Steve Pfaff, Seneca Guns – April Meeting

NOAA

Monday, April 18, 2016  7:30 PM

The Federal Point Historic Preservation Society will hold its monthly meeting on Monday, April 18, 7:30 pm at the Federal Point History Center, 1121-A North Lake Park Blvd., adjacent to Carolina Beach Town Hall.

Our speaker this month will be Steve Pfaff of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who will speak to us about the mysterious phenomena called the Seneca Guns.  What are Seneca Guns?  That’s the question.

Now and then, often on a beautiful, clear and sunny day, people in Southeastern North Carolina hear/feel strange booming noises. Some people report them as earthquakes others claim they are hearing something like cannon fire. Others swear they are hearing sonic booms from aircraft.  However, upon investigation none of these things are happening.

Steve Pfaff serves as the Warning Coordination Meteorologist (WCM) at the National Weather Service (NWS) office in Wilmington, NC.  At the WCM since 2008, he is responsible for promoting weather safety outreach and awareness to the public. Steve is also responsible for providing emergency and decision support services to Emergency Management as well as a Seneca gunsmultitude of local, state, and federal partners.

He first arrived at NWS Wilmington, NC as a Senior Forecaster in 1998 where he served as the Marine Program Leader. Prior to his NWS career, he worked at WNBC-TV in New York where he prepared the forecast and graphics for Al Roker. Steve received his degree in Meteorology from Kean University in Union, NJ in 1994.

“The name Seneca Guns seems to come from Seneca Lake in upstate New York, where the sounds are often heard. In 1850, James Fenimore Cooper (author of “Last of the Mohicans”) wrote a story, “The Lake Gun,” describing the phenomenon, which seems to have popularized the term.

The sounds are heard in coastal areas; observers insist they are never heard at sea. In 2005 and 2008, residents in Brunswick County reported they were loud enough to rattle windows and shake houses.

In December 2001, a Seneca gun event prompted more than 100 calls to New Hanover County authorities. No serious damage, however, has ever been attributed to a Seneca gun.” – Wilmington StarNews, My Reporter column.

From the President — April, 2016

By Elaine HensonPalais Royal Hotel

The Palais Royal Hotel opened at the start of 1937’s summer season. The three story hotel was located on the northern end of the boardwalk near Harper Avenue. It was across from the pavilion, rebuilt in 1911 to replace the original one built in 1887.

The hotel’s owner/operators were Peter Compos as manager, Henry Omirly, night manager and John Kalagis, kitchen manager.

There was a spacious dining room with a large hardwood dance floor, a grille room with booth and counter service and a smaller private dining room all on the lobby ground floor.  It had twenty-three rooms with modern plumbing and shower baths outside for the hotel guests.  The Palais Royal specialized in dinner parties, bridge luncheons and business conferences.

It was very popular and enjoyed four summer seasons until it burned to the ground in the devastating boardwalk fire of September 19, 1940. The fire began in the pavilion and was discovered by police officer, Melvin D. Mosely, who was the stepfather of longtime beach resident Fran Doetsch.

The fire destroyed over two blocks of businesses including not only the Palais Royal Hotel but the newly remodeled and bricked Bame Hotel on Cape Fear Boulevard as well.  Since the winds blew the fire in a southward direction, the Hotel Royal Palm on Harper Avenue survived with sons of owner W. G. Fountain on the roof spraying the building with water hoses just to be sure.

Palais Royal Hotel #2After the fire a miraculous rebuilding of brick and concrete structures took place over the winter months.  By June, 1941 the boardwalk reopened with the town being billed as the “South’s Miracle Beach.”

The new Palais Royal held its formal grand opening early on April 25th with Ray Wise and his Dance Orchestra providing the music.

The new hotel had two floors and was owned and operated again by John Kalagis and Henry Omirly with Chris Economides replacing Peter Compos.  The hotel had rooms on the second floor, but the emphasis was focused on the restaurant, dinner and dancing as you can see by their sign.

Does anyone know when this building was torn down?  The former location is now a vacant lot up from the Fudgeboat/ Wheelfun Rental building and the building next to that.

Seabreeze – A History Part I – The Freeman Family

Seabreeze drawing - CB Images of America

by Rebecca Taylormap cropped

Because Sea Breeze was a leisure site, it has deep meaning for residents and former business owners, as well as for people who patronized it. The old resort has a remarkably wide constituency. All over North Carolina I have encountered people who have vivid and fond memories of Sea Breeze.”  – Jennifer Edwards, 2003

We’ll probably never know why Alexander (b. 1788 d. cir. 1855) and Charity (b. 1798 – d. 1873) Freeman chose to relocate from Bladen County to the headwaters of Myrtle Grove Sound in the 1840s but they appear in the 1840 New Hanover County Census in the “Lower Black River District” (probably in what is now Bladen County) of New Hanover County in a household of 7. Listed in the 1830 & 1840 censuses as “free colored persons,” the family has always proudly claimed a family lineage that includes significant Native American heredity.

By the 1850 census Alexander, a fisherman, Charity, a 52 year old woman, Robert B.,an 18 year old laborer, and Archie,an 11 year old are listed as a household in Federal Point Township.  Clearly the family thrived in the quiet backwater with two large plantations, Sedgeley Abbey and Gander Hall, as their closest neighbors. Deed records show that in 1855 Alexander bought approximately 99 acres of land at the head of Myrtle Grove Sound.  By the time of his death, believed to be sometime in the mid-1850s, his oldest son, Robert Bruce, inherited an estate that included 180 acres “situated on the south side of cedar drain and adjacent to the land of Thomas Williams and Henry Davis.”

In the 1860 Census of Federal Point Robert Bruce Freeman (b. 1832 – d. 1901) is listed as a fisherman and the value of his real estate is listed at $100.00.  In 1857 Robert Bruce married Catherine Davis (b. 1837) probably a relative of the nearby Davis family. By 1870 their family had grown to include Archie (b. 1857 – d. 1930), and Robert Bruce Jr. (b. 1859 – d. 1944), as well as Catherine (b. 1863), Daniel (b. 1867), and  Roland (b. 1869). Their last son, Ellis, was born in 1875.

By the 1870 census almost half of the population of Federal Point Township was listed as black or mulatto and Robert Bruce and Catherine were clearly leaders of their community. In December 1870 Robert Bruce was appointed to the School Committee of Federal Point. By the mid 1870s he had donated land to build a school for “the colored children of Federal Point.” The school opened in 1877, and had 34 students led by teacher Charles M. Epps.

In January 1876 Robert Bruce purchased almost 2,500 acres of land including the old Sedgeley Abbey and Gander Hall plantations with land running between the Atlantic Ocean and the Cape Fear River, becoming one of the largest land holders in New Hanover County.

Robert Bruce donated 10 acres of land along the river (taken from the former Gander Hall Plantation) to St. Stephens AME church in Wilmington to use as a campground – the beginning of the concept of using the sandy waterfront land as an escape for African-American city dwellers.

In 1887 the Wilmington Star noted that “Chief Justice” Freeman opened a law dispensary at Carolina Beach, and he was prepared to issue ―writs at living prices. Special attention given to mandamuses, quo warrants, scieri facieses, capiases and respondum, etc. The blind goddess always on hand with scales in good condition.”

It is clear that Robert Bruce Freeman was considered a “significant” citizen of the Lower Cape Fear. He is listed as serving on the Criminal Court Grand Jury in Wilmington in local newspapers including October, 1879;  February, 1884; and January, 1888.

Catherine died, sometime in the 1870s and in 1888 Robert Bruce married his second wife, Lena (Lizzy) Davis (b. 1871 – d. 1944) and added four additional children to the family; Roscoe, Dorotha, Benjamin, and Tahlia.  Robert Bruce died in 1901 and was buried in a family cemetery. At his death his land was parceled into tracts, designed to be self-supporting waterfront properties.

The Freeman Heirs

In July 1902, Robert Bruce Freeman Jr. appeared in the New Hanover County Clerk of Court’s Office bearing his father’s will for probate.  The surviving children (all sons) from Robert Bruce’s first marriage inherited most of the Old Homestead. Robert Bruce, Jr., Archie, Rowland, Nathan, and Ellis received fifty-seven acres each.  Dulcia, the widow of Robert and Catherine’s son, Daniel Freeman, was granted lifetime rights to Fifty-seven acres of the Old Homestead. Thereafter the property was to be divided equally between Daniel and Duclia’s children, Ida and Hattie. Lena was also given fifty-seven acres of the Old Homestead. Lena’s children were to “share and share alike” with Catherine’s children in all the lands outside of the Old Homestead while Lena’s children were not included in the Old Homestead division.”

Unfortunately, the vagueness of the bequest to Lena’s children would haunt the family into the 21st Century.  As early as 1914 “the court appointed a board of commissioners to determine the boundaries for each tract. They decided that the tracts would run west to east, from the Cape Fear River to the Atlantic Ocean. This gave each heir access to the river, sound, ocean, and soil suitable for cultivation.

After Robert Bruce Jr.’s death, Ellis Freeman, youngest son by his first marriage, took over management of the family lands. “He obtained a $50,000 government permit to sell yellow granite, and created a profitable business carrying people out on the ocean fishing.”

Fishing – A Way of LifeFishing Boat Breakers - CB

The Freemans fished the Intracoastal Waterway with family using casting nets, taking homemade poles into the sound, or sitting on a pier, waiting patiently with baited hook. Somebody had to harvest clams to make those well-known fritters, and kids joined adults in hauling the mollusks.

The Freeman family was legendary for its fishing prowess and had a ‘spot’ that was all its own near Fort Fisher. Other fishing boats respected the Freemans’ territorial rights and did not compete near Fort Fisher. The family owned one motor and three boats, so it was not uncommon to see them string at least two boats together with a rope.

Customers, both black and white, looked forward to the Freemans’ return with the catch of the day.

The Freeman brothers cast wide nets to catch their bait, typically shad, menhaden, pogie, herring. Throughout the day, the Freemans strung up their catch on sea oats, and at the end of the day they would charge 25 cents per string. Kids looking forward to a good meal would watch for the Freeman boats and swim out to help pull them ashore.

Society Notes – April, 2016

By Darlene Bright, History Center Director

The History Center recorded 90 visitors in March. We had 40 in attendance at the March meeting and 45 who took the Sugar Loaf walk with Chris Fonvielle and Leslie Bright on March 12. The gift shop took in $401.97 in March which isn’t a record, but is the best we’ve done since last fall. The History Center was used by Got-Em-On Live Bait Fishing Club and the United Daughters of the Confederacy for their monthly meetings.

Membership continues to grow. Welcome to Geraldine and Gerald Cohen of Wilmington and Ann Tinder of Wilmington.

WWI #2


Knowing that 2017 is the 100th anniversary of the United States entering World War I, we would like to do a temporary exhibit featuring those who fought and those who manned the home front.

We’re looking for pictures, letters, uniforms, or artifacts.  Please let us know if you would allow us to borrow your family treasures for about 6 months.