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.

 

January Meeting – Dr. Keith Holland on Shipwreck “Maple Leaf”

Monday, January 15, 2018   7:30 PM

The Federal Point Historic Preservation Society will hold its monthly meeting on Monday, January, 15, 7:30 pm at the Federal Point History Center, 1121-A North Lake Park Blvd., adjacent to Carolina Beach Town Hall.

Our speaker will be Dr. Keith Holland from Jacksonville, Florida, who will discuss the story of the Maple Leaf, a Federal troop transport ship which carried men from six Federal regiments who would later take part in the two attacks on Fort Fisher.

Holland formed a company, St. Johns Archaeological Expeditions Inc. (SJAEI) to salvage the ship. After almost two years of negotiating, a deal was struck giving the federal government 20% and the salvagers 80% of what was found.

SJAEI subsequently relinquished its rights to the artifacts in order to keep the entire collection intact. The collection of artifacts was given to and remains with the Florida Division of Historical Resources in Tallahassee. In 2015, most of the collection that belonged to the federal government was removed from the State of Florida for possible display at the future National Museum of the US Army in Ft. Belvoir, Virginia.

Over a ten-day period in 1989, over 3000 objects were recovered from the shipwreck site and they all had to be handled properly to preserve them. Once taken to the surface and to a source of abundant oxygen, materials start to deteriorate quickly. Holland and crew learned how to safely preserve their precious finds. They learned to treat materials with chemicals, freeze drying and electrical currents to stop oxidation.

President’s Letter – January, 2018

By Elaine Henson

The Breakers Hotel,   Part I

Breakers Hotel   photo courtesy of the New Hanover County Public Library, Louis T. Moore Collection

The Breakers Hotel opened in May of 1924 at what was then known as Wilmington Beach.  It was a three story brick hotel with 50 rooms, 40 with a private bath.  A second story veranda ran the length of the building which faced the ocean. The Breakers was located on what is now South Lake Park Boulevard between North Carolina Avenue and Ocean Boulevard.  Sea Colony Condominiums are there now.

The Breakers’ story began with an article in the Wilmington News Dispatch on July 6, 1913, about the newly formed Wilmington Beach Corporation and their plans for development.

The investors were C.E. Freenamyer, C.C. Chadbourn, L.W. Davis, Jr., J.J. Hopkins, D.N. Chadwick Jr., F.P. Jackson and S.V. Bowden; their vision was for Wilmington Beach to become the Atlantic City of the South.

The corporation’s property ran for one mile fronting the ocean and west across Federal Point to the Cape Fear River.

They planned for a macadam [crushed gravel compacted and often topped with water, oil or tarvia] boulevard one mile long running north to south and 50 to 90 feet wide avenues lined with building lots. The crown jewel was to be a large modern hotel on the ocean with a hundred feet in length and  25 feet wide boardwalk in front.  There was to be a pavilion and large garage for parking near the hotel.

Also the plans called for a Great Atlantic Pier in front of the hotel with smaller piers on the northern and southern ends of the property. The piers would each have refreshment parlors similar to ones at the Seashore Hotel Pier, 1910-1920, at Wrightsville Beach.

They hoped to have the hotel open year round with a golf course and tennis courts, hunting and fishing.   Ocean bathing was to be the main outdoor activity with a life guard on duty and a life line of rope in the sea for bathers to hold onto.  A bathhouse was to be in the basement (surely the first floor) with private shower rooms for the guests. The unsurpassed cuisine would center on fresh catches of fish, crabs and clams all served with other delicacies in the expansive dining room with tall ceilings.

An orchestra was to provide after dinner dancing music throughout the season and perform Sunday afternoon concerts in the spacious lobby for the public.  That 1924 summer opening featured an orchestra under the direction of Jack Cohn.  The Southern Collegians from the University of North Carolina were booked for the 1925 season, playing after luncheons in addition to after the evening meals.  There were also plans to have a railroad serving Wilmington Beach and Carolina Beach, connecting them to Wilmington and the Atlantic Coast Line trains.

Next month:  Breakers Hotel, Part II

 

Fort Fisher 153rd Anniversary

Living History Program Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018

On Saturday, January 13, 2018, Fort Fisher State Historic Site will host the program ‘Exploding shells and a blaze of musketry’: The 153rd Second Battle of Fort Fisher Commemoration.

Outside the museum, reenactors dressed in period garb will bring history to life as they discuss camp life, garrison duty, and conduct the manual of arms. The program will also feature large and small artillery firings throughout the day, including the site’s 32-pounder rifled and banded cannon.

Live 19th century music will be provided by Masonboro Parlor and local photographer Harry Taylor will demonstrate 1860s wet-plate photography.

In the afternoon, two special programs will be held in the site’s auditorium.

At 12:30 pm, Dr. Keith Holland will introduce visitors to the fascinating story behind the Maple Leaf, a Union troop transport ship that sank April 1, 1864 and later bore countless historically and cultural significant artifacts.

At 2:30 pm, NC Division of State Historic Sites and Properties director, Keith Hardison, will present “Confederate Commander: The Military Qualifications of Jefferson Davis.”

The living history program is free and open to the public and will be held from 9 am to 4 pm. Donations are appreciated. All Fort Fisher programming is made possible by support from the Friends of Fort Fisher and its sustaining members, as well as from support from New Hanover County, the Town of Carolina Beach, and the Town of Kure Beach.

 

Cookies Needed for Reenactment

FPHPS will be selling hot dogs, drinks and snacks at the Reenactment again this year.

We need people to bake cookies as well as people to work our booth on Saturday January 13.

Please call Rebecca or Cheri at 458-0502 to let us know you can help.

The Maple Leaf

[From the National Park Service website]

Constructed in Kingston, Ontario, the Great Lakes passenger steamship, Maple Leaf, set out to sea on June 18, 1851. Its first owner, Donald Bethune and Company, used the Maple Leaf as a passenger ship until the company started to flounder.

Mr. Bethune subsequently fled the country and the remaining partners sold the vessel to a company based in Rochester, New York, in 1855. At the time, a new reciprocity treaty between the United States and Canada temporarily revitalized Lake Ontario shipping, but by the end of the decade the United States found itself in a depression. Although the shipping trade went into decline, the charter market for steamers rose as a result of the Civil War. In 1862, the Maple Leaf was sold to Bostonians J.H.B. Lang and Charles Spear who chartered it to the U.S. Army.

The Maple Leaf was used as a transport vessel, bringing Union troops south to Virginia. In 1863, Confederate prisoners-of-war (POWs) on the ship overpowered their guards and took control of the vessel. After landing, the POWs escaped to Richmond.

The Union recovered the boat and continued to use it to transport troops along the East Coast until 1864. In April of that year, the Maple Leaf struck a Confederate “torpedo” (what we would now call a mine) off Mandarin Point in the St. John’s River.

The explosion tore the bow of the ship apart, ripping through the deck and killing four soldiers. The vessel sank quickly, but apart from those lost in the explosion, there were no other fatalities.

The Maple Leaf was never salvaged and, while the U.S. Treasury Department attempted to sell the wreck and signed two contracts in 1873 and 1876 that required removal of the wreck, no sale occurred.

Since the remains of the Maple Leaf were blocking a portion of the river and were a serious threat to other vessels, in 1882, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers contracted to move the wreck to its present location.

The Maple Leaf was 181 feet long by 25 feet wide and weighs 398 tons. The wreck is buried beneath 7 feet of mud in 20 feet of water. It is extremely well preserved under the mud with the hull virtually intact save for the starboard box and deck, which were damaged in the explosion.

However, what makes the wreck of the Maple Leaf truly amazing is the vast amount of cargo associated with the submerged steamer. More than 3,000 individual artifacts have been recovered from the Maple Leaf and are on public display at the Jacksonville Museum of Science and History.

The Maple Leaf wreck, a National Historic Landmark, lies in the middle of the St. John’s River about 12 miles south of downtown Jacksonville, Florida. Unlike other shipwrecks on this itinerary, the public is not permitted to dive on the Maple Leaf. The St. John’s River is extremely muddy and the visibility in the area around the Maple Leaf is extremely poor.

It is possible to view the artifacts recovered from the Maple Leaf at the Jacksonville Museum of Science and History. The exhibit contains the largest single collection of Civil War artifacts in the world, along with recovered sections of the wreck. For more information visit Maple Leaf Shipwreck.

We need your help!

Coming Summer 2018!

“Celebrating  the Boardwalk”

We need your help. We are looking for objects

(souvenirs and memorabilia) to borrow for display.

 


     We will probably keep the exhibit up for 9 months to a year.

Ashtrays, spoon holders, key chains,     

Magnets, plates, tea cups,  Pendants, beer bottles,

cupie dolls, and shells glued to anything.

 

 

 

 

Society Notes

By Darlene Bright, History Center Director

 

The Society would like to say a huge thank you to John Golden who led us all in singing Christmas carols at the December Potluck again this year.  He has done this for many years, and always been a great supporter of the Society.

Thanks, John! 

 

 

 

 

 

  • The History Center recorded 74 visitors in October. We had 50 in attendance at the Christmas Potluck.
  • The History Center was used for meetings held by the Got-Em-On Live Bait Fishing Club and the United Daughters of the Confederacy
    .
  • We need cookie bakers for the January 13th Fort Fisher Reenactment! Please call Rebecca or Cheri at 458-0502 if you can help.

 

Located adjacent to Carolina Beach Municipal Complex