Society Notes – January 2016

Darlene Bright, History Center Director

  • The History Center recorded 40 visitors in December.
  • We had 41 in attendance at the wonderful Christmas potluck.
  • The gift shop took in $43.96 in December.
  • The History Center was used by Got-Em-On Live Bait Fishing Club and the UDC for their monthly meetings.


  • Don’t forget! If you take a trip with Wilmington Water Tours, please tell them you are a member of FPHPS! If you do, we get a portion of your ticket price. Call us 910-458-0502 or them 910-338-3134.


  • The Carolina Beach Walk of Fame Committee has selected 4 people to be inducted on January 30, 2016. The unveiling ceremony will be held at 2 p.m. at Carolina Beach Lake. This program recognizes people who have made a tangible and lasting contribution to the Town of Carolina Beach through their outstanding leadership and service.


Holiday Potluck – December 14, 2015

Remember. We start the potluck at 6:30 PMPOTLUCK LOGO

One week early due to Christmas, one hour early, too!

The Federal Point Historic Preservation Society will hold its annual holiday potluck on Monday, December 14 at 6:30 pm. This year we will be back at the History Center as it’s a lot easier for the hospitality committee. Please join us for food, fun and festivities.

Joining the festivities will be John Golden and his magic guitar as well as Jay and Deborah Hockenbury. Please feel free to bring family and friends to this cozy community get-together.


Brooks Newton Preik: River Pilots of the Cape Fear River

by Nancy Gadzuk

Brooks Newton Preik 11-16-15Brooks Newton Preik spoke on River Pilots of the Cape Fear River at the monthly open meeting of the History Center on Monday, November 16, 2015.

Two of Brooks’ great-grandfathers were river pilots, one operating out of Southport and one out of Federal Point.

By the time Brooks was born, though, the family seafaring bent was gone. Her father was an accountant, and his closest encounter with the sea was walking along the water in Charleston to get to his office at the end of the dock.

Haunted WilmingtonThen Brooks heard a ghost story that piqued her interest in her great-grandfathers and the other river pilots. It was “a dark and stormy night” when the little open dory went out to sea, and Mary Stuart kept the fire going all night in Southport, hoping her son would soon be home safe.

Finally she heard footsteps coming up the front walk and she saw her son walk in, soaking wet. He walked to the fireplace and she heard the sizzle as he spit his tobacco wad into the fire. She walked over to hug him. But as she reached out her arms to him, he vanished into thin air. She knew then that the ship had gone down and her son, Thomas Bensel, was dead. Thomas Bensel was Brooks’ great-grandfather.

What would possess a man to take a small boat with four men out on a stormy night in hopes of catching the job of river pilot? It was dangerous: the only way to get from the small craft into the larger vessel was by climbing a tall, swinging ladder up to the ship’s deck. And on a dark and stormy night… Why would anyone do that?

Money. River pilots were paid very well—$200 a trip to guide a ship up the treacherous Cape Fear River to Wilmington, which had the rail lines Southport lacked to transport goods inland.

In Charge - River PilotsThe rule of the sea was this: the first river pilot to board a ship got the job. In 1860, there were 24 active pilots in Southport with its population of 700. Competition was stiff and river pilots would go far out to sea in search of a ship to pilot up the Cape Fear River.

Brooks Preik - TitleDuring the Civil War, river pilots became the last lifeline of the Confederacy, serving as blockade runners and carrying needed supplies.

These pilots influenced the design of new ships, since the blockade runners needed to be fast, low in the water, and impenetrable to outrun the Union navy.

The blockade runners carried cotton to Nassau and returned with arms and guns, and were often paid as much as $5000 for a run.

The success of these blockade runners to bring supplies enabled the Confederacy to hold their ground and thus prolong the course of the war.

The sea did not become less dangerous after the war ended. Thomas Bensel’s boat went down in 1872, and the Mary K. Sprunt sank in 1877. The Pilots’ Memorial in Southport is dedicated to the ten pilots of the two boats, “who in the faithful discharge of their duty were suddenly called to meet their God.”

The wind and the sea sing their requiem and shall forevermore.


Pilots of the Cape Fear River – Brooks Newton Preik

brooks Newton Preik #2

Brooks Newton Preik

The Federal Point Historic Preservation Society will hold its monthly meeting on Monday, November 16, 7:30 pm at the Federal Point History Center, 1121-A North Lake Park Blvd., adjacent to Carolina Beach Town Hall.

Author and historian Brooks Newton Preik is our November speaker. Her topic will be the River Pilots of the Cape Fear River.

From the plight of the European explorers of the 1600’s whose ships foundered on Frying Pan Shoals, to the Union naval officers outsmarted by the elusiveness of the Confederate Blockade Runners, to present-day seamen with their sophisticated, electronic, navigational equipment, one truth has remained the same: no ship’s captain with any sense at all would risk taking his ship through the treacherous waters of Cape Fear without the aid of an experienced local pilot to guide it.

Southport Pilot Station

Southport Pilot Station

The history of this always small group of talented, intrepid men who braved the shifting shoals and shallows of Cape Fear to guide ships safely through its waters is the stuff of legends.

Descended from a host of these courageous pilots, Brooks Preik will share with us some of the tales of their exploits, the dangers they faced and their unique legacy which has shaped the history of this region. Stories of shipwrecks, pirates, adventurers and even a few ghosts are among the stories Brooks will tell.

Born and raised in Southport, Brooks Preik has been a resident of Wilmington for more than 40 years. Some of her earliest ancestors are buried in the Newton Cemetery at Federal Point. She is a graduate of St. Mary’s Junior College in Raleigh and the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. For 10 years she was an elementary school teacher and following that, for the next 35 years, she was a real estate broker.

Brooks began her writing career in 1993 when she co-authored a guidebook to the area entitled What Locals Know about Wilmington and Its Beaches. Her collection of “true” ghost stories, Haunted Wilmington and the Cape Fear Coast, published in 1995 by Banks Channel Books, is now in its sixth printing and she has published more than 80 freelance articles in regional magazines since that time.

She has shared her love of local history and her stories with countless numbers of area school groups, civic clubs, UNCW sponsored events, and various community organizations.

Back in March 1998, Brooks did a presentation about John W. Harper at a monthly meeting at the Federal Point History Center.

Copies of Haunted Wilmington will be available for purchase and signing by the author.


Tales of Old Wilmington – John Hirchak

John Hirchek

John Hirchak

The Federal Point Historic Preservation Society will hold its monthly meeting on Monday, October 19, 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 writer John Hirchak, whose two books, Ghosts of Old Wilmington and Legends of Old Wilmington and Cape Fear present stories, legends and tales of our area’s “shadow” past.

Writing with wit and style, John calls upon years of experience as the owner and lead guide for the “Ghost Walk of Old Wilmington” to lead his readers on a journey down back alleys and docksides, stopping at various points along the way to listen to the lingering whispers of generations long-dead.

HircGhosts of Old Wilmington - John Hirchakhak’s experience adds a refreshingly unique twist to his writing. Through his words readers will not only feel the hairs rising on their necks, but can also enjoy a laugh as Hirchak reveals some comical reactions many of his guests have had.

When asked how the Ghost Walk began, John says, “It was the beach that first brought my wife, Kim Hirchak, to Wilmington in 1978. But it was her interest in the paranormal that led her to the banks of the Cape Fear River into the heart of the Historic District.

Since then she has amassed a heap of notes on the various ghosts that haunt the Port City. So in 1996, when she first brought up the idea of starting a Ghost Walk, it seemed like the logical progression to one of her driving passions. Apparently, I responded with an encouraging word.

My function was to do historical research (though I want to stress, I am no historian), to write the scripts and to market the tour. She was to do all the rest. As fate would have it, she broke her Legends of Old Wilmington - John Hirchakleg the first week into the tour, and turned to me. After a day of pleading, she convinced me that after 300 rewrites I knew the material well enough to do the tour and I relented. But only until her bones healed!”

“And so over the years I have become the face of the Ghost Walk of Old Wilmington and the Haunted Pub Crawl. Kim recognized that the day to day tedium of the business better suited my strengths than hers, and that sums up the business acumen of my wife. She knows how to make things work and is willing to give up control to get things done. But in the end, this is her baby! It always has been and always will be.”

“My follow up book, Legends of Old Wilmington & Cape Fear, was published in 2014. The book is a collection of stories from our since retired Unusual Tales of Old Wilmington walking tour, and The Pirates of the Cape Fear tour.”




Special Event “Memories of Old Fort Fisher”

Howard Hewett

Howard Hewett

– with Howard Hewett and Friends

Monday,  November 2, 7:30 pm

Mark your calendar now! Howard Hewett will be visiting from Texas and will present a program on his memories of Federal Point on Monday November 2, here at the History Center at 7:30 pm.

We’ve been featuring his stories in past Newsletters and all his writings can be read on our website  – Click here

Now you get to ask him questions, or to elaborate about things he’s written.

This is going to be a very special program which is, of course, free and open to the general public so bring the whole family.


John Moseley – Presents Fort Fisher in World War II

John Moseley - Sept-21-2015John Moseley, Assistant Site Manager at the Fort Fisher Historic Site and History Center Board member, spoke on World War II and Fort Fisher at the regular monthly meeting of the History Center on Monday, September 21, 2015.

He started by explaining how Fort Fisher came to be a World War II base. President Roosevelt wanted military installations built where artillery shells could be fired and no one would hear them or be injured by a bad aim. Eastern North Carolina was determined to be the promised land, or at least sufficiently in the middle of nowhere, for such installations.

World War II - Fort FisherSo in 1940, Holly Ridge, with 7 houses and a population of 28, was transformed from a fuel stop for the Atlantic Coastline Railroad into Camp Davis, an anti-aircraft artillery training center that would house 110,000 people by 1943, at the cost of $40 million.

Fort Fisher, 50 miles to the south, became the primary firing range for Camp Davis. Because of the distance between the two, Fort Fisher had to be a self-sufficient base. Although Fort Fisher was critical historically because of its role in the Civil War, in 1940 national defense took precedence over historic preservation.

Building the 'New' Fort FisherFort Fisher was transformed into a tent city, with over 300 tent frames, 48 buildings, mess halls, showers, infirmary, photo lab, radio and meteorological stations, as well as an airstrip running through the middle of the Fort.

Many of the soldiers arriving at Fort Fisher for their weapons training rotations came from the Midwest, and they had to adjust to a new and challenging environment: the barracks were very small, and the mosquitoes were very large.

One soldier described Fort Fisher as “a quagmire of sand, sand, and more sand.” Some complained about the unfamiliar food: clams, fried shrimp, oyster stew.

Fort Fisher Morale BoostersStill, many men enjoyed the beach and ocean, with reports of sunburn and even surfing attempts using government-issued mattresses. There were sports teams, and Fort Fisher had a canine camp mascot named Queenie.

Eventually an indoor movie theater was built for the troops, to the dismay of the local mosquitoes which had enjoyed the original outdoor theater far more than the soldiers had.

Artillery training took place along and above the beaches, much as it had during the Civil War.

The Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) became a critical part of the weapons training as they piloted planes towing aerial target sleeves for the artillery trainees to shoot at. WASPs had to fly every type of aircraft in this role, and also conduct radar deception and tracking missions.

At least 43 anti-aircraft battalions trained at Fort Fisher before heading to battle in Europe and the Pacific.

Before they left, many of those men sent home sweetheart pillows like the beet red satin pillow John shared with the audience near the end of his presentation.

These pillows were popular during World War II, sent to loved ones by young men as a remembrance, along with the fervent hope they would eventually return home safe and reasonably sound.

Fort Fisher Sweetheart Pillow

Fort Fisher Sweetheart Pillow

That someone’s thoughts go where you go
That someone never can forget
The hours we spent since first we met
That life is richer sweeter far
For such a sweetheart as you are
And now my constant prayer will be
That God may keep you safe for me.

~ United States Army, Fort Fisher, North Carolina



Fort Fisher in World War II – John Moseley

john moseleyThe Federal Point Historic Preservation Society will hold its monthly meeting on Monday, September 21, 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 John Moseley, Assistant Site Manager of the Fort Fisher State Historic Site. John’s talk will be on the role Fort Fisher played during World War II.

Though most locals have a general idea of just how important Fort Fisher was to the Confederacy, few know how vital the site was in training men for anti-aircraft artillery.

Original specifications called for a host of features that would make the remote firing range a self-contained post.

These included 48 frame buildings, 316 tent frames, showers and latrines, mess halls, warehouses, radio and meteorological stations, a post exchange, photo lab, recreation hall, outdoor theater, guardhouse, infirmary, and an administration building.

In addition to these facilities, the site featured a 10,000-gallon water storage tank, a motor pool, a large parade ground, and three steel observation towers along the beach.

The main highway in the area, U.S. 421, bisected the sandy ruins of the land in front of historic Fort Fisher. New firing ww2-machineguninstallations were erected along the beach between the highway and the Atlantic Ocean — not unlike Fort Fisher’s ocean-side batteries during the Civil War. These included, among others, batteries of 40-millimeter automatic cannons and 50-caliber machine guns.

In addition, the site’s utilities, living quarters, and other features sprang up west of the shore installations between the highway and the Cape Fear River.

The area surrounding the old Civil War fort was soon dotted with the trappings of a modern military facility and expansion would continue throughout its tenure as a firing range.

Fort Fisher lacked the elaborate recreational facilities found at Camp Davis, but by the Spring of 1943 it boasted a full schedule of activities.

Fort Fisher- WWIIIn August, 1943 the new post theater opened with a screening of Stormy Weather starring Lena Horne. There were also plays and musical variety shows, most of which were performed by the soldiers themselves.

Professional performances sponsored by the United Services Organization (USO) were an added treat, and were often joined by “home grown” talent — including the Fort Fisher Swing Band and other groups.

Many of the post’s trainees were from interior regions of the United States and had never before seen a beach — let alone tried to live near one.

The adjustment was difficult and more than a few soldiers balked at the notion of dining on fried clams and oysters.

To acclimate the men to their new environment, the post offered swimming lessons, advice on how to avoid sunburn, and beach safety instructions.



Society Notes – September, 2015

Darlene Bright, History Center Director

The History Center recorded 42 visitors in August. We had 45 in attendance at the August meeting. The gift shop took in $111.40 in August. The History Center was used by Got-‘em-on Live Bait Fishing Club.

Please welcome new members Hugo and Phyllis Thomas of Wilmington, D. and Marilyn Scaringi of Carolina Beach and Emily and Cole Fisher of Kernersville.  Also, thanks to Dr. Swing at Brush Dental Care for supporting our work with a new business membership.

And don’t forget! If you take a trip with Wilmington Water Tours please tell them you are a member of FPHPS!  If you mention us, we get a portion of your ticket price. Call us 458-0502 or them 338-3134.

Rebecca would like to give a huge THANKS to the steadfast History Center volunteers who pitched in so Rebecca could be away for two weeks in August.  Cheri McNeill, Ron Griffin, Elaine Henson, Demetria Sapienza, Pat Bolander Jeannie Gordon, and Sylvia Snook all worked to keep the History Center open for our summer visitors.  


Committees – WOWZA!committee-300x234

New Committee Leaders Step Up

The following committees now have leadership. If you would like to join any of these committees PLEASE call the leader listed or call Rebecca and she’ll get the word to them.

Hospitality: Cheri McNeill

Plaque: Elaine Henson and Darlene Bright

Membership: Tony Phillips

Oral History: Jean Stewart and Tony Phillips

Still Nobody for Fundraising

FP History Center

Federal Point History Center

Upcoming Programs

Monday, October 19, 2015; Membership Meeting. 7:30-9:00 pm.  Author John Hirchak will join us for a “seasonal program” based on his book, Ghosts of Old Wilmington.

SPECIAL EVENT! Monday, November 2, 2015; 7:30-9:00 pm. “Growing up at Fort Fisher” featuring Howard Hewett who will share his memories of his family’s Federal Point heritage.

Monday, November 16, 2015; Membership Meeting. 7:30-9:00 pm. Author, historian and descendant of the Newton family, Brooks Newton Preik will talk about the “Fearless Pilots of the Cape Fear River.”

Monday, December 14, 2015; (one week early due to Holidays) Christmas Potluck. 6:30-9:00. Join us for our annual celebration. Why not bring a friend?


Susie Burnett Jones Remembers

[Editor:  8/6/15 – August, 2015 Wrightsville Magazine featured: ‘Gilbert’s Sno-balls by Gil Burnett as told by Henry Burnett. 

“Let’s go back 70-some years to the Great Depression.  Let’s go to 1937. Carolina Beach.  I was 12 years old, and I was a carnival boy.”

It’s a great article about surviving on the Carolina Beach boardwalk.]


In Feb, 2014, we ran an excerpt from John Hook’s interview of Jim Hannah.  In reply Susie Burnett Jones has sent the following:

My father, John Henry Burnett of Burgaw, began investing in Carolina Beach in 1911; and in 1936 he built a six-bedroom cottage at 404 Carolina Beach Ave, North.

Until World War II the beach had two distinct groups of people: the summer folks and the year round residents, of which there were very few. At that time those living at the beach year round included business owners and their employees, commercial fishermen (the Freemans and the Winners) and those associated with the church and the elementary school. We were summer folks, and, like many others, moved to the beach in May of every year and returned home in late August. Of course, many rented houses or rooms, usually for two weeks, as we did before building our cottage.

Ocean Plaza - 1940s


In the 1930’s downtown Carolina Beach, referred to as “the boardwalk,” was an entertainment mecca for young people throughout the Piedmont and Eastern North Carolina.

Cliff Smith’s Green Lantern, and the Carolina Moon next door, were known throughout the state as the “places to be” for young dancers and “wannabes.” The Big Apple, the Little Apple and the Jitterbug kept their wooden floors red-hot every summer night.

There was little or no crime. High school and college boys were allowed to “thumb” down by their parents, sleeping anywhere they could. All was well.

On Sept. 19, 1940 the boardwalk burned to the ground. The original pavilion and good solid beach-front hang-outs were replaced by small, poorly constructed buildings.

Pearl Harbor brought the end of an era. Soldiers and sailors from around the world now crowded the boardwalk mingling with shipyard workers, military police, summer visitors and permanent residents. Beer was bought and sold in every nook and cranny. The war changed the atmosphere of our wonderful family beach, where formerly beer had been only mildly visible after dark.

After the war Mr. Gene Reynolds from Greensboro built the Ocean Plaza building on a location where he owned outside bowling alleys. The new building was modern and glamorous. Mr. Reynolds’s objective was to re-create a more sophisticated beach environment. The restaurant was on the ground floor. The second floor was a ballroom with several sets of French doors opening onto a long balcony over-looking the boardwalk. The third floor was a penthouse apartment for the use of the manager. During the time that the Ocean Plaza was under construction, I was away in college.

In the early spring of 1949 I heard that the Ocean Plaza ballroom had a new manager, a radio personality from Wallace, John (?). He was auditioning for a vocalist to sing with the band he had hired for the summer, that was made up of musicians from the Duke Ambassadors and the Stormy Weathers of UNC.

'Stormy Weather' at Ocean Plaza

Click for Larger Image

The band would be called Stormy Weathers because the Weathers brothers, Jimmy on piano and Bynum on bass, were the leaders.

I had planned to spend the summer at Daddy’s house at the beach and having sung with several bands, decided to audition for the Ocean Plaza job. I knew that Daddy would keep an eye on me whatever I did.

I owned a wire recorder for recording and critiquing my singing, so I sent a spool with recordings for my songs to John. Shortly thereafter he called me to come to the beach for an interview. He lived on the third floor penthouse of the Ocean Plaza, and had a relatively new wife from Waccamaw. Their living room was furnished with glamorous white sectional sofas. His wife was lovely and refined. He told me that he wanted to hire a vocalist with whom she would be compatible.

Competing with Wrightsville Beach for summer vacationers and college kids, John’s goal was to make the Ocean Plaza ballroom a sophisticated club in which men would wear coats and ties or dinner jackets and women would wear cocktail dresses. All employees would be music students recruited by his wife’s brother, David Grey, a music major from UNC.

Everyone hired was musical … the waiters, bartenders, ticket handlers, etc. Waiters would take turns coming up to the mike to sing. I was the vocalist and the only girl. The job was tailor-made for summer fun and meaningful summer work. Everything went like clockwork. We were all happy college kids and most of us hung out all day on the beach in front of the Burnett cottage under Daddy’s supervision, and were surrounded by music at night. Utopia!

About a week after opening we were booked to be guests on John’s radio show in Wallace. Jimmy Weathers, who was slow and easy-going, was driving one of three cars full of musicians. We got started late and almost missed the 2 p.m. broadcast, running into the station just before the red “on the air” light came on. I don’t remember the program, except that one of the songs I sang was “Zippity Doo Dah.”

Late Saturday on the second week of our employment the boys in the band went up to the penthouse to receive their checks. No one was there. The next day it became apparent that John had skipped town with his wife. No one knew why, or anything about their whereabouts. It’s still a mystery.

What a dilemma. We all huddled on Sunday afternoon. No one wanted to leave the beach, but there was no money to keep the Ocean Plaza operating. After agonizing for hours some decided to leave. The rest of us determined that we would take over the Ocean Plaza Ballroom and run it ourselves for the rest of the summer.

There were eight in the band, four singing waiters, a bartender, a box office person and me. We served only soft drinks and grilled cheese sandwiches. I was the vocalist and also managed the business. From our receipts we first paid the rent and our few bills and then divided the balance among ourselves. Everything was in cash. We were successful.

Bop City featuring, Jimmy Cavallo, was across the boardwalk, its entrance about 50 feet from the front door of the Ocean Plaza. The two very different types of music came together like cymbals. … Jimmy Cavallo’s saxophone on “How High the Moon” and the Stormy Weathers “You’re Just too Marvelous” with the full band. Bobby Haas and a couple of others played at both places. Tommy Teabeaux and his trombone came by the Ocean Plaza one night and joined the Stormy Weathers for several numbers.

The ballroom closed at midnight when we would lock the door and jam for another hour. Daddy kept a close eye on us all, and in August we all went back to our respective schools, leaving the pinnacle season in the Ocean Plaza ballroom’s history. Every person involved says to this day that it was the greatest summer of their lives.

When the Moon Stood Still

Click: Book Description

PS:   Milton Bliss, a singing waiter, became head of the Music Department at NC State. Jimmy Weathers became a professional pianist in Atlanta, and on one occasion was complimented on his playing by Frank Sinatra. Bynum Weathers got his PhD and became a teacher and composer. I went to New York where I performed in and sang two solos in the off-Broadway musical “Dakota.”

 [Want to read more of Susie’s stories about the “good old days?” Our gift shop has copies of her book When the Moon Stood Still for sale. Published in 2003 it is $25.00 and we only have a few copies left.]