123 miles SE of Raleigh
As the chief port of North Carolina, Wilmington is a major retail, trade, and manufacturing center, but tourism is looming larger than ever in its economy. Known first as New Carthage and then as New Liverpool, New Town, and Newton, this city was given its present name in 1739 in honor of the earl of Wilmington. Technically, it's inland a bit, at the junction of the Cape Fear River's northeast and northwest branches. Despite the treacherous shoals that guarded the mouth of Cape Fear when explorers first arrived in 1524, upriver Wilmington developed into an important port for goods shipped to and from Europe during colonial days.
The city's history is evident in the old residential section of town, on the grounds of Orton Plantation, in the excavated foundations of Brunswick town houses, and in the blockade-runner relics at Fort Fisher. Boasting one of the largest districts listed in the National Register of Historic Places, Wilmington is known for its preservation efforts, which are reflected in the grandeur of its restored antebellum, Victorian, Georgian, and Italianate homes.
During both world wars, Wilmington was a major port for naval supplies. Today the river is busier than ever with industrial shipping. In recent years, a thriving new industry has developed: filmmaking. Ever since 1983, when Dino De Laurentiis came here to film Firestarter, Wilmington has been a major site for the movie industry, hosting the production of more than 400 movie features, miniseries, and TV movies. In fact, according to a survey by the International Association of Film Commissioners, Wilmington generated more film revenue than any U.S. city except Los Angeles and New York -- giving rise to its nickname "Hollywood East." Among the films made in Wilmington are Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, Forrest Gump, I Know What You Did Last Summer, Sleeping with the Enemy, Before Night Falls, and Bread and Tulips; the TV series One Tree Hill is filmed on location here.