Along the Cape Fear: A New Identification

by Susan Taylor Block

Cover image is housed at Cape Fear Museum.

The process of identifying old photographs is an ongoing and exciting activity. It’s gratifying to pair names and faces in pictures that lack labels, and more so when the images are quite old. The cover photo of Along the Cape Fear has fascinated me since the book was published in 1998. It was taken at Lilliput Plantation, in Winnabow, NC, and was donated to Cape Fear Museum with only one identification, Eric Norden.

Photographer Eric Norden took this photograph of the rice fields at Orton Plantation. (Cape Fear Museum)

Norden is the man on the right. He was a surveyor who drew plats of many properties in town and along the river, as well as Hugh MacRae’s colonization projects. He amassed one of North Carolina’s finest collections of rare books that included 16th century titles, most of which were lost in a 1939 house fire. In 1902, about the time the cover photo was taken, he presided over the Wilmington Camera Club, All three men have a seriousness about them that made me continue to wonder who the two on the left were. I happened upon the identity of the middle man in 1999, when I saw him on the cover of another book: The Jiangyin Mission Station, by Lawrence Kessler. He is Dr. George Worth, a Wilmington native who spent most of his life as a Presbyterian medical missionary in China. Dr. Worth was on furlough in 1902, when he served as vice-president of  the Wilmington Camera Club.

The Jiangyin Mission Station cover features images of Dr. George Worth, wife Emma Chadbourn Worth, and son William, about 1896.

Like the others, the man on the left is playing for no audience, and seems too well-dressed to be standing in the midst of an overgrown plantation. Blood courses through his hand as he stares, almost glares, into the lens. His face stayed with me. One day I thought I finally had found a youthful match for him in a collection of McKoy family photos, but I could not be 100% sure.

William Berry McKoy, at age 16. (Historical Society of the Lower Cape Fear)

Yesterday, while viewing photos posted by the Historical Society of the Lower Cape Fear, I saw another McKoy photo that made me entirely sure the man on the left is William Berry McKoy (1852-1928). He was a Princeton graduate  and a title attorney, who collaborated with surveyor Norden. McKoy was prominent in local democratic politics and freemasonry. In 1886, he married Katherine Bacon McKoy, who was the daughter of Henry Bacon, U.S. Engineer for the damming projects at the mouth of the Cape Fear River. Her brothers were Lincoln Memorial architect Henry Bacon; and archaeologist and furniture designer Francis Bacon.

William Berry McKoy, (on left) about 1924. (Historical Society of the Lower Cape Fear)

McKoy gathered information on Cape Fear River properties as early as 1881, when he delivered a lecture entitled, “Early Settlements on the Cape Fear, and the History of Old Brunswick,” to the Wilmington Historical and Scientific Society – an organization he founded. McKoy compiled history about many other local sites as well, and some of his work is included in Chronicles of the Cape Fear River, by James Sprunt – owner of Lilliput and adjoining plantations, Kendal and Orton.

In 1887, William Berry McKoy built the McKoy House at 402 South Third Street. James F. Post served as architect, and Alfred Howe was the builder. Architectural historian Tony Wrenn called the house, “Wilmington’s best representative of the Stick style and a first-rate example for any area.” Ironically, William’s brother-in-law, Henry Bacon (1866-1924), merely 21 in 1887, would design another house on the same street, but for an unrelated family – the MacRaes. The Donald MacRae House at 25 South Third Street, known today as the Ann Moore Bacon Church House, was built in 1901.

The William Berry McKoy House at 402 South Third Street.

As late as 1917, fifteen years after the Along the Cape Fear cover photo was taken, William McKoy was still interested in the picturesque, history laden area of Winnabow. He requested James Sprunt allow him, accompanied again by Eric Norden, to visit Orton Plantation and St. Phillip’s Church.

St. Philip’s Church, Brunswick Town. (Historical Society of the Lower Cape Fear)

“We have just moved up to town for the season,” replied Sprunt. “I think I could arrange to go down with you, however, or certainly to send you from Orton in a conveyance to the Old Church. … I may be able to go down in my own boat and bring you back in good time in the afternoon.”

With all the identifications in place, the photograph takes on a strong Presbyterian slant, and the connections become clearer. William McKoy and Eric Norden were members of First Presbyterian Church, as was James Sprunt, who was known locally, even internationally, for his generosity to Presbyterian causes. Dr. Worth was a member of First Presbyterian before moving to China. Almost wholly, Sprunt and First Presbyterian Church supported Dr. Worth and his family in their missionary work. Princeton, founded by Presbyterians, played into the picture, too, with James Sprunt’s son, Laurence, following McKoy there, two decades later. James Sprunt was close to First Presbyterian Church minister Dr. Joseph Wilson, whose own son, Woodrow Wilson, taught at Princeton. Sprunt gave substantial financial support to the school.

First Presbyterian Church, dedicated in 1861, burned New Year’s Eve, 1925. Designed by Samuel Sloan, who also served as architect of the N.C. Governor’s Mansion. (Cape Fear Museum)

The Knox tie did truly bind during James Sprunt’s lifetime. His guest lists were heavy with other Presbyterians of Scottish descent. Like most of their church peers, the three Presbyterian cover-men were modest people who would have been uncomfortable in any sort of spotlight, no matter how dim. They were the sort of people who would have taken the lowliest seat at the table. It is interesting that images of William McKoy and Eric Norden landed on the cover of one book, and Dr. Worth is featured on two.

Sources:  Bill Reaves Collection, New Hanover County Public Library; Historical Society of the Lower Cape Fear; Cape Fear Museum Library; Perkins Library, Duke University; James Sprunt, Chronicles of the Cape Fear River. Tony Wrenn, Wilmington, North Carolina: An Architectural and Historical Portrait. Susan Taylor Block: Along the Cape Fear. Author’s nterview, December 30, 2012, with Elisita McKoy McCauley.

Posted in History, North Carolina, Photography, Wilmington | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Oysters Roasted

by Susan Taylor Block

How my eyes do fill with moisture

When I contemplate the oyster:

A hapless piece of mollusk meat

That everyone just loves to eat.


A feasibility study

Would’ve come back muddy:

“Hazardous to open the shell.

They’re ugly, and, oh, how they smell.”


I’ve been to roasts throughout my life,

And even have an oyster knife,

But I just sit and watch the show

Of oyster eaters, row on row.


They pry and shuck and gobble down,

Sometimes with a tiny frown.

They’re in no mood to talk or hear,

But just to wolf those oysters dear.


Ingested in an eight-month season,

Their attraction’s without reason:

It’s gritty food that cavemen ate,

We might just call it “people bait.”


So, someone, somewhere should aspire

To breed a new hit in the mire

That draws the ladies and the gents

And earns them soon a lot of cents.


(Copyright 2012)

Image from:

Posted in Wilmington | Tagged , | 3 Comments

The Hills of Queen Street

by Susan Taylor Block

Our family is thankful to have many photos from the past. They represent various branches and are exhibited online as the Hill-Taylor Collection. The Hills, my mother’s father’s “people,” were good at leaving an interesting and varied trail of images. A fraction of their story is told in this article with photographs, documents, news clippings, paintings, and handwritten genealogical documents.

Owen Canady Hill, about 1900. (Photo by J. J. Burnett, Wilmington. Hill-Taylor Collection)

Owen Canady Hill, my great-grandfather, was born August 18, 1839. He died September 1, 1904, after years of suffering from Civil War wounds. Owen was born in Wilmington, at Monk Barns, an 18th-century house on Greenville Sound where the family worked as tenant farmers. Before that, they lived on “Topsail Sound,” where, in 1737, another Owen Hill received a land grant to 640 acres of land. Some of the Hills lived or moved to greener pastures in Duplin County, but Owen’s ancestors, for the most part, stayed in the same quiet little area where they farmed and enjoyed Stump Sound oysters and other famously good seafood. They marketed most of their seafood in Wilmington, and that required frequent trips to the seafood market that once sat in the intersection of 2nd and Market streets. Owen made this run many times during the economically challenging years that followed the Civil War.

During the Civil War, Owen Canady Hill served in Capt. James Metts’ Company G, Third North Carolina. He took part in the Seven Days’ Battle around Richmond, as well as battles at South Mountain, Sharpsburg, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Payne’s Farm and Gettysburg. He was taken prisoner at Sharpsburg for almost two months; wounded at Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, and Payne’s Farm. He was imprisoned at Spottsylvania; then imprisoned again, at Elmira, New York. He was released June 23, 1865, and walked back to North Carolina. Shrapnel scattered throughout his body sometimes made him feel as if he was on fire.

Owen split his time between Onslow County, where he kept a home at Stump Sound, and Wilmington where he set up a grocery store and blacksmith shop in Dry Pond. His Wilmington house sat on the northeast corner of Sixth and Queen streets. From 1867 to 1886, Owen and wife Mary Elizabeth Taylor Hill, a fellow Onslow County native, had eight children: Rebecca Ann, John Thomas, James Richard, Mary Ida, Martha Ann, Marion Owen, Oscar Claude, and Grover William. This essay will follow only the line of James Richard Hill.

Mary Elizabeth Taylor Hill, at 516 Queen Street, about 1903. (Hill-Taylor Collection)

The Primitive Baptist Church, on Castle Street. (Photo by Susan Block)

This interior shot of Church of the Good Shepherd, designed by architect Hobart Upjohn, was taken by a Hill family member shortly after the building was completed in 1912. (Hill-Taylor Collection)

Here, Hill family members and friends loll near the banks of the Cape Fear River. (Hill-Taylor Collection)

The Hills went to several different churches, including Fifth Avenue Methodist, the Primitive Baptist Church, First Baptist Church, and, most conveniently, Church of the Good Shepherd, at 6th and Queen streets. Good Shepherd might have won them all, if one senior member of the Hill family had not taken great exception to a line in the Nicene Creed. Firmly Protestant, and unaware that the word “Catholic,” in lower case, means universal and all-inclusive, the elderly woman nearly fainted when the congregation read in unison from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer: “We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.”

Owen and Mary’s children were educated in public schools. Their youngest child, Grover (1886-1941), my grandfather, went to UNC. Most of the others worked as seamstresses or tradesmen, except for Oscar Claude (1881-1949), who was longtime Superintendent of Mails for the Wilmington Post office, and also supervised the Camp Davis, Fort Fisher, and the Bluethenthal postal centers. Oscar, James, and all four of their sisters lived in various Queen Street homes until their deaths. None of the sisters married, nor did Marion.

The 1906 School of Pharmacy at UNC. Grover Hill is sitting in front of the center column, on left. (NC Collection, UNC)

Ella Scott Hill, wife of James, daughter-in-law of Owen Hill, and mother of Pearl and Jimmy - about 1899. (Hill-Taylor Collection)

Pearl and Jimmy Hill, about 1904. (Hill-Taylor Collection)

The gallery continues:

Pearl married Richard Boone:

Pearl Hill, born in 1903, at the corner of 6th and Queen streets, about 1923. (Hill-Taylor Collection)

Richard Boone at a typesetting machine in Wilmington, NC. He typeset for newspapers and book productions like "Blackie Bear." (Hill-Taylor Collection)

Pearl took painting lessons in Wilmington, from teacher Emma Lossen. Pearl exhibited her paintings at the Cottage Lane Art Show, an Azalea Festival event, and at the Sorosis Building, various art shows at St. James Episcopal Church, and other events.

Pearl's painting of a New England scene was exhibited on Cottage Lane, about 1954. (Hill-Taylor Collection)

Pearl's painting of Greenfield Lake, about 1954. (Susan Taylor Block)


A portrait of Pearl’s only child, Martha, painted by Emma Lossen.

Martha Boone McAllister, 1951. Painted by Emma Lossen. (Susan Taylor Block)


Jimmy Hill, Pearl’s unmarried brother, was a professional stand-up comedian and clown. He worked in theaters in various states, especially Ohio and North and South Carolina.

Jimmy Hill, Pearl's brother, born in 1901.

This illustrated essay ends with a rare photo of Wilmington from the Hill family albums. It dates to about 1907 and is rich in content, showing the old Cape Fear River ferry that was operated by the Joneses, an African-American family that still calls Brunswick County home. Also displayed are the many buildings that were razed before the U. S. Custom House was constructed, beginning in 1916.

Wilmington, about 1907. (Acknowledge as


Hill Genealogy:

Somehow, the leather binding of the 1831 Hill family Bible is still intact, even if the title page is a bit crumpled. Just in terms of hurricanes, it is quite a survivor.

Records that were saved within it follow:







Posted in Wilmington | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Animated Christmas Windows at Belk Beery

by Susan Taylor Block

The Belk-Beery Christmas windows, about 1958. (Photo by Martha McAllister; Hill-Taylor Collection)

I feel fortunate to have been born in 1951 – in Wilmington, North Carolina. It was a quiet time in an unselfconscious place that knew not yet its beauty. Many things that seemed normal and permanent about Wilmington to my young mind have proven to be rare and somewhat fleeting. Such is the case of downtown Christmas decorations in my dear hometown.

The old street adornments were entirely different from the strange dullness of LED lights. They were a bit big, sharply bright, and very colorful. Multicolored lights crisscrossed the streets and lighted medallions dangled on each side of the street. Predictably, the only medallions I remember are the Santa Claus faces, but I think there were at least three other images.

Just like we did on Sunday afternoon rides, my parents, brother, and grandmother traveled together to see the Christmas lights. We did this several times each December. Mother and Daddy sat in the front seat, and Nana and I sat in the back seat, with my brother, Jay, sitting between us.

Those were more formal days. My parents, brother, and I were dressed casually, as we would have labeled it then, but today it would seem a bit dressy. My beloved grandmother, as always, was clad in a nice dress, and was wearing just enough jewelry.

I clearly remember the Christmas ride we took in 1957, when Jay was just 18 months old. He was perched in a baby seat, but, in those years, that merely meant it was elevated. That was a seatbelt-less era.

Nana (Flossie Stone Hill), Jay, and Susan. (Photo by J. W. Taylor, Jr.; Hill-Taylor Collection)

We rode north on South Front Street, and when we got to the brow of the hill, the dazzlement of yuletide lights below actually took Jay’s breath away. He stared bright-eyed, gasped several times, was silent, then finally began breathing normally again. He was on my left. I can still picture it and feel the relief of that episode being over.

By contrast to the nightly show, how disappointing it was to see the same downtown sight in daylight. The medallions were drained of most of their definition and the colored bulbs were dull. It would be decades before I would understand the spiritual symbolism of the Christmas phenomenon of light.

I can’t remember when I first saw the animated storefront windows of Belk-Beery, but I remember my impressions. Even though the movements were simple and slow, what was assumed to “stay still,” moved! It was like plugging the Christmas street illuminations into a Walt Disney movie.

In those days, Belk-Beery decorator, S. O. (Jack) Guyton was responsible for the Christmas windows. As soon as the draping was removed, people would leave their cars and stand quietly in front of the glimmering displays. I think background music played, but emotional memories play tricks. Except for the dreamy, moss-draped mood under the World’s Largest Living Christmas Tree, locally, there was no other secular Christmas thrill like the Belk-Beery windows.

The old, once very familiar Belk-Beery box. (Hill-Taylor Collection)

For more on the municipal tree, see:











Posted in Wilmington | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Monkey Business

by Susan Taylor Block


Martha McAllister, Chipper, and Richard Boone, about 1962. (Photo by Southern Engraving Company)

During the 1960s, the Pet Shop at North 17 Shopping Center was a destination store for animal purchasers and a sort of neat, clean zoo for browsers. Pearl Hill Boone, Richard Boone, and their daughter, Martha McAllister owned the business, with its “get to the point” name. Pearl was the bookkeeper, Dick, the manager, and Martha was the chief salesman. Their small business had grown from a tiny one the threesome operated earlier in a World War II Quonset hut on South 16th Street.

Opening Day: Martha and Claude McAllister, with her parents, Richard and Pearl Boone. (Photo by John Kelly)

At the Pet Shop, Wilmington’s only pet store at the time, shoppers had their choice of hamsters, monkeys, tropical fish, piranhas, skunks, cats, dogs, turtles, Siamese fighting fish, goldfish, parrots, parakeets, a variety of snakes, and many other creatures. In addition to the usual products such as dog clothes and flea powder, the store stocked unusual items for the time, such as parakeet diapers, fur dye, poodle mascara, and doggy toothpaste.

Dick Boone, an old newspaperman, knew how to gain "Grand Opening" publicity. (Photo by John Kelly)

Ladies observing the unladylike. (Photo by John Kelly)

Summer was their only meager season. Vacation and beach time left  people with less time to care for brand new pets, so the Boones added an unlikely product: Model rockets. Despite the disparity, they sold well in the pet store. Martha set up a little school situation in which she taught public school teachers rocketry, a program underwritten by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Martha also boosted sales through publicity. She appeared on various local programs on WWAY -TV, and on “The Jim Burns Show,” a weekday live variety program that aired on WECT-TV for years. She also engendered bonus newspaper space through her creative ideas that involved pets as gifts.

Martha McAllister, "on the set," with an unidentified local television announcer.

This Father's Day photo of a prospective young shopper appeared in the Star News, June 16, 1963. Claude McAllister, (right), worked as a school principal, but visited the Pet Shop frequently.

Year-round, a particular monkey named Chipper was the star attraction. He arrived at the store while still a baby and won the heart of Dick Boone. Soon, the feeling was mutual. If Dick was away from the store for more than a couple of days, Chipper would quit eating and drinking until he returned. Chipper hugged his master and kissed his hand when he returned, then resumed eating from his usual personal menu of hamburger, roast beef, fresh produce, peanut butter and crackers, and, on occasion, a piece of chewing gum.

The shopkeeper and his pet. (Southern Engraving Company)

Cute little Chipper outsmarted many customers by picking their pocket while they were busy admiring him. Most shoppers never felt a thing when he slipped his slender fingers inside a pocket to grab a coin, or into a lady’s handbag to snag a handkerchief. Once his thievery was discovered, he used his long tail and feet to swing through the store, delaying capture. Even when caught, Dick Boone had to pry Chipper’s strong fingers open to retrieve a customer’s property.

Near the end of each work day, Chipper would settle into his little cubby and pull his blanket this way and that, until he had it exactly like he liked it. Then, he would sleep amid diverse creatures from many parts of the globe. None, but the boa constrictor could have been fodder for nightmares. Smartly, Skipper was terrified of the boa, but he got along famously with the other animals and visited them at their cages often. When the Boone family sold the Pet Shop, they sold Chipper, too. By 1969, the new owners had taken charge, but Dick Boone visited his beloved friend almost daily.

The boa takes center stage in this broadcast. (Photo by John Kelly)

Martha's daughter, Debbie, with her own pet, about 1960. The puppy's expression is notable. (Click to magnify)

Sources, in addition to personal knowledge (Pearl Hill Boone and Martha McAllister were Hill cousins) and the Boone’s family papers are: Star News, “Wild Animal Kingdom,” by Ed Newman (August 27, 1967) and The Hanover Sun, “Chipper the Clown,” by Lynne Gause (July 10, 1968).

This grand photo of Debbie and Martha, was taken about 1958. Sadly, as of this year, both are gone.

A Related post:


Posted in Wilmington | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

The Shortest Second


by Susan Taylor Block


While I’m looking both ways

At a crossroads so mean,

A horn honks behind me

When the light’s barely green.


Posted in Poems | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Where Two or Three Thousand were Gathered

by Susan Taylor Block


A normal day at the Cotton Exchange.

For twenty days during March and April of 1888, Robert Gamaliel Pearson, D.D., conducted a series of meetings in Wilmington, North Carolina. Amazing numbers of people gathered to hear the Presbyterian professor of English Bible from Columbia (SC) Theological Seminary. Circuses drew many hundreds during those years, but Dr. Pearson’s lectures attracted 2,000 to 3,500 people on the busiest nights.

The meetings took place at the riverfront Champion Compress warehouse, renamed “The Tabernacle” during the lecture series. Cotton merchant and Presbyterian churchman James Sprunt owned the building and gave use of the multi-roomed space for morning discussions and nightly lectures. Sprunt’s generosity to religious causes was well known, and extended to the construction of churches in Wilmington, Chapel Hill, and China.


Steamers usually loaded cotton night and day at Champion Compress. (Special Collections,Duke University)

Transforming a dusty, darkish industrial space into a house of worship took time and some money. Carpenters enlarged the cotton compress platform to the size of twenty by forty feet to accommodate seating for the ministers and choir. Churches and individuals loaned chairs of many different styles and sizes. Finally, just two days before the meetings began, electric lights were added to the building.[1]


The Champion Compress platform without Tabernacle extensions. (Cape Fear Museum)

Organizers scheduled additional men of the cloth to participate, usually by leading a prayer. The group included: The Rev. Dr. Alexander Sprunt, later minister of First (Scots) Presbyterian Church in Charleston; The Rev. Dr. John L. Pritchard of First Baptist Church; the Rev. Mr. Peyton H. Hoge of First Presbyterian Church; the Rev. Mr. J. W. Primrose of Second Presbyterian Church; the Rev. Mr. W. S. Creasy of Grace Methodist Church; the Rev. Mr. D. H. Tuttle of Fifth Street Methodist Church; the Rev. Mr. T. Page Ricaud of Bladen Street Methodist Church, the Rev. Mr. G. M. Tolson of Brooklyn Baptist Church; and the Rev. Mr. Kelly of the Seaman’s Bethel.[2]

The meetings began on March 18 and ran through April 11. Assemblies took place daily, except on Saturdays. Sizable crowds attended even during inclement weather, but on at least one evening, torrential rain on the tin roof drowned out the sound of Dr. Pearson’s voice.[3]


Robert Gamaliel Pearson

Though there was no discord, a special police force was required just to manage the crowds that arrived on foot, or by carriage, ox cart, boat, or train.  Another group of men served as ushers who began the seating process thirty minutes before each evening meeting. Those who had questions or comments were encouraged to attend the daily discussion group meetings.

Usual schedules went missing during the lecture series. Even Wilmington’s popular City Market kept business hours to a minimum “to enable butchers and others to attend the services.” Among other record-breakers,  the “vast throng” that gathered for the children’s service, on April 6, was said to be the largest gathering of local youngsters ever assembled in Wilmington.[4]

Contributions were encouraged for the Young Men’s Christian Association, an organization that had a heavier spiritual accent then than it does today . Classical scholar Theodore B. Kingsbury, editor of the Star News, covered the story himself. “The city was stirred to its depths,” he wrote of the Pearson meetings, but Kingsbury also noted skepticism of the plain-looking, plain-spoken man who seemed to take on mysterious power when speaking.[5]


The YMCA building on the northwest corner of Front and Grace streets was completed in 1891. It featured a large auditorium where revivals were held frequently. (Cape Fear Museum)

“He has none of the natural endowments that set off the great orator,” wrote Kingsbury. “His personal appearance is youthful, homely, unimposing. His voice is peculiar, and yet not without a certain fascination – penetrating and not unmusical when you get accustomed to it. He has clear articulation. His manner is deliberate, self contained. HIs mind is logical, acute, responsive, aggressive. He is not eloquent in any high sense. He is not a rhetorician. He scarcely uttered in his fifty minutes’ discourse one rhetorical sentence. He is not imaginative. His descriptions are not remarkable. Then with all this negation, what is he? What power has he as a preacher?

“We fear irreligious, worldly men will scarcely understand us,” concluded the bookish Kingsbury. “He has power of a very wonderful kind. It is the power that comes from God.”[6]


(New Hanover County Public Library)

The lecture series ended on April 11, 1888, and Dr. Pearson was remembered by many as the man who, “made clear to many minds that which they had never understood before.” The meetings caused many effects. One of the most endearing was money suddenly repaid many years after one listener had slipped onto a train without buying a ticket.[7]

“Previous to that time,” wrote another member of Pearson’s Wilmington audience of the man she knew best, “I could see nothing in my husband’s life that was inconsistent with the life of a Christian. He was a model of honor. In fact, it seemed to me that his ideals were so high that they were strained – he put himself last, always. On one occasion I knew him to lose $1,000 because he would not break a simple promise.

“From the time of … (the Pearson meetings) until his death (12 years later), I never knew anyone to live so close to God. His life was a living prayer. Nothing, not even pressing business, was allowed in between him and his religious duties. In fact, I think his zeal in this direction helped to shorten his life.

“The change from being absolutely upright and honorable, loyal, and true to every relation in his life,” the wife continued, “to that of being a spiritually minded Christian of the highest type was so great that it was mysterious even to one who knew him so intimately as I did. Nothing but the grace of God could have wrought such a wondrous change.”[8]

The Rev. Dr. Robert G. Pearson was born in 1847 and died in 1913. His parents were Quakers who left North Carolina to live on a farm in Mississippi. They gave him the middle name of Gamaliel after the learned rabbi who taught St. Paul during his days as Saul. The studious Dr. Pearson was a graduate of the Cooper Institute, and Cumberland University in Lebanon, Tenn. He assisted Dr. A. J. Baird of the First Presbyterian Church of Nashville for several years before becoming a full-time non-denominational evangelist. His work took him to far flung states, and he held a special place in his heart for Montreat, NC, a Presbyterian stronghold near his home in Asheville.

Though Pearson was reticent to speak about his own life, others reported that he read the Bible through several times every year and spent a great deal of time in private meditation and prayer. His wife, Mary Bowen Pearson, a college instructor when they met, traveled with him and led daytime study groups for women.

Some of Dr. Pearson’s lectures survived because a stenographer recorded his words. They were published as Truth Applied or Bible Readings, and are available online. Mrs. Pearson edited the second edition of his book, published in 1890.

The old cotton compress in Wilmington used millions of pounds of pressure to squeeze a bail down to half of its original size.  Pearson’s sermons are compact, too. There is no fluff. Here are a few examples from his book:

“I have no patience with fanatics. Christ was heavenly-minded, but he could work at the carpenter’s bench; he could attend to his earthly duties, and still keep faithful to his duties to his Father.”

“I like literature, and I like to see scholarly men and women; but I have very little patience with that man who calls himself a child of God, but prides himself on his literary attainments and care nothing for God’s word.”

“I have very little patience with people who claim to be God’s children, saved by grace, and then go on and look as solemn as if they had been dead a week.”

“It is presumption to talk about us poor glow-worms ‘throwing light on his Word.’ You might as well talk about it being the business of a fire-fly to throw light on the noonday sun. Just get the texts together in their natural order, as they bear on any topic, and you will get the light…. Here is a diamond lying in the mud, sand, and dirt. What do you need to do with the diamond? Not to throw any light on the diamond, not to try and make the diamond shine, but just to take it out of the dust, and get these things away from it and out of it, and hold it up, and the diamond will do the shining and sparkling.”

Then, with the meetings over, Alexander Sprunt and Son resumed its schedule of packing 4,000 bales of cotton a day onto steamers, schooners, railroad cars, and carts. (Cape Fear Museum)


[1] Morning Star, March 15. 1888; Morning Star, March 6, 1888; Morning Star, March 16, 1888. NHCPL.

[2] Morning Star, April 5, 1888; Morning Star, March 20, 1888. NHCPL.

[3] Morning Star, March 22, 1888. NHCPL.

[4] Morning Star, April 7, 1888. Morning Star, April 12, 1888. Morning Star, March 30, 1888. NHCPL.

[5] Josephus Daniels, Tar Heel Editor, Chapel Hill, 1939. “…I devoured his editorials,” wrote Daniels, editor and publisher of the News and Observer,  of Kingsbury,.  Memorial of the First Presbyterian Church, Wilmington, North Carolina: Seventy-Fifth Anniversary (1817-1892), Wilmington, 1892. Morning Star, April 6, 1888. Morning Star, March 19, 1888.  NHCPL.

[6] Morning Star, March 19, 1888. NHCPL.

[7] Morning Star, April 3, 1888. NHCPL.

[8] Sisson Collection. Special Collections. New Hanover County Public Library.

Posted in Wilmington | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Election 2012

“In the political world we have first a patriot, and then we have a political partisan. Now, what is a patriot? He is a man who loves his country first, last, and all the time, over and above his party, or any other party. Now, what is a political partisan? He is a man who loves his party, let it be Democratic, Republican, or what not, better than he loves his country; and as proof of it, he will stuff a ballot box, and move heaven, earth, and perdition itself to advance his party. When such a political partisan is at work in politics he is not working for his country….”      –   Robert Gamaliel Pearson, who spoke to crowds numbering 2,000 to 3,000 at the riverfront Champion Compress, owned by cotton merchant James Sprunt, in Wilmington, North Carolina, 1888.

(From Truth Applied, by R. G. Pearson; Nashville, 1890.)

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

“It is Always the Fountain’s Fault”

by Susan Taylor Block,    August 24, 2012

Kenan Memorial Fountain, about 1935. (Photo by Louis T. Moore. New Hanover County Public Library)

Today’s Star News carried a fine editorial on the need to preserve Kenan Memorial Fountain, the centerpiece of Fifth Avenue at Market Street. The fountain was created from Indiana limestone and designed by Carrere and Hastings of New York, the same architectural firm responsible for the New York Public Library; Whitehall, in Palm Beach; the Jefferson Hotel in Richmond,  and many other buildings of distinction.

In 1921, William Rand Kenan, Jr. gave the fountain and accompanying walls and benches to the city in memory of his parents, William Rand Kenan and Mary Hargrave Kenan. Kenan also, along with Thomas H. Wright, Sr., built the Carolina Apartments building. According to Walter E. Campbell, author of Across Fortune’s Tracks:A Biography of William Rand Kenan, the fountain “represents the close connection between one man’s economic interests, in the Carolina Apartments, and his love for the city at the center of his family’s history.”

The New York City Public Library.

The Jefferson Hotel in Richmond.

In 1953, N. C. Highway Commission engineers decided to remove the fountain, declaring it a driving hazard. Debate had raged for more than a decade as increased automobile traffic seemed to shrink the intersection of the two boulevards. Historian, preservationist, and conservationist Louis T. Moore, a life-long friend of the Kenan family, worked hard to both keep the fountain and preserve the warmth of Mr. Kenan’s feelings for Wilmington. Suggestions to move the fountain to South Third Street, across from Greenfield Lake, or to the entrance to the Cape Fear River Memorial Bridge didn’t set well with some Wilmingtonians, but the local press continued to push hard to have it removed, one way or the other.

William Rand Kenan’s cousin, Owen Hill Kenan, M.D., noted that  some of the trouble came from drunks and reckless drivers who collided with the fountain. Known for his wit, Dr. Kenan wrote to Mr. Moore, “(but) it is always the fountain’s fault.”

Louis T. Moore went on a personal crusade to save the fountain, writing scores of letters to gather support. He visited his friend and neighbor, architect Leslie N. Boney, too, and told him the problem. The architect, also a friend of the Kenan family, created the compromise. Boney hailed from Duplin County, the Kenans’ ancestral home, and his wife, Mary Lily Hussey, was named for family friend Mary Lily Kenan Flagler. Working in the basement office of his Italianate home at 120 South Fifth Street, a block and a half from the fountain, he devised a plan to improve traffic flow through reducing the size of the monument by cutting away the lower tier and erecting a high wall….   What is left is precious.



Whitehall, the Palm Beach home of Mary Lily Kenan Flagler, is yet another Carrere and Hastings design.

Posted in Wilmington | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Advice on the First Day of School

by Susan Taylor Block







(Ilustration by Corinne Malvern, in Kathryn Jackson’s book, Nurse Nancy.)

Posted in Poems | Tagged | Leave a comment