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.

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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.)

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“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.

http://louistmoore.com     http://www.starnewsonline.com/article/20120823/ARTICLES/120829804



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

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Advice on the First Day of School

by Susan Taylor Block







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

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“Blockade Running in North Carolina,” by Louis T. Moore

A GUEST BLOG: In 1956, multi-faceted historian Louis T. Moore (1885-1961) published a book entitled Stories Old and New of the Cape Fear Region. That one volume, reprinted in 1999, was just not large enough to contain Mr. Moore’s extensive repertoire of finely penned essays. The following article exhibits his ability to present the big picture while providing meticulously researched facts that bring focus. It is posted here with permission from the New Hanover County Public Library, where much of his work, including one thousand panoramic photographs, is preserved.    – Susan Taylor Block

Louis T. Moore and Lorna Doone, about 1955. (Photo courtesy of Peggy Moore Perdew)

The state of North Carolina today is as progressive as any in the field of industry, as well as in the field of agriculture. However, this was not the case in North Carolina during the War Between the States, over a century ago. Prior to the war we were in bondage industrially to the more economically progressive North. When war broke out, trade with our northern neighbors necessarily broke off, and supplies for the war had to be imported from elsewhere.

After the northern blockade of the Confederate ports went into effect, these war materials were carried in swift crafts known as blockade runners, and the cargoes they brought continually enabled the Confederacy to continue the fight for states’ rights, until shortly after the final capitulation of Fort Fisher early in 1865. As the success of the blockade runners in maneuvering through the blockade consistently was crucial to the South, perhaps a glance backwards into their operations may prove interesting.

Silent but eloquent reminders of the blockade runners are from thirty to forty wrecks along the ocean frontage of New Hanover and Brunswick counties. A list of many of these will be given at a later point in this narrative. They were swift and graceful steamers. They were employed in perilous operations and enterprises. As a matter of course, every trip brought danger either of capture or of sinking by the Northern fleet of gunboats. This armada hovered close to the coast in the effort to suspend the bringing in of supplies of varied nature for the Confederacy.

Mr. Moore caught his own shadow in this photo of Civil War sea history. (Photo courtesy of the New Hanover County Public Library)

The blockade runners were designed for speed. In many cases the fast craft escaped capture simply by running away from lurking gunboats. Some finished trips with the regularity of scheduled mail boats. Many made from forty to sixty round trips successfully, accumulating millions of dollars for their fortunate owners. Cotton is just one example of the possibility of profit. It could be purchased on the Wilmington market at from three to eight cents per pound, and later sold at the equivalent of $ .45 to $1.90 per pound. It has been estimated that over one hundred million dollars worth of business was transacted through the port of Wilmington during the four years of the war.

Successful operation of the blockade runners depended upon the skill and daring of their commanders and pilots. Confederate naval officers were adept at avoiding capture. Many blockade runners were sunk or otherwise disposed of when about to be taken into custody.

The principal volume of traffic originated with the British port of Nassau, located in the Bahama Islands. The types of cargo loaded there and brought to Wilmington were of varied and miscellaneous nature. A large proportion consisted of “Nassau bacon.” This constituted meat was cured in northern packing houses, sent to the West Indies, and eventually brought to Wilmington. It was then distributed to the interior to feed Confederate soldiers. Other major items brought in by the swift ships were candles, sugar, cloth for uniforms, and cotton goods for dresses. Without supplies transported by blockade runners, the South would have been denied many of the necessities of life through stringency of war.

As a result of blockade runner operations, the accompanying volume of business made Wilmington one of the outstanding ports of the Confederacy. There were a great many Englishmen living in the town. They were representatives of manufacturers, English and West Indian wholesalers, and agents for ship owners. Many of these visitors received an unbounded welcome and became part of the social life of Wilmington during their stay.

On outward voyages to the West Indies, Bermuda, and other destinations, the fast blockade runners carried return cargoes of cotton and naval stores. Products such as these were assembled by the railroads and then loaded onto the ships in Wilmington. This volume had a direct effect upon the installation of new warehouses, enlargement of others, and employment of hundreds of laborers. Records indicate that during the period of May 20, 1863 through December 24, 1864, an excess of 264 blockade running steamers entered this port with their valuable cargoes.

Officials representing the Confederate States Government utilized the convenient blockade runners for trips to other countries, as emissaries from their official offices. In the fall of 1864, the Federal Government reached the definite conclusion that the way to defeat the Confederacy was to stop blockade running through the port of Wilmington. With this objective in view, a constant patrol of the coast was maintained by warships of the United States Navy.

The first attack on Fort Fisher by the Union fleet, December 24 and 25, 1864, was checked. Superior forces, consisting of an armada of 58 ships landing an army of 10,000 men, again attacked the stronghold, January 13 through 15, 1865. The outnumbered and exhausted Confederate defenders were forced to capitulate. This was followed by the fall of Wilmington and closure of its port facilities. In April, General Lee surrendered to General Grant. The suspension of a continued flow of supplies necessary to military operations made this necessary. So ended the struggle of The War Between the States, the result being the gradual welding of all states into one unit of government.

Many of the wrecks of those valiant blockade running ships are scattered along the coast, in the vicinity of Wrightsville, Carolina, and Fort Fisher beaches;  near Fort Caswell at the mouth of the Cape Fear River, and southwardly in front of the Brunswick County shoreline. Some years ago, Captain R. N. Sweet, a Wilmingtonian, prepared a valuable map that shows the names and locations of thirty or more of the wrecked blockade runners.


The map Captain Sweet drew. (Courtesy of New Hanover County Public Library)

Starting at the upper edge of New Hanover County and proceeding in a southern direction, the wrecks are listed in order, as follows:  Fanny, Jenny, Phantom, Nutfield, Wild Darrell, Dee, Venus, Lynx, Hebe, Beauregard, Nighthawk, Modern Greece, Condor, Petrel, Douro, Dare, Raleigh, Arabian, Antonica, Spunky, Georgiana McCaw, Bendigo, Vesta, Elizabeth, Ranger, and others. Each derelict along the coast represents an investment of about $150,000 in gold. The steamers were built for the most part of thick, durable iron. With rigging similar to that used fore and aft on schooners, with draft of eight to eleven feet, and propelled by side wheels, the wary runners depended entirely upon great speed and quick maneuverability for escape from blockaders, rather than upon gun or cannon fire.

The Fanny.

That the final marine resting place of so many of these fine ships is located near the entrance of the Cape Fear River is not accidental. It can well be realized from a study of the question. The changing nature of the coastline made an altogether successful blockade almost an impossibility. Main Inlet was protected by Fort Caswell. New Inlet was guarded by Fort Fisher. Existing dangerous shoals served to divide ships embraced in the blockading fleet.

The general plan was to approach the coast some thirty or forty miles above or below the inlets, and then steam noiselessly – always during the night – until they approached the protecting guns of the two forts.

At intervals, the Northern fleet had as many as 400 ships of war patrolling the waters between Nassau and Bermuda, and Wilmington’s port objective. Therefore it can be appreciated that is was only a matter of time until blockading was doomed. It was simply a question of which trip would be the last. When a commander found it impossible to escape, he endeavored to ground his ship and then set it on fire. However, few, if any of the ships were totally destroyed by such efforts. The high running waves usually extinguished a fire when the superstructure had been consumed.

Interesting traditions are attached to many of the blockade runners. Among these are allusions to the Fanny and Jenny. This ship was driven ashore one night late in 1864. The wreck now lies several hundred yards offshore, opposite Lumina Pavilion at Wrightsville Beach. Until recently (c. 1967), it was plainly visible at low tide. It has been said that the sturdy ship was bringing a gold and jewel-encrusted sword, bearing the inscription, “To General Robert E. Lee, from his British Admirers.” Maybe at some distant day this wreck will disgorge the give that was to be presented to the distinguished commander of the Confederate forces.

The wreck of the Georgianna McCaw rests in the sands a few miles south of Fort Caswell. Tradition says that the pilot of this fine ship, when they cleared from Nassau to Wilmington, had several thousands in gold in a belt around his waist. This was a fact which has been generally rumored among the crew members. A Federal cruiser is said to have spotted the McCaw and to have started in pursuit. A shot penetrated one of the furnaces and the ship was seen ablaze. The crew escaped to shore in life boats, but the pilot remained at his post.

Later, after the fire burned out, the crew returned to the ship to take off the pilot. They found him slumped over the wheel, dead, with his head crushed in, and his money belt missing. The ship’s watchman was found crouching in the water-logged boiler room. He had the pilot’s gold and confessed that he murdered the unfortunate man.

The ship Lynx had crossed the bar at New Inlet one night late in 1864, bound for Nassau. Mrs. Louis H. deRosset and her infant daughter, from Wilmington, were aboard as special passengers. When scarcely beyond the breakers the Lynx was pursued by the Federal  gunboat Nihon. Captain Reed of the Lynx determined to make a run in the effort to escape. His ship ran aground.

How could the infant be saved? Mrs. deRosset, the mother, gave the child to a sailor standing near. She got into a small boat which remained near the ship. The seaman tossed the infant to her mother and the latter caught the child. Thus, the infant was saved to grow into womanhood, later to become the wife of the late Colonel Alfred Moore Waddell, former mayor of Wilmington and member of Congress.

(More photos at   louistmoore.com   –     click on “Chapters.”)

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Photo Puzzles

by Susan Taylor Block

(Photos courtesy of Cape Fear Museum. Click to magnify.)

In 1998, Wilmington photographer Melva Pearsall Calder purchased an album of photo negatives from Daughtry’s Old Books, then located at 22 North Front Street. In turn, Melva donated the negatives to Cape Fear Museum. The images are an amazing array of pictures of Wilmington, about 1910-1915. Subjects include the Holt-Wise Mansion and Hugh MacRae’s “Castle” on Market Street; the First Presbyterian Church manse that once stood at Fourth and Oranges streets; a series of pictures of newly constructed houses, views of the Cape Fear River, and shots of heavily clothed people in and near the surf.

The photo pictured above is one of many similar views that might have been snapped on Masonboro Sound. Live Oaks, the Parsley estate, seems a good candidate. Henry Bacon designed the house there, and it is one of only a handful of private residences that Bacon, architect of the Lincoln Memorial, set his mind and pen to. Bacon’s other local residential work includes a house built for Donald MacRae in 1901 known today as the Ann Moore Bacon Church House, at 25 South Third Street, and his baronial alterations to the Wood-MacRae House at 713 Market Street that resulted in MacRae’s Castle.

Finian, William Hooper’s old Masonboro Sound residence, is another guess for the backdrop. Agnes Parsley purchased the property in 1899, and, according to Crockette Hewlett and Mona Smalley, authors of Between the Creeks, Revised, proceeded to turn it into “a sort of clubhouse, setting up pool tables inside and a bowling alley outside.”

The Calder Collection includes a view of Agnes MacRae Parsley’s 1886 residence at 711 Market Street, next door to her brother’s home.  It’s possible that the photos of fresh construction are of dwellings built almost simultaneously for other members of the Parsley family, on Masonboro Sound.

Melva Calder did a very good thing when she placed these valuable images in public hands. The folks at Cape Fear Museum conserve them and take delight in learning more about each one. If you can identify any of the people pictured on this post, please feel free to comment below. The information will be passed long to the museum’s registrar.


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The Rocks

Photo by John Reid Murchison II. (Click on image.)

by Susan Taylor Block

“The Rocks, which shuts out the ocean from the river.” – An observer, in 1907.

The Rocks, and called the project “one of man’s marvels.” New Inlet, named without much creativity in 1761, when it was opened by a violent storm, made passage into Wilmington more difficult. Spearheaded by cotton exporter James Sprunt, The Rocks project, begun in 1871, deepened the channel from 7 to 16 feet and allowed larger ships to enter the Cape Fear River.

Civil engineer Henry Bacon, Sr., (1822-1891) designed the coquina and granite seawall and supervised construction. The foundation of the wall across New Inlet was made by sinking a line of “mattresses” filled with logs, brush, shells, and stones. The rockier material came from Rocky Point, near the site of Maurice Moore’s plantation known as “The Vats.”

Building The Rocks. In right foreground: William Berry McKoy and future bride, Katherine Bacon, the civil engineer’s daughter. (Photo courtesy of Cape Fear Museum)

Three floating derricks, one of which was steam-driven, covered the dam with heavy rock. The total amount of granite alone was 16,756 gross tons. The result was a mile-long water fortress that was around 30 feet high and about 120 feet in width. The New Inlet project was pronounced complete in July 1881. Eight years later, Bacon finished another dam, twice as long, known as Swash Defense Dam, from Zeke’s Island to Smith Island.

The name Henry Bacon lives on today in Wilmington, but most references are not to the civil engineer who designed and executed The Rocks, but to his son, Lincoln Memorial architect Henry Bacon, Jr., who spent a large part of his youth growing up in Southport and in Wilmington. Bacon’s surviving masterpieces in Wilmington are Live Oak, on Masonboro Sound, and the Ann Moore Bacon House at 25 South Third Street.


—–       See Wilmington Through the Lens of Louis T. Moore      http://louistmoore.com/federal-point/       for a panoramic vintage view.

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“Next stop, Monkey Junction!”

by Susan Taylor Block

Thurston Watkins, at Monkey Junction, 1939. (Reprinted, with permission, from the book, Cape Fear Lost.)

In 1928, Carolina Beach Road became a state highway and improvements followed. New things need names so historian and Chamber of Commerce Director Louis T. Moore (1885-1961) recommended  “Fort Fisher Junction” for the spot where Highway 421 meets Highway 132. The New Hanover County Commission agreed, but the name stuck for only a few months before a new sign was erected:  “Myrtle Grove Junction.” In the early thirties, it changed again, this time to what Louis T. Moore termed in 1959, “the rather unpleasant sounding name of Monkey Junction.”

Louis Toomer Moore (Courtesy of New Hanover County Public Library)

Mr. Moore’s opinion, minus the delicate wording, has been echoed through the years, but even Mr. Moore might approve the name today. It has become history itself, hearkening back to a time when things were so simple here that a home for a small number of monkeys became a New Hanover County destination point – like Greenfield Lake, and Swart’s and Echo Farm dairies. Owners of a “filling station” on Carolina Beach Road bought the little primates to beef up gasoline sales, and, oh, how those creatures might grin if they saw the signs and the crossroads now. The geographical specific has become general, and the giant spread known as Monkey Junction continues to grow.

During the 1930s, the junction was still lined with farms. Civil War soldiers trod perimeters of the same land, walking their way back to Wilmington from Fort Fisher, in 1865. Some of the farmland had seen its own Civil War action, but from that time until just before World War II, the landscape was practically changeless.

This Carolina Beach Road farmhouse sat close to the junction. (Photo taken by Louis T. Moore, about 1930. Courtesy of New Hanover County Public Library)

In the 1930s, Wesley Nixon farmed on family land at Middle Sound, but lived on the Carolina Beach Road, near Monkey Junction. Wesley’s daughter, Addie Nixon Dunlap, learned to skate on the Carolina Beach Road. “It was a quiet, two-lane road at the time,” she said in a 2001 interview. “We enjoyed going to the nearby filling station to see the monkeys and to Piner’s Store. We traveled in a Greyhound Bus then, and our tickets read, ‘Monkey Junction.’”

Siblings Harry, Velma, and Addie Nixon (left side of photo) at City Market, on South Front Street, about 1933. (Photo by Louis T. Moore, courtesy of New Hanover County Public Library)

Wilmington Artist Claude Howell noted that quiet time, too. He wrote in his diary, “In 1940, the city absolutely stopped at Sunset Park, at Oleander or Forest Hills and on the north side at Smith Creek.” Increased traffic during the war spawned a few small businesses near Monkey Junction, but they would look tiny and rustic today when contrasted with the generic Walmart World that now occupies Monkey Junction. Within a mile of the junction crossroads, scads of gadgets are marketed that are visual carnivals, including televisions, computers, tablets, and smart phones. Those monkeys would have a hard time competing with such, but in their day, with their faintly human ways, they were the top entertainers in southern New Hanover County.


June 29, 2012

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The Waters of Mount Lebanon

by Susan Taylor Block

Courtesy of New Hanover County Public Library

From 1800 until 1884, the properties known today as Bradley Creek Point, much of Airlie Gardens, and beyond, were known as Mount Lebanon, the estate created by Judge Joshua Grainger Wright and his wife, Susan Bradley. The waters surrounding the breezy 300-acre estate sprouted sailboat races as early as 1853, but were golden with yachts from the 1880s until 1919, when legendary rice merchant Pembroke Jones, with the help of his friend Henry Walters, infused energy, enthusiasm, and national yachting connections into the little world of Wrightsville Sound. Though Sunday regattas were taboo in those days, it was difficult to keep thoughts of sailing at bay even within the hallowed walls of Mount Lebanon Chapel.

During the 1850s and 1860s, The Banks, as Wrightsville Beach was known, began to draw day visitors who wished to swim, crab, fish or simply sight-see. There was no bridge or trestle, so watercraft offered the only transportation to view the beauty and drama of theAtlantic Ocean. The journey from Mount Lebanon to view the ocean breakers was simple until at least 1858 because Deep Inlet, located near the present site of the Carolina Yacht Club, provided easy access. The inlet fed into Bradley’s Creek. Waves breaking on the shore created an audio backdrop, both outdoors and indoors, that ranged from enchanting lull to frightening roar. The worst effects were probably suffered in the September Storm of 1856, when it was reported that large waves broke one-half mile inland.

The waterfront banks of Mount Lebanon and the Wrightsville Turnpike (Airlie Road) served as a second beach for those who couldn’t arrange transportation over to The Banks. The open inlet added to the allure and the fishing. In later years, natives would refer to the shore line along Airlie Road as the “old beach.”

Like today, sailing vessels of this period required continuous maintenance and repair. During the 19th century, African-Americans did much of this work. Blacks also sailed with their owners or employers on most occasions. However, despite requests by some of the boat owners, non-whites were barred from accompanying their skippers during regattas.

Dr. Thomas Henry Wright, owner of Mount Lebanon, and his brother William, who owned Gabriel’s Landing, enjoyed recreational sailing probably as early as the 1830s. Wright owned the Rob Roy, a yacht named after the Scottish tales of Sir Walter Scott; Wright’s wife Mary Allan was from Scotland. William Wright, a corporate lawyer who lived on the north side of the Airlie Road curve, owned the Twilight and Qui Vive.

The Wright brothers’ nephew, Richard Bradley III, was a sailor, too. He owned two yachts that became Wrightsville legends: La Favorite, and The Princess. The Princess, built by a New York boat builder interestingly named Bob Fish, cost a whopping $700. The Princess was said to be shaped like an old pressing iron, with a bowsprit that hung 12 feet over the water.

Bradley, the first commodore of the Carolina Yacht Club, lived just east of the Bradley’s Creek Bridge. The Carolina Yacht Club, organized in 1853, gave structure to what happened naturally, when sailing vessels manned by stout-hearted men converged: extreme racing. The seven co-founders of the club were Bradley, Daniel Baker, Talcott Burr, T. M. Gardner, Richard J. Jones, Parker Quince and John Reston.

The Civil War changed local yachting. Many well-traveled, well-schooled young Wrightsville residents went away to fight for a cause over which some had misgivings. A large number of the sound’s early sailors, including members of the Wright, Latimer, Savage and Kidder families, had deep roots in New England. Despite some inner conflicts, nearly every recreational watercraft at Wrightsville was sacrificed to the Confederate Navy.

The Giles and Kidder families were close friends and, before the war, frequently appeared together on regatta rosters. During the war, Clayton Giles, while stationed at Proctor, N. C., ended a letter to his mother, Almeria Reston Giles at Wrightsville by asking about his old friends:

Our pay has been cut down again from $2.00 to .25 cents a day. The Governor is getting stingier than ever. Do you see anything of the Kidders?
Very affectionately, Clayton

(P. S.) Wish you were here to dine with me — Bill of fare: Breads, Corn Bread, meats: Bacon, Raw — 2 slices, River Water.”

When the war ended in 1865 the sailing families of Wrightsville grieved over lost family members and neighbors. Added to the incalculable human loss was a substantial economic slide, caused primarily by the failure of the Bank of Cape Fear, the Wright family’s largest holding. Many Wrightsville residents found themselves treading financial waters, and just barely keeping afloat.

By 1873, racing was back. In that year the yacht club updated its records and redefined itself by officially naming its two favorite “places of business.” The first spot, literally the waters of Mount Lebanon, was “the banks of Wrightsville Sound just east of the mouth of Bradley’s Creek.” The second spot, a reminder of Wrightsville’s perpetual link to downtown Wilmington, was the Cape Fear River between Market Street and the Dram Tree, just west ofGreenfield Lake. At the time, the Dram Tree still stood in its entire gnarly splendor as the historic gateway to Brunswick and New Hanover County harbors, as sailors toasted their arrival and departure with a dram of spirits as they passed the ancient cypress.

Members of the Giles family lounge away at Edgehill, their home on Bradley's Creek, about 1910. (Photo courtesy of Kate Rhett Fox)

In the 1870s, Pembroke Jones Jr., (1858-1919) was already an avid sailor. His interest came honestly: His father, Capt. John Pembroke Jones, was a graduate of the Naval Academy and a captain both in the U. S. Navy and the Confederate Navy. In a dizzying example of old Wilmington’s famed “cousinhood,” Capt. Jones’ best Wilmington friend was Capt. John Newland Maffitt, whose daughter Florie was the mother of Thomas Henry Wright (the grandson of the Thomas Henry Wright who built Mount Lebanon Chapel), who was Pembroke Jr.’s best friend.

Pembroke Jones’ childhood home was located at 200 North Front St., but he grew up spending a lot of time on Wrightsville Sound. A great-great-grandson of Elizabeth and Richard Bradley, he had numerous relatives who lived both at Mount Lebanon and surrounding properties. In 1878, at the age of 19, he crewed on the White Swan, a 28-foot yacht with 12-foot oars, but, more often, he was aboard Norwood Giles’ boat, Ripple.

Giles, a young businessman who grew up on Bradley’s Creek, was a Civil War veteran who partnered with young Jones to form Carolina Rice Mills, a rice-processing business that sat near the foot of Chestnut Street, and had an office in New York, as well. The Ripple arrived from New York in 1875. It was 18-1/2 feet long and 8-1/2 feet wide, and for a time, it ruled the local waters. Subsequent boats would be named Ripple, but none came close to the string of racing victories the original craft compiled. Giles also owned Pirate and Benefactor. Other members of the Giles family enjoyed sailing, too. Remnants of the old “Giles fleet” sat moored on Bradley’s Creek as late as 1930.

Richard Bradley built the old Giles house, “Edge Hill,” in 1812. Though restructured, it still stands today, overlooking Bradley Creek. Long time residents Judge James Fox and wife Kate, a descendant of Richard Bradley, fit perfectly into the sailing traditions of old Wrightsville Sound.

Elegant prizes were awarded to the winners in the golden days of Wrightsville Sound regattas. For instance, William Latimer, another summer resident of Wrightsville, donated a silver ice pitcher to the winner of the 1887 Fourth of July regatta. Pembroke Jones awarded handsome flags to winners. Later, Jones and Henry Walters would give elaborate silver trophies to those who placed first in Carolina Yacht Club races. Jane Pope Akers Ridgway, Jones’ only surviving grandchild, donated several of these trophies to the Carolina Yacht Club, where they are now on permanent display.

Through ties of seasonal Mount Lebanon residents Pembroke Jones, Sarah Jones and Henry Walters, Wrightsville Sound had connections to other grander yachts, daunting in size. When in New York, Jones and Walters competed in New York Yacht Club regattas with some of the sleekest yachts in N.Y. competition. Both men served as commodores of the club, and Walters was a life member. Henry Walters headed sydicates that built two yachts to compete in the America’s Cup races. The Resolute won three straight races, but the Weetamoe, cosponsored by Cornelius Vanderbilt, lost.

Other remarkable vessels became dinner talk at the sound. William Vanderbilt, a frequent visitor to Airlie, often arrived in Southport aboardTarantula, a torpedo-style boat built by the British Navy. Standard Oil mogul Henry Flagler treated Walters and the Joneses to voyages aboard his yacht, Alicia. In time, Flagler married Mrs. Jones’ best friend, Mary Lily Kenan, whom he met at Airlie. Henry Walters himself owned Narada, a 224-foot ocean-going yacht that carried a crew of 32 men. Mr. Walters also hosted the Flaglers, as well as numbers of the Jones’ other close North Carolina friends, but guests often took a train to New York to board the yacht.

During the summer of 1903, Walters and the Joneses moored near ships occupied by King Edward VII and Kaiser Wilhelm II. Sarah Jones, who boasted that she hired florist Rudolph Topel away from the Kaiser may well have met Topel that summer. Eventually, Topel effected the original Airlie landscape plan that was conceived by Sarah Jones.

The Naradas most elegant days were over by the onset of World War I, when Walters turned the yacht over to the U. S. Navy. After the war, the Narada was returned, but Walters’ big yachting days were over by that time.

The Murchison and Sprunt families joined the few others who split their time between sailing in Wrightsville Sound and more northern waters.   The Murchison’s owned a compound of cottages at Narragansett Pier, Rhode Island, where they sometimes raced with Jones and Walters, who lived in Newport several months every year. Descendants of Col. Kenneth M. Murchison, including daughter Luola, who married James Sprunt, of Wilmington and Orton Plantation, each owned a vacation home there. Unfortunately, fire destroyed most of the cottages.

At 224 feet, the Narada, Henry Walters' yacht, seldom neared Wilmington, but was the subject of much local conversation. This painting, which hung at Airlie during the Jones era, may have been painted by Sarah Jones Walters. (Courtesy of Lillian Bellamy Boney)

Today only paper trails and sterling trophies bear witness to the golden sailing days of Wrightsville Sound. But when you visit the Bradley Creek Overlook at Airlie, look out on the glistening waters of old Mount Lebanon and remember that there was a time when the jaunty sailors of Wilmington could hold their own with just about anyone.    *****

A Short List of Early Yachts that Raced in the Waters of Mount Lebanon:

Ripple, Norwood Giles; Carolina, Solomon Morse; Princess, Richard Bradley; Eleanor, John and William Giles; Flying Cloud, Daniel Baker; Vixen, Pembroke Jones; Nina, Edward Hall; Mabel, Edwin A. Metts; Pegotty, Fred Kidder; Vashti, R. H. Grant; Question, Julia Parsley; Carolina, Edward Kidder; Bumble Bee, Henry MacMillan; Rosa, J. M. Cazaux; Little Girl, T. N. Gautier; Young American, C. D. Ellis; Clarendon, Fred Kidder; Bubble, R. B. Cameron;, Dew Drop, Alexander MacRae; Saucy Jack, Richard Bradley; Atlanta, Clayton and Norwood Giles; Sand Crab, C. C. Morse; Jennie Q., Parker Quince; Flying Cloud, Daniel Baker; Eliza Ann, Henry Bradley; Caty-Did, Charles Burr; Fool Who, G. Lippitt; Spray, Edward Latimer; Git Thar, Donald MacRae; Puzzle, Edwin A. Metts.


Records of the Carolina Yacht Club, Lower Cape Fear Historical Society. “A History of the Carolina Yacht Club,” by Louis T. Moore. Carolina Yacht Club Chronicles, by Anne Russell. Perkins Library, Duke University. “Portraits of Members of the Class of 1854, University of North Carolina.” North Carolina Collection, Wilson Library, University ofNorth Carolina at Chapel Hill. Southern Historical Collection, UNC, Jane Pope Akers Ridgway, William R. Johnston, curator of the Walters Art Gallery, Lewis Philip Hall, and Eugene Hicks.


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Sunset over Banks Channel


Photo by John Reid Murchison II  (Click to magnify)


Day dies ablaze and

Not an ash lingers;

Transitory splendor

Painted with His fingers. 

                        – Susan Taylor Block

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