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:

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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 –

{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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Railroad Cars and Railroad Furniture

by Susan Taylor Block

The Atlantic Coast Line Shops, about 1924. (Photo  by Louis T. Moore, courtesy of the New Hanover County Public Library)

The Atlantic Coast Line Shops neighborhood, about 1924. (Photo by Louis T. Moore, courtesy of the New Hanover County Public Library)

Today’s issue of the Wilmington Star News ranks the November announcement of a rail car production business coming to town as one of the ten most important local stories of the year. The business news makes me happy for two reasons: local economy and local history. Though Vertex Rail Technologies will make tanker cars that look quite different from the wooden cars hewn in Wilmington years ago, at least the tradition is alive once more. The news makes me wonder if VRT, like the old Atlantic Coast Line Railroad, will make its own furniture, too.

The Wilmington and Weldon Railroad, forerunner to the expansive Atlantic Coast Line Railroad, was founded in Wilmington in 1834. Construction started quickly and on March 9, 1840, cars began running from Wilmington to Weldon – a 161-mile trip. On that day, the W & W became the longest railroad in the world. Train cars made by talented craftsmen headquartered in Wilmington rolled from the port city to the Piedmont and back. As to previous methods of travel, they ran from human feet to horse and mule-drawn carts and wagons. In a rustic way, the advent of railway car travel then was as awesome then as airplane flight was later.

Railroad shops were located near the river, north of downtown Wilmington. Manned (that gender specific word applying here) by experts, the shops turned out a variety of cars. They also produced desks, tables, chairs, filing cabinets and other wooden furniture. Later, for executives like Atlantic Coast Line president Henry Walters, railroad car craftsmen honed fine private cars. Walters, who with his father William created the Walters Art Museum collection, incorporated art into the interior of his train car.

Henry Walters' private business car. (Reprinted from William R. Johnston's book, "William and Henry Walters, the Reticent Collectors."

Henry Walters’ private business car. (From William R. Johnston’s fine book, “William and Henry Walters, the Reticent Collectors.”)

The railroad's dispatcher's file, 1887. (photo by author)

The railroad’s dispatcher’s file, 1887, features pulls decorated with a harp, one of Henry Walters’ favorite images. (Photo by Susan Block)


Turned legs were part of a typical clerk's desk.  (Photo by Susan Block))

Turned legs were part of a typical clerk’s desk. (Photo by Susan Block)

A large ACL cabinet, built about 1930.

A large ACL cabinet, built about 1930. (Photo by Susan Block)

In 1892-93, the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad shops rolled out what may have been the finest of its work. In preparation for the famous 1893 Columbian World’s Fair in Chicago, local carpenters created the Virginia Dare Desk. Silas McBee, an editor, artist, writer, and maker of church furniture, designed the desk that commemorated the birth of Virginia Dare – the first Caucasian to be born in America. The story had been popularized in North Carolina by author Sallie Cotten. Sallie was a close friend of Florence Hill Kidder of Wilmington, whose father-in-law was a long-time director of the railroad. The railroad shops were only 6 to 10 blocks north of Mrs. Kidder’s home at 101 South Third Street. Thus was the connection.

The chief woodworkers for the Virginia Dare Desk were supervisor E. V. McKenzie, who also designed train car panels; and carpenter E. B. King. Katherine Drane Cheshire, a Tarboro resident, carved the elaborate panels. Miss Drane, a relative of the Sprunt family of Wilmington and Brunswick County, visited Orton Plantation at regular intervals and was known and much admired in the area. Her talent emerged after she began using carving as physical therapy for her hands, which were twisted, from birth.

The Virginia Dare Desk. (Photo courtesy of N. C. Archives and History)

The Virginia Dare Desk. (Photo courtesy of N. C. Archives and History)

An Atlantic Coast Line Railroad office, in Wilmington, about 1903. (Private Collection)

An Atlantic Coast Line Railroad office, in Wilmington, about 1903. (Private Collection)

Sources by which to learn more: Railroad authority James Burke of Wilmington; Glenn Hoffman’s Building a Better Railrad: A History of the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Company; William R. Johnston’s William and Henry Walters, the Reticent Collectors; Sallie Cotten’s The White Doe; Susan Block’s The Kidders of Wilmington; and tours of the Wilmington Railroad Museum.




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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. There was talk of moving the stained glass window of the young Jesus from the east wall of the altar and replacing it with something else. This would happen in 1892, when the present altar window, designed by Charles Booth, was installed. The young Jesus window had been moved to the east altar wall, where it still sits. Most likely, it is the oldest stained glass window at St. James.

The Young Jesus.

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

E. V. Richard designed a gold and brown window for the south wall of the transcept, Ironically, the chief purposes of the gold and brown window was to provide symbolism and to bring the varied hues within the building into “harmonious coloring.” The result was disharmony amongst some of the people, for the style of the window was controversial. In 1893, it was replaced Pembroke Jones replaced by the “Christ Blessing the Children” window. 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.


The unusual and controversial stained glass window by Charles Booth now sits over the entrance to the Bishop Wright Room.


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, 189

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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:

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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. 

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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.


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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.


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