by Susan Taylor Block
The Colonial Inn, owned by Oscar Pearsall, occupied one of the best corners in town. Mr. Pearsall, his brother, Philander, and their partner, Benjamin Franklin Hall, owned Hall and Pearsall, a bustling wholesale grocery and guano products business. It was located on the corner of Nutt and Grace streets. Over time, the business grew and became known simply as Pearsall and Company. At the mixing plant, “where any grade of manipulated guano” could be manufactured, they created and stamped products with their own brand name. Ships and trains transported staples, hay, grain, and guano products to large markets in various parts of the U.S., especially New York and New England. Slower trains wound through the Wilmington area, too, delivering heavy loads of groceries, grain, and hay.
Oscar Pearsall had already made real estate news in 1894, when he transported his Carolina Beach cottage “through the sounds on floats, to Wrightsville,” where it was rebuilt on Wrightsville Sound. Then, in the Spring of 1903, Oscar moved a two-story frame residence, built by A. J. deRosset, from the northeast corner of Third and Market streets. He replaced it in 1903 with the Colonial Apartments building, pictured here about 1920.
The interior was elegant. Residents took their meals in a beautiful dining room, that doubled as a tea room in the afternoon. Ladies wore white gloves to tea, and were served from sterling pitchers.
In 1913, Mr. Pearsall took on another building project, but this time it was a church, Pearsall Memorial Presbyterian. Ironically, the church’s most famous minister, Dr. B. Frank Hall, was a grandson of Pearsall’s old business partner, Civil War veteran Benjamin Franklin Hall. The two families shared strong ties outside of work. All contributed generously to faith-based efforts, especially those linked to Presbyterian churches. Oscar supported church education work, and apparently gave the land and underwrote the entire cost of building Pearsall Memorial Presbyterian Church. Philander Pearsall fully supported a foreign missionary and was superintendent of an African American mission. Benjamin Franklin Hall, brother of Mrs. James Sprunt, gave generously to First Presbyterian Church and a Presbyterian medical missionary station in China.
The Colonial Inn burned, April 25, 1962. The building pictured on the right is the YMCA, constructed in 1912-13 to replace a smaller building at 305 North Front Street. D. H. Penton, president, and J. B. Huntington, general secretary, were champions of the move. The new YMCA boasted many welcome features, including a basketball court with ample space for spectators – and a large swimming pool – one of the chilliest imaginable.
In stark contrast to the graceful Colonial Inn, YMCA’s rental spaces were utilitarian in decor. They were leased to most guests by the month, with the exception of visiting seamen, who were allowed to rent by the day. The YMCA building was destroyed July 20, 1970.
(Basis of article from the book, Cape Fear Lost, copyright 1999, by the author. Copies are available at amazon.com. All proceeds benefit Cape Fear Museum.)
Sources: James Sprunt, Chronicles of the Cape Fear River; Bill Reaves files: Wilmington Star (New Hanover County Public Library); conversation with Betsy Pearsall; Family files, Historical Society of the Lower Cape Fear; Cape Fear Museum.