Wilson was first known by a completely different name.
In the early 1800s, a community began forming around Toisnot Primitive Baptist Church in the geographic area where Wilson currently sits and the region was originally referred to as Toisnot. It wasn’t until 1849 that the North Carolina General Assembly chartered the Town of Wilson, naming it for the state senator, Colonel Louis D. Wilson.
Wilson first began to grow due to the Wilmington-to-Weldon railroad line built by the Wilmington and Raleigh Railroad Co. As more English-American settlers migrated to the area, they began to chop down the lush woodlands and develop the land for farming crops to feed all the residents of the budding region. Soon enough stores, workshops, schools, and other buildings were erected and a town began to form. The railroad’s access to the port in Wilmington also made Wilson a prosperous trading town during this time.
After the Civil War, farmers jumped on the bright leaf tobacco harvesting bandwagon and Wilson was at one time known as “The World’s Greatest Tobacco Market” during the 19th century. Wilson leaders took very intentional steps to create a market and commerce center rather than only being the area where tobacco was grown. Legend says they hired away the auctioneer from a larger tobacco market and enticed him to start the market in Wilson. Local bankers and business leaders worked very hard to create the market, which created prosperity in Wilson for years.
Since its early days, Wilson has stayed true to its agricultural roots, producing over $100 million in crops and produce annually. And like its crops, Wilson has kept on growing, evolving into a hub for business, technology, and diversity. Wilson is the birthplace of Branch Banking and Trust Corporation (BB&T), is home to the Merck Manufacturing Division, and manages the fastest broadband internet in the state with 1Gbps speeds delivered by fiber optic technology. But, Wilson’s Whirligig Park, cultural arts center and its many recreational areas prove that the city is not all work and no play.
Wilson’s history contributes to its ever-evolving appeal and it’s sure to charm both visitors and residents alike for generations to come.