A Handsome Assemblage, with a Postscript

by Susan Taylor Block


capefearcogitations.com  Publishing rights reserved.

Recently, I bought this wonderful photograph of a dressy Wilmington gathering. No one knows where it was stored for so many years, but I bought it from a jumble sale of sorts. The people are not identified, but two of the men look a bit like men pictured in Along the Cape Fear. The identified subjects were cotton tiers who worked for James Sprunt’s Champion Compress business, located where the Cotton Exchange shopping area sits today.

The only faint marking on the back of the photo appears to be a W and a G. Considering the Masonic regalia, I began to wonder if the G stood for Giblem Masonic Lodge, chartered at Wilmington in 1866 by Past Grand Master Paul Drayton.

In his 1998 book, Strength Through Struggle: A Chronological and Historical Record of the African-American Community in Wilmington, NC, historian and author William M. Reaves discussed the history of Giblem Lodge from its charter until the 1970s. Their headquarters changed over time. Perhaps this was one of the buildings they owned near 8th and Princess Streets.

Hopefully, all this guessing will turn into solid ID’s soon.

Postscript, November 26, 2014: I think this might have been taken the day President William Howard Taft visited Wilmington, November 9, 1909. Taft actually was more proud of having served as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court than as president, but he cherished dearly his status as a Freemason, too. The men in his family had a long history of Freemasonry and took active roles in their lodges.

The ties to James Sprunt continue. On the day he visited the Port City, President Taft reviewed the enormous gathering of Caucasian schoolchildren at the intersection of Third and Market streets. Soon after, he greeted Wilmington’s African-American schoolchildren at the corner of North Fifth and Red Cross streets, with St. Stephen’s A.M.E. Church occupying the northeast corner. President Taft stood on a special stand erected on the steps of the church James Sprunt gave to generously. The existing chandeliers were just one gift of many he gave in honor of his many Champion Compress employees who worshipped there. In addition, James Sprunt had hosted the President at breakfast that morning, in his home at 400 South Front Street.

It would not be a big leap to attribute the existence of this photo to the benevolence of James Sprunt. He risked his life to protect his African-American employees during the Race Riot of 1898. His warm attitude came from his mother, Jane Dalziel Sprunt, who broke the law when she taught African-American slave children to read.


Posted in African Americans, Wilmington | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hamming it up For a Good Cause

by Susan Taylor Block

Dr. Houston Moore others.lowres

This photo, taken about 1940, shows some of Wilmington’s most dignified gentlemen  dressed so very differently than usual. They did it for a very good cause.

Those pictured are: E. L. White, president of the White’s Ice Cream Company, and mayor of Wilmington from 1953  to 1955; Dr. Auley McRae Crouch, a beloved Wilmington pediatrician who led a fight to reduce infant mortality rates: Dr. Houston Moore, a local physician who helped spearhead the founding of the Wilmington Housing Authority, championed the beautification of Greenfield Lake, and envisioned the concept of the North Carolina Azalea Festival; Mr. Walter W. Storm, a Wilmington businessman and history lover who published poetry; N. E. Drexler, a railroad engineering executive; and John N. Alexius, president of the Atlantic Tobacco Company.

The six of them dolled themselves up for a charitable cause – most likely, the Wilmington Housing Authority. The WHA sought to relocate indigent citizens, whether Caucasian or African American, from slums to comfortable housing.  Mary Houston Gaffney Gaston, a granddaughter of Dr. Houston Moore, sent this along.



Posted in NC, North Carolina, The South, Wilmington | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The Homeowners’ Association

By Susan Taylor Block

(Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, and Lyon-Griswold.)

(Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, and Lyon-Griswold.)

We met at the clubhouse

To hash out complaints.

Miss Habersham simply

Did not like the paints.


Vick Trola protested

The rules as to noise,

Said his shower solos

Were Julliard joys.


Lavinia McDougald

Fussed out Tucker Pahl

For squirting his hose

At her espaliered wall.


And Blythe Alexander

Could truly not see

Why dues could not pay

For her Fa-mi-ly Tree.


Budgets and by-laws

Were part of our meeting,

But mostly it seemed like

Some kinfolk just bleating.


Posted in Poems | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Bringing Smiles: Dr. Houston Moore and the WHA

by Susan Taylor Block

Vintage photos by Cape Fear Studio: the late Joseph W. Molitor and Albert Barden.

In Wilmington, Dr. William Houston Moore is most often remembered as an early leader in beautifying Greenfield Lake and as Father of the North Carolina Azalea Festival.  http://susantaylorblock.com/2010/02/07/greenfield-lake-and-cape-fear-garden-club/ 

However, Dr. Moore’s most important achievement was to help lead Wilmington through the most impacting and efficient housing improvement in the city’s history. As director of the newly formed Wilmington Housing Authority, he oversaw the removal or dramatic improvement of existing slums and the marked improvement in living standards of at least 4,425 city residents.


Dr. William Houston Moore

Dr. Moore was born in Duplin County, North Carolina on August 30, 1880. Most likely, he was descended from the Palatine and Swiss settlers who are most often associated with Moore’s Creek and the Revolutionary War battle fought there. He attended public schools before enrolling at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, where he graduated in 1908. After receiving his medical degree from Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia and interning at the Pennsylvania State Hospital in Scranton, he established his practice in Wilmington.

Houston Moore settled quickly into a life of work and community service. He was president of the New Hanover County Medical Society and a staff member of James Walker Memorial Hospital. He also served on the staff of Community Hospital, an institution created for African Americans in those days of segregation.

The Houston Moore House, 1819 Market Street.

The Houston Moore House, 1819 Market Street.

Dr. Moore’s personal life was comfortable. His house at 1819 Market Street still stands. It was his work at Community Hospital that gave him a window on another world. He visited some of the patients’ homes and was struck with the unsanitary plumbing conditions, fire dangers, and lack of adequate space. He gained heartfelt compassion when he fully realized the economic and aesthetic gulf between those Wilmingtonians who had, and those who had-not-hardly-anything.

Today, preservationists' delight. 1948, urban blight.

Today, preservationists’ delight. 1948, urban blight.


On the heels of the United States Housing Act of 1937, local folks like Dr. Moore sought help from the Federal Government to raze substandard housing and build sound dwellings that would provide adequate comfort and shelter. Star News journalist Henry R. Emory was the first local to address the needs in writing.

The initiative gained strong approval from Mayor Thomas Cooper and members of City Councilmen Hargrove Bellamy, Edgar L. Yow, Bruce B. Cameron, W. Ronald Lane, and E. L. White. The mayor and councilmen chose five men for the 1938 commission: Dr. Houston Moore, C. B. Kornegay, Henry Emory, Frederick Willetts, Sr., and R. Stewart. They created the state’s first public housing authority.

Seated: R. Stewart, Dr. Moore, Henry Emory, Fred Willetts. Standing: William Bischoff, C. B. Kornegay, Leslie N. Boney, Dr. Freed and William B. Campbell.

Seated: R. Stewart, Dr. Moore, Henry Emory, Fred Willetts. Standing: William Bischoff, C. B. Kornegay, Leslie N. Boney, Dr. Freed and William B. Campbell.

Soon, a larger supporting group emerged that included Henry R. Emory; B. H. Marshall, Jr.: Harry M. Solomon; C. B. Kornegay; Fred E. Little; the Rev. Mortimer Glover of St. James Episcopal Church; Dr. C. J. Powell; Dr. W. B. Freed; and architect Leslie N. Boney, Sr.

Dr. Moore held the position of Chairman of the Wilmington Housing Authority from July 29, 1938 until April 7, 1942. It was a time period that included not just critical residential needs for those living in existing decrepit dwellings, but also the onset of emergency housing needs during World War II.

Houston Moore’s impressions were accurate: Subsequent studies showed that 56 % of Wilmington’s modest dwellings did not meet basic standards. The first dwelling to fall was located at 502 Taylor Street, where the Dr. Robert R. Taylor Homes would soon emerge. Taylor Homes was built for African Americans and Nesbitt Courts, named for Dr. Charles T. Nesbitt, housed Caucasians.

The new playground at Robert R. Taylor Homes.

The new playground at Robert R. Taylor Homes.


Children at Nesbitt Court.

Interior of a new home.

Interior of a new home.

When war housing became an intense need, the Wilmington Housing Authority built Lake Village, Lake Forest, Hillcrest, and Maffitt Village. Maffitt Village alone contained 1705 units. These spaces filled quickly with shipyard workers, soldiers, and their families. Even with all these additions, wartime housing needs prevailed leading many residents to rent space within their homes. Patriotism levels were astronomical in those days, and most Wilmingtonians accepted the inconvenience kindly, as sacrifice for the cause.

The Housing Authority was big bookkeeping business. From 1943 until 1949 alone, rents totaled over seven million dollars. Accountant C. C. Cheatham was chief accountant and Duke graduate Dorothy O. Forbes served as both an accountant and as manager of Nesbitt Courts.

Dr. Houston Moore lived to see his dream of improved housing and just did live to see the first Azalea Festival. He died on July 23, 1948. In 1952, the city named a new housing complex “Houston Moore Terrace” in honor of his diligent efforts make life better for others.

(Sources: Interviews with Mary Houston Gaffney Gaston, Dr. Moore’s granddaughter; and words written by the late Hugh Morton in honor of Dr. Moore. Belles and Blooms: Cape Fear Garden Club and the North Carolina Azalea Festival; and YOU and a Decade’s Drive Against Slums: The Tenth Annual Report of the Housing Authority of the City of Wilmington, NC.)






Posted in African Americans, Biographies, Wilmington | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Telephonic Photos

by Susan Taylor Block

These photos further illustrate the article, “Hello, Hello,” as presented on page 31 of the October 2014 issue of SALT Magazine: http://issuu.com/saltmagazinenc/docs/october_salt_2014/33?e=8175378/9534136

Special thanks goes to Phyllis Millard, a delightful native of Wrightsville Sound, who asked me to write the SALT Magazine article and supplied me with first-hand knowledge. She gave the top photo here and many others to the Wrightsville Beach Museum, where director Madeline Flagler works diligently to gather and conserve the islands’ past.

Kudos too, to Jennifer Daugherty and Joe Sheppard at the New Hanover County Public Library’s North Carolina Room.

The diligent men who laid cable across the Cape Fear River.  (Wrightsville Beach Museum)

The diligent men who laid cable across the Cape Fear River. (Wrightsville Beach Museum)

Flossie Stone Hill (standing), Chief Operator for the Burlington telephone exchange, 1914.

My beloved grandmother, Flossie Stone Hill (standing), Chief Operator for the Burlington telephone exchange, 1914. (Susan Taylor Block Collection)

Who would've thought.... (Reaves Files, New Hanover County Public Library)

Who would’ve thought….
(Reaves Files, New Hanover County Public Library)

The Wrightsville Sound operating staff, in 1947. (Left to right) Louise Riggs, Maxine Dizor, Betty Southerland, Madelyn Huggins, Rachel Thomas, and chief operator, Minnie Southerland. (Reaves Files, New Hanover County Public Library)

The Wrightsville Sound operating staff, in 1947. (Left to right) Louise Riggs, Maxine Dizor, Betty Southerland, Madelyn Huggins, Rachel Thomas, and chief operator, Minnie Southerland. (Reaves Files, New Hanover County Public Library)

“Hello, (Wilmington)Mayor White,” said Wrightsville Beach mayor, Raiford Trask, in 1947. (Reaves Collection, New Hanover County Public Library)

“Hello, (Wilmington)Mayor White,” said Wrightsville Beach mayor, Raiford Trask, in 1947. It was the first call ever made on a “dial telephone” at Wrightsville Beach.  (Reaves Collection, New Hanover County Public Library)

Posted in Telephone History, Wilmington | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Sort of Things He Gave Her

by Susan Taylor Block

Walters 1

Louis XV Sevres Porcelain clock by Charles du Tertre and Louis XVI Sevres Porcelain vase by Gouthiere. (The Mrs. Henry Walters Art Collection catalogue. Parke-Bernet Galleries, Inc.)

Though her own artistic taste ran mostly to Currier and Ives prints and comfortable body-molded overstuffed chairs, North Carolina native Sarah Wharton Green Jones Walters was the recipient of some of the world’s finest art and jewelry. Married first to Pembroke Jones of Wilmington, Sarah wed famed art collector Henry Walters in 1922 – three years after Jones died in New York, following surgery at Post-Graduate Hospital.

A rare image of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Walters, seasonal residents of Mrs. Jones’ Airlie estate, at Wilmington, NC.

Just as Mr. Walters gifted richly both the Joneses during Pembroke’s lifetime, Walters continued to dazzle Sarah after her husband’s death in 1919. Under the Christmas tree, she might find a heavy gold serpent armlet, or a Copley portrait, or even a ring that once belonged to Marie Antoinette. Each was just the sort of thing he gave her.

Following Henry’s death in 1931, Sarah downsized, or at least diminish-sized from the European museum atmosphere of her New York home at 5 East 61st Street to a luxurious apartment at the Savoy-Plaza. Many of the art and book treasures Mr. Walters gave her were sold by Parke-Bernet Galleries, April 23 through 26 of 1941. The combined catalogues include 1000 pages of distinctive listings.


The Walters’ New York apartment.


Bust of Voltaire by Jean Antoine Houdon.

Bust of Voltaire by Jean Antoine Houdon.

Napolean's copy of Tasso, 1803.

Napolean’s copy of Tasso’s Jerusalem Delivered, 1803.


Posted in Airlie, Art, Wilmington | Leave a comment

Stoplight Serenade

by Susan Taylor Block




“The beach, it bids

Day Trippers all,

To claim their sand

And bronze on-call.


“But, they can make

Scant natives here

Want sleepy streets,

And long for beer.”

Posted in Poems | Leave a comment

St. James Parish: Goose Creek to Cape Fear

by Susan Taylor Block

(Moore Family Collection)

(Moore Family Collection)

About 1724, a migration began in which an extended family group moved northward from Goose Creek, in Berkeley County, South Carolina, to what became the Cape Fear corner of North Carolina. Brothers Maurice, Nathaniel and “King” Roger Moore, all sons of Governor James Moore of South Carolina, led the way – nailing down choice properties like Orton, Kendal, and York plantations. Their grandfather, Nathaniel Moore, fought in the English Civil War and the brothers named their plantations after battles which were significant in family memory.  http://susantaylorblock.com/2012/12/21/the-naming-of-kendal-york-and-orton-plantations/g

The Moores were Royalists during the war, and Royalists their descendants remained for two and three generations. In South Carolina, the Moores were members of St. James Parish, located in Goose Creek which was named for the creek’s goose-like appearance on maps. The church would have been the site of many memorable family occasions.

St. James Parish, Goose Creek

St. James Parish, Goose Creek

Today, St. James Parish church is one of the oldest churches in South Carolina, having been built in 1714. It features Royalist touches, and has a small bit of exterior similarity to the original St. James church building in Wilmington, North Carolina – and a marked interior similarity. Part of the Wilmington church, at least one house, and numerous graves sat on and under Market Street (left of the building). The small house existed at least until 1848, when it was advertised for rent in The Daily Journal. Along with the 1839 building that replaced the original church, the little house may appear in Wilmington’s first known photograph. http://susantaylorblock.com/2010/07/26/wilmingtons-first-photograph/


Sketch of St. James by stained glass artist E. V. Richards. (Randall Library, Special Collections. UNCW)


(The Daily Journal, 1848. New Hanover County Public Library)

(The Daily Journal, 1848. New Hanover County Public Library)

Though the Wilmington parish was created in 1729, the church building was not begun until 1751, and not completed until 1770. The original vestry of St. James Parish, which covered Brunswick and New Hanover counties, consisted of twelve men, of which nine were either Moores by blood or by intermarriages. The rest were political or business friends. Governor Burrington wrote, in 1731 “About twenty men are settled on the Cape Fear from South Carolina, among them are three members of a noted family whose name is Moore.”

In addition to the three Moore brothers, Cornelius Harnett I, John Porter, John Grange, John Baptista Ashe, John Swann, Richard Nixon, Joseph Waters, Edward Hyrne, and Samuel Swann were charter vestrymen. It is possible the Moores named the parish, or lobbied to have it named after the one in their beloved Goose Creek, of which Governor James Moore was a vestryman.

In turn, the Moores could have named St. James in South Carolina for St. James Parish Church in Folkstone, Barbados, where the Moores’ Barnwell relatives worshipped in the late 1600s when they were planters on the island. The Barbadians called the land on which their St. James church was built, “God’s Acre” – a name that the earliest members of St. James in Wilmington termed the churchyard. In Royalist fashion, St. James in Barbados was not named for either of the Jameses in the New Testament, but for King James I of England. Under his reign, the magnificent King James translation of the Bible was completed.

In 1765, the vestry contracted with carpenter Ebenezer Bunting to complete the building. The vestrymen knew Bunting well, for they traveled by water routinely, and Bunting was a master ship carpenter. According to the late historian W. B. McKoy, Joshua Grainger, Jr., who operated a shipyard near the foot of Church Street, brought Ebenezer from Philadelphia to Wilmington, in 1743. Bunting had much to do on Market Street for those  five years, including building the entire roof with the help of two slaves. Sadly, the slaves’ names were not recorded.

Budgetary problems were routine during the building process. Being an Anglican parish, they were largely dependent on money from the Crown. It came slowly, and sometimes not at all. Bequests and provincial funds helped. Part of the final construction phase was financed by the sale of pews. Craftsman Bunting and his assistants built those, too. He favored live oak, so, most likely interior woodwork was made from the grand oaks that once populated old Wilmington. The North Carolina St. James Parish pew graphs below date from about 1777. A Bunting family pew is included.

(Randall Library, Special Collections. UNCW)

(Randall Library, Special Collections. UNCW)

old st james2..

Posted in Brunswick County, North Carolina, Wilmington | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Columns of Gabriel’s Landing

by Susan Taylor Block


(Photo by Louis T. Moore. Click for more detail.)


Wilmington photographer Louis T. Moore took this photo of the pillars that mark the land of many names. When Royal Governor Gabriel Johnston owned the property it was known as Gabriel’s Landing. In 1800, Susan Bradley and Judge Joshua Grainger Wright named the southern end, Mount Lebanon.

By the 1880’s the southern land was divided between the Latimer family, that usually shortened the name to Lebanon, and Mrs. Pembroke Jones, who called it, famously, Airlie, after her husband’s ancestral home in Scotland. The property on the north side of Airlie Road is still called Gabriel’s Landing by owner Agnes Rankin Beane. A family tradition, passed down through several generations, indicates two columns, each capped with a significant sculpture, once adorned Gabriel’s Landing.

This rare photo, taken about 1923, shows the sort of planking that would have marked the original “Plank Road,” that once covered miles of approach to the sound on a path known today as Wrightsville Avenue.

The land on which the columns stand is the “Wright Exception” – a two-acre tract saved sentimentally by businessman Thomas H. Wright (1876-1956) to be passed down to Wright family members as a keepsake of the original 300 acres that were owned by Judge Joshua Grainger Wright. Today, the exception is owned by Agnes Beane.

The age of these columns has still not been determined.

Posted in Airlie | 1 Comment

Meeting the Birdsmith: Grainger McKoy

Text and transcription by Susan Taylor Block

Photos by John Murchison, unless noted otherwise

Grainger McKoy, holding the first bird he ever carved. (Photo by John Murchison)

Grainger McKoy, holding the first bird he ever carved.


“But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it.”- Matthew 10:29

On March 28, 3014, I traveled from Wilmington, North Carolina to Sumter, South Carolina to see bird sculptures and meet the sculptor, but I returned home with impressions of art that seemed a bit overwhelming. Grainger McKoy’s work and reminiscences offered fresh reminders of bigger things like divine creativity, the power of human encouragement, and the mystery of kindred souls seeking truth.

Friend John Murchison accompanied me to Sumter to renew his friendship with Grainger and to take photographs. The three of us sat down to chat in the sculptor’s airy workshop. It was so full of beautiful “birds” that it made me feel like I was perched inside a pleasant cage. They were in various stages of completion and, though stationary, seemed almost animate.

Studying the manmade birds close-up leaves one with a new sense of awe for living birds. The seemingly infinite diversity of feathers, eyes, forms, patterns, and textures is humbling. To think that they can fly and that they have their own GPS is arresting. Grainger studies both the flying and the still. And he keeps both the living and the dead; he has birds in spacious cages, and keeps a frozen bird morgue in his workshop.

Grainger's Aviary. (Photo by John Murchison)

Grainger’s Aviary

Grainger knows how to integrate intricate details and ingenious civil engineering in his work. He stares and carves and sands and burns and stains and paints the wood into submission. Divine creative energy seems to channel through him to replicate and to interpret. But though he might be the greatest human birdsmith who ever lived, Grainger has learned to pay loving obeisance to The Birdsmith.

Victor Grainger McKoy was born in Wilmington on April 21, 1947, but soon moved to Fayetteville where he lived until the age of three.  In 1950, his father, Adair Morey McKoy, took a job at Sumter Supply in Sumter, South Carolina. The new plumbing products business served as a branch of Longley Supply in Wilmington.

For generations, Grainger’s father’s family members were stalwarts in the Wilmington community. The young McKoy family could have had a comfortable, sociable life in the port city and nearby Wrightsville Beach. Grainger’s family tree includes noted silversmith T. W. Brown, authors, historians, legislators, poets, bankers, and attorneys. Victor Grainger, the grandfather for whom Grainger was named, served as senior warden of veritable St. James Episcopal Church for 42 solid years.

However, rock hard stability and predictability did not hold the attention of young Grainger’s parents. Sumter suited them better. They were, as Grainger worded it, thinking “outside the box” years before the phrase would be coined.

“My parents, not purposefully, but partly because they moved away, were free,” said Grainger. His mother, Priscilla Claggett Grainger, was a Sweet Briar College alumnus who had dreams of living in a log cabin. In 1954, they started building one in Sumter. “People were still moving out of log cabins in 1954,” said Grainger, “and here we were, just moving into one.

“Neither the Wilmington nor Sumter lifestyles were wrong, just different,” he continued. “We had goats and cows and chickens. Our neighborhood was multiracial; we all joined the 4-H Club; and we drove school buses as soon as we got a driver’s license. When it came time to drive to Wilmington to visit my maternal grandmother, ‘Miss Katie’ Reston Grainger McKoy, we had to find our shoes. Then, we had to wear them.”

Grainger’s name came originally from Isaac Bates Grainger (1840-1878), a Belfast native who immigrated to Wilmington as a teenager. He became a bank president, city alderman, and a co-owner of Orton Plantation. Gifted in financial savvy, he has been credited with getting the City of Wilmington back in the black after the Civil War. http://susantaylorblock.com/2010/10/26/the-dawsons-and-graingers-county-antrim-to-new-hanover-county/

Isaac Bates Grainger  (Photo courtesy of the late Jean McKoy Graham)

Isaac Bates Grainger (Photo courtesy of the late Jean McKoy Graham)

Miss Katie Grainger and her husband, John Victor Grainger, about 1950. (Photo courtesy of the late Walker Taylor III)

Grainger’s maternal grandparents: Miss Katie Grainger and her husband, John Victor Grainger, about 1940. (Photo courtesy of the late Walker Taylor III)

When Miss Katie paid her first visit to the log cabin, she was horrified to discover that the house had no real windows. Shutters were all that separated the McKoys from rain, freezes, farm smells, and mosquitoes. She wrote a check for $500 and earmarked it for glass windows. “Just so outside the box,” Grainger restated.

Though the McKoys operated on a budget, their encouragement had no ceiling. It was the greatest gift they could give. “They took the time to observe us as children,” said Grainger. “Whatever their children were involved in, absorbed in, interested in — they fanned that. They didn’t try to place in their children what they expected or hoped for. They just observed their children and when they started on a path of interest, they would say, ‘Son, that will be a wonderful adventure.'”

Priscilla McKoy - her Park Avenue looks framed by her prairie house. Mother's Day, 1953. (Courtesy of Grainger McKoy)

Priscilla McKoy – her Park Avenue looks framed by her prairie house. Mother’s Day, 1953. (Courtesy of Grainger McKoy)

The McKoys observed their oldest child, Adair, loving the land. They let him have his own garden as an early adventure. “Before my father died,” said Grainger, “he bought a little small tractor, just because he saw that in his son. Adair now lives in Edisto. A couple of years ago, he was the largest tomato producer in South Carolina. It was just a case of parents observing a child and putting what interested Adair in front of him.”

The McKoy’s happy life in their cypress log house was changed forever on November 22, 1956, when Grainger’s father died of a heart attack. It was Thanksgiving morning and Adair was only forty years old. Grief abounded. Priscilla lost a soul mate of rare similarity. Adair’s three sons lost half their hearty support team. Nevertheless, they hit the ground sauntering.

“We all got jobs,” said Grainger. “We never knew we couldn’t do anything.” Priscilla McKoy’s job was as secretary of their church, Holy Comforter Episcopal. She earned $25 a week. On that, a monthly social security check for $250, and odd jobs her sons picked up, she and they supported themselves.

Grainger’s father had gone to Woodberry Forest and the University of North Carolina. In Chapel Hill, he roomed with future governor Terry Sanford. Sanford was living in Fayetteville when Adair McKoy died, and was especially attentive to young Adair, Peter, and Grainger. He would call to see how they were doing, and sometimes ask them for a visit. After he became governor, he invited the McKoy boys went to spend a night in the Governor’s Mansion.

Young Grainger found extra support on many sides. His mother was always there for Grainger and his brothers. Being older, they were especially sensitive to his feelings. “I have two hero brothers, Adair and Peter,” he said, just days before Peter would die of cancer. “They raised me up.”

“Peter is a veterinarian,” said Grainger. “From early childhood, he always loved animals, goats and chickens. My father and mother would always give him a goat or pigeon for Christmas or his birthday.” Not long after Grainger’s father died, Priscilla drove all three of her sons to the Eastern Shore of Maryland, where her stepfather, William Tilden Brice, and mother, Helen Kenly Grainger, lived. During the road trip, Peter’s career may have been launched.

“Of course, there was no air conditioning,” said Grainger. “There was no I-95. We went through Richmond and Highway 301 was just hell. We were kids that had been sweltering and on the road for something like ten hours. My brother Peter, the middle child, was always the instigator. I remember her pulling in to make a stop at a pet store in downtown Richmond. She came out with a gift for Peter: a little white mouse that cost a quarter.” Of course, Priscilla saw it as a great adventure.

“Now, this is how out of the box she was,” continued Grainger. She handed that mouse to Peter and he put it in his top pocket. Not only did it keep him occupied for the rest of our journey, but also all summer long he was attentive to that little creature. It lived in his top pocket. Urine stains streamed down his shirt, but he didn’t care. My mother didn’t care either.

“But you see, Peter became a veterinarian. That’s all it takes is a quarter. I tell my friends, you don’t have to give your kids a car when they turn 16. Just give them a white mouse. People over-give and under-encourage. Mother was a cheerleader for his interest and now Peter has two vet practices and 42 employees.”

Son Grainger liked to draw and work with his hands from an early age. He took great note of the birds that seemed to always be around. Priscilla McKoy seized the opportunity for her son by enrolling him in art school. Every Saturday, she drove him to Columbia, South Carolina where he took lessons.  He began his studies at age ten and quit after age 12, when his voice began to change, and pursuing art did not seem so “cool.”

Thankfully, art soon won out over peer pressure after Grainger received a decoy as a gift from his grandmother, Helen, in Maryland. He was thirteen at the time and still wonders why she sent it to him, but maybe it was just a case of like mother, like daughter. Whatever the reason, grandmother Helen’s gift activated his God-given talent.

“There I was, living in a log cabin with wood all around me. I told my mother that I wanted to carve a bird, but that I needed some dry wood. Right away, she said, ‘I know where some dry wood is.’  We went outside and she put a saw in my hand and lifted me up and let me cut off a piece of cypress from the side of the house. It was an extended piece of log.

“That’s the encourager she was. ‘OK, I know where some dry wood is,’ she said. Then, the next thing you know, the rough sound of sawing filled the air.

That’s the kind of encouragement I got. When somebody lets you saw up the house to fan your interest, you never know what will happen. I still have that bird.”

When time for college came, Grainger went to Clemson. It took him five years. He planned to major in architecture, but switched to zoology. Because he lost some credits, it took him five years to graduate. When he was a senior, he married his wife, Floride. They were well acquainted: she sat in front of him in the third grade, and he had kept up with her ever since. Floride, an only child, finished Converse in three years. Her parents had high hopes for her, but those bright dreams dimmed a bit when Grainger divulged he was moving them to Beaufort where he planned to carve for a living.

Of course, Grainger’s mother responded to the news by saying, “Grainger, that’s a wonderful adventure!”

In 1970, the McKoys did move to Beaufort, for Grainger to partner with carver Gilbert Maggioni, a Beaufort resident who first recognized the young man’s profound talent. In 1967, during a hunting trip in Maryland, they attended an exhibition of bird carvings. What they saw gave them a vision of success.

Grainger's Mourning Dove. (graingermckoy.com)

Grainger’s Mourning Dove. (graingermckoy.com)

“I had come to know Gilbert over a period of years. He praised my efforts. He never sold his own work. He ran an oyster cannery, of all things, down in Lady’s Island. I would go down there in late high school. During college I’d go visit him when I could. Like my mother, he was a great encourager.

“When he asked me to move and partner with him, he said, ‘Give it 6 months, Grainger. Give it a year. Just try it.’ When you’re 21 you think you can do anything. So, that sounded good to me, and Floride, bless her heart, went along with it.

“This story is really about my mother hearing my plan, grabbing my hand, and saying, again, ‘Grainger, that’s a wonderful adventure.’ If it was legal, it was a wonderful adventure. So, that has kind of been our motto with our children and our grandchildren. ‘It’s an adventure. Let’s go. Life is an adventure.’

Then Grainger added, “And when you fold Christ into that picture, it is really an adventure. “

I would have been startled with Grainger’s abrupt switch of focus if it had not been for hearing of his spiritual side from mutual friends, and seeing a Bible reference on one of his current projects. Discussing his faith brought even more animation to his face.



“I always went to church. With mother being the secretary we were always the first ones to get there. We laughed because she unlocked it because she also locked it. We were there for virtually every function at Holy Comforter Episcopal Church.

“She even brought work home. We spent Tuesday nights folding bulletins and that old addressograph machine was so noisy. You had to pull something down, place the bulletin paper in it, and it went ‘Clomp, clomp.’ All this was done on the dining room table and all three of us helped her.  So, I thought I had had enough of church.

“When I went off to college, I was out-of-church. Things stayed that way for years. Some of it was the result of success. When I turned 26, I had my first big show in New York City. I remember walking out of Hammer Galleries. Everything I brought had some in just two days, and I a check in my top pocket. The 57th Street sun was just going down and there was a nice chill in the air. I would fly home the next day, but things had changed.

Customarily, Grainger prepares a miniature for his prospective clients to view a sculpture in its future setting. (Photo by John Murchison)

Customarily, Grainger prepares a miniature like this so that his clients can view a sculpture in its future setting.

“Commercial success in a place like New York changes the paradigm. Continued success became my whole focus. I figured I would work very hard for the next two and a half years, and then settle in. I told my family I was doing it for them, but I was doing it for myself. I was self centered and egotistical. Floride took the children to church and I would wave to them as they drove away.

“As I was working towards the next exhibit, I heard from a friend of mine named Dick, who I had lost track of. He had been a helicopter pilot in Viet Nam and now had gotten a terrible kidney disease. He was in line for a transplant. At some point in the conversation, he said, ‘But Grainger I’m a Christian now.’ That ‘s all he said.

“What came to my mind was, ‘If all else fails, try God,’ but I would not be able to get Dick’s words out of my head. He asked me, ‘Grainger, would you mind it I write you a letter?’

“I went on to have my next exhibit in New York and Dick was about to have his kidney transplant, within the same season. What dawned on me during that time was that working two and a half more years more, just as hard as I had been working, would only get me back to that same point. And I said to myself,  ‘so what?

“I wasn’t excited about that like I had been. I didn’t look forward to doing that all over again.  So, I came home and drove a tractor for my brother. I could afford to then.

“My friend Dick had his kidney transplant and it failed. They just had to take it out. His wife called me.  It was either March or April. She said Dick had taken himself off the dialysis machine and he had only ten days to live.

“At that point, he was at the V.A. hospital and would have to wait many years before he could get another kidney. He sent word that he wanted to see me, and I knew I just had ten days to get there.

“What do you say to a dying man? I told Floride I was going to the hospital to see Dick. That was maybe a Wednesday morning. On the way there, I met with minister Rick Belzer. ‘I’m going to see a dying man. What do I say?’

“Rick answered, ‘Grainger, do you mind if I say a prayer for you?’ At the time, I would have said I was a Christian, but I was just a churchgoer. I’ve never had a man do this but Rick touched me.  He put his hand right on my shoulder and said a 3 or 4 sentence prayer.

“Finally, I walked into the hospital room and Dick was he was just a 6’ 4” bump in the sheet. He was reading the Bible. He looked up and saw me.

“’Grainger, Grainger,’ he said, ‘Come in. I’m so glad you came to see me.’

“Dick wouldn’t let me sit in a chair. He patted the bed beside him. ‘Sit right here,’ he said. I wasn’t there longer than fifteen minutes. He told me about his decision and he told me about the personal relationship he had with Jesus.

“Then he said, switching the conversation from him to me, ‘Grainger this is the hope I have for you. I’m so excited for what the Lord’s going to do.’

“I’d been hearing that sort of encouragement my whole life, but not from that direction. That just kept rolling through. ‘Grainger, I’m so excited for you.’

“I felt like I was in the post office and people were sorting the mail, but I couldn’t find a cubbyhole to put that in. I didn’t have any place to categorize it, so I just had to hold it. It was like Dick’s words were suspended in air.

“I was real uneasy, and said something silly and dumb like ‘good luck’ or ‘I think it’s time for me to go.’ It was just whatever you would blubber out. I was backing out of the room and Dick said, ‘Wait a minute. Lean down here, Grainger. You’re going to be alright.’

“All my hopes were centered on my work and myself, and here was a dying man who had something I didn’t have. I drove right by 261, a mile out of Charleston, and then I started crying. I still didn’t know what to do with it. Two days later, Dick died.

“A few days after that, I was home eating lunch all alone. Floride was at work, teaching French. I made a sandwich and put some strawberries on the table, but I was so restless that I had to do something besides just eat.

“I looked around for a Bible, but even if I had found one, I wouldn ‘t have known what to do with it. I hardly knew the Old Testament from the New Testament. Here I was, having gone to church most of my life and I still didn’t know anything.

“I kept looking for a Bible, but never found one. What I did find was a prayer book. Floride had started going to the Episcopal church and she had brought home The Book of Common Prayer. I happened to open it up to the Nicene Creed.

“I began to read, and something began to penetrate my spirit. When I finished reading it, I was a believer.  It didn’t happen at a Billy Graham rally, but just there in my house with me all alone at the table. A peace came over me for the next few days and I’ve never quite gotten back to being that peaceful again. It was so real.

“A year later, Rick Belzer asked me to go to Cursillo. It is a religious retreat associated with the Diocese of Eastern North Carolina. That is where I met John. We studied and prayed and visited people in prison.

“Ever since that special lunch, my life has been a wonderful walk. It’s my true vocation and avocation.

Carving is not the center of my life anymore. It is not the product. It is just a vehicle. My work happens to put me into the lives of some very successful people and I love their applause, but I am not swept away with that or myself anymore.

“It keeps things in perspective to remember that when I work, I am just making something look like something it is not. If you scratch it, you change the surface. If I detach one of the feathers I made from a bird, there will be a void. If you detach one of the feathers God made, He will grow  it a whole new feather.  None of my birds ever grows a new feather. If that doesn’t bring you to your knees, then I don’t know what would.

“The greatest art in the world is not David’s Pieta or Michelangelo’s David. It is a changed heart.  It’s when somebody’s walking this way and then they turn around and go the other way. It’s something internal, not external, but the external changes to point to the eternal.

“For me to have a relationship with a piece of wood is easy. If it doesn’t behave, I can throw it in the fireplace. The toughest relationships are with people. I work in solitude and it gives me time to think. Not long ago I was thinking about the end of life.

“When I’m on my deathbed, I won’t be asking Floride to go get my pocket knife so I can carve just one more bird. What I’ll be asking for is her hand. I won’t be asking for a relationship with a piece of wood. Well, if that’s gonna mean so much then, how about now? Hello. And that’s true with God, too. If I’m going to spend eternity with him, I need to be practicing now.”


Susan Block, Grainger and Florine McKoy, at Swan Lake in Sumter. Sculpture "Recovery" by Grainger McKoy. (Photo by John Murchison)

Susan Block, Grainger and Floride McKoy, at Swan Lake in Sumter. Sculpture “Recovery” by Grainger McKoy.



The Nicene Creed

We believe in one God,

the Father, the Almighty,

maker of heaven and earth,

of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,

the only Son of God,

eternally begotten of the Father,

God from God, Light from Light,

true God from true God,

begotten, not made,

of one Being with the Father.

Through him all things were made.

For us and for our salvation

he came down from heaven:

by the power of the Holy Spirit

he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,

and was made man.

For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;

he suffered death and was buried.

On the third day he rose again

in accordance with the Scriptures;

he ascended into heaven

and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,

and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,

who proceeds from the Father and the Son.

With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.

He has spoken through the Prophets.

We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.

We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.

We look for the resurrection of the dead,

and the life of the world to come. Amen.

Grainger's Falcon Goblet (graingermckoy.com)

Grainger’s Falcon Goblet (graingermckoy.com)

Posted in Art, Faith, Grainger McKoy | Tagged , | 1 Comment