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Monday 6 February 2012: Houses of Wilmington #6

Marble House (1847)

It started out as the John A. Taylor house, built around 1847 at what is now 409 Market St., Wilmington. Its marble veneer facade over pressed brick provided a conversation piece/residence for a local shipping executive. (Taylor operated a ferry across the Cape Fear River and owned a steamer called the Calhoun.) His bride wanted a marble house, but settled instead for marble veneer in the front (from Italy) and English red brick on the sides.

In 1892, the house was bought by the Wilmington Light Infantry, a local militia unit, which used it as an armory until at least 1951.

On Nov. 10, 1898, a white mob - many of whose members were apparently WLI members in mufti - used the WLI armory as a staging area, gathering there before marching to the offices of the black-owned Wilmington Record, which it proceeded to burn. That attack was the first round the "Wilmington Riot" or insurrection of 1898 that toppled the city's elected, biracial government.

In 1951, the WLI deeded its armory to the City of Wilmington for use as a public library, in return for $500 and the right to use a basement room as their meeting hall. The New Hanover County Public Library occupied the building from 1952 until 1981. The building then housed the city's planning offices for a number of years.

In 1996, Wilmington deeded the building to the adjoining First Baptist Church, in exchange for two vacant suburban lots that the city planned to use for fire stations. The surviving members of the WLI, now mostly elderly, retained their meeting hall. The church now uses the building for Sunday school classes.

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