Walk, Stroll, Saunter, Picnic, Birdwatch, Commune with Nature, Discover Little Local History
Brought to you by the long, hard work of the staff of the Town of Carolina Beach, The Federal Point Historic Preservation Society, and a dedicated group of historians and local history enthusiasts, the Joseph Ryder Lewis, Jr. Civil War Park will be officially dedicated on Thursday February 11, 2021, at 2:00 pm.
This new “passive” park will provide a quiet “off the beaten path” area for locals and visitors to get away from the hustle and bustle of the beach and spend a little time in the native natural setting of our original local Eco-system.
The new park is sandwiched behind the Dollar General and Sherwin Williams buildings on N. Lake Park Blvd. and the houses on Lighthouse Drive, which runs off of St. Joseph Street. The ten acre wetlands include boardwalks over local marshes was well as a gravel trail around the best preserved remnants of the earthen fortifications built along the “Sugar Loaf Line of Defense.”
Built by Confederate troops in late 1864 these defensive trenches were meant to defend the road to Wilmington if Union Forces were to ever take Fort Fisher.
The park can best be accessed from the gravel driveway just to the north of the Publix Grocery Store. It’s parking lot can be seen behind the large pond near the ABC store.
The Land: A Little History
The land that the park is now situated on was originally called the old Burriss Homeplace. The Burriss family were among the earliest settlers of the Federal Point area and owned a farm that encompassed much of this land throughout the nineteenth century. As late as the 1990s the stone fireplace of the original Burriss home could still be seen on the land, though is it gone now.
In 1907 Ryder Lewis’s grandparents bought about 150 acres of the Burriss land lying between the highway to Wilmington and the Myrtle Grove Sound. As Ryder says in an oral history done by the Federal Point Historic Preservation Society, “And the deed says they paid $400 for it and it was in the woods, in the jungle. Right where our house was, was in the woods.
My daddy had the house built from his World War II bonus or something. I think it was a $1000 and that pretty well closed the house in. So I was probably 2 or 3 years old when we actually moved into the house. That was part of the Lewis estate. My grandparents, on the Lewis side deeded out parcels of land to their various children.”
According to Ryder, the family farmed sweet potatoes, collards and watermelons, primary for family use. At that time they were “out in the country” as Ryder remembers: “My parents would not allow my brother and I, who was a couple years younger than I am, to go down there and roam around that beach, or to go up on the Boardwalk. That’s when we were young, unless we were escorted. You see, a lot of this stuff that went on, well like, Jimmy Davis and Milton Warwick, who came along later than I did, they were right there in town where they were involved in everything. I was in the country. And we had a big garden out back of our house, pole beans, sweet potatoes, pig pen. We had hogs, milk goats and milk cows and we did have a nanny goat.
We had a pump out in the yard, one you went out and pumped up and down, that’s where we got our water. We had an outhouse out back, that was your bathroom and we had a Sears and Roebuck catalog in there. I don’t remember when we got power. I was probably 6 or 7 years old, or a little older, when we got electricity along there. We finally got a well with an electric pump on it, but we had the outhouse as long as I was growing up.
“Let’s put it this way…I told you my grandparents, in about 1907, bought about 150 acres. And they deeded out quite a bit of it to their different children. But when they died, there was still 30 or 40 acres of it that had not ever been distributed. And furthermore, I’m one of the few people in a big family that was able to go to college and get a good job.
The old shopping center down here, coming from 421 all the way to St. Joseph’s Street, belonged to two Aunts. One of the Aunts had the old, original Lewis home and she had no income. She was an old maid and the county was giving her something like $30 a month and putting a lease on the property. So I told Aunt Rose that I’ll buy that place, I’ll take your house, and I’ll pay off that lease and I’ll put lights, electricity in the house, which they didn’t have, and I’ll take care of you as long as you live if you’ll deed this property to me. Well, she trusted me enough, she did it. So that was about 8 acres.
The other Aunt, she had 8 or 9 on out to the highway. I got hers in a similar way. I bought it. And that’s where part of this house was sitting. And, that’s the way I got started in getting some of the Lewis property. Then they were getting close to building that bridge up here and they moved the highway over some and they got on Lewis property. A good bit of it was on undivided property. So they wanted the Lewis’s to come up with one person to deal with the state. Well, all my old uncles and aunts and my old cousins agreed that I should be the one to represent them. So I did.”
In the 1960s, as Ryder’s Aunts and Uncles got older and property taxes on the jointly held property went up, the family attempted to divide the land. Unfortunately, “And the thing about it was there were ten children and one had had 7 children, 2 of the ones holding out on me were 1/7th and one, his mother, had turned hers over to him, so he had a tenth. So I had 1/10th, 1/7th and then there was another 1/7th. She had given it to her sister so she had 2/7ths of a tenth! Well, they couldn’t figure out how to divide it, so then they finally said they’d sell. The tenth cost me $500 and then one of ‘em got a seventh of $500 and another one got two-sevenths of $500. And that’s the way I wound up with roughly 50 acres of land.”
Then in the late 1990s Ryder donated a portion of the remaining land to the Town of Carolina Beach: “I gave the town a little over 10 acres of land, that most of it was classified as wet land, and I thought they were going to make a park area. (But they wound up, it’s only a 100 ft. on the highway and goes back 400 feet.) That area is where they put those ponds out there on the highway.”