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Downtown Historical Sites See Uptick In Visitors This Year

By Christina Haley O'Neal, posted Dec 21, 2017
Bellamy Mansion Museum closes out the year with a record-breaking attendance of more than 28,000 visitors through events and tours. (Photo courtesy of Bellamy)
Several downtown sites have seen more visitors this year, including some record-breaking attendance numbers for two historical homes in downtown Wilmington.

The Bellamy Mansion Museum reported a record-breaking attendance with more than 28,000 people this year for tours and events, up from the previous record last year at more than 24,400 visitors to the site, according to Gareth Evans, executive director of Bellamy Mansion Museum of History and Design Arts.

The site, located at 503 Market St., wasn’t the only historical home to see an increase in visitors this year. Those at the Burgwin-Wright House and Gardens as well as the Latimer House Museum and Gardens also reported an increased attendance.

When Evans began working with Bellamy Mansion in 2010, he said, the museum attendance was just around 12,000 visitors.

"That's just a huge uptick in people attending. And every year for the last seven or so has been a record. But this year it just went off the charts," he said.

Tourists account for many of the visitors to Bellamy Mansion over the course of the year. "We know that there are 50 countries represented, and all 50 states are represented in a year," Evans said of the variety of visitors.

Most of the tours are given by Bellamy’s 220 volunteers with 7,000 hours of their time given to the nonprofit, Evans said. Events such as concerts and family fun days also attract a more local visitor base, he said.

"It's been a combination of things," Evans said of the increase. "We've done probably twice as many events ... and I'd say that Wilmington has become more and more popular as a destination [also] contributes. The fact that people are visiting as tourists or moving here has made a big difference."

He also attributed the strong year to a diversity of programming at the site, such as wine festivals, jazz, family days and school tours.

"I think the general interest in all these sites has gone up. And the Burgwin-Wright, they're telling me the same thing," Evans said. “I think tourism has gone nuts, which is great. In general, there are more people coming to town."

The Burgwin-Wright House and Gardens also seen a record year, said museum director Christine Lamberton. Attendance at the museum was at about 11,460 visitors so far for 2017, Lamberton said Thursday.

“We actually reached an all-time high for us. We are really excited about that,” she said.

Lamberton attributed the increase to the museum’s more consistent hours, as well as amenities such as its visitors center, gift shop and art gallery. The museum has also been developing and incorporating more community events such as lectures, Fourth Friday Gallery Nights participation, night tour events and other public events in its programming.

“I think Wilmington is thriving, and collaboration is at an all-time high,” she said. “There’s a just greater collaboration between the houses – Bellamy Mansion, the Brugwin-Wright House and Latimer House – and I think that’s just mutually beneficial for everyone.”

Lamberton also noted the increase in Wilmington tourism this year.

“We had very good numbers this summer,” she said. “We’re actually very pleased … usually, we die down in October, but visitors have stayed with us through December.”

At the Latimer House, there was an increase in general attendance this year, and the museum saw nearly double the numbers for one of its biggest events of the year, said Rachel Rhine, the site's manager for the Lower Cape Fear Historical Society.

The annual Old Wilmington by Candlelight Tour in early December saw just over 600 attendees last year and over 1,000 this year, which was its 43rd annual event.

Evans said he hopes the trend continues in the coming year for historical sites and other attractions in the downtown Wilmington area.

“I’m hopeful that it will keep rising over time, and that the more people come, the more people discover Wilmington and the things like the Bellamy in it of interest," Evans said. "But the trend keeps going."
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