, clocks and offers clock repair services.