by Susan Taylor Block
Dry Pond is an old Wilmington neighborhood that stretches from the southern side of Church Street; to the Cape Fear River; ironically, to the shores of beautiful Greenfield Lake; and to about 9th Street. The pithy name originated after a sudden and very heavy rainstorm created a large pond there early one evening that dried up miraculously before dawn the next day. The late Edna P. Brown, a sharp 97-year old native of Dry Pond, recounted this old story to her niece, Patsy Harris, in October 1994.
Dry Ponders had their own way with naming places, things, and people. Edna Brown added that old-time Dry Ponders, living south of Wilmington’s historic district, referred to the more affluent neighbors living north of them as “Yankees, and sometimes Damn Yankees.”
Dry Pond was populated by working class residents, many of whom were employed by Wilmington Cotton Mills, Tidewater Power, or the Edward Kidder and Sons Sawmill. Those businesses were located nearby, on the Cape Fear River. A few homeowners ran small shops or corner groceries. Still others, leased houses from Wilmington landlords. Like the Brooklyn section north of downtown, Dry Pond also drew a few fresh immigrants into its sandy bounds – and the neighborhood was speckled with families who had known some financial comfort and notable achievements, but had suffered severe reversals during the Civil War.
The residents of Dry Pond were an assorted lot, ranging from rough rowdies to serious smart folks who eventually moved to greener pastures – the most celebrated being Bruce Barclay Cameron, who with partner Jane MacMillan, owned a downtown service station that launched, for the Camerons, a Wilmington empire. Mr. Cameron’s oldest son, Bruce, Jr., recalled, in 2001, riding his pony downtown from their new home at 1019 South Fifth Avenue – a house designed by Leslie N. Boney that still stands. A few years later, the Cameron family moved to a beautiful new home on Market Street, that was razed later to make room for the Temple Baptist Church parking lot.
But during the early days, when Skipper’s Pond was still wet, there were no fine houses in the neighborhood. Most dwellings were very small. Livestock wandered, outhouses served as the best bathrooms available, and many families were short on food, clothing, and any form of medicine. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s government subsidy programs were still generations away, but leaders in education, clubs, churches, and generous individuals provided much help.
Dry Pond Union School
In 1867, Amy Bradley, a gifted teacher from New England who served the Union as a Civil War nurse, arrived in Wilmington. She came here with big dreams, but was poorly received by most Wilmingtonians – and by the local press. Fresh anger about the war and a steady stream of Yankee arrivals had natives’ tempers boiling. The newcomers were perceived as opportunistic in general, but those judged to be acting the role of cultural missionaries were especially disliked. Some Wilmington natives actually spat upon Ms. Bradley and many others simply turned away.
Impressed by her credentials and demeanor, business leader Edward Kidder, co-owner of the sawmill, joined forces with fellow businessmen Silas N. Martin, James H. Chadbourn, William A. French, Levi A. Hart, and Edward P. Bailey to help Ms. Bradley secure a school building in Dry Pond, and begin classes as soon as possible. The six men comprised “The Ring,” a group of well-heeled Republicans who used their resources to create opportunities for advancement in poor neighborhood, both white and black. Frederic Kidder, Edward’s brother, lived in New England, but did his part by sending substantial financial aid to help the men’s causes, particularly the cause of schooling the children of Dry Pond. Doubtless, the fact that Amy was an ardent Unitarian, did not detract from the camaraderie Amy and the Kidder brothers enjoyed, for Edward and Frederic father and grandfather were strong in their Unitarian beliefs.
The Ring fell back on a building they established before the Civil War. It had been closed for a while, but it took only four days for Amy Bradley to get it in shape. Two months later, Miss Bradley’s school, the Dry Pond Union Schoolhouse, was filled and a waiting list was growing long. Suddenly, children, previously unschooled, were getting instruction from one of the finest teachers in the nation. Miss Bradley’s citywide duties would call her away, but she continued to oversee the good work at Dry Pond Union School.
In 1915, William Hooper School opened. The successor to Dry Pond Union School looked very updown in comaparison. The handsome red brick structure at 410 Meares Street was much welcomed. Eliza Meares, a commanding presence, was the first principal of the school. Classes continued there from 1914 until 1984. Today, the William Hooper School building serves as a home for the elderly.
Col. Walker Taylor (1864-1937) of Wilmington founded the local Boys’ Brigade on Valentine’s Day, 1896, in an effort to enrich the lives of the boys and young men of Dry Pond. He conducted the first meetings at Immanuel Presbyterian Church on South Front Street. The organization was based on a similar one Col. Taylor observed in Scotland – the Boys’ Brigade Company in North Woodside, Glasgow. The Wilmington group began with a membership of five, but grew quickly when word got out that Brigade membership offered free 10-day camping trips to Southport, NC.
The Boys’ Brigade Armory, on the southeast corner of Second and Church streets, was designed by architect Charles McMillen and dedicated June 22, 1905. The building was a gift from Mary Lily Kenan Flagler, whose brother, William Rand (“Buck”) Kenan, worked closely with the boys. By 1925, almost 3,000 youths a month attended programs or played sports in the Norman-style fortress.
The building contained a gymnasium, dressing room, a library of 2,000 books that James Sprunt contributed, reception rooms, offices, an auditorium, bowling alley, dining room, and a kitchen. Riley Moore, an African American cook, served up fine meals for the Boys’ Brigade from 1896 until the 1930s.
The Boys’ Brigade was housed in various buildings after it outgrew the armory, its most distinctive headquarters. It continues today, but the boundaries of its influence have grown far beyond Dry Pond. There’s even a branch in Pender County. Col. Taylor’s grandson, Walker Taylor III, still serves as a Brigade leader who is sensitive to needs within the community, regardless of color or class. The current headquarters, on Vance Street, remains on Wilmington’s south side.
The St. James Home
Working in tandem with the early education program in Dry Pond, St. James Episcopal Church sought to bring a different form of learning and a better level of living to the community. The St. James Home was a benevolent effort of the women of the church. In 1861, the first seeds were sown for the project. Eliza Ann London Wright, the young widow of Wilmingtonian William Henry Wright, died in 1861 at the age of 44. She left directions in her will that $1,000 be paid to St. James Church “upon the condition that they shall apply the same in the establishment of a church orphan asylum for that parish.” Subsequently, Mrs. Wright’s mother, Sarah Elizabeth Lord London, left $500 to the cause. After Mrs. London’s death in December 1865, Platt Ketchum Dickinson, her son-in-law, had urged the church to make use of the money – for $1500 was a small fortune during Reconstruction.
In 1866, the St. James Ladies Society for Parochial Work was formed. In time, the ladies’ labors and financial contributions, though not limited to Dry Pond, benefitted the area greatly. Members of the Society included: Mrs. William Lord, Miss Lizzy deRosset, Mrs. P. K. Dickinson, Miss Empie Miller, Mrs. Alex McRae, Mrs. Dr. Thomas, Mrs. Graham Davis, Miss Eliza Walker, Mrs. Wm Wright, Mrs. Burr, Miss Annie Hotchkiss, Mrs. William Lippitt, Mrs. Jos. Lippitt, Miss Mary Lord, Mrs. William deRosset, Mrs. Armand deRosset, Miss Athalia Keith, Miss Mary Walker, Mrs. Mary Hill, Miss deRosset, Mrs. Gaston Meares, Miss Eliza Whitehead, Mrs. A. A. Watson, Mrs. deRosset, Mrs. Watson, Mrs. Meares, Miss Burr, Mrs. Wm Wright, Jo Lippitt, and J. Hill.
Though not members of the new ladies’ group, Mrs. George Davis and her daughter-in-law, Mrs. Junius Davis, contributed generously to the cause. Mrs. Davis’s husband, George Davis (1820-1896), is memorialized in the statue that sits on Market Street just north of the church. He was an elegant writer, a lawyer of distinction, and he served as an Attorney General of the Confederacy.
In 1868, the St. James Working Society scored another great victory when they raised $1300 for the St. James Home during a winter festival. To put that kind of money in perspective, two months later, Mr. A.H. Van Bokkelen underwrote the entire cost of building a handsome south side porch leading from the St. James Episcopal Church vesting room to the south lawn. It cost $100.
In 1867, one more gift helped make the St. James Home a reality. Dr. and Mrs. Armand J. deRosset, Jr., “sold” St. James Church a block of property between Eighth and Ninth, and Orange and Ann streets for a dollar. Listed as Wilmington city lot number 133, the land came with at least one building. The property was deeded to “aid in establishing a home for indigent widows and orphans,” a group that, “due to the capricious and indiscriminate ravages of war,” included a few of Wilmington’s elite citizens.
Dr. deRosset also provided funds that would help the ladies maintain a residence on the property. The following year St. James Church began operation of the St. James Home. The building sat on a parcel of land that fronted 130 ‘ on Ninth Street and 230’ on Orange Street. In 1871 the church enlarged the St. James Home and erected a chapel. A school was also added to the main building. In 1873, a widow from Louisburg, N.C., known as “Mrs. Lawrence,” began work at the St. James Home and School.
For most of the years that volunteers and teachers ran St. James School, Amy Morris Bradley was still teaching, too. However, many of the Dry Pond neighborhood children held jobs, so St. James School arranged class times to conform to their schedules. The school also provided less classical training and more lessons in basic hygiene and manners than Miss Bradley’s.
Because of the mission’s rapid growth, Bishop Thomas Atkinson sought the assistance from Bishop Henry Codman Potter of New York in employing Episcopal nuns to lend a hand. Sisters of the Good Shepherd was an order headquartered in New York City. The initial meeting of the group was held in 1869 at a service in Brooklyn’s St. Ann’s Church, the same congregation that had been a church home to the Empies and Swifts from 1814 to 1817.
Apparently, Mrs. Lawrence then left Wilmington to prepare for sisterhood in New York. A few months into her period of “probation,” or training, Bishop Potter transferred two women to St. James to work under the supervision of Alfred Watson. One was already a nun, and the other was Mrs. Lawrence, known by that time as “Sister Cecelia.” It is unclear what happened to the anonymous nun – or the other two who would join them later, but Sister Cecelia made a very beautiful name for herself through thirteen years of selfless good deeds. Bishop Atkinson officiated at St. James Church when she was fully received into the Order of the Good Shepherd in 1880.
According to the 1879 records of the Diocese of New York, “One of these [nuns] has had charge of a parish school, now numbering 55 pupils, a sewing school for the same, and a weekly night class for those boys and girls who work in a factory all day. The other has the charge of St. James’ Home, and gives her whole time to “house to house” visits among the poor whites, and ‘cottage readings’ in their own houses and in the school room.
The “cottage readings” were very popular. One elderly woman who had once attended the St. James Church Sunday School walked two miles just to hear the readings. The “house to house” visits were credited with for most of the increase in attendance.
The nuns also conducted cooking classes and established an early daycare center for infants. They arranged outings for the “poor women and children” – field trips that opened wider the small world of their charges. Several times they took river excursions aboard the Passport, Captain John Harper’s steamer. Members of St. James paid their passage and it was reported that even the women were refreshed by the trip and the infants basked in the river breeze. Individual parishioners also gave valuable services to the ministry. Dr. George Thomas provided free medical care. Anonymous angels, possibly Kate Walker Whiting and Kate deRosset Meares, provided carriages whenever the nuns were called to minister anywhere out of walking distance. These deeds, done with no thought of return, led St. James rector Mortimer Glover to say, later, of the ladies, “Sir, we would see Jesus.” (John 12:21)
The St. James School’s enrollment would soon grow to its limit of 130 pupils. The institution would eventually serve to educate thousands of students who had few other options during reconstruction. In addition to academic and trade school programs, the pupils were schooled to be fine young Episcopalians. The annual baptism often exceeded that of St. James Church. In 1885 alone, 35 children and 15 adults were baptized — and in 1885, Bishop Watson confirmed 19 new communicants.
Eventually, Sister Cecelia not only managed the St. James Home and school, but led worship services, started a Sunday School program, and acted as a family counselor. Her work inspired others to donate to the St. James Home. A $500 bequest from the estate of Mrs. James Dawson, who also left pews 29 and 75 to the vestry, helped make the construction of a chapel possible. Funds were also provided for a new “day nursery,” in 1887.
By 1892, the mission campus was becoming cramped. The day school had an enrollment of 100 pupils and the Sunday School comprised 140 members. Word was sent to the Diocese of New York that “the work has outgrown present accommodations, and is in great need of a Mission Church.”
That same year, perhaps because of illness, Sister Cecelia announced she was leaving the school and moving to New York. In June 1892, the St. James School was closed by order of the vestry: a group that included Dr. A. J. deRosset, Clayton Giles, Col. John W. Atkinson, Col. W. L. deRosset, Hon. A. M. Waddell, Dr. George G. Thomas, William Calder, W. A. Williams, T. D. Meares, J. Hal Boatwright, H. A. Burr, and Joshua G. Wright. The vestry and Alfred Watson gave Sister Cecelia a large farewell party at the Bishop’s House at 510 Orange Street.
The St. James Church vestry made plans to build a separate chapel for the St. James Home and locate it in a central location for the regular worshippers. Funds were collected in 1892 and the chapel and hall were constructed on the northwest corner of Sixth and Queen streets. The new mission was named “Chapel of the Good Shepherd in honor of the Sisterhood under which Sister Cecelia labored here so long and faithfully.”
On January 21, 1894, Sister Cecelia, died in New York City, at Hospital of the Good Shepherd. She was only 58 years old. Her body was brought back to Wilmington and buried at Oakdale Cemetery in a plot purchased just the day before by Katherine Walker Whiting, the wife of General W. H. C. Whiting. The Rt. Rev. Alfred A. Watson, assisted by the local Episcopal ministers, conducted the funeral service at St. James. The Rev. Mr. Robert Strange led the graveside service. Seven of her former students, Alexander Leslie, John Hughes, William Spooner, George Herbert, Richard Spooner, Tighlman Howard, and William Harker, served as pallbearers. The vestries of St. James and Church of the Good Shepherd served in an honorary capacity.
There were probably few if any dry eyes in the group assembled there. It was reported that “the grave was covered with flowers and floral emblems of offerings of affection. It was touching to see the humble members of her own Bible class coming forward with their simple tokens of love for her who had been indeed a mother to them.”
Because of Sister Cecelia’s devotion and unsought fame, Robert Strange issued a statement to the local press: “While we deeply grieve and mourn, we rejoice in the belief that she has been one of the choice vessels of the grace of our Heavenly Father and one of the lights of the world in her generation.“
The nun’s work echoed years later in the words of an unnamed woman who was had in a modest dwelling on the sound. “The happiest time in my life was when my oldest boy went to the Parish School. When I was done with my work and had tidied up so that I could sit down, he would repeat to me the hymns and Bible verses he had learned in school. The sisters were among my best friends.”
The Rev. John B. Gibble, an assistant minister at St. James, supervised the new Good Shepherd Mission. The first service occurred on November 6, 1892, and the centerpiece was the historic altar from St. James Church, given to Good Shepherd while the mother church was making room for the new Silas McBee altar. St. James also gave the “old St. James reredos and altar,” and a baptismal font to Church of the Good Shepherd. The Rev. Mr. Robert Strange officiated and the Rev. Mr. Gibble delivered the sermon.
“St. James has established a Mission plant …,” reported the Morning Star, on November 3, 1892. “It is a neat church seating 200 people, a hall about 25 feet-square and a small dwelling house of four rooms. It already has over 50 communicants. Services will be held morning and night every Sunday, and Sunday school in the afternoon. In the hall will be a day school, night school, meetings of the Girl’s Friendly Society, Knights of Temperance and monthly social gatherings of the congregations.”
In addition to the Rev. John Gibble, who called himself “the Bishop of Dry Pond,” other faithful helpers at Church of the Good Shepherd included J H. Boatwright, Susie Price, Carrie Price, and the Rev. Thomas P. Noe.
In 1895, Mary Lily Kenan, a member of First Presbyterian Church, joined in with “Miss Gibson, Emerson Mitchell, U. M. Robinson, C. H. Robinson, Jr., Mrs. Westbrook, Miss Sadie Williams, Miss Bridgers, and Miss Lola Martin,” to present a musical in the Parish House for benefit of the mission. The improvements didn’t last long. The St. James Home buildings burned on April 4, 1896. The church collected almost $4,000 in insurance. In 1905, St. James Church sold the city block to Thomas Bagley for $12,000. Profit from the sale was added to the existing St. James Home Fund. Thomas H. Wright contributed real estate to the fund, later. This fund, renamed the Armand J. deRosset Memorial Fund, helped build Church of the Good Shepherd, in 1911. Hobart Upjohn and George W. Conable were architects for the new building. Mr. Upjohn also designed the St. James Great Hall and the present First Presbyterian Church building.
SOURCES: St. James Vestry Minutes, Feb. 1874. NHC Deed Book UU, 666. (McEachern) The Rev. Mortimer Glover, “The Mission of the Good Shepherd.” (A sermon delivered on November 5, 1967, the 75th anniversary of the Church of the Good Shepherd.) Lower Cape Fear Historical Society. Burr, Sketch of St. James. Vestry Minutes, March 5, 1895. LmcE. Wilmington Through the Lens of Louis T. Moore. Wilmington, 2001. (Note: At the turn of the century, the MacRaes sold Wilmington Cotton Mills to John D. Bellamy, Jr. Bellamy brought his son-in-law, J. Walter Williamson, into the business and renamed it Bellwill.The mill closed in the late teens.) Diane Cobb Cashman. Headstrong: the Biography of Amy Morris Bradley (1823-1904), A Life of Noblest Usefulness. Wilmington, 1990. Minutes of the Sisterhood of the Good Shepherd, Diocese of N.Y. Author’s correspondence with Wade H. Kempton, archivist for the Diocese of N.Y. Star. February 1, 1880. WRC. Tony Wrenn, Wilmington, North Carolina: An Architectural and Historical Portrait. “The 16th Annual Report of the Sisterhood of the Good Shepherd.” New York, 1885. Wayne H. Kempton, historiographer and archivist for the Diocese of New York. Vestry Minutes, April 23, 1889. McEachern Files. (UNCW) Messenger, April 19, 1892. Bill Reaves Collection (New Hanover County Public Library), Ken Davis.Vm. September 6, 1892. IBK-LHM-EFM, SJC, UNCW. Morning Star, November 3, 1892, NHCPL. WRC. Oakdale Cemetery data supplied by director Eric Kozen. WRC, NHCPL. January 23, 1894. January 26, 1894. “The 16th Annual Report of the Sisterhood of the Good Shepherd.” New York, 1885. Morning Star, November 8, 1892. Reaves Files, NHCPL. McEachern Files, SJC, UNCW. Mortimer Glover, The Mission of Good Shepherd. 1967. LCFHS. Messenger, February 10, 1895. John Wheeler, Reminiscences and Memoirs of North Carolina and Eminent North Carolinians. Columbus, Ohio; 1884. E. C. Hicks, Hicks, Ward, Wright, Yonge, and 7812 Descendants. Wilmington, 1982. John H. Wheeler, Reminiscences and Memoirs of North Carolina and Eminent North Carolinians. Vm. January 6, 1868. March 3, 1868. IBK-LHM-EFM, SJC, UNCW. Kidder Family Collection. The Character Factory and Temple of our Fathers, by Susan Taylor Block.