This Month in History – Cape Fear Museum gets a new home, January 18, 1992

On January, 18, 1992 the renamed and revamped Cape Fear Museum opened its expanded facility to great fanfare and publicity. On opening day, a Wilmington Morning Star editorial said, “In 1987, county voters, with exceptional wisdom, voted themselves a present: $4.2 million in bonds to expand and modernize the venerable but outgrown New Hanover County Museum.” A longstanding community institution, the Museum moved into the Works Progress Administration armory at 814 Market Street in 1970. The growth of the collection—especially after the Blockade Runner Museum closed and the Cape Fear Museum acquired its artifacts – meant the existing building was bursting at the seams. When the bond passed, the Museum was able to expand the building and pay for new exhibitions.  

After a $50 a person black tie gala on the night of Friday, January 17th, the kickoff weekend was filled with free events for the public to enjoy. On Saturday, January 18th, the eastbound side of Market Street closed from 8 AM on to prepare for the official opening. Then, at noon, New Hanover County Commissioners and a group of fourth-grade students cut the ceremonial ribbon to open the revamped Museum. People crowded around the doors, waiting to get a look at what was inside.  

For the next two days, 814 Market Street was filled with noise and activity. Visitors could grab a slice of birthday cake in the courtyard and listen to bands play musicLiving history performers demonstrated aspects of 18th and 19th century life as they fired weapons, drilled, cooked, and showed off their crafts and trades. Younger visitors could go on a History Hunt through the building, collecting treasures like a wooden coin and a replica shark’s toothOne lucky patron even won a gift certificate to the Museum Store by counting the soldiers in the Fort Fisher diorama. 

Most importantly, visitors to the newly-expanded Museum could explore the then state-of-the- art permanent exhibition: Waves and Currents, presenting the history of the region. This exhibit was designed by Ralph Applebaum and Associateswho later designed the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DCAlso on display were artifacts showcasing “Collecting Cape Fear History” and historic bridal figures, created by Frank and Elizabeth Haines.  

There were additional temporary exhibits featuring Alexander Kaszas’ North Carolina marsh art and a Smithsonian exhibition of photographs of athletes from the 19th century through the 1980s. And finally, just for the weekend, there was a display of some of the bones of a giant sloth that had been recently discovered near Randall Parkway. This was the first time the bones were displayed to the public. These sloth bones are now on display at the North Carolina Museum of Science in Raleigh, and the Museum has a replica sloth in the lobby. The Museum recently updated the exhibit that houses the sloth. 

All this growth and change would not have been possible without the support of New Hanover County citizens. After receiving the community’s financial backing, the Museum’s expanded facility was three times as big as the original armory building, and has been able to serve hundreds of thousands of people from around the world. Since 1992, the Museum has been accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, has curated dozens of local history and science exhibitions and has brought numerous quality traveling exhibits to the community. 

To view more images related to this month’s column, click here.

Previous Columns

December: The Catherine Kennedy Home: a longstanding local institution
Taft Day, November 9, 1909
The Daily Record, October 20, 1898
September 15, 1990
Honoring “Hi Buddy” Wade on his 90th Birthday
July 15, 1977, One Short March, One Long Journey
The USS North Carolina lands a Kingfisher, June 25, 1971
May is Prom Season, May 12, 1962
Income Tax Deadline Day
Women’s History Month, March 8
A February Fundraiser, 2008
January 2019: 
Voting for Liquor by the Drink, January 12, 1979
A Day’s News, December 12, 1936
November 10, 1898
Halloween, October 31
Getting a Car Fixed: September 3, 1929
“Two Hundred Years of Light by the Light”: August 5, 1989
Tommies Parading in Wilmington: July 17, 1943
Williston is Closed: June 26, 1968
May: May 13, 1919: Traveling Home from War
April: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is assassinated: April 4, 1968
March: Sending Victory Mail Home
February:  Human Relations Month
January 2018:
Galloway’s Sick Note

Outside Cape Fear Museum, grand reopening day
Museum Archives

Cape Fear Museum gala ticket
Gift of Harry S. Warren

Ribbon Cutting Scissors
Gift of Cape Fear Museum Associates

CFM Director Janet Seapker
Museum Archives
814 Market Street • Wilmington, NC 28401 • Phone 910-798-4370 • Fax 910-798-4382