Historic Wilmington Foundation Director Resigns, Interim Named

By Emma Dill, posted Jun 7, 2024
Isabelle Shepherd speaks during a Historic Wilmington Foundation press conference on Friday. Shepherd will serve as the group's interim director, following the resignation of executive director Travis Gilbert. (Photo by Emma Dill)
The executive director of the Historic Wilmington Foundation announced his resignation on Friday.

Travis Gilbert is leaving to serve as the director of philanthropy for the Old Baldy Foundation, a nonprofit that works to preserve Old Baldy Lighthouse. Isabelle Shepherd, Historic Wilmington Foundation’s development officer, will serve as interim director until the organization’s board of trustees completes its search for a permanent replacement.

The group announced the leadership transition Friday during a press conference in the garden of downtown Wilmington’s historic Dudley Mansion. The board of trustees accepted Gilbert’s resignation at its meeting on Thursday and appointed Shepherd as interim leader.

Gilbert (pictured at right) was hired as the organization’s executive director in early 2021. Before taking the role, he worked as the educator and collections coordinator at Old Baldy Lighthouse and served as the manager of the Latimer House at the Lower Cape Fear Historical Society.

“His tenure as executive director will be remembered for increased equity in the organization’s projects, exceptional historic scholarship, tireless advocacy on behalf of the region’s historic resources and expansion of the organization’s partnerships, particularly with conservation and affordable housing initiatives,” Historic Wilmington Foundation President Stephanie Bolton, said Friday.

During Gilbert’s tenure, the foundation’s Preservation Equity Fund helped remove two homes from the city’s demolition-by-neglect list and partnered with Giblem Lodge to secure the historic lodge’s envelope, giving the Prince Hall Masons time to build capacity for the structure’s revitalization.

The Wilmington City Council adopted Giblem Lodge and the Dr. Hurbert Eaton House as historic landmarks during Gilbert’s leadership. The foundation also partnered with community advocates in 2021 in efforts to maintain and preserve the historic Maides Cemetery.
During Friday’s press conference, Gilbert offered two warnings about what he views as the biggest threats to Wilmington’s historic preservation – the replacement of the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge and sea level rise.

“They have the power to irrevocably and fundamentally alter our historic landscape for the worse,” Gilbert said, “and it is up to this team and it is up to our community to speak up on behalf of historic preservation and ensure that those two threats … do not adversely affect our historic districts.”

Gilbert has publicly advocated against replacing the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge with a 135-foot fixed bridge in favor of a shorter option that could create less of an impact on neighborhoods within Wilmington’s Historic District.

“As preservationists, we must ensure that a new bridge meets our region’s infrastructure (needs) while also respecting our region’s past,” he said Friday.

Gilbert also noted the threat climate change and sea level rise pose for Wilmington’s historic structures. He has advocated for the conservation of Eagles Island and Point Peter, which he said Friday “act as great sponges against the dynamic compound flooding that further threatens these resources.”

Shepherd, the interim director, said the group will continue its public advocacy for historic preservation across the city.

“With the replacement of the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge and development of Point Peter on the horizon, we remain firm in our commitment to support new infrastructure while protecting our historic, cultural and natural resources,” she said.

The group’s board of trustees approved a transition plan at its Thursday meeting that’s expected to take about three months, according to Bolton. A job description for the role will be posted publicly on Monday to kick off the search process.
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