• Brooks Newton Preik: River Pilots of the Cape Fear River

    by Nancy Gadzuk

    Brooks Newton Preik 11-16-15Brooks Newton Preik spoke on River Pilots of the Cape Fear River at the monthly open meeting of the History Center on Monday, November 16, 2015.

    Two of Brooks’ great-grandfathers were river pilots, one operating out of Southport and one out of Federal Point.

    By the time Brooks was born, though, the family seafaring bent was gone. Her father was an accountant, and his closest encounter with the sea was walking along the water in Charleston to get to his office at the end of the dock.

    Haunted WilmingtonThen Brooks heard a ghost story that piqued her interest in her great-grandfathers and the other river pilots. It was “a dark and stormy night” when the little open dory went out to sea, and Mary Stuart kept the fire going all night in Southport, hoping her son would soon be home safe.

    Finally she heard footsteps coming up the front walk and she saw her son walk in, soaking wet. He walked to the fireplace and she heard the sizzle as he spit his tobacco wad into the fire. She walked over to hug him. But as she reached out her arms to him, he vanished into thin air. She knew then that the ship had gone down and her son, Thomas Bensel, was dead. Thomas Bensel was Brooks’ great-grandfather.

    What would possess a man to take a small boat with four men out on a stormy night in hopes of catching the job of river pilot? It was dangerous: the only way to get from the small craft into the larger vessel was by climbing a tall, swinging ladder up to the ship’s deck. And on a dark and stormy night… Why would anyone do that?

    Money. River pilots were paid very well—$200 a trip to guide a ship up the treacherous Cape Fear River to Wilmington, which had the rail lines Southport lacked to transport goods inland.

    In Charge - River PilotsThe rule of the sea was this: the first river pilot to board a ship got the job. In 1860, there were 24 active pilots in Southport with its population of 700. Competition was stiff and river pilots would go far out to sea in search of a ship to pilot up the Cape Fear River.

    Brooks Preik - TitleDuring the Civil War, river pilots became the last lifeline of the Confederacy, serving as blockade runners and carrying needed supplies.

    These pilots influenced the design of new ships, since the blockade runners needed to be fast, low in the water, and impenetrable to outrun the Union navy.

    The blockade runners carried cotton to Nassau and returned with arms and guns, and were often paid as much as $5000 for a run.

    The success of these blockade runners to bring supplies enabled the Confederacy to hold their ground and thus prolong the course of the war.

    The sea did not become less dangerous after the war ended. Thomas Bensel’s boat went down in 1872, and the Mary K. Sprunt sank in 1877. The Pilots’ Memorial in Southport is dedicated to the ten pilots of the two boats, “who in the faithful discharge of their duty were suddenly called to meet their God.”

    The wind and the sea sing their requiem and shall forevermore.


    Louis T. Moore and Dr. Fales Photograph Collections

    Fales - Pier

    Fales:   Shoo-Fly Pier

    by Rebecca Taylor

    In working to catalog and organize the pictures we’ve collected here at the History Center, I’ve been reminded again of the wonderfully rich resource we have access to at the click of a mouse button.  Owned and published on the web by the New Hanover County Public Library are the Dr. Robert Fales  “A History of  Wilmington in Pictures Collection” and the L. T. Moore “Wilmington in Pictures Collection.”

    Dr. Robert M. Fales M.D. was a long time area physician who spent his retirement years collecting well over 1000 images of the Lower Cape Fear area.

    He originally intended to collect only photos of area physicians who had practiced in Wilmington during the early part of the twentieth century.  But as news got out that Dr. Fales was collecting old pictures, people began to loan and give him all kinds of “old photos.”  Originally Dr. Fales made slides of the pictures and spend a good deal of time doing slide shows throughout the community.

    Louis T Moore, a descendant of THE Moore Family, was the secretary of the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce from 1921 to 1941 He was a tenacious promoter of his hometown and the area surrounding it.  His daughter, Peggy, recalls: “It was a ritual every Sunday afternoon. Daddy had this great big box camera and every Sunday we would drive out and take pictures.”

    Bame Hotel

    Bame Hotel

    Moore wrote numerous articles for such magazines as The World Traveler, and the Nautical Gazette promoting tourism to the Wilmington and New Hanover County.  His most famous literary effort was the publication in 1956 of Stories Old And New of the Cape Fear Region.

    The photograph collection contains almost 1000 pictures and in 1982 the Friends of the Library funded a project to copy all the silver nitrate negatives and make contact prints of the entire collection.  The effort to digitize the collection was a joint project of the New Hanover Public Library and the Lower Cape Fear Historical Society.

    Though Wilmington is the historic entity that appears in the title of both collections they each contain a large number of images of our own “Federal Point.”  They provide a wealth of information for anyone doing research on the area as well as being just plain fun to look at.

    To find these wonderful resources and many more image collections start here – for a description (and link) to all of the New Hanover image collections.

    To find the Fales photograph collections scroll down this list to find either the “Dr. Robert M. Fales MD Collection”  or the “Louis T. Moore Collection.”  Both are searchable by subject, the Fales collection can also be searched by date.  The Fales photos can be printed on your printer or by right clicking you can “copy” them to a file or into a document.  The Moore Pics are a bit more complicated to copy but you can do it if you are proficient with a program that can edit pictures.