Fort Fisher 152nd Reenactment

Saturday January 14, 2017

Fundraiser!

We’ll be selling hot dogs, sodas, snacks and homemade cookies again this year.  The reenactment is on Saturday January 14, from 10am – 4pm.

We need volunteers to “work the line” serving food as well as people to help set up and tear down.  We also need donations of homemade cookies to go with the meals for the reenactors.

If you can volunteer your time and/or bake a batch of cookies please call the History Center at 458-0502. Leave a message on the machine if Rebecca or Cheri isn’t there.

 

Seabreeze Part 6 – The 50s

by Rebecca Taylor

The 1950’s

After World War II Carolina Beach business owners worked hard to present the beach as a “family friendly” resort. The resort continued to attract large crowds, and on holidays cars might line the road as hundreds of black patrons walked along the main highway to Carolina Beach. Sometimes on weekend nights in the summer, Seabreeze music was audible for miles, and sometimes Carolina Beach officials and residents pressured Seabreeze business owners to lower the volume.

In 1951, Frank and Lulu (Freeman) Hill sold their New York residence and returned to Seabreeze to invest their life savings, building a restaurant, beach pavilion, bathhouse, and a paved parking lot on Lulu’s inherited land – now part of Freeman Park. monte-carloThey called it the Monte Carlo by the Sea.

They came by bus, by cars, and whole churches. The Monte Carlo drew groups from  all over North and South Carolina. “We had a lot of groups who came up even as far as South Carolina…We had them come up in busses,” said Frank Hill who was proud of the Monte Carlo and believed it was the best beach facility available in North and South Carolina.

“The black people didn’t have any other place to go…there was that place down in Atlantic Beach, down in South Carolina, but I think they only had about half a block space that they could be on.”

The Wilmington City Directory of 1955 listed the following businesses at Seabreeze Beach: The Hotel Faison, the Daley Hotel, owned and operated by Richard Daley who also owned the Breeze Point Pavilion; the Edgewater Cafeteria, The Breeze Inn, and the Tavern, owned by Bruce and Bill Freeman. The Tavern was a lunch room but also had dining, dancing and facilities for private parties.

Juke Joints

The heartbeat of Seabreeze was its many juke joints.  At one point there were as many as 31 juke joints where jukeboxes (known as piccolos locally) supplied the “race music” that spawned not only rock-and-roll, but also the Shag, and Beach Music.

Those who vacationed there remember it well. Booker T. Wilson, who lives in Bolton, visited Seabreeze regularly as a young man. When asked what he remembered most about the place, Wilson promptly replied, “The dancing!” His favorite style of dance? “Swing. All of it,” he said.

juke-jointsThe music of Seabreeze drew people from miles around as live bands and jukeboxes exploded with the sounds of swing, soul and rhythm and blues brought to life by the voices of Little Richard, James Brown, the Platters and others. The area became known as a music mecca. Seabreeze’s music was so distinctive that many locals called the beach strand “Bop City.”

Clam Fritters

Recipes for clam fritters were closely guarded family secrets, and fritters varied from one eatery to the next. It would be safe to say that the basic recipe included eggs, milk, flour, and clams. Every restaurant specialized in seafood, fried fish, oysters, and soft shell crabs all gathered from the crystal clear sound shallows. Among the most famous was Sadie Wade’s place where hundreds of diners enjoyed the nickel apiece clam fritters; the recipe is still a guarded secret of those with Seabreeze in their heritage.

Arthur Ross once put together the batter for the cakes. He estimated they sold 3,000 of the 6-inch- wide cakes made up of clams, green peppers, onions, flour and other secret ingredients before being deep-fried.  The ocean breezes that blew through Seabreeze were no doubt infused with the smell of palate-pleasing dishes. Restaurants in Seabreeze served a diverse selection of food, but were renowned for their fresh and local seafood.

Hurricane Hazel

On October 15, 1954, Hurricane Hazel came ashore west of Seabreeze, along the Brunswick County Coast. The Category 4 storm, with 140 mile-per-hour winds and an 18 foot storm surge wreaked havoc all along the North Carolina coast, but hit Seabreeze with a blow that it would never recover from.hurricane-damage

Because Freeman Beach was not listed as a Wilmington-area beach, it did not receive aid to rebuild.

When the storm departed, residents and property owners were tasked with cleaning, clearing and rebuilding. People who held land in common with other relatives found the job particularly daunting, as they were deemed ineligible for disaster relief loans.

Without financial assistance, many could not afford to rebuild. Those who were able, however, worked hard to bring Seabreeze back to life. Music, food and laughter did return; but the Seabreeze that once was, would be no more.

Frank Hill remembers, “It had taken away everything.” The severe erosion caused by Carolina Beach Inlet and Hurricane Hazel destroyed the majority of the sound side and ocean side businesses and homes. Few people at Seabreeze had insurance and though many salvaged what building materials they could and tried to rebuild, Hazel was followed by two category storms the next year; Hurricane Connie and Hurricane Ione.

Frank Hill continues, “We survived until that last one [Hurricane Alma] came through in ’62, and by them opening the Carolina Beach inlet it made it impossible because the beach was eroding so bad and it just put us out of business for good.” This damage was exacerbated by the Carolina Beach Inlet Development Corporation’s establishment of an inlet from the Atlantic Ocean to the Intracoastal Waterway claiming it would make access to the Atlantic Ocean easier.

Beach Music/Birth of the Shag

The R&B, soul, and beach music that played was notorious for drifting down streets and into other neighborhoods. Prominent musicians such as the Bobby Blue Band and Bo Diddley performed at Seabreeze.  Accommodations were also plentiful for overnight visitors, who by law, weren’t allowed to stay at hotels reserved for whites. Famous entertainers like Fats Domino, James Brown, and Ike and Tina Turner played for white audiences in Wilmington, but slept at the 25 room Loftin Hotel.

By the 40’s you had whites in their teens and 20s coming to Seabreeze to listen to the music. Then they’d go back to Carolina Beach and tell the club owners what was hot. Music at Seabreeze was a bit different from Wrightsville and Carolina Beach because it was black swing, rhythm and blues—in short, everything the white race rioters had so greatly feared a couple decades earlier. The dance moves seemed suggestive and the volume was cranked up to a level that could be heard for miles around.

The legend of Malcolm Ray “Chicken” Hicks is a local favorite. Hicks was a teenager in 1941 when he visited Seabreeze and picked up on the R&B music and dance, which he already knew from his upbringing in Durham. Jukeboxes, which were called piccolos, were in every jump joint, and Hicks had an appreciation for what was then called race music.

Hicks also had a connection with a fellow named Parker who loaded up the jukeboxes at both Seabreeze and Carolina Beach, and was able to persuade Parker to put some of the same records he would have heard in Seabreeze into the jukeboxes in Carolina Beach.

 

Seabreeze Part 5: The 40’s

By Rebecca Taylor

By the 1940’s Seabreeze had its own hotels, restaurants, amusement parks, and dance halls.  Drawing crowds from all over seabreeze-warfNorth Carolina it became known as the “National Negro Playground.” Among the local businesses – many of them run by Freemans or members of other families linked by marriage – were bathhouses where visitors could rent bathing suits for the day.

Daley’s Breezy Pier Restaurant was a two-story covered pavilion at the end of a pier where bands played and people fished and crabbed.

An amusement park opened in the summertime with a Ferris Wheel, a hobbyhorse (like a merry-go-round), chair planes, a carousel, the Octopus, and the Caterpillar. A fellow named Charlie ran the gambling tables. A Native American known as the Snake Man set up a sideshow tent, and one of the attractions he offered was “the Woman with No Body,” which was actually his extremely short wife in a darkened setting that only revealed her head. He also ran a candy store and a small circus and mounted an impressive snake display.

Summers were especially busy when church groups packed buses for a day’s amusement along the waterfront, then turned the beach over to the juke joint crowd at night. Farmers from inland counties would ride dozens of their field hands, on flatbed trucks, to Seabreeze for a day off. Seabreeze was so well known that it even attracted people from all over North Carolina and South Carolina. Some years people would even come on buses from Philadelphia and New Jersey.”

seabreeze-cabinsDuring segregation, Carolina Beach police refused to allow Seabreeze visitors to pass through the town to visit the ocean side of the Freeman property, known as Freeman’s Beach, so the family bought a boat to haul people there, letting them off in the marsh leading to the beach. You had to walk over the marsh lands – get mud in your feet and everywhere else.

Later Captain Rick Wilson – who later became the first black party-boat operator to get a slip at the Carolina Beach marina – ran a speedboat out of Seabreeze, offering rides for 50 cents a head.   Others, including Margaret Green, ran ferries to take visitors across the sound to the ocean beach on the outlying barrier  island. As the local economy recovered from the Great Depression, the Seabreeze community and its’ recreation area were fully developed.

Bruce’s Tavern was a two-story restaurant and dance hall with a fishing pier owned by Bruce Freeman. There was also Daley’s Pier with a restaurant and pier for fishing and crabbing. At Barbecue Sam’s, the proprietor raised pigs, butchered them, and smoked them on premises. Several bathhouses existed that seabreeze-womanallowed people to come out of the ocean, take a shower, get dressed, and go to the pavilions to dance.

There was a row of vine covered cottages which were used for overnight stays for people unable to drive and even an unofficial community jail. Photographers’ shops, where visitors could have their pictures taken as mementos of their summer visits to Seabreeze were scattered throughout the area.

William Freeman who was born in 1941 and grew up in Seabreeze says, “It was fun, it was fun, it was fun. For black people to be able to come to a place like this, they came and danced and kicked up and had fun the whole weekend. That had to be a great thing for us psychologically. All these places, blacks owned it all. It was far more valuable than we realized it was.”

WWII
In January of 1942 a meeting was called to inform “all negro citizens“ of the Sea Breeze area and to organize civilian defense units. The meeting was held at the Freeman church and Sheriff C. David Jones and the Mayor of Carolina Beach were the invited speakers.

In April 1942, the Federal Works Agency (FWA) allocated $12,800 for the construction of a bath house for the military. It included showers, locker rooms, and a lounge area.

In 1941, Camp Davis opened in Holly Ridge. It rapidly grew to include as many as 100,000 soldiers being trained in a variety of assault specialties. One section trained black soldiers in anti-aircraft artillery while an auxiliary base called Montford Point became the first training base for black Marines. wwii-marinesAs the war intensified the military presence became notable.

Black servicemen stationed nearby headed to Seabreeze on leave. There were even some training maneuvers that took place in the waterway. One long time resident reports that there were rumors among the residents that even the FBI trained along the undeveloped beach.

Black soldiers from the Fort Fisher training base would come up to Seabeeze. Some of the Freeman girls married some of the guys that used to be down at Fort. Fisher.

By the summer of 1943 a special “Jim Crow loading zone” was set up at the main bus terminal in Wilmington to handle the large crowds of black servicemen coming to Wilmington on leave. Another group was drawn to Carolina Beach, as well. Suddenly boys too young for the draft, but too old for parental supervision, flocked to Carolina Beach to work in the busy restaurants and hotels. White teenagers had learned to dance to ‘race music’ from blacks in the Hayti district of Durham.

While both Carolina Beach and Seabreeze owners were glad to cash in on the war boom, both beaches gained a reputation as somewhat “unruly.” As one white woman who was a teenager during the war remarked; “there was a general feeling that these boys were facing the ultimate sacrifice in defense of their country and therefore deserved to cut loose before being shipped out.” 

Jack Fryar—History Buff

by Nancy Gadzuk

Jack FryerThe Federal Point History Center’s August 15 meeting featured Jack Fryar, well-known local historian, prolific author, publisher, and, as his T-shirt proclaimed, History Buff.  (His T-shirt also mentioned that, as a history buff, he’d be more interested in you if you were dead.)

Jack spoke on The Cape Fear in the Revolutionary War Part II: 1777 – 1781.  He illustrated his detailed walk through various battles with numerous pictures of modern-day war reenactments alongside period maps from the Revolutionary War era.

Title - Jack FryerHe referred to this time period as the “first civil war,” because after the Battle of Moore’s Creek in 1776, settlers began to split into two camps: those who wished to remain loyal to the King, and those who wanted independence.

Charleston and Savannah had been important in the early Revolutionary War effort, but with the fall of Charleston in 1780, the British gained a toehold in the South and Wilmington became a critical focus.

The Cape Fear region was geographically very important to the war effort. First, the Cape Fear River is the only river in North Carolina with direct access to the Atlantic Ocean. This was critical for fighting a war in which the Loyalists were coming from across the Atlantic Ocean. Second, the Cape Fear River went inland 147 miles to Fayetteville, and effectively served to divide the state.

Burgwin's House - FryerThe Loyalist Major Craig used Wilmington as a base of operations until forced to evacuate by the Independent forces in 1781, marking the end of significant British presence in North Carolina.

Jack talked in detail about battles, battle routes, winners, and losers. It’s important, however, to also keep in mind the human cost of all wars — the death, devastation, and destruction.

 

 

Seabreeze Part 4 — Growth of Seabreeze

by Rebecca Taylor

In February, 1930, the Wilmington Star reported that, “Electric poles are now being set from Wilmington to Seabreeze, a colored resort, by the Tide Water Power Company for the extension of electrical current.” Then in July of 1931, the Wilmington News reported that the North Carolina Negro Insurance Association held its annual convention at Seabreeze with speakers from Durham, Winston, Charlotte as well as smaller towns.seabreeze #1

By the Labor Day holiday of 1933, the Wilmington Star reported that “Ten thousand Negroes visited Seabreeze yesterday. They came by trucks, motor cars, buses, and, in fact, every mode of vehicle. Some trucks were loaded with as many as 75 to 100 men, women, and children all packed in these vehicles like sardines. Four large buses were employed in conveying the crowds to and from the resort. Trucks came from Fuquay Springs, Lumberton, Pembroke, Charity Cross Roads, and from numerous other towns in eastern and Piedmont North Carolina.”

By July of 1934, Dr. Foster F. Burnett, a local Negro physician who was a Harvard University graduate, constructed a convalescent home and recreation center at Seabreeze that would  accommodate up to 10 persons at a time. A pier was also constructed from the home to the sound. Dr. Burnett had plans to also build tennis courts, a golf course and other recreational facilities. That same month Dr. Burnett was promoting a request to the State Highway and Public Works Commission to improve the road connecting State Highway 40 with Seabreeze.

By the summer of 1935, the resort was so developed that the North Carolina Utilities Commission voted to grant a franchise to a Wilmington bus company to operate a bus line from Wilmington to Seabreeze.

In July 1938, the Wilmington Star reported the “purchase of a site at Seabreeze in connection with a development for colored tourists, to cost about $7,600 was announced yesterday by Ben McGhee. The pavilion is to be located off the Carolina Beach road near the entrance to Seabreeze.”

By the summer of 1938, C.C. Spaulding, President of the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company of Durham, announced plans to purchase a lot and build a vacation home at Seabreeze. “Spaulding announced his plan following a weekend visit to the resort in which he was favorably impressed with the quietness of the resort on the southern side of Seabreeze as most conductive to rest and relaxation.”

Seabreeze #2By the mid-1930s, Seabreeze was in full swing. They had so many visitors that parking became a problem.  On summer weekends cars lined Carolina Beach Road for up to a mile. On holiday weekends the New Hanover County Sheriff assigned deputies to supervise traffic flow to and from the resort. At least 10 restaurants, including Barbecue Sam’s, served summer visitors. The area’s cooks quickly became famous for their clam fritters, often with finely chopped bell peppers and onions.

At some point in the 1930s, there seems to have been talk of incorporating Seabreeze as a municipality.  An editorial appeared in the Wilmington Star that advised them that it would be “Wise to go Slow” concluding with; “It is, therefore, our advice to our Negro citizens to proceed with caution. They should do everything possible to develop their resort, and for this they are to be commended, but corporate responsibilities may invite worries that are not compensated by such benefits as might accrue.”

Seabreeze Part 3 – With the Turn of the Century

Freeman Family at Mt. Pilgrim Church

Freeman Family at Mt. Pilgrim Church

by Rebecca Taylor

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, were granted lifetime rights in fifty-seven acres of the Old Homestead. Thereafter, the property was to be divided equally between Daniel and Dulcia’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.”

The Beginning of Carolina Beach

In the 1880’s Freeman gave Captain John Harper, owner of the steamer Wilmington and a partner in the New Hanover Transit Company, the right of way to build a railroad through his property at Carolina Beach in exchange for free train passes for the black people of the area.

On March 11, 1887, W. L. Smith, Jr. bought a strip of land comprised of 24 acres for the amount of $66.50. These acres were between the head of Myrtle Grove Sound and the ocean beach. Today this land is located in the heart of the business district of the Town of Carolina Beach.

The following year, 1888, the New Hanover Transit Company sponsored a free excursion to Carolina Beach for indigent and infirmed colored people in Wilmington. About five hundred people took the trip including church members from St. Stephen, St. Luke, St. Mark, Mount Olive, Central Baptist and Chestnut Street Presbyterian churches.

In 1913, the Freeman heirs financed Alexander W. Pate and Joseph Laughlin a large tract with boundaries running from the end of the “old road bed of the New Hanover Transit Company’s railroad” to about 5,000 feet south of Sugar Loaf and then over to the beach.

Seabreeze Established

In the early 1920’s, Ellis Freeman, one of Robert, Sr.’s heirs, sold the first lots on the Seabreeze tract with full right of ingress and egress to and over any and all portion of the sea beach east of and across Myrtle Grove Sound.

Seabreeze managed to promote black ownership of recreational property and businesses – something other black beaches in the country had been unsuccessful in doing in spite of well-organized attempts.”

Seabreeze Beach ResortThe first beach structure called “Seabreeze” was built in 1922. It was about the time of the great boom in beachfront development. It was also a time of resurgent black pride and enterprise, the era of the Harlem Renaissance.

Victoria Loftin

Victoria Lofton

Tom and Victoria Lofton, a prominent black couple from Wilmington, completed construction on the Russell Hotel, a twenty-five room, three-story hotel, restaurant and dance hall. Peter Simpson and his wife opened Simpson’s Hotel and development began to spring up all around.

The Harlem-based, syndicated black columnist Geraldyne Dismond reported, to her surprise, cottages that resembled a “transplanted Seventh Avenue tea room, swank…bungalows and a sporting crowd dressed in linen suits and driving roadsters.”

Seabreeze

Daley Breezy Pavilion

In the spring of 1929, the Wilmington Star reported that at Seabreeze, the Negro resort, a new hotel is under construction.

According to residents of that section it will greatly facilitate the housing problem there during the season and an increase of the number of Negroes visiting this section is expected to result from the construction program.

Then by February 1930 the Tide Water Power Company was extending poles from Wilmington to Seabreeze. And, by July of 1931 the Wilmington News was reporting that the North Carolina Negro Insurance Association held its annual convention at Seabreeze with speakers from Durham, Winston-Salem, Charlotte as well as smaller towns.

 

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.

Finding Your Family History – by Rebecca Taylor

The Federal Point Historic Preservation Society will hold its monthly meeting on Monday, March 21, 7:30 p.m. at the Federal Point History Center, 1121-A North Lake Park Blvd., adjacent to Carolina Beach Town Hall.

Due to unforeseen circumstances the Corps of Engineers will not be our speaker this month.  We hope to reschedule them for next fall.

Instead our program will be “Finding Your Family History” with Rebecca Taylor speaking. She will cover the major databases, both free and subscription, including Family Search and Ancestry.com as well as other ancillary sites like Newspapers.com and Find-a-Grave.  This is a basic, beginner’s introduction to genealogy and will focus on things anyone can do on their own from home or the public library.

A retired librarian, Rebecca’s interest in her family’s history was kindled by watching Who Do You Think You Are? and Finding Your Roots as well as taking a trip to the Midwest where her paternal ancestors were from.  And, of course, like anyone living in SE North Carolina, finding her Civil War ancestor.

ancestryIt helped that her partner, also a retired librarian, had been working on her family history for a number of years and already had a subscription to Ancestry.com.

Rebecca will also recount some of the mistakes she made in the beginning, and how she traced her maternal line all the way back to the sister of King Henry VIII and Robert Stewart, the illegitimate son of King James V of Scotland by a courtier named and Euphemia Elphinstone.

This lively program will include PowerPoint slides, guided computer searches, and personal stories, as well as helpful handouts designed to give people a jump-start at finding their own family history.

For more information contact Rebecca Taylor, Federal Point History Center, 910-458-0502, Rebecca@federal-point-history.org

Oral History: Remembrances of Life on Federal Point, 1940 -1959 (Part 2 of 2)

by:  Howard Hewett,  Jones Creek, TX – October, 2015   (Part 2 of 2)     (Read Part 1)

Cape Fear Lighthouse 1903-1958 Bald Head Island

Cape Fear Lighthouse 1903-1958 Bald Head Island

Winter Time Camping

In 1951, my scout troop, along with our scout master, Chevis Faircloth, liked to use the abandoned ammunition bunkers in the winter as one of our camping locations. I remember it well because on one occasion a yellow jacket bit my ring finger just in front of my new scout ring. Before I could get the ring off, my finger swelled to the point that I could not remove it. It was good the Chevis had a pair of side cutters.  It is reported that someone known as the Fort Fisher Hermit lived in one of the bunkers for 17 years from 1955 to 1972.

Another one of our favorite camping spots in the winter was Silver Lake.  My friend Jimmy Collier’s dad was in real estate. At the time, he had purchased the lake and the land around it. You could get to it by a dirt road. Jimmy’s dad had poured a concrete slab and had built a fireplace a hundred or so yards off from the lake. This made a good camping spot.

I recall Jimmy and I frying chicken on an open fire in the fireplace. We decided to it would be great if we made some milk gravy. I think we had too much oil so we continue to add flour and milk resulting in a semi-brown mixture. It was definitely a learning experience. Our final product was more like glue than gravy, but the chicken was good.

Summertime Camping on Bald Head Island

From time to time, there were camping trips on Bald Head Island. Our scout leader Chevis Faircloth would organize the trip and someone with a large boat would take us to the south side of Corncake Inlet and put us ashore.

Cape Fear Lighthouse - 1914

Cape Fear Lighthouse – 1914

With our camping gear of fishing poles, some staples, very little clothing and jungle hammocks, we hiked about five miles to the general location of the wrought iron and steel frame lighthouse. We set up camp in dense grove of live oaks within 100 yards or so of the lighthouse because, as I can best recall, there was a source of water there. The grove of oaks was thick enough to enable all of us to hang our hammocks. All of our hammocks were surplus purchased at the Army surplus store at Carolina Beach. They were referred to a “jungle hammocks.” I assume most of them were surplus from the Pacific theater.

The hammock could be used with a spreader – two 30” sticks cut from the brush to hold the hammock open – or without the sticks, which allowed the canvas bottom to come up around you. This was all right when it the weather was cool, but on hot summer nights, I preferred the stick spreaders. Attached to the bottom canvas was a four-wall mosquito net.

Once in the hammock, you would zip yourself in, which was needed because of the abundance of mosquitoes on Bald Head Island. Attached to the top of the netting was a tarp like material, which acted as a tent.  It had eight lines that connected to the corners and sides of the tarp. The lines on the ends could be attached above the rope that was holding up the hammock and the other six could be attached to low hanging branches to form a tent over your hammock. This provided good shelter when it rained.

Because of the heavy population of hogs that roamed the island, it was not unusual to have hogs visit the camp at night; it was good to be sleeping above ground. Some nights when it got too hot in the oak grove, we would slip out to the beach and lay at the edge of the water on our back and watch the stars between the flashes of light from the lighthouse. There always seem to be a sea breeze on the point in the direction of Frying-Pan shoals.

We basically had the island to ourselves, other than the wildlife and occasional Coastguard men, the island had no human inhabitants. Our days were spent fishing and exploring.

There was an old lighthouse that stood on the riverside of the island, which as the time was just called “Old Bald Head Lighthouse.” It was covered in a jungle of grape vines and was a little on the spooky side. At this writing, it is referred as “Old Baldy.” On some trips when the grapes were ripe, everyone got their fill of grapes, and, of course, purple hands.

Hurricane Hazel

Hewett North Carolina HomeI was 15 years old when Hurricane Hazel hit the Carolina coast.  Our house exterior was covered in what’s called 105 siding.  Dad had decided to cover it with asbestos shingles, which was a very popular siding. The project was not completed. So the morning the storm hit, we were outside trying to secure the unfinished siding by nailing strips of wood at the top of the last course of shingles.

I recall my mother coming to the window and saying “Curtis, waves are coming over the sand dunes up toward Kure Beach.” Dad quickly gathered up the Hewett-Lewis clan with some provisions and headed through the back roads of Kure Beach to the Ethyl Dow Office complex which was a strong concrete/brick structure and relatively high off the river.

Dad was Ethyl Dow’s supervisor for the facility at that time. Most of the employees who lived on the Atlantic brought their families to the plant along with those who had no place to go. I do not recall how many folks were there, but families were assigned offices as their personal areas. Dad’s office was a nice-sized one with a desk and a drafting table. The drafting table became my bed. The plant lunchroom became gathering place for coffee and a place to visit.

The main concern was to stay away from exterior windows. I remember a couple of things during the height of the storm. While standing in a protected doorway, I saw a heavy piece of corrugated siding come off one of the buildings and fly through the air. It hit a telephone pole and snapped in two. Later in the day, I saw the export dock float off its pilings.

During a lull in the storm, I was allowed to ride with my Dad and others to the building referred as to the seawater intake. Dad wanted to check for flooding in the pump building. Waves were extremely high and were actively breaking in the intake basin and crashing against the outer wall of the building. Needless to say, we did not stay long. By the time we returned to the office building, the wind had started to pick back up.

I do not recall how long we sheltered at the plant, but it was less than 48 hours. When the storm passed, we returned home and observed devastation all around us. Our home was intact, but houses up and down the beach were gone.  Our beloved sand dunes, in front of our house, no longer existed. There was about 5-6 inches of sand covering the yard and debris from houses everywhere. Recovery and getting back to some normalcy took many weeks.

My dad, Howard Curtis Hewett, Sr., and I have had many discussions over the years about what saved our house. It could have been we were just lucky that the debris in the wave action never reached the house.

Hardpan showing after Hurricane Hazel, 1954.

Hardpan showing after Hurricane Hazel, 1954.

The other mitigating factor that may have contributed to the house’s longevity is the geologic formation in front of the house that dad called “hardpan.”

The material appeared to be a mixture of compacted very black sand-clay substance that had a lot of wood in the composition. Rubbing it would turn your hands black.  I do not know how thick the formation was but during some of the Nor’easters or Northeasters, I was aware of as much as four foot of the formation exposed. This formation was three to four foot under the sand.

After Hurricane Hazel, as the Corp of Engineer were pushing sand around on the beach, Dad had several confrontations with them about damaging the hardpan. There should not be any argument about Dad’s position in that the house has been sitting on the Atlantic Ocean for 77 years as of 2015.

Memorable Fishing Trip After Hurricane Hazel

There was a lot of beach damage during Hurricane Hazel. Our beloved beach hill was completely gone. In the weeks that followed, there were many hours of clean-up and repairs.  One weekend, as a reprieve from all the work, Dad suggested we launch the boat in front of the house and travel down to the blockade wrenches out from Fort Fisher.

This particular day the surf was pounding the bar about 35 yards from the beach with 8 to 10 foot breakers. The waves were running across the bar and emptying in a slough that was approximately 15 yards wide. There was very little wave action on the beach side of the slough.  Because of the distance from the house to the blockade-runner wrecks, we attached our 9.9-horse Johnson motor to the boat.

This was a motor that was purchased from surplus, but was in fairly good running condition. It had a large exposed fly-wheel and required a starter rope to start. After all the preparations were completed, we slipped the boat into the water. I was in the stern seated on a 5-gallon bucket operating the motor and Dad was sitting on the middle bench. We ran down the slough under minimum power as Dad watched for a lull in the breakers.

When the opportunity came, Dad said, “Let’s take her to sea.” Having a history with seafaring people, Dad used this term quite often. He used it to make a lot of things active around the water. Another term for putting on the brakes was “throw out the anchor.”

Anyway, we were on plane before we got out of the slough and we were racing across the bar. As we approached the breakers our motor sputtered and quit. Even with a herculean effort the motor would not restart.

We survived the first wave, but the second broke directly into the boat. The force of the wave pushed us back toward the beach, but we did not turn over. Our boat was full of water up to the gunnels. Dad and I jumped out onto the bar and found we were still in four feet of water. The force of the wave was so powerful that it washed Dad’s wallet out of his back pocket. Dad spotted it floating away, but was able to retrieve it by quick action on his part. The slough was somewhat deeper and it was a struggle to get the boat back to the beach.  We later repaired the motor, but we never used it in that application again.

Federal Point Mosquitoes

The mosquitoes that inhabited Federal Point were as vicious as mosquitoes anywhere. The best example that I can relate took place in 1959 while I was a sophomore at Texas Lutheran College. I went back to North Carolina to spend the summer with my grandmother.

Howard Hewett

Howard Hewett

During this summer, I worked for the Bame family. My best friend Howard Knox’s father was married to a daughter of the owner of Bame’s holdings. The holdings consisted of a hotel, three full-service gas stations (one station also served as a grocery store), a building supply store and Barbara Boat Sales.

That summer I worked at two of the stations and helped transport building supplies from Wilmington’s rail-head to Carolina Beach when needed. Because Howard Knox and I grew up together starting in first grade and continuing at Sun Set Park and New Hanover High School, we were paired on the same work shift so we could have our free time together.

To promote the boat sales, we were allowed to take the demonstration boat out water-skiing on our days off. You could ski almost all day on a 5-gallon tank of gas and we did not have to buy the gas. But, thinking back, you could buy a gallon of gas for about the same price as a loaf of bread. Both were less than 20 cents.

We were allowed to use the station’s Jeep after hours so we would often check out all the lovers’ parking spots for people who were stuck in sand, which was not unusual and it was a good way to pick up some extra cash.

Over the years of reading and listening to early narratives of Federal Point, most stories contained stories of mosquitoes.  One quote that has always stood out to me is the appraisal by Cpl. Theodore “Ted” Litwin, 445th AAA Battalion, Camp Davis at Fort Fisher. He stated, “Hell hole! The biggest joke we had going were ‘combat mosquitoes’ that were at the airport.  They pumped 50 gallons of gas in them before they found out it was a mosquito.”

My story just adds to the mosquito lore.

One particular night when the mosquitoes were extremely viscous, Howard Knox and I were checking all the lovers’ parking spots south of the gates at Fort Fisher. We came across a couple’s car that was buried to the axle and the mosquitoes were eating the occupants alive. They did not want to wait for us to pull them out; instead, they wanted us to take them back to Carolina Beach as quickly as possible. We put them in the back of Jeep delivered them to their beach cottage.

Upon arrival, the guy gave us his keys and handed us each a $50 dollar bill to retrieve the car. When a guy pays $100 in 1959 to get away from Federal Point’s mosquitoes, it put some perspective on the comments of the soldiers in the early days of Fort Fisher.

Read Part 1:  Remembrances of Fort Fisher

[Additional resources]
John Moseley – Presents: Fort Fisher in World War II
The Hewett Homes in Fort Fisher, NC – FPHPS -Slide show

Read all Howard Hewett’s Oral History postings on FPHPS


[All photos provided by Howard Hewett – Click any image for more detail]

Backyard Beach Hill before Hazel 1952-53

The Beach Hill in front of Hewett home prior to Hurricane Hazel 1952-53

 

Hardpan sitill showing after Hazel

General location of our front yard beach hill after Hurricane Hazel 1954.  Showing hardpan & some tree stumps.

Definition of Hardpan:
(härd’pān’)

A hard, usually clay-rich layer of soil lying at or just below the ground surface, in which soil particles are cemented together by silica, iron oxide, calcium carbonate, or organic matter that has precipitated from water percolating through the soil.

Hardpan does not soften when exposed to water. Also called caliche.

 

 

Bulldozers pushing sand to form a beach hill. The power pole was behind beach hill prior to Hazel.

Bulldozers pushing sand to form a beach hill. The power pole was behind beach hill prior to Hazel.

Looking north toward the Danner Home (at David Rd); south of the Kure Beach City Limits.

Looking north toward the Danner Home (at Davis Rd); south of the Kure Beach city limits.

Hazel - Looking towards Kure Beach

Hazel -Toward Kure Beach City Limits

Hazel - South Kure City Limits

Hazel – South of Kure Beach city limits