The Maple Leaf: A Civil War Shipwreck

By Nancy Gadzuk

Keith Holland spoke on The Maple Leaf: A Civil War Shipwreck at the January 15, 2018 meeting of the Federal Point Historic Preservation Society. The transport ship Maple Leaf sank in Florida’s St. Johns River in 1864, carrying over 400 tons of cargo. Keith spoke on the efforts to find and preserve some of the artifacts from that shipwreck.

The first thing that struck me about Keith’s presentation was his obsession with shipwrecks. After scuba diving in Myrtle Beach and finding a brass spigot from a shipwreck there, he was determined to find a shipwreck near his home in Florida. He’d rather find, he said, a square cut hand-hewn nail than a 10-carat diamond in his search. His research showed that there was probably a yet-unidentified wreck in the St. Johns River, and he spent close to 10 years and an undisclosed, but large, amount of money to form St. Johns Archeological Expeditions and find it.

This led to the discovery of the Maple Leaf, a Civil War cargo ship sunk in 20 feet of muddy sludge and carrying 400 tons of stores. The muck provided an oxygen-free environment and excellent preservation of the ship’s artifacts. Keith and his dive team brought up many artifacts in 1989, which are now under the jurisdiction of the state of Florida. The Maple Leaf Site became a National Historic Landmark in 1994.

The Maple Leaf was a transport carrier and carried the ordinary baggage of at least three regiments. It’s the most important repository of Civil War artifacts in existence and, to me at least, a fascinating window into the minds and lives of the men whose possessions were preserved. What does a soldier carry with him when going to war? What personal reminders of home and life does he bring?

Keith shared pictures of some of the finds: teacups, diaries, letters, chess pieces, a pocket watch, seashells. This collection of the ordinary pieces of lives lived and lost serves as a powerful reminder that there is no such thing as a “civil” war. Keith observed that while the war affected the North, it destroyed the South. He dedicated a montage of photographic images and song to the women left behind in war.

At the end of the formal presentation, Gil Burnett and Skippy Winner, both long-time History Center members, shared briefly a few of their own experiences finding underwater artifacts.


Keith prepared a video presentation to accompany his talk. Several of these resources were used in the presentation:

The Maple Leaf: A Civil War Shipwreck

The Tide: The Thrill of Discovery

The Mandarin Museum: Maple Leaf

Florida Frontiers: The Maple Leaf

February Meeting – Jim McKee on the Wilmington Reserve Fleet

The Federal Point Historic Preservation Society will hold its monthly meeting on Monday, February 19, 2018 @ 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 Jim McKee from Brunswick Town – Fort Anderson.

Jim will be speaking on the Wilmington Reserve Fleet which was one of eight National Defense Reserve Fleet’s (NDRF) anchorages established around the United States to store merchant vessels after World War II.

By 1951 the Wilmington Reserve Fleet was at full capacity, and was the second largest reserve fleet in the nation. There are thousands of people who still remember the ships moored in the Brunswick River, but have no idea why they were there or what their purpose was.

Jim McKee is the site manager at Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson State Historic Site in Winnabow, NC. He graduated from Greensboro College, has his Master’s from Southern New Hampshire University, and has worked for the National Park Service and the North Carolina Maritime Museum at Southport. He has been researching the Wilmington Reserve Fleet since 2007.


Presidents Letter – February 2018

By Elaine Henson

The Breakers Hotel, Part II

The Breakers Hotel opened for its second summer season under the management of Forrest Smith.  An article in the Wilmington News Dispatch dated June 5, 1925, stated that he planned for the hotel to remain open all winter that year. It is not known if the Breakers did stay open year round, but we do know that the golf course, tennis courts, Great Atlantic Pier, two smaller piers and other plans did not materialize. Most likely a lack of capital was the reason and the Great Depression of 1929 was certainly a factor.

The economy at Federal Point beaches experienced an upturn in 1931 when the Dow Chemical Company bought a 310 acre tract in Wilmington Beach. They planned to build a pilot plant for extracting bromine from sea water on the mile wide tract of land. It stretched across Federal Point from the Cape Fear River to the Atlantic Ocean for a mile just south of the Breakers Hotel.  By 1933 Dow Chemical and Ethyl Gasoline Company formed the Ethyl Dow Corporation.

In August of that year, Ethyl Dow announced that they were building a $3 million permanent facility that would employ over 350 workers. The Breakers Hotel, then owned by Mainland Beach Corporation, was leased for one year as a private hotel for upper management, superintendents, foremen, and technicians.  It was redecorated and refurnished for the Ethyl Dow employees.  John S. Divine was the manager of the Breakers during the lease period.  He was formerly the manager of the Seashore Hotel at Wrightsville Beach and the Orton Hotel in Wilmington.

Breakers Hotel as it appeared when Ethyl Dow leased it 1933-1934, the sign near the end of the second floor porch says “EDCCO Club”.  Photo from FPHPS’ Collection.

Monroe Shigley came to the N. C. Ethyl Dow plant from the Midland, Michigan Dow Chemical plant in 1933 and was plant manager from 1936-1941. Mr. Shigley recalls the Breakers Hotel in an oral history interview by Ralph Buell who was also employed by Ethyl Dow.  In part of that interview he stated:

Monroe Shigley

The hotel, during our residence had a big dining room, named the EDCCO Club, where everyone ate.  The number 1 table fed the top people: the Beutels, the Bransons (head of construction), the L.J. Richards (chief engineer) and the Willard Dows and Ethyl bigwigs when they came.  That table had finger bowls and the services of William Polite, a distinguished black headwaiter who wore formal dress.  The second table had some of William Polite’s time but no finger bowls.  Of perhaps ten tables, I and some others were at the last table.  More business was certainly done at the top tables but at ours, we had more fun.”  

Monroe Shigley was a Harvard graduate with a degree in engineering. He went to work for Dow Chemical in 1930 and retired in 1970 after a 40 year career. He worked at their plants in Michigan, North Carolina and Texas. He and his wife, Mary Graham Shigley from Wilmington, spent their retirement years at the family apple and cherry orchard in Freemont, Michigan and later lived in Yakima and Tacoma, Washington. He died in 1999 and she in 2008; they are buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Lansing, Michigan.

The Shigley interview was submitted by Howard Hewett in September of 2014 along with other documents and photographs and is part of FPHPS archive on Ethyl Dow.  It can be accessed here on our website.

Next month:  Breakers Hotel Part III


Brunswick River Harbored Huge Mothball Fleet

By Ben Steelman
Wilmington StarNews, October 12, 2001

Officially the National Defense Reserve Fleet (and sometimes called “the Ghost Fleet”), the anchored rows of World War II surplus transport vessels, were a presence in Wilmington from 1946 to 1970.

Parked along the Brunswick River, the fleet was described in the press as “the second largest ship graveyard in the world.” (The largest was on the James River near Hampton Roads, Va.)

After World War II, the U.S. Maritime Commission established a “Reserve Fleet Basin” on the Brunswick River to house Liberty ships and other vessels that were no longer needed after demobilization. The first of these vessels, the SS John B. Bryce, arrived at the site on Aug. 12, 1946. Others quickly followed.

During the next few years, ships were moved in and out of the basin; in all, 628 vessels were tied up there at one time or another. The vast majority of these – 542 – were Liberty ships, the mass-produced workhorse freighters like those turned out by the N.C. Shipbuilding Co. in Wilmington. The basin also housed a total of 68 “Victory” ships and 41 vessels of other types, including tankers.

Generally, five of these ships were kept on a high level of readiness, to sail “at a moment’s notice” in the event of a national emergency. The rest were “mothballed,” coated in red-oxide paint, oil and varnish as preservatives to prevent rust.

At its heyday, the U.S. Maritime Administration (which took over the fleet in 1950, after the Maritime Commission was abolished), employed 296 workers on the Brunswick River basin, with a $600,000 payroll.

Many of these were armed guards to prevent theft of the ships’ copper and brass fittings; others were involved in routine maintenance. The ships were lashed and anchored together in groups of five, with each fifth ship moored to pilings driven deep into the river bottom.

Despite these precautions, two of the mothballed freighters broke loose during Hurricane Hazel in 1954 and drifted down the channel, threatening to collide with the U.S. 74 bridge until a tugboat pushed them out-of-the-way.

On Dec. 8, 1958, the SS Edgecomb, a Victory ship, became the last vessel to be tied up at the basin. Beginning in 1958, the government began to sell off older and less fit vessels for scrap, while others were moved to the James River. By 1964, only 152 vessels were left on the Brunswick River, but they remained a formidable sight. “Many motorists stop along the highway to look up the river at them,” said E.W. Thompson, an administrator with the reserve fleet.

By 1968, the total was down to 15 ships. Many were scrapped by Horton Industries in Wilmington; Gilliam Horton, of Horton Iron & Metal, told the Wilmington Morning Star in 1968 that his company could finish off two ships in 90 days.

The last remaining member of the Mothball Fleet, the SS Dwight W. Morrow (named for the father of author Anne Morrow Lindbergh, a former U.S. ambassador to Mexico) was towed away for scrapping on Feb. 27, 1970.


Society Notes – Feb, 2018

By Darlene Bright, History Center Director

Help! Help! Help!

One of the things we want to celebrate this summer as part of our “Boardwalk: Then and Now” Exhibit is the role Bingo has played over the years.

Does anyone have any old bingo cards, tokens, prizes? Please dig them out and and lend them to us for the Summer.

Thank you




Don’t Miss the 2018

‘Walk of Fame’  Ceremony

Saturday March 24, 2018, 1:00 pm
At the Carolina Beach Lake



A huge thanks to everyone who helped with the Ft. Fisher Reenactment Fund Raiser

At the Fort: Darlene and Leslie Bright, Cheri McNeill, Paul Slebodnik, Ray and Helen James, Byron Moore, Steve Arthur, Linda Kuharcik, Ken Badoian, Jay Winner and Jim Dugan

Cookie Bakers: Sylvia Snook, Judy Moore, Doris Bame, Brenda Coffey, Steve Arthur, Cheri McNeill, Helen James, Juanita Winner, Elaine Henson, Jane Dugan and Rebecca Taylor

SPECIAL THANKS: to Leslie Bright, Gerald Bright, and Robert Bright for donations of hotdogs and buns.  

The History Center recorded 42 visitors in January. We had 49 in attendance at the January Meeting.

The History Center was used for meetings held by the Got-Em-On Live Bait Fishing Club, the United Daughters of the Confederacy, and Wounded Warriors – Step Up for Soldiers

Welcome to new members Jim and Clare Kalina of Wilmington.