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.

 

History of the Federal Point Lighthouses

By Sandy Jackson

[Originally published in the March, 1995 FPHPS Newsletter]

In 1814 the US. Congress authorized the construction of a beacon at Federal Point. Two years later, on September 15, Robert Cochran, collector of customs at Wilmington and superintendent of the lighthouse on Bald Head, reached an agreement with Benjamin Jacobs of the town of Wilmington, for the construction of the new beacon. Jacobs agreed that he would build a beacon on Federal Point above New Inlet before the end of the year. The beacon, defined simply as a small lighthouse, stood on a stone or brick foundation laid approximately three feet under the ground.

Federal Point Light

Federal Point Light

The conical brick beacon rose forty feet in height to the base of the lantern. At its base it measured six feet across with walls three feet thick. Wooden shingles covered the top of the three-floored beacon. Ladders connected each of the floors.

Little is known of the type lantern used except that it was a fixed 1 light. A door entered the beacon, while only a single window was placed near the top of the structure.

The entire exterior of the brick beacon was plastered and painted white. By the spring of 1817 Robert Cochran certified that Benjamin Jacobs had successfully completed the task of building the lighthouse and it was ready for service. For his task Jacobs received the sum of thirteen hundred dollars.

The beacon warned mariners of the hazards at New Inlet until the night of April 13, 1836, when flames engulfed and totally destroyed it.

In 1837, Henry Stowell of Hingham, Massachusetts reconstructed the Federal Point lighthouse. It operated until Confederate forces put it out of use in 1861.

This new tower was constructed of hard brick in a rounded form 30 feet above the surface of the ground. The diameter of the base measured 18 feet, while the top was 9 feet. An arched deck of soap stone 11 feet in diameter, four inches thick, and the joints filled with lead, topped the brick I tower. Entrance to the lantern was made through a scuttle sealed by an iron and copper scuttle door.

The wrought iron lantern was built in an octagonal form and contained eleven patent lamps and reflectors. The brick tower contained a door six feet by three feet, and three windows. The tower and woodwork were painted white, except for the dome that was painted black. Adjacent to the lighthouse a one-story dwelling house 34 feet by 20 feet was built of hard brick and contained a chimney at either end. The following year a cistern was added to the complex.

The Third Federal Poin Lighthouse

The Third Federal Point Lighthouse

A third lighthouse was put into service after the war and used until the closing of New Inlet in 1880.

On August 23, 1881, although no longer in use, fire destroyed this lighthouse. At that time a Mr. Taylor, the former keeper, and his family still occupied the lighthouse located less than a mile from Fort Fisher.

 

Bibliography

Stick, David. “North Carolina Lighthouses“. Raleigh: North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, 1980.

US. Lighthouse Service Records, United States Coast Guard, Washington DC.

Wilmington (North Carolina) Advertiser, April 22, 1836

Wilmington (North Carolina) Star, August 24, 1881.


 [Additional resources]

Lighthouses of the Lower Cape Fear River

Federal Point Lighthouse Foundation Uncovered! (2009)

March, 1995 Newsletter (pdf) – FPHPS 

 

Standing on Our Family’s Shoulders

Howard Hewett

Howard Hewett

by Nancy Gadzuk

The Federal Point Historic Preservation Society hosted a special guest on Monday, November 2, 2015: Howard Hewett, who has chronicled details of his childhood in several articles on the History Center’s website.  Howard was visiting North Carolina recently and he shared memories of his childhood here in the late 1930’s up to 1956, when the Ethyl Dow plant closed and his family moved to Texas.

Hewett - Foushee - Kure - Winner

Hewett – Foushee – Kure – Winner

Howard gave us some family history, beginning with Hewett ancestors arriving first in Massachusetts and then moving to Brunswick County in the 1700’s, and eventually to Federal Point in 1900. As Howard put it, ‘We stand on our family’s shoulders. It’s important to know your history.’ Indeed, the large audience included many Hewett, Lewis, and Davis family members.

Howard shared recollections about farming and fishing, and by the time he got to Myrtle Grove School and Carolina Beach Elementary School, others began chiming in with their own recollections of school and agreed: ‘We really ripped up our britches there.’

Hewett - Foushee - KureWomen in the audience recalled taking their ironing boards down to the beach and using them as surfboards. They needed to take care to keep the pointed end of the  board above the sand; otherwise the point would stick in the sand and flip them off the board. Of course their mothers were not to find out about these adventures!

Howard’s story of the mullet run was one of many memorable tales from the evening. In an area where people depended heavily on the sea for sustenance, a successful autumn mullet run was an important economic event, and could determine how well, or how much, a family would eat all winter long.

When Howard’s father noticed the swell of a large school of fish in the water after church one Sunday, it caused a temporary theological crisis for the family. Howard’s grandmother was, as he put it, a wash foot Methodist, and the family relied heavily on Scripture to define daily life.

Sunday was supposed to be a day of rest, but Grandmother (who also had a hankering for mullet roe and grits) reminded them of the need to provide for the family. With backing from the New Testament, Grandmother gave her approval to take advantage of what would turn out to be a boon for the entire community. Howard, his father, and Uncle Crawford Lewis headed for the beach.

The first person to see a school of fish would put a ‘spotter’ nearby to make claim to the fish. The fish run then belonged the spotter and his family. This was an unwritten rule, but one everyone in Federal Point knew and honored. Howard, age 9, served as spotter for the mullets while the men were getting the boat ready.

Fishing Nets on the Beach - Winner

Pulling Fishing Nets on the Beach Near Winner’s Place

This particular mullet run went right past Walter Winner’s place. Walter, also a fisherman, shouted out to Howard an offer of help should his father and his Uncle Crawford need it to manage the mullet run.

Howard climbed in the boat to help the men with the nets and they pushed off into the water, rowing hard against the surf. As it turned out, the mullet run was so large that many volunteers were needed on shore to help contain the fish.

When the mullet run was done, the Hewett family had all the mullet they needed, salted and stored for the winter. All the volunteers took fish home, and the remainder was sold to a fish house in Wilmington. Between 1000 and 1500 pounds of mullet were taken.

Henry Hewett (l) - 3 Generations

Henry Hewett (l) – 3 Generations

It had been a good day on the water, and the community, working together as one, got to share in the bounty.

Likewise, it was a good evening at the History Center sharing memories, and at least one person referred to the meeting as ‘a big old family reunion.’

 

Diary of Mary J. White (Age 15) – Part 2

Part 2 of 2
[Editor note: In Part 1, Mary J. described her family preparing to accompany her father, John White, on a buying trip for the Confederacy in England. Attempts to get out of the country by blockade runner had failed for two weeks. The remaining portion of Mary White ’s diary describes their continued efforts.]

Blockade Runner Advance

Blockade Runner Advance

Aug. 15, 1864 – Smithville, NC. I have just written a long letter to Bettie Hunter. The Cape Fear came up just a minute ago and Dr. Boykin, Hugh and Tom have gone to see if there are any provisions on board for us. They just returned and say there are none. We are nearly out of bread and don’t know where to get any.

This morning the pilot of one of the ships lying in the river died of yellow fever. Ships that came in the last few days, say that yellow fever is raging in Bermuda, so the Ad-Vance will not touch there but proceed to Halifax.

Aug. 16, 1864 – Smithville, NC. The boat came down today and brought abundant supplies of bread, bacon, pickles, corn meal, lobsters, tomatoes, watermelons, etc…. We went on the margin of the river and counted ten vessels lying in quarantine near here, besides an old ironclad which they say is worthless from the number of barnacles fastened to the bottom.

Aug. 19: 1864 – Smithville, N.C. Last night we had a most delightful serenade. The serenaders were a Mr. Everett and his violin, and two Mr. Laniers, from Georgia, one with a flute and the other a guitar. They played “Ben Bolt”, “Bonny Jean” and two very spirited waltzes besides two tunes which I do not recollect.

Aug. 20, 1864 – This morning between ten and eleven o’clock, we saw the Ad-Vance coming down beautifully from Wilmington, but she stuck on the bar and had to remain there till the next high tide, which was a little after seven, when she got afloat and came opposite this place and anchored. Father and Mr. Morris came ashore from the Ad-Vance while she was aground.

Aug. 22, 1864 – on board the Ad-Vance – Another attempt will be made tonight to run the blockade. About 13 steamers are in now. Eight large Yankee ships are so near that we can distinctly see them with the naked eye, but we will not encounter them as we go in the opposite direction, but there are five where we will have to go.

Aug. 23, 1864 – Last night at about 8:30 we started off to make the attempt. We went very well until we got to the inner bar and there, as usual, we got aground and while we were vainly attempting to get off, the moon rose and shone very brightly and then of course we were effectively prevented from trying any more. After awhile, we got off and got back to Smithville, where we are lying now.

Aug. 24, 1864 – The Lillian started out last night and it was thought she got through safely, but is not certainly known. We stayed on the cotton bales to see it go out, saw the Yankees throw several rockets, then saw the flashes and heard the reports of 15 guns.

Aug. 26, 1864 – Last night we heard a quantity of guns firing and the occasion was not known until this morning, when it was found that the Hope was aground at Fort Fisher and a couple of sails were raised on board to get her off. The Yankees saw her then for the first time and began firing into her rapidly. The crew thought all was over and deserted the ship. One shot only struck the ship and that knocked a hole in the deck about the size of a man’s fist. The blockaders were fired on from Fort Fisher and that kept them in a measure… They got her off and came down here to quarantine ground to lay. It is a tremendous vessel, carrying 2000 bales of cotton, double the cargo the Ad-Vance carries, and does not draw as much water as the Ad-Vance, but this is thought to be the most trustworthy vessel at sea. The privateer, Tallahassee, is reported to have come in last night.

Aug. 28 1864 – This is Sunday and promises to be more dull than any other day. This morning we saw a little torpedo boat coming down the river…. It is a regular little steam propeller, has an iron rod projecting from the bow to which a torpedo is attached. When they get it near enough to the Yankee ships, the torpedo is made to explode by pulling a string – I think – and the vessel is blown to pieces.

Aug. 30: 1864 – An attack on Wilmington is daily expected. There are nineteen blockaders in sight of here and a turreted monitor.

SS AD Vance

SS Advance

Sept-2, 1864 – Ad-Vance – Last night we got up steam about twilight and started out. We went splendidly, got over the rip as nicely as possible without touching and thought we would certainly go through, When the 1st Officer discovered something on the bar, and when the glasses were turned on, a large blockader was distinctly seen lying directly in our path. She saw us and flashed her light, so of course we had to put back to Smithville. It was supposed to be a monitor, as no masts were seen, and if it was, we would have passed so near that we would have been blown to atoms. On our way back to Smithville we passed the Coquette just going out, but she soon came back also.

Sept 3, 1864 – Last evening we got up steam, heaved the anchor and were just on the point of starting, when Capt. Wylie had a telegram sent him by a physician on shore, saying that he might not be well enough to navigate today if we got out to sea and consequently just had all the steam turned off and the vessel anchored again… It is reported that the Lillian was taken in the Gulf Stream, and the Mary Barnes ran into some obstacle going into Charleston.

Sept. 4, 1864 – Last night we started out, as Capt. Wylie is still unwell, with another navigator to steer in case our Capt. should have a relapse. We got beyond the bar and the range lights were set, so we had to turn back, intending to try again, but the ship was so hard to turn that she had to be anchored and let the tide swing her around. We started out again, but by the time she got to the rips the tide had gone down so much that we could not cross them, so are back again for the night. The City of Petersburg missed the channel and got so far aground that she had to stay there until morning and was slightly injured.

Sept. 5: 1864 – Wilmington – Last night for the 7th time an attempt was made to run out. We got to the rip, got aground and had just started off and were going at half speed, when the Old Dominion, which had started a little after us, actually ran into us. Mother and the small children were down between the cotton bales, while Mrs. Boykin and I were on top of them. One of the stewards, who was on the cotton bales with us, seeing the Old Dominion coming along at speed, said, “Look at the Old Dominion, she’s coming into us. Get a hold, get a hold.” And with that he tumbled off. Mrs. Boykin and I were much nearer the shock, and we thought he was in fun and stayed up there. We saw the boat booming but thought, of course, that they would take care and not run into us, but the first thing we knew there was a most fearful crash…. The bow of the Old Dominion was very sharp and strong, but our ship was so strong that it did not run in until it had scraped the length of three feet and a half… They say if this vessel had not been remarkably strong, it would certainly have gone down.

Sept. 7, 1864 – Ad-Vance – This morning we came down to Smithville and anchored at our same old place. The Will-o-the-Wisp, the Helen, the Owl and the Lynz and other vessels are lying here in quarantine, having just come in.

Sept. 8, 1864 – Last night as our pilot, Mr. Morse, had been ordered on another shift, another pilot was detailed to carry us out. He got on a spree and was not notified he was to go out on the Ad-Vance until about an hour before time for him to come on board. When he did come, the guard had to wake him up and bring him on board as drunk as a fish. Of course, we could not risk ourselves with him and have to wait until tonight.

Sept 15, 1864 – Warrenton, N.C. – On the 8th we made our 9th attempt and failed. We got to sea that night and the pilot had just given the ship over to the Capt, when it was discovered that we were about to be surrounded… She was anchored in sight of the Yankees all day, and everybody thought it would be so perfectly desperate that Father and Dr. Boykin took their families off.

The Ad-Vance got out that night, on the 10th. 35 shots were fired at her were heard at Smithville…. We went to Mr. Parsley’s where we got dinner and started home on a freight train at 4:00 pm … and got home a little after 8:00. Father went to Raleigh yesterday and came back today, He expects to go out on some other vessel on the next moon, but is very doubtful about taking his family.

Father has decided not to take us with him as blockade running is so dangerous now….

Dec. 1864 – A few days after I last wrote in my diary, we were shocked to hear of the capture of the Ad-Vance. She was captured on Saturday, Sept. 11th, off Cape Hatteras.

Father left home on Oct. 22nd, and we remained. He wrote us on Oct. 26th from Smithville, on board the Virginia, that he expected to go out that night and have heard nothing from him since he sailed, which has been about a fortnight, so we suppose he is safe…

He arrived in Bermuda on the 28th, and did not go ashore but stayed on board the Virginia that night and started for Halifax the next day.


[Additional resources:]

Culpepper, Marilyn Mayer. Women of the Civil War South: Personal Accounts from Diaries, Letters and Postwar Reminiscences Jefferson, NC:  McFarland, 2004.  p. 7-10 ….. an excellent narrative.

Ad-Vance
Advance

Mary White’s diary was originally published in the FPHPS Newsletters of Feb 1998 and March 1998

 

Wreck of the Blockade Runner, Emma, near Ocean View Beach

[Editor’s note:   Originally known as Ocean View Beach, the town was incorporated in 1899 as Wrightsville Beach.

The following articles appeared in the ‘Wilmington Messenger’ in 1893.

It is interesting to note the attitude of the period and the quest by reporters for a sensational story. The shipwreck in question was probably the ‘Emily’ of London and not the ‘Emma’. These amusing article segments are from the files of Bill Reaves via the Underwater Archaeology Unit at Fort Fisher].

The Wilmington Messenger, 8-3-1893
1893 BeachTO BLOW UP THE OCEAN – Capt. John H. Daniel, general manager of the Wilmington Seacoast Railroad, never is to be left out.  He is bound to have some attraction for the people, and on Saturday afternoon at 6 o’clock he will afford them a spectacle worth beholding.

The spectacle will be the blowing up of the wreck of the old blockade runner, Emma, which lies in the ocean 900 feet in front of the beach at Atlantic station, on Ocean View Beach. The wreck of the Emma will be blown up with dynamite torpedoes, and it will take place in view of everybody. The blow up will be under the supervision of Capt. L. Sorcho, the water wonder, and it will be done by electricity communicated from the shore by a wire that is to be run out to the wreck.

A battery will be attached to the shore end of the wire and the button is to be touched by Mrs. Sorcho. We are told that at the instant the button is touched there will be a mighty noise and a column of water two inches in diameter will be thrown up from the sea to a height of 200 feet in the air.

The Wilmington Messenger, 8-3-1893
Capt. L. Sorcho, the renowned swimmer, has received a new rubber lifesaving suit which he ordered several days ago. He tried it yesterday and found it all right.

The Wilmington Messenger, 8-5-1893
THE BLOW UP THIS EVENING – This evening at 6 o’clock is the time set for Capt. L. Sorcho, the water wonder, to stick dynamite torpedoes to and blow up the wreck of the old blockade runner Emma, on Ocean View Beach.

The wreck lies 900 feet out to sea, and it will be blown up by means of an electric battery on shore, with wires running out to the wreck. The button is to be pressed by Mrs. Sorcho and at that instant the old ocean will be made to tremble under the terrific explosion that will take place.

Capt. Sorcho estimates that when the explosion occurs it will throw up a column of water three feet in diameter to a height of 200 feet into the air. It will be interesting to watch what the explosion will have on the fish in the vicinity of the wreck.

The Wilmington Messenger, 8-5-1893
Capt. L. Sorcho, the human boat, stirred up the town last night. Without any warning, he donned his a new rubber lifesaving suit, and taking to the river at Hilton he floated past the city and gave thundering salutes by firing dynamite torpedoes as he went. The foundations of the city were shaken, and the people wondered.

Capt. Sorcho was hauled ashore at the S. W. Skinner Company’s ship yard. The Captain will no doubt draw a large crowd when he blows up the wreck of the blockade runner at Ocean View this evening at 6 o’clock.

The Wilmington Messenger, 8-7-1893
Owing to the breaking of the wires by the high tide at Ocean View yesterday, Capt. Sorcho failed to blow up the wreck of the old blockade runner Emma. He is determined to blow her up, however, and will fix another day for the event.

The Wilmington Messenger, 8-8-1893 (editorial letter)
I see in Sunday’s MESSENGER that Capt. Sorcho failed to blow up the wreck of the blockade runner, Emma, on Saturday but will fix another day for the event. Will you kindly explain for what reason and by what authority Capt. Sorcho will thus destroy a nice fishing ground that often is a good day’s sport to many of our citizens?

 

Diary of Mary J. White (age 15)

John White, Warrenton NC

John White, Warrenton NC

[Editor’s note:  In 1864 John White, a merchant of Warrenton, NC, was sent abroad by authority of the NC Legislature and Governor Zubulon B. Vance to buy supplies for the NC State Troops during the American Civil War.

He planned to take his family with him through the Federal Blockade at Wilmington on board the state-owned blockade runner, Advance, in August, 1864.

The following was extracted from a diary by John White’s daughter, Mary J. (age 15, born July 21, 1849).  It portrays the difficulties they and others encountered in attempting to run in and out of the federal blockade of Wilmington.

It’s highly recommended that you read the following book excerpt (link) written about Mary White’s diary. It’s a well written narrative inspired by Mary J. White’s diary. It describes well the cultural and social anxieties of 1864 in Wilmington and Smithville.

Culpepper, Marilyn Mayer. Women of the Civil War South: Personal Accounts from Diaries, Letters and Postwar Reminiscences, Jefferson, NC:  McFarland, 2004.]


Mary J White’s diary:
Part 1 of 2:    August 2, 1864 – August 14, 1864

Tuesday, Aug. 2, 1864 – I left our home in Warrenton, NC for England with Father, Mother, Bro. Andrew, Hugh, Kate and Sue.  Father had to go to buy supplies for the NC Soldiers, and things were so awful here and Mother and he suffered so much being separated and our baby sister Lizzie died while he was away, so he promised Mother he would never leave her again. . . . It all seems very strange, but we are going with Father and I hope everything will be all right.

Aug. 8, 1864 – We left Raleigh, Friday the 5th, for Wilmington, where we arrived safely the same night about 10:00 o’clock. . . . We left there Saturday morning for the S.S. Ad-Vance, which was lying in the Cape Fear River, near Wilmington. We expected to run the blockade that night, but there was some mistake in the ship’s papers and before they could be corrected, we were too late for the tide and had to cast anchor and lie there all night. Our family and Dr. Boykin’s went ashore and spent the night. Mr. Parsley said we shouldn’t try the poor hotel accommodations, so we went to his house and spent the night there and started again the next morning about 8:00 for our ship. . . .

We passed Forts Fisher and Caswell and all went well for a time but finally went aground. . . . Not far behind us is the Mary Celestia from Bermuda, in quarantine. It is reported that the yellow fever is in Bermuda and a man died on the Mary Celestia this morning, it is thought from yellow fever. There is also an ironclad to our right.

We passed a good many obstructions in the river, that were put there for the purpose of entangling the Yankees, if they should try to go to Wilmington. The Little Hattie went out the first night that we intended to go. . . . The Helen, which had been lying near us all day, went out, and as no guns were heard and no news from the ship, it is supposed that she escaped uninjured. Today, three more cases of yellow fever were reported on the Mary Celestia.

Aug. 9, 1864 – It is thought, as we did not get out last night, we will try once more tonight, but this will certainly be the last time. Last night the Annie came safely from Bermuda and is now in sight of us. We saw a small boat carrying a coffin to the yellow fever boat, so another of the poor fellows must have perished. . . .

Blockade Runner Advance

Blockade Runner Advance

The Ad-Vance is a very fine steamer, 235 ft. in length, 22 ft. in width, a very fast ship and successful blockade runner. It was fitted up splendidly, for passengers, before it was put to its present use and was named the Lord Clyde. The saloon was removed and cotton bales put in instead and the accommodations for ladies are very poor.

Aug. 10, 1864 – on board the Ad-Vance. Last night, we made a last effort to run the blockade and were over the rip, and it was thought that we would get out without much difficulty, but they did not steer properly and we missed the channel and fastened in the sand.

Aug. 12, 1864 – Wilmington, NC.  Yesterday morning about twelve o’clock, we got off the sand bar and came back to Wilmington. All the passengers came ashore, our family to Mr. Parsley’s again. This morning at 9:00 we expect to go to Smithville with Dr. Boykin’s family, to stay until the Ad-Vance sails. Smithville is a small village on the Cape Fear River, about 30 miles below Wilmington. . . . The house we are staying in belongs to a family named Cowan. . . . It is a very comfortable house with six rather small rooms and three piazzas. . . . The City of Petersburg came in today.

Aug. 14, 1864 Smithville, NC.  Father and Capt. Wylie have just left for Wilmington. Father expects to go home to Warrenton before he returns. He expects to be back the last of next week.

…. Continued in Part 2 ›››

Pilots of the Cape Fear River – Brooks Newton Preik

brooks Newton Preik #2

Brooks Newton Preik

The Federal Point Historic Preservation Society will hold its monthly meeting on Monday, November 16, 7:30 pm at the Federal Point History Center, 1121-A North Lake Park Blvd., adjacent to Carolina Beach Town Hall.

Author and historian Brooks Newton Preik is our November speaker. Her topic will be the River Pilots of the Cape Fear River.

From the plight of the European explorers of the 1600’s whose ships foundered on Frying Pan Shoals, to the Union naval officers outsmarted by the elusiveness of the Confederate Blockade Runners, to present-day seamen with their sophisticated, electronic, navigational equipment, one truth has remained the same: no ship’s captain with any sense at all would risk taking his ship through the treacherous waters of Cape Fear without the aid of an experienced local pilot to guide it.

Southport Pilot Station

Southport Pilot Station

The history of this always small group of talented, intrepid men who braved the shifting shoals and shallows of Cape Fear to guide ships safely through its waters is the stuff of legends.

Descended from a host of these courageous pilots, Brooks Preik will share with us some of the tales of their exploits, the dangers they faced and their unique legacy which has shaped the history of this region. Stories of shipwrecks, pirates, adventurers and even a few ghosts are among the stories Brooks will tell.

Born and raised in Southport, Brooks Preik has been a resident of Wilmington for more than 40 years. Some of her earliest ancestors are buried in the Newton Cemetery at Federal Point. She is a graduate of St. Mary’s Junior College in Raleigh and the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. For 10 years she was an elementary school teacher and following that, for the next 35 years, she was a real estate broker.

Brooks began her writing career in 1993 when she co-authored a guidebook to the area entitled What Locals Know about Wilmington and Its Beaches. Her collection of “true” ghost stories, Haunted Wilmington and the Cape Fear Coast, published in 1995 by Banks Channel Books, is now in its sixth printing and she has published more than 80 freelance articles in regional magazines since that time.

She has shared her love of local history and her stories with countless numbers of area school groups, civic clubs, UNCW sponsored events, and various community organizations.

Back in March 1998, Brooks did a presentation about John W. Harper at a monthly meeting at the Federal Point History Center.

Copies of Haunted Wilmington will be available for purchase and signing by the author.

 

From the President: November, 2015

by Elaine HensonElaine Henson

In our September newsletter, I asked for help with the location of the post card of Gray’s Grill, Cottages and Service Station.

Thanks to Bobby and Maxine Nivens for responding with information on the card and sharing some great photos of the same site.

gray's cottage

Click any image – for more detail

Gray’s Grill was located where Burt’s Surf Shop is now at 800 North Lake Park Boulevard. The vacant lot next to the grill is where Spectrum Paint is at 810 N. Lake Park. The two story building with dormers and a gallery railing on the roof was on the present site of the Scotchman Store at 900 N. Lake Park.

There is a house and another grill beyond that. The cottages were behind those buildings that faced the road. Charlie Gray owned it when the photo for the card was taken: the post card is dated c. 1945.

Spur's Cottages #1In the 1950s-60s, Maxine Niven’s mother and stepfather, Carra and Norman “Jim” Spurbeck bought the property with the exception of Gray’s Grill pictured in the card.

They renamed them Spur’s Cottages and rented the eight or nine cottages behind the buildings on the road beginning at $6 a night.

Bobby Nivens remembers them always full on summer weekends. They also operated a grill north of the two story building with dormers and gas pumps called Spur’s Coffee Shop. The grill had a counter and booths inside and also offered curb service with car hops which was very popular in the 50s and 60s.

Spur's Cottages #2Bobby and Maxine lived in the house on the property and helped run the cottages from 1963-1965. In 1966 they ran them with Vito and Ann Martin. The Spurbecks later sold the property to Jim and Mary Burton; other owners followed them until the buildings were torn down.

Spur’s Cottages were on North Lake Park Blvd. where the Scotchman is presently located

There were eight or nine cottages behind the buildings on the road and each had two or three bedrooms and kitchens with refrigerators and gas stoves.

 

Fort Fisher during World War II Oral History

by:  Howard Hewett

Howard Hewett

Howard Hewett

The Fort Fisher area was used as a military training base during World War II.

The main highway in the area was U.S. 421. The Hewett house was located on the Atlantic side of the road, one block north of the Fort Fisher Gates.

The highway ran maybe 75 yards parallel to sand dunes on the ocean side until it reached the historic ruins of Fort Fisher. At this point (currently The Riggins), the road curved out closer to the Atlantic and was located east of the old civil war main battery and then crossed in front of the Civil War Memorial. From there the road ran south to Federal Point ending at the Buchanan Battery.

In early 1941, the Army started anti-aircraft training along the beach and down on the sandy flats by the bay. The arriving trainees were faced with the sometimes harsh conditions on Federal Point as were those who were in Fort Fisher’s original ww2-machinegunCivil War garrison. A member of the 558th AAA Battalion stated the area was “a forlorn spit of sand and scrub growth pinched between the Atlantic Ocean and the Cape Fear River; a quagmire of sand, sand, and more sand. It was strictly a no-nonsense place designed to put grit and fire in the bowels and brains of its trainees. They had to learn to coexist with the ubiquitous sand and mosquitoes to survive on Federal Point.” I will share a story later about our Federal Point mosquitoes.

There were barracks, mess halls, recreational facilities, warehouses, radio and ww2-soldiersmeteorological stations, a post exchange, photo lab, outdoor theater, guardhouse, an administration building and infirmary.

Passageways made of cinder block and concrete connected some of these buildings while boardwalks connected others.

By the time training operations ceased in 1944, the base covered an area of several hundred acres and had grown to include an 80-seat cafeteria, a 350-bed hospital and a dental clinic.

My early remembrances are just snapshots of what I actually saw during 1941-1944 because I was only two to five years old; what I recall are just flashes of events. Of course, there was evidence of the army being there long after they left the area.

Gun Emplacements Along the Beach
Starting just in front of our house and running south along the beach almost to the historical grounds of Old Fort Fisher were gun emplacements.

I later read that most were 40-millimeter automatic cannons and 50-caliber machine guns. I recall that some of the gun bunkers were quite large. There were at least three large guns between our house and the two large houses just south of the gates.

Actually, there was a 50-caliber machine gun nest just outside of our yard and a 40-millimeter anti-aircraft battery with a searchlight within 30 yards of the edge of our yard on the south side.

Thinking back on it now, it seemed strange to me why the gun emplacements were located outside of the gates and they were located so close to our residence.

FF- WWIII do not remember how long the 50-caliber gun emplacement was located in the edge of the yard. I do have some recollection of the noise and the searchlights at night.  The searchlights were used to help locate the targets. There were also blackouts from time to time.  I never asked Dad about how he was able to sleep in the early days of shift work at Ethyl Dow.

Target sleeves on long cables were towed up and down the beach by airplanes for the gunners to develop their gunnery skills.   South of Old Historical Fort Fisher was a target range for gunnery practice on stationery as well as moving ground targets.  This mechanized target range enabled gunners to receive versatility training and learn to be effective against tanks and other armored vehicles.

After the Army left, there was evidence that the target sleds were pulled across the target range by a cable hooked to pulleys so a bulldozer could pull the target from a safe distance. The targets were rigged so it could be pulled both ways. The mechanized target range was located slightly north of the training facilities’ ammunition bunkers, and the “Rocks” were located a little farther south of the bunkers.

 

Island Tackle and Hardware

Featured Business Member
November, 2015

By Tony (Lem) PhillipsIsland Tackel sign

Island Tackle and Hardware is a Business Member of the Federal Point History Center. We are very proud to include them on our Members Banner each month. If you have not stopped in to their conveniently located store, then please stop in and look around.

Take a look at their webpage first if you need some motivation.  Island Tackle’s website has page after colorful page of information and photos of very successful fishing adventures.

Not only is this store a tackle shop, it is a True Value Hardware store. They have almost anything you could possible need from nuts and bolts to complete fishing outfits. They have a propane fill up station and they have a certified fishing weight scale. You can buy passes to Freeman Park as well.

They are located two blocks south of the History Center and it is a very nice building indeed. Stop by and tell them that you too support the History Center and that you would like to support THEM as well.

Island Tackel StorefrontLocation:
801 N. Lake Park Blvd.
Carolina Beach, NC 28428