A Chestnut Tree Grew in Wilmington

by Susan Taylor Block


(All photo rights reserved: Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina – Wilson Library.)


This photo, owned by the University of North Carolina’s “Southern Historical Collection,” features Mary Catherine Lord (on right, with tennis racket), a daughter of rice merchant Frederick James Lord of Wilmington. The image was taken near the “Lazarus Cottage,” a considerable structural dependency that was part of Aaron Lazarus’s property in Wilmington. Mr. Lazarus, one of the earliest directors of the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad, owned the city block that is bounded today by Third, Grace, Fourth, and Chestnut streets.

The Lord family had roots in antebellum Wilmington, going back to Richard Bradley’s daughter, Elizabeth Bradley, and her marriage in 1792 to John Quince Lord. Their roots in Brunswick County ran deeper though. William E. Lord served for years as Brunswick County’s delegate to the North Carolina House of Commons. His co-delegates included Alfred Moore and Benjamin Smith.

The Lord family became known for their generosity and for their deep involvement with the Episcopal church; contributing funds for the needy and giving monetary gifts, stained glass windows, and the altar rail to St. James Church in Wilmington. Their family pew, labeled “LORD,” on the typical small brass pew plaque of that day, tended to raise visitors’ eyebrows, but it did seem to fit their passionate interest. William Campbell Lord and Dr. Thomas Henry Wright served as co-chairmen of the building committee for the 1839 Gothic Revival building, designed by U. S. Capitol dome architect Thomas U. Walter.


Lord House

The 1773 Wells-Brown-Lord House at 300 South Front Street. (Photo by William Edmund Barrett from Tony P. Wrenn’s book, “Wilmington, North Carolina: An Architectural and Historical Portrait.)

At one time, Mr. Lazarus’s residence at 314 Grace Street fronted on Chestnut Street, just north of Wilmington’s City Hall. During Aaron Lazarus’ day, Grace was known as Mulberry Street. These ancient names for Wilmington lanes may have had some botanical basis. Frederick Jones Hill, Frederick James Lord’s great-uncle, purchased the Lazarus property and made extensive and grand changes to the main house.

The woman who is seated on the left is Mary’s sister, Eliza Lord Munds. On June 28, 1890, Mary married Bishop Alfred Watson (1818-1905), who served as bishop from 1884 to 1905. He was the first Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of East Carolina, an attorney, and an eloquent chronicler of post Civil War days in southeastern N.C. Though Bishop’s Watson’s schedule was dense with duties. and the couple’s ages were disparate, the couple honeymooned for about two months in Europe. When they returned, Bishop Watson resumed his busy schedule of parish visits, sometimes on shipboard. He was remembered for the words he spoke soon after his election as bishop: “The Past is gone past mending. The Future is Ours.”

All rights reserved. University of North Carolina at Wilmington, Randall Library.

Bishop Watson and Mary Lord Watson, about 1891, seated in front of St. James Church’s old rectory (now razed) at 309 Market Street. (All photo rights reserved. University of North Carolina at Wilmington. Special Collections, Randall Library.)


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Retro “Pluggers”

by Susan Taylor Block

“Pluggers” is a cartoon series originated by Jeff MacNelly and continued by Gary Brookins. My father, a quiet people watcher, enjoyed reading it, so I submitted some ideas to Mr. Brookins, hoping to surprise Dad. All were not accepted, but it was great fun to hear the delight in his voice when he would call to let me know one of my Pluggers had made it to print.

It’s an odd-feeling thing to share a short text and a situation, then have an artist put it all together. The immaterial became material – even if each cartoon’s shelf life was just 24 hours long. Hmmm. I can change that:

Pluggers 4


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Eric Norden: Sweden to Harbor Island

by Susan Taylor Block


Eric Norden, in his home on Harbor Island. (Cape Fear Museum)


Eric Norden, a Wilmington photographer bibliophile, surveyor, and title expert was born in 1869, and raised in comfortable style on a Swedish plantation. He moved to America in 1888, first to Wisconsin and then to Minnesota where he earned the designation of civil engineer. In 1896, he came to Wilmington to supervise the installation of a steam plant for the Cape Fear Lumber Company.

By 1900, Norden had developed a keen interest in topography and land titles. He was commissioned by Hugh MacRae, Sr. to help MacRae acquire 40,000 acres of land, upon which the owner planned to place experienced farmers from Europe who could teach residents of southeastern North Carolina better farming methods. MacRae acquired the farmland in New Hanover and several neighboring counties.

Mr. Norden kept an office in the Masonic Building on Front Street in Wilmington from 1909 to 1946. There he worked as a consulting engineer and a land survey and title expert. Over the period of his career, Norden researched titles and surveyed land for timber companies, the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad, the State Literary Fund, and the State Department of Public Instruction. He was the first person to untangle the title mysteries of Bald Head Island. Eric Norden kept ties with Sweden and prized a commission document he received from King Gustaf of Sweden in 1916.

Norden had a number of hobbies, including the acquisition of antique clock and rare books, and practicing the skill and art of photography.

Early shutterbugs: William B. McKoy, Dr. George Worth, and Eric Norden, about 1910. (Cape Fear Museum)

Early shutterbugs: William B. McKoy, Dr. George Worth, and Eric Norden, about 1910. (Cape Fear Museum)

In 1902, Norden was elected president of Wilmington’s Y.M.C.A. Camera Club. Norden learned to develop his own photographs and did his work at the old Y.M.C.A. building that once stood on the northwest corner of Front and Grace streets in Wilmington. The plates they used were glass.

Years later, a spokesperson for the North Carolina Department of Archives and History wrote: “He spent much time and great care in preparing as gifts beautiful photographs of the coastal country with which he was familiar.”[1]

Dr. George Worth, a medical missionary to China who was supported by James Sprunt, was elected vice president of the camera club during a Sabbatical year. Dr. Worth and Eric Norden are pictured together at Lilliput Plantation on the cover of a book called, Along the Cape Fear.

Having grown up on a successful plantation and having such an interest in land, Norden naturally had affection for the old Brunswick plantations. On May 1, 1917, James Sprunt wrote to Norden’s friend, William Bacon McKoy, saying:

…I thank you for your favor of the 30th of April. I would be glad to be of any assistance to you when you are ready to go to Orton, and I regret that we have just moved up to town for the season, after having lived there for the past five months.

“I think I could arrange to go down with you, Mr. Martin and Mr. Norden, from Orton in a conveyance to the Old Church….

“Kindly let me know the day before you want to go to Orton. I may be able to send you down in my own boat and bring you back in good time in the afternoon.

“Yours faithfully, James Sprunt.[2]

Eric Norden’s rare book collection must have been one of Wilmington’s largest and very finest. It contained a 1614 copy of Sir Walter Raleigh’s History of the World; an English thesaurus printed in 1554; 72 volumes of Gentleman’s Magazine, from the years 1731 to 1834. Sadly, his house on Harbor Island, at Wrighsville Beach, burned in 1939 and almost all of his books turned to ashes.[3]

A copy of a Swedish book entitiled Fridthjof’s Saga survived, only because Norden had gifted it before the fire. In Mr. Sprunt’s handwriting it is inscribed, “Eric Norden to James Sprunt.”


Eric Norden died on October 25, 1946, at the age of 77. He was survived by his wife, Laura Howell Norden. The couple had no children. Mrs. Norden was a gifted musician and published poet. In 1980, Laura donated 188 of her husband’s photographic images to Cape Fear Museum. She gave them in old glass plate negative form and the museum developed and conserves each one.

Eric Norden took this photo of Greenville Sound from his property on Harbor Island. (Mary Muchison Gornto Collection)

Eric Norden took this photo of Greenville Sound about 1902. (Mary Muchison Gornto Collection)

Laura Howell Norden, crabbing at Harbor Island, about 1912.

Laura Howell Norden, crabbing at Harbor Island, about 1912. (Cape Fear Museum)

[1] “Eric Norden: A Biographical Sketch” by the NC Department of Archives and History.  Dispatch, January 9, 1902.

[2] Alexander Sprunt Collection, Perkins Library, Duke University.

[3] Undated newspaper article by Maude Waddell, containing many details of Mr. Norden’s book collection, Miss Waddell was a descendant of settler Maurice Moore.

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Idling at the Governor Dudley Mansion


Marian Murchison Hurkamp (Photo by H. Cronenberg, Wilmington NC)

Marion Murchison Hurkamp, as photographed by H. Cronenberg, Wilmington NC. (Laurence Sprunt Collection)

by Susan Taylor Block

This photo was taken about 1896, in front of the Governor Dudley Mansion, located at 400 South Front Street. Marian Elliott Murchison Hurkamp (1865-1916) was a sister-n-law of James Sprunt, who owned the imposing residence at that time. Marian and her sister, Luola Sprunt, were two of five children born to Col. Kenneth McKenzie Murchison and Catherine Elliott Williams Murchison. Their other siblings were architect Kenneth McKenzie Murchison, Jr., Jane Murchison Ellis, and Jesse Williams Murchison Carter.

Marion’s pose is especially appropriate, considering she was married to Charles H. Hurkamp, a breeder and trainer of fine thoroughbred horses. They lived at Boscobel Farm in Fredericksburg, Virginia, where Mr. Hurkamp trained each of his horses. Some of them, like Amaret, Cattleman, and Hornpipe, became well-known names among racing enthusiasts across the nation.

Two children were born to Charles and Marion; Charles, Jr., and Luola Hurkamp.

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Song for Chilly Nights

Verse by Susan Taylor Block


Jazz is a place where

Convention goes missing:

A hall full of music notes,

Paired and French kissing.






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Local Humor, 1873 Style

Entered by Susan Taylor Block

“Our friend, Captain William Rand Kenan, has been edifying us with some of his grim jokes this morning. Of course he spoke a few lines about insurance and wound up by asking us why is Ann Street the last street in Wilmington. We gave it up and he answered, ‘Because Nun was beyond it.'”   –   Editor’s tongue-in-cheek comment; Evening Post, January 17, 1873.

(Photo courtesy of New Hanover County Library)

The William Rand Kenan House at 110 Nun Street.(Photo courtesy of New Hanover County Library)

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by Susan Taylor Block

(I’m happy to have the following as today’s meditation in the daybook entitled, Meeting God Day by Day. Forward Movement, associated with the Episcopal and Anglican church, is the publisher and Richelle Thompson serves as editor.)

Photo by John Reid Murchison II

Photo by John Reid Murchison II

“The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.” – Psalm 19:1.

Living in beautiful Wilmington, North Carolina gives ample opportunity to witness God’s handiwork. Sunset anywhere is a celestial treat, but the city’s location between a river and the ocean also offers the possibility of shimmering reflections. When I take the time to observe sunsets in light of David’s words, I’m never disappointed.

It’s comforting to remember that creation is no accident. John 1:3 states that the Word of God made all things. Then the writer adds the exclamation mark: “without him was not anything made that was made.”

Viewing the sky as God’s daily movie production is a lot more exciting than studying refractions. It’s like film du jour. Clouds traipse in and off the screen. Colors come and go, too. Blue, azure, gold, and peach are my favorite fair-day hues, but even dark skies possess a silvery beauty. Especially along the coast, winter skies offer the most atmospheric clarity, making the colors even more vibrant.

The transient nature of such sights mimics other quick-to-evolve treasures like flowers in bloom and a baby’ face. The very impermanence of it is part of its charm. We can save it to memory in the keepsake folder of our minds.

Sunsets are reminders of God’s energy, power, engineering skills and artistic genius. They can be a symbol, too that God is at work everywhere, all the time. Hopefully, the same force that colors the sky is working in our individual lives to create something beautiful. Jesus himself said, “My father is still working, and I also am working.” (John 5:17)

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^January 24,, 2015. All rights reserved for text by Forward Movement; and for the photo by the photographer. Copies of the 2015 book are available:   http://www.forwardmovement.org/Products/CategoryCenter/FMNT/New_Titles.aspx

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A Portrait that Stays With You

by Susan Taylor Block

Sarah Forbes (Private Collection)

Sarah Forbes (Private Collection)

Working as a regional historian, I’ve looked at many portraits and images of portraits. Every now and then, I see one so delightful in one way or another that it becomes part of the album I keep in my mind. The portrait of Sarah Forbes of Boston is one I can almost see with my eyes closed. Though a resident of the “nawth,” she has a place in Wilmington’s antebellum ancestry charts. Members of the port city’s Meares, Williams, MacMillan, and Wright families have some sort of genealogical tie to her. Maybe a reader will illuminate this interstate family tree.

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The Joy of a Grand and Much Identified Photo

The wedding of Luke and Judy French, at the John William Perdew House, 718 Market Street, Wilmington, North Carolina  – about 1924.

Photo courtesy of Margaret Moore.

Photo courtesy of Margaret Moore.

(Left to right) Mary Shepard French, Cowan Fournier Darden, Florence Emma Renneker Perdew, John William Perdew, Mary Pickett Cranford, Llewellyn “Luke” Christian French (the groom), William Edgar Perdew II (young son of Florence and John Perdew), Louise “Judy” Perdew French (the bride), William A. French, Eleanor Hester Wilson, Lewis “Beef” P. Hinton, Betty Skelding Harriss, Maurice Moore, Florence S. Thompson, Neveland Brand, Jr., Hannah Townsend Bell, and Andrew H. Harriss (father of Dottie Weathersbee.)




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Wrightsville Beach Builders

Citation: Wrightsville Beach Builders: Cecil Hunt (1919-2003) and Luther T. Rogers, Jr. (1925-2014). Interview and transcription by Susan Taylor Block. 

This interview was conducted on Feb. 15, 2000, in preparation for writing Cape Fear Beaches.

On the Road to Wrightsville Beach

Cecil Hunt and Luther T. Rogers, Jr. (Unless otherwise noted, the words are those of Mr. Hunt)

{Mr. Hunt}: Luther’s father was Luther T. Rogers, Sr. and he and my father worked at the (World War I) Victory Shipyard in 1917 and 1918. My father was a contractor and came from Whiteville to Wilmington to work at the shipyard. My father was Carl John Hunt, Sr. So when they got out of the shipyard, Mr. Rogers went into business as a contractor. My father became his general superintendent and during that period of time, they built what was built at Shell Island.

Now I did have a postcard and I seem to remember somewhere that they had a wooden water tank, which they built. Shell Island was an island with a fairly deep inlet (Moore’s Inlet) at that time. People used to fish in the inlet and I used to fish on Shell Island (formerly Moore’s Island). There were no paved roads to the beach. The paved roads stopped at the mainland. Then you got on what was called the beach car or a flat car and they drove that across and there was a trestle. In fact, I rode on that thing and the whole railway was almost a trestle.

A lot of Harbor Island was low and muddy and had marsh grass on it. They built the railroad tracks through that. Now there were some high spots that I can remember. I was eight or nine years old. When they got to Banks Channel, they would stop and the freight car would have the lumber and materials loaded on it to do the work at Shell Island so they would throw that in Banks Channel when the tide was going towards Moore’s Inlet and float it over to Shell Island.

Behind Shell Island there was pretty deep creek. They went in boats and steered the materials and tried to bring it in on the back of Shell Island in that creek. Mr Rogers told me that one time my Dad was going over in a boat with some friends that we had, and one of them was a black gentleman. His name was James Franks and he was pastor of a black church and he fell overboard and my Dad grabbed him and pulled him back in.

They would float it (building materials for the African American beach, 1923 to 1926, at Shell Island) to the back. Sometimes they strapped it together and unloaded it to take it over to the dunes and they built the pavilion in the dunes. I’m almost sure they had a water tank.

{Mr. Rogers}: I used to ride back and forth over Bradley Creek going to school, across the trestle. At one time, there was no concrete at Wrightsville Beach, just wooden boardwalks. My Dad is the one who pulled that whale out to sea.

Trouble the Whale –      http://susantaylorblock.com/2010/07/09/a-beached-whale-spells-trouble/

{Mr. Hunt}: He (Luther Rogers, Sr.) told me that he got Dallas Orrell, who was Cape Fear Towing Company, to tie ropes around the whale and pull him out to sea.

{Mr. Rogers}: and he came back to shore. (first attempt)

{Mr. Hunt}: There was a ship sunk where the Chrystal Pier is and his Daddy (Luther Rogers, Sr.) built Atlantic View Fishing Pier and there was no other pier on the beach except the one being built where Chrystal Pier is now and we built them at the same time. Dallas Orrell was having that one built and I believe the superintendent was a man from Seagate, Dick Meadows, and Walter Hunt (his older brother) was the superintendent on the pier that we built. They had to dynamite through the old ship hull down at Chrystal Pier. (That was about 3 or 4 Chrystal Piers ago.)

{Mr. Rogers}: I used to swim down there and they’d say watch out for that sunken boat and it was there at Chrystal Pier.

STB: Who swam out with the creasoted pilings when they were building the Atlantic View Pier?

{Mr. Hunt}: I did. The way we did, we started on the land and we took an old Buick motor and rigged it up to some pulleys and blocks and tackle, and we built a chute out of wood and we’d get the piling in that and then we had a hammer and this old Buick motor would pull the hammer up on the cable and drop it on the piling and drive them down into the ocean. We put in two pilings a day and most of the people that worked on that pier came from Atkinson because B. S. Reynolds was supervisor of the fertilizer plant and he’d send people over there. (Mr. Roger, Sr. and B. S. Reynolds were in partnership on some basis.)

We put girders and braces on the pilings, bolt them on, put the joists on, and put the deck on that day before we went home. We put that thing on wood rollers and then we pulled it up the distance from piling to piling (skids) then we did two more the next day. We kept an A-Frame over it. Chrystal Pier was started first, but Atlantic View was finished first.

{Mr. Rogers} : I remember when North Lumina was paved with concrete. We moved over to the beach before they took the tarps off where they were curing it, which was in the late 30s, I think. We moved to 42 North Lumina. You know, Daddy built the large majority of the houses on the beach at that time.

He made it through the Depression without stopping business. He had a meeting with his creditors and said he’d pay them every penny he owed them and he did.

{Mr. Hunt}: People from Seagate would pole a boat over there. Back then few people had oars. There were almost no boats. Mrs. Walters at Airlie had one. Dr. Harriss, he had one. It was a Chris Craft. When I first started going there, the waterway was not dug. My Daddy would take me. We’d go at night.

I seen her (Sarah Green Jones Walters), but not as a friend. We boys used to sneak into (Airlie – concrete road past stone pier.) and fish in her lake. She’d come along with someone driving a buggy or coach with a horse attached to it. You talk about somebody jumping in the bushes! That place was full of fish. I don’t think she ever saw us.

One of the Taylors had a little shack behind the (Pembroke Jones’s) Lodge (at what is now Landfall) We were looking to go fishing in that lake. Carl McGowan came up and said, “Stop or I’m going to shoot.” There was a big ditch, about 12 feet deep there. We finally found the lake and it was (very shallow.) Then we went to the sound, the marsh, and got out that way. (Carl McGowan’s father built the Lodge.)

As for Mount Lebanon Church, the Rev. is buried there. He got killed at the Savannahs. Over at Shipyard Blvd, there’s a pretty thick marsh. He was a lawman and checked out whiskey stills and wouldn’t take anybody with him. He got shot.

(Lumina Pavilion) My brother told me this. He said he and this other boy took a paper bag and filled it up with sand fiddlers and when they had a big band one night they put them down both sides of the dance floor. They got away.

I went to a dance at Lumina during World War II. It was the night they had the scare with the submarine offshore shooting at Dow Chemical and they had a blackout and I was on my way home from a dance at Lumina, going to our house on North Lumina Avenue. Oh that was so exciting. I ran home.

I lived across the street from the Villa Margarita on Harbor Island for 30 years. The Rye Page House was made with donated materials. The Spanish villa: He got a free house. (Rye Page was publisher of the Star News.)


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