St. James Episcopal Church: The Beautification of 1891

by Susan Taylor Block

The "transcept" window. (Photos by the author)

The “transcept” window. (Photos by the author)

The Gothic Revival building that houses St. James Church in Wilmington, North Carolina was designed by architect Thomas U. Walter who is better known for designing the cast iron dome of the U. S. Capitol building. Mr. Walter may also have designed the clerestory windows for St. James, for there is no documentation available that credits any other artist, and the windows are very similar to others installed in Mr. Walters’ church designs.

From 1839 until 1891, little was done to change the interior, with the exception of repairs made after the Civil Ear. The 1891 enhancements were significant. E. J. Street of New York City served as decorator and Charles Brunner, Jr. was the chief artist. The changes took place during the pastorate of Robert Strange, a rector with many ancestral local ties who would be consecrated bishop in 1904.

Gold must have been the theme color and substance for it pervaded the interior. Highlights were painted in gold on yellow. Gold-colored glass gilded new stained glass windows in the narthex and a large gold and brown and window that was installed on the east side of the sanctuary, as the altar window. The pipes of the church organ, which sat in the arched space now occupied by the Murchison Chapel, were painted gold as well.

The contractors installed “gas jets” that brought vivid light to night services and rhapsodized the entire visual experience as flickering flames caused the gold paint to sparkle and dance.

The 1891 changes called for a new floor of oak and red carpet for the altar floor. After the pews were stained the color of dark red wine, they were sealed by a process that had been recently discovered by Wilmingtonian R. L. Hutchings. Second level galleries, still in place from their antebellum installment, were restored and beautified.


Local stained glass artist E. V. Richards designed the “transom” glass and other similar but smaller windows that pleased church members. However, the gold and brown window did not sit well with the congregation. Not only was it sort of chunky, but it had replaced a stained glass window for which there was much affection that depicts young Jesus with his hands outstretched in a gesture of welcome and blessing. Most likely, it is the oldest stained glass window at St. James. The Young Jesus window had been moved to the east altar wall, where it still sits.

The Young Jesus.

The Young Jesus is portrayed in the oldest window at St. James Church.

Ironically, the chief purposes of the gold and brown window were to provide symbolism and to bring the varied hues within the building into “harmonious coloring.” The result was disharmony amongst some of the people. Very soon after its installation, the announcement was made that it may be replaced by a grander window. That did not take long. The present altar window, designed by Charles Booth, was in place in 1892.

E. V. Richard’s gold and brown window was moved to the south wall of the transcept, but stayed there only briefly because parishioner Pembroke Jones replaced it in 1893 with the “Christ Blessing the Children” window that is still there. Shortly before that, the gold and brown window had been moved to an exterior front wall of the brand new Robert Rufus Bridgers Building that was dedicated November 27, 1892. Today, that same wall is an interior one and forms one side of the Bishop Wright Room. The gold and brown window sits over the room’s entrance.


In truncated form, the unusual and controversial stained glass window by Charles Booth now sits over the entrance to the Bishop Wright Room – in an interior wall that once was the exterior front wall of the Robert Rufus Bridgers Building..


The entire cost of the 1891 restoration was only $3,000, but that would have equaled a good years’ salary for a professional in those days. A local journalist exulted over the change it wrought. “It will require a large amount of piety and most extraordinary and touching preaching to keep the eye from wandering when the gas is lit,” he wrote.

But as Episcopalians say frequently, “Light from Light.”

Sources: St. James Episcopal Church archives; Special Collections, Randall Library, UNCW; Block, Temple of our Fathers: St. James Episcopal Church (1729-2004); Wilmington Messenger, October 3, 1891.

Posted in Architecture, Art, North Carolina, St. James Episcopal Church, Wilmington | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


by Susan Taylor Block


Day by Day coverLLR

I’m so happy to be one of thirty American writers who contributed meditations to Meeting God Day by Day. The 2015 collection, edited by Richelle Thompson, is a publication of Forward Movement – an organization within the Episcopal Church that seeks to provide in various ways something comparable to workout gyms for spiritual muscles. One page is devoted to each day of the year, so Meeting God Day by Day is a slow read. I must admit to jumping ahead and reading many posts written by the other 29 authors. I gained something from every one and plan to reread them when it is their day.

Being such a fan of my hometown, I think it’s nice that two of the thirty writers, the Rev. Jay Sidebotham and I, both live in Wilmington, North Carolina. And that’s not all: we’re both communicants of  St. James Parish, founded in 1729. Jay is associate priest and mighty force within Forward Movement. I am merely a member in good standing of the Wretch-Like-Me Club who enjoys cogitation.

Copies of Meeting God Day by Day are available:

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

Merry Christmas, 2014

Montage and verse by Susan Taylor Block

Collage credit:  Susan Taylor Block


Don’t disregard

The weak or small;

The little babe

Created all.

“He was in the world and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.” – John 1:10. 

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

A Handsome Assemblage, with a Postscript

by Susan Taylor Block  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. 

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:

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