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)
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.”
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.”
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.
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 about 1902. (Mary Muchison Gornto Collection)
Laura Howell Norden, crabbing at Harbor Island, about 1912. (Cape Fear Museum)
 “Eric Norden: A Biographical Sketch” by the NC Department of Archives and History. Dispatch, January 9, 1902.
 Alexander Sprunt Collection, Perkins Library, Duke University.
 Undated newspaper article by Maude Waddell, containing many details of Mr. Norden’s book collection, Miss Waddell was a descendant of settler Maurice Moore.