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Exploring Wilmington with Ben, the Rescue Horse
By Tom Adkinson

ben the rescue horse
Ben works one week on and three weeks off in Wilmington’s historic district. Image by Tom Adkinson.

ben the rescue horse
Ben didn’t like working in tandem at an Ohio farm but found solo work in Wilmington. Image by Tom Adkinson.

WILMINGTON, N.C. – Ben, the Rescue Horse, apparently didn’t play well with others back on an Amish farm in Ohio, but he proved to be a fine escort on a clip-clopping stroll through Wilmington’s historic district.

John Pucci, his human, complemented Ben’s brawn as a carriage puller as he delivered a pleasant narrative about this vibrant river town where the Cape Fear River empties into the Atlantic Ocean. John’s company offers both carriage and trolley tours.

Ben’s turf is substantial (230 blocks), but it’s compact and full of notable buildings that themselves are full of historic tales and sometimes full of modern-day businesses. In the neighborhood are old churches and new breweries, antebellum homes and a modern riverside boardwalk. That boardwalk offers you almost two miles of exercise opportunity after you climb down from the carriage Ben pulls so effortlessly.

Ben, a sturdy Percheron, didn’t seem to mind as John delivered his oft-told stories of Native American settlement, European colonists, Wilmington’s strategic location in the Civil War and downtown’s development, deterioration and ultimate revival. The Wilmington Historic District dates to 1974 and is one of eight districts in the city on the National Register of Historic Places.

Ben didn’t even react when John pointed to one house and noted that its owner says it is “second to none” in Wilmington as the carriage turned a corner. Soon enough, passengers saw the street sign that indicated we were at the corner of Second and Nun streets. The passengers groaned at the opportunistic humor.

john pucci
Guide John Pucci knows Ben’s every move on tours through a 230-block historic district. Image by Tom Adkinson.

Thoughts of staying in some of the classic houses the carriage rolls by aren’t fanciful at all. More than a dozen operate as bed and breakfasts. Two of them, the Graystone Inn and the Rosehill Inn, are next-door neighbors on South Third Street. One historical tidbit is that today’s Rosehill Inn was the family home of the architect who designed the Lincoln Memorial.

If you are attentive as you roll along, you’ll get more than a hint of Wilmington’s diverse dining scene. Chef Dean Neff is creating a buzz with PinPoint (on Southern Living Magazine’s list of best new restaurants for 2016), and locals swear by established places such as Elijah’s (serving since 1984) and the Pilot House, where the sweet potato grouper earns unsolicited recommendations.

Ben, the Rescue Horse, of course, is a vegetarian, and his diet and lifestyle draw expressions of envy when his work schedule is revealed — one week pulling a carriage followed by three weeks on his owner’s farm across the Cape Fear River. He’s probably happy he never worked well when paired with another horse back in Ohio.

Trip-planning resources for Wilmington and its beach communities of Carolina Beach, Kure Beach and Wrightsville Beach:

Published March 17, 2017

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