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North Carolina Room

Special Collections, State & Local history and Archives of NHCPL

John Hall HouseDiscovering the History of Your House

Decide what you want to know about it!

  • Who built it? Who lived there?
  • What was there before?
  • What style of architecture is it?

  • Start by Tracing the Ownership Through the Deeds: Most deeds reference the previous owner or chain of ownership.

    • Deeds are mainly looked up by name or deed book and page number. The legal description of the deed is different from the postal address; hence, you cannot do a postal address lookup. Several sets of transcribed and indexed records compiled by different individuals are in the North Carolina Room and might aid in deed research.

    • New Hanover County Register of Deeds

    • New Hanover County GIS

    • Find a legal description of your property

  • Obtain Tax Records: If you hit a dead end or are researching a property that you don’t know who owned it, check the tax records.
    • New Hanover County Tax Department
    • Tax records show the buyers and sellers including price paid along with tax value, permits issued, GIS parcel maps, and structure sketches. They do allow for postal address lookup. Information on early properties may be difficult to find.
    • Note: Tax records may have the wrong date; this is due to it being an estimate of what the homeowners have reported.

  • Wilmington City Directories: Cross reference by street & name: Another source for identifying who was actually living at a property is by checking the city directories. Most have street indexes in them that allow for an address to be looked up.
    • An important thing to note is that postal addresses changed over time and in the early part of the 20th century and before, it was common for there to not be numbers assigned. City directories help identify if persons other than the actual homeowner lived in the house. Some houses were built to be rentals. They also give occupation and often list marital status (if widowed).
    • You can also view the Wilmington City Street Index Project at the bottom of this webpage.  The city directories are broken down by year and were generally produced every other year.  The City Street Index allows you to sort, search, filter, and manipulate the data in any manner that you like.
    • Digital copies of Wilmington City Directories can be found through the at the following link: Wilmington City Directories 1860-1963

  • Reaves Block Books: The Reaves Block Books can be of assistance when a street address is known.
    • Bill Reaves compiled newspaper clippings from area papers ranging from 1860-1930’s with other miscellaneous years included.
    • He arranged these clippings by the address mentioned in the articles. Most building permits from that time period are lost, but notice would be printed in the paper.
    • These books include many notices of permits being granted which could help identify when a house was constructed.  

  • Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps: Another way to tell when a house was constructed is to check the Sanborn Fire Maps. These maps are available through and require a library card number. They were originally used to determine fire insurance rates, but can now be used to tell how properties changed.
    • UNC-Chapel Hill has digital color versions of the Sanborn Maps that can be accessed without a library card. 
    • Structures including stables, external buildings, houses, businesses, and roadways were included in the maps. By comparing different years, the changes to a property can often be seen or at least identify if a structure was on a property at the printing or updating of the map.
    • These maps are an easy way to identify what might previously have been on the location of a property.  

  • NCLive Historic North Carolina Newspaper Collection (
    • This is part of the state-wide collection of databases that require a library card. After logging in with your New Hanover County Public Library card number, you can search an address or a potential home owner's name in the search box.  Make sure to click on the "Add More Info" and type in "Wilmington, North Carolina" to limit your searches only to the Port City.
  • also has an extensive historic newspaper collection that is accessible without a library card.


  • Port City Architecture: .You might also try looking through the library's digital collection known as Port City Architecture to see if a previous owner of your home applied for a plaque from the Historic Wilmington Foundation.  The online collection lists over 600 historic homes or historic sites in Wilmington in the and yours might just be one of them!  Simply click the title of the section above or HERE to access the collection.

  • Port City Architecture Map: The map below shows the geographical location of over 600 homes, businesses, and buildings, and other historic sites currently listed in the Port City Architecture digital collection.  The structures are color-coordinated based on date of construction.  Buildings constructed in the 1700s are listed in yellow, 1800s in green, and 1900s in blue.  Clicking on any one of the icons will give you the name of the building, the address, the date of construction, and a link to additional information in the Port City Architecture digital collection.


Louis J. Poisson HouseArchitectural Information

To identify the architecture of a house, there are great resources at the library and online. 

Finding A Photo of Your House

Finding an early photograph of your house can be difficult. We have very few photographs that were intended to capture houses. Instead, we might have streetscapes of certain areas.

  • The Louis T. Moore Collection consists of images captured by Moore, the head of the Chamber of Commerce.
    • By searching a street name, a house might have been captured in that image of the street.
    • Go to digital Collections and search the street name the house is on.

Example Search: Orange Street

Explore the History of the Wilmington Harbor with "Main Street, Carolina"

The New Hanover County Public Library houses one of the state's oldest North Carolina Collections. Included in the over 100 year old collection are over 20,000 photographs of the Cape Fear Region. The images available on this website represent the Wilmington Harbor from 1837 to present day.

Research and Look for Any of the Following:

  • Insurance records for a limited number of years
  • Historic tax records
  • The National Register of Historic Places applications
  • Historic Wilmington Plaque Files
  • City and county land use plans
  • Library subject files

Once you have identified the family or families that have lived in the house, you can determine more information about them using genealogical resources:

  • Census records
  • Birth and death registers
  • Obituaries
  • North Carolina Room Family Files
  • Bill Reaves Family Files
  • Military records.

Finding original blueprints, builders and/or architects names, contractor information, or other specific building information can be very difficult unless you live in a well-documented historic home. 

  • Some of this information was probably never recorded or was discarded after the house was built.

Can I Apply for a Plaque?

  • To be eligible for a Historic Wilmington Foundation Plaque, a building must be over 75 years old and be located in New Hanover County. Buildings over 50 years old at Wrightsville Beach, Carolina Beach and Kure Beach are also eligible for a plaque.

  • To apply for a plaque, please contact the Foundation at 910.762.2511 or email to receive an application.  

  • Or click here for a printable PDF Plaque Application.

Main Library & Law Library
201 Chestnut Street
Wilmington, NC 28401

Northeast Regional Library
1241 Military Cutoff Road
Wilmington, NC 28405

Pine Valley Library
3802 South College Road
Wilmington, NC 28412

Pleasure Island Library
1401 N. Lake Park Boulevard
Carolina Beach, NC 28428

Call (910) 798-6300
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Friday-Saturday 10 am - 5 pm
Sunday 1 - 5 pm