Photo and text by Susan Taylor Block
“Government is not reason, it is not eloquence – it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and fearful master.” – George Washington
As late historian R. D. W. Connor noted, after the War of 1812, North Carolina legislators voted to commission a commanding statue of President George Washington. Armed with advisors like Thomas Jefferson and Joseph Hopkinson plus a liberal budget of $10,000, the state chose as artist the celebrated Italian sculptor Antonio Canova of Venice. In keeping with the President’s “Father of his Country” status, Canova fashioned the sculpture as if Washington were a leader from ancient Rome, but managed to convey Washington’s more sensitive side as well. Soon after the work was completed in 1821, Commodore William Bainbridge supervised the statue’s passage to America aboard the United States ship, Columbus.
The Columbus arrived in Boston on July 22, but it would take roughly five months before the statue would reach Raleigh. From Boston, it was transferred to a smaller vessel for shipment to Wilmington, North Carolina. It is interesting that Washington himself visited Wilmington just thirty years earlier, in 1791. http://susantaylorblock.com/2010/03/18/the-wrights-of-wilmington-high-sheriff-thomas-wright/
From Wilmington’s port, the Canova statue traveled up the Cape Fear River to Fayetteville, then was moved by land to Raleigh where it arrived on Christmas Eve, 1821 as a gift indeed. A hero’s welcome awaited, complete with a 24-gun salute and a parade of marching bands, state legislators, Governor Gabriel Holmes, and future President James Knox Polk, of North Carolina. Revolutionary War veterans were special honorees.
Once installed in the North Carolina State House rotunda, Washington’s likeness drew art and history lovers from afar; proud citizens of North Carolina; and genuine celebrities like General Lafayette. Farmers, housewives, and little children learned the name of Antonio Canova, and the story of the Republic’s first president and that cherry tree was the buzz all over again.
Sadly, on June 21, 1831, less than ten years after its installation, Canova’s vision of George Washington was, in effect, fatally damaged by a fire that destroyed the existing wooden State House. The building was replaced by the rock solid 1840 State House that stands today. Fortunately, Canova, who died in 1822, saved the molds from which the statue was created, and a reproduction was cast.
In Raleigh, General George Washington still commands attention.
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- For much more information, see Dr. Connor’s article: http://www.learnnc.org/lp/editions/nchist-newnation/4999
- For more quotes by George Washington: http://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/4356.George_Washington
by Susan Taylor Block
Thankfully, my grandfather, Grover William Hill, saved almost everything. This is his city-issued driver’s license, complete with a wonderful image of the symbol of Wilmington. The city’s beehive has personality and the bees are abuzz, but some human being wasn’t so busy in the history department. Wilmington was founded in 1739/40, not 1866.
During the city’s youth, residents had to be busy as bees to compete in business with the more powerful landowners of Brunswick County. The eastern side of the Cape Fear River won out rather quickly then, but today, Brunswick is giving New Hanover County a good race again.
Anyway, I’m glad to have this little piece of Wilmingtoniana – EFO and all. I just wish I also had a picture of Granddaddy running that “machine” – and a video of Port City streets back when there were just 4,439 drivers….
by Susan Taylor Block
It didn’t seem odd then.
I went with my parents, brother,
And grandmother to the mountains
Just to see the show.
Most ‘the day we rode.
Sometimes Nana read a road sign aloud.
Silent she kept about the horse that
Broke from a buggy sixty years earlier,
Dragging her knee to shame.
The scar would have gleamed
In the bright October sun,
But she was a master at
Keeping her garment’s hem
Just below the knee.
Finally there, we spent two days
Driving the range, quaffing colors.
She looked, she watched, she held still –
Never noting that bit of youth
She spent there. Not the friends,
Or the love, or the work world victory.
Just a mention of rhododendron
That puffed out in Spring.
That last day we watched the trees
Full flame and flickering,
Colors so vivid, I see them today.
She gazed and she thought,
Still bridling her tongue. I’ll always
Remember her looking through
Orange and red, yellow and green -
Maybe sensing a notch on her timeline
And tasting promises
Where calendars have no place.
It was a little like the day we took aged
Uncle Leo and Aunt Lillian to see
Waves break at Wrightsville Beach
That one last time.
by Susan Taylor Block
This charming scene appears in the 1902 booklet, Souvenir of Wilmington, North Carolina. The photographer, perhaps historian William Lord deRosset, Jr., took his stance in front of the John C. Bailey House, at 219 South Third Street. Mr. deRosset published a predecessor to this booklet in 1900 and probably is responsible for this one. His father, William Lord deRosset (1832-1910), helped establish Clarendon Iron Works in Wilmington, and that bit of history works neatly with the fact that John C. Bailey came to Wilmington from New Hampshire in 1852 to be a pattern maker for that firm.
In his book, Wilmington, North Carolina: An Architectural and Historical Portrait, architectural historian Tony Wrenn speaks of Bailey’s, “superbly cast iron fence and gate,” adding that it is, “not too much to suppose that the design” was born of Mr. Bailey’s own artistry. The design also appears at the Bellamy Mansion, and at the former site of the Levi Hart House (now the First Presbyterian Church parking lot.) Eventually, Mr. Hart and John C. Bailey became partners in the ironwork firm of Hart and Bailey. The property of James Dawson, who once lived on property now occupied by the Murchison Building (200-210 North Front Street), owned an identical fence.
The John C. Bailey House still stands. More recently, it was the home of Ida Brooks Kellam, an outstanding and energetic local historian, preservationist, genealogist, and author. Her best known work is the book, Brooks and Kindred Families, published in 1950. The research library at Wilmington’s Historical Society of the Lower Cape Fear (Latimer House) is named in her honor.
The grand Latimer Houses sit across the plaza. They were built by (left to right) Edward, Henry, and Zebulon Latimer. All are the fine work of architect and builder James F. Post, with builders J. C. and R. B. Wood. Philadelphia architect Samuel Sloan is responsible for the beautifully punctuated verticality of the 1861 First Presbyterian Church spire.
It is tempting to try and figure out who these children are, but the most logical guess is that they are members of the Bailey family, and that a Mrs. Bailey and the Bailey grandchildren’s African American “nurse” stand just far enough in the background to please the photographer, but near enough to watch the children’s every move.
by Susan Taylor Block
Thomas Brooks and Mary Brooks of Kent, England
John Brooks, Esq., born prior to 1697, and Susan Winefred Narsin Brooks, of Swedish birth, moved from Kent, England to York County, Virginia, then to Campbelltown, NC, and then to Chatham County, NC.
Isaac Brooks, born prior to 1727, in York County, Virginia, and his first cousin, Ruth Terrell (1730-1790), daughter of Timothy Terrell of Virginia. The Brooks and Terrell families both moved to the future site of Fayetteville at the same time, c. 1735. John Brooks and Timothy Terrell served on the vestry of St. David’s Church there, and they were justices of the peace. By 1755, the Brooks were in Chatham County, NC.
Joseph John Brooks and Hannah Harper of Chatham County, North Carolina
Francis Marion Brooks and Mary George Petty
Addie Brooks (1859-1921) and Joel Marion Stone, son of Andrew Jackson Stone, CSA, and Emily Elkins Stone
Flossie Mae Stone, native of Mount Vernon Springs, NC, and Grover William Hill, of Onslow County
Betty Jane Hill and Joseph Wright Taylor, Jr., of Wilmington
Sources: Hill-Taylor Collection. Ida Brooks Kellam, Brooks and Kindred Families.
Verse by Susan Taylor Block
Like that circle in a spiral
We spin into a dream
Of multicolored flora
And eyes and lips and wings.
Whirling disks of pleasure,
By kindred soul arranged:
Communion in the garden
Though every drop was drained.
Who could craft an artist
Who never had a lesson?
Who could shape a flower
Or make a deep blue heaven?
An illuminated message
Made waste of pride and fear.
Dark eyes pooled with wisdom
Saw far beyond her years.
A sacred dance of brushes
Yielded poems in the paint.
Light transforms the passage
Of truth “for those who wait.”
A chapbook, The Bottle Chapel at Airlie Gardens, contains Fred Wharton’s story of Virginia Wright-Frierson creating the bottle chapel – and the contributions she solicited from other artists; my very brief biographical introduction to Minnie Evans; and the poem above. The other artists include: Hiroshi Sueyoshi, Dumay Gorham, Karen Crouch, Tejuola Turner, Brooks Koff and students from New Horizons School, Michael Van Hout, and garden artist Barbara Sullivan. Emily L. Smith served as editor. The booklet, produced through the Publishing Laboratory at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington is available at the Airlie Gardens gift shop.
by Susan Taylor Block
I’m grateful to have an article about Wilmington’s Plantation Club in the August issue of Salt. The magazine is free and is available in many local shops and stores. A flip-through version can be found online at http://issuu.com/saltmagazinenc/docs/august2013salt ”A String of Pearls” begins on page 19, and is accompanied by the World War II-era photo, below, of the Plantation Club owners and employees. In the past, economic and social conditions thwarted fine photographic records of many African Americans, so this professional Plantation Club picture is a rare gem.
Just four days after the issue became available, I received a phone call from Florence Warren, a leader in the Williston Alumni Association and many other good causes. It was the sort of thing of which writers dream. She enjoyed the article, is promoting it in the African American community, and is working to nail down identifications for those who were pictured anonymously. Her efforts are greatly appreciated and have already led to her friend Barbara Ennett Davis, who is a granddaughter of Ernest King.
Historically, the names of Wilmington’s blacks generally go missing altogether from the backs of photos. Almost more frustrating, many are tagged by first name only. I talked with legendary Orton Plantation gardener and sage, Clarence Jones, about this and related topics one day. Nearing the age of 100, he summed the identification process up perfectly, “And who you gonna ask? Who are you gonna ask?”
In 2000, I asked Mary Alice Jervay Thatch, publisher and editor of the Wilmington Journal, and she provided me an effective way to identify blacks pictured in the 1920 and 1930s panoramic photographs of Louis T. Moore. She published several photos and asked readers to help with identities. Educator Kenneth McLaurin then contacted me, providing not just names, but biographical material for some of the subjects. Kenneth remembered Walter Corbett, pictured below, because his first job was to assist Walter and his wife Edith with their “Bed and Breakfast” business at 201 South 13th Street. More details are available in the book, Wilmington Through the Lens of Louis T. Moore. It was a great victory to glean those names while there were folks around to speak them. For the Plantation Club article, there was not enough time to work out a similar newspaper plea.
August 13, 2013: Barbara Ennett Davis, daughter of Lawrence Ennett, has suggested names, but is not certain. The names are: Melvin Thompson, Johnnie Vereen, and a Mr. Harvey.
On a more zany note, reading “String of Pearls” caused Wilmington native Sallye Josie Crawford to remember the following Plantation Club jingle, often recited and portrayed on the dance floor:
“Out at the plantation, there’s a new kind of dance. It isn’t the waltz, and you don’t have to prance. This dance has really got class: If you can’t shake your shoulders, shake your yass, yass, yass.”
…to be continued.
by Susan Taylor Block
How can I get him
To just cut the grass,
When all he can think of
Is catching some Bass?
When will he realize
That fish ain’t “free food”?
With that little Jon boat
Our budget’s unglued.
When will he see me
And heave a nice sigh,
As when he looks upon
Lures he might try?
Why does he have to
Go fishing at dawn?
I’m all for snuggling,
But that makes him yawn:
The very best answer,
so long I have sought,
Is simply that I have
Already been caught.
Photos and text by Susan Taylor Block
As artists, moviemakers, and dreamers all know, there’s just something about the light in Wilmington. When the sun deepens its descent towards the Cape Fear River, downtown glows and familiar sights take on a new luster.
That happened yesterday when a friend and I embarked on a late afternoon stroll through the Historic District . I’ve been gazing at St. James Episcopal Church and the Temple of Israel for decades, but yesterday the two buildings arrested my attention again.
Golden light bathed the 1839 church and the 1876 synagogue. They are old neighbors with all those ancient connections that go beyond words, but the little story that stood out in my mind during that gilded walk was of the gold leaf inscription the buildings share.
In 1941, Rabbi Mordecai Thurman commissioned a gold leaf banner for the synagogue, using the words, “Blessed is he who cometh in the name of the Lord.” (Psalms 118:26)
Time passed and nothing new happened at the synagogue, but one block away, St. James rector Mortimer Glover was scratching his head. How did a Bible verse suddenly appear inside the double doors of the church? The mystery was soon solved: the artist simply went to the wrong House. St. James kept the verse in place, and the Temple of Israel acquired a duplicate inscription – and underwrote the cost of the banner at St. James.
“Blessed be the tie that binds.”