From King’s Highway to US 421 – Roads to Federal Point, NC

Part V:  “Fort Fisher to Chicago.”

By: Rebecca Taylor

 

In December, 1927, the Federal Point Road, commonly called Carolina Beach Road, by then, was officially transferred to the State of North Carolina. It seems a little strange that it was the Wilmington City Commissioners who signed the official document, but in those days the City Council was far more powerful than the County government. “Wilmington City Commissioners, by a two to one vote, agreed to sign the “waiver” contract whereby the State Highway Commission was to take over and maintain the Carolina Beach Road, relieving the County authorities of the annual maintenance cost of $10,000 or more.  Motion to this effect was offered by Commissioner J.E.L. Wade and seconded by Commissioner J.E. Thompson.  Mayor Blair had voted “No” but signed the contract under protest. WILM.STAR, 12-29-1927.

By August of  1928, the State Highway Commission had awarded a contract to West Construction Company for building the new highway to Carolina Beach.  The estimated cost was $199,244 and construction was set to start around October 1. It was promised that the beach road would be completed by early Spring of 1929, and would be available for the summer season of 1929 at the beaches. Can you imagine road construction moving so fast today?

By December of 1928, construction was underway and the Wilmington Star reported that the hard surfaced road was now completed as far as Keyes’ Store.  “The highway was to be maintained by the State Highway Commission and will be known as a continuation of N.C. Route 40, which extends from the Virginia line to Wilmington. The new road was of sand asphalt construction with a width of 16 feet.  The old highway to Carolina Beach was worn down considerably by heavy traffic.  The new highway was to be opened well in advance of the 1929 season at the beaches. WILM.STAR, 12-2-1928.

It didn’t remain NC Route 40 for long. By the late 1920s, the Federal government was designating “inter-state” highways and by 1931, the designation US Highway 421, appears on maps running from Winston-Salem to Boone on highway maps.  In 1936, US 421 was officially extended south from Wilmington to Carolina Beach, Kure Beach, and Fort Fisher, replacing NC 40.  However, through most of the 30s and 40s, the section south of Wilmington was called “The Coast Highway.”

By the late 1950s, the road from Wilmington to “The Beaches” had become notorious for traffic congestion, serious accidents and the Snow’s Cut swing bridge was becoming a bottleneck during tourist season. The Wilmington Chamber of Commerce and local tourism leaders began to campaign for the bridge to be replaced and the highway straightened and widened. In 1963, today’s “high rise” bridge over Snow’s Cut was opened and plans proceeded to widen the highway all the way from Wilmington to Carolina Beach.

Today, US 421, runs from the boat launch at the Rocks, below Fort Fisher to Michigan City, Indiana.

From Boone, NC it runs through a significant amount of the Appalachian Mountains in North Carolina, Tennessee, and Kentucky.

Instead of from Wilmington to Barstow, CA on I-40, what an interesting drive through time that would be.

From King’s Highway to US 421 Roads to Federal Point, NC

Part IV:  “Who built the Fort Fisher Pillars”

By: Rebecca Taylor

Louis T. Moore Collection – NHCPL

Who built the Fort Fisher Pillars?  That’s actually something of a mystery.  I’ve spent a good deal of time looking for that answer and haven’t found a definitive historical answer, yet.  In the photo above, from the Louis T. Moore collection at the New Hanover County Public Library, we do know that they date from the early 1930’s.

Moore, a descendant of the Moore family that settled Brunswick Town in the 1700s, and built Orton Plantation, was a life-long promoter of the Lower Cape Fear.  Trained as a journalist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he was appointed executive secretary of the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce in 1921. An avid photographer, he took wide angle photographs throughout New Hanover County in the 1920s and 1930s.

Louis T. Moore

Over 1,000 of his photos can be accessed online from the New Hanover County Public Library by simply typing “Louis T Moore” into google or accessing it at: https://cdm16072.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p15169coll6.

Moore was a consummate promoter of North Carolina tourism, especially local roads and historic sties and took many pictures in the Fort Fisher area. He even had a photo he took of a shipwreck still visible on the beach near the ruins of the old fort published in a New York newspaper.

Newspaper records show that plans to extend a hard surfaced road as far as Fort Fisher were in the works as early as 1920:  

August 27, 1920. The county commissioners were making plans for the widening of the road leading to Carolina Beach, and the paving of the road beyond as far as Fort Fisher.  They planned to widen the road on each side of the highway about 3 feet and pave this with rock and tarvia surface.  From the end of the Carolina Beach road it was proposed to lay a hard surface as far as Fort Fisher, thus enabling tourists to have easy access to one of the most historical spots in the South.  The rock for the road could be found in large quantities nearby.  There was a seam of rock starting in Brunswick county, which ended up in the ocean and it was from this seam that the commissioners intended to get their road rock. WILM.DISPATCH, 8-27-1920”

By 1925, the Wilmington Star was reporting that the road to Fort Fisher was nearly finished. “September 21, 1925, Addison Hewlett, Sr., chairman of the New Hanover Board of County Commissioners, forecast that tourists next summer will be able to reach historic Fort Fisher and the beaches over hard surfaced roads.  Work was to begin during the winter allowing ample time for completion before the opening of Wilmington and Fort Fisher beaches next summer.   WILM.STAR, 9-22-1925.”

News and Observer – June 1, 1932

There is considerable documentation in local newspapers and in the United Daughters of the Confederacy records on the dedication of the Confederate monument at Fort Fisher in the summer of 1932. However, an exhaustive search of those materials has so far turned up nothing about the building of the pillars on the road.

Research has uncovered the fact that the land that contained the remnants of the old Civil War fort was owned by Thomas and Louis Orrell at the time the monument was built as there is a newspaper record of them donating land for the monument to the North Carolina District United Daughters of the Confederacy. The Orrell brothers owned the land around Fort Fisher until the 1960’s and at a number of times during that period considered developing a beach resort. A number of local historians have speculated that they had the “pillars” built to mark their planned community, however, we have found no actual documentation of this theory.

An oral history interview that Elaine Henson conducted with Punky Kure this summer did turn up some interesting additional  information.

He recalls going to the dedication for the UDC Monument (June 2, 1932) with his parents and Walters’ cousins before they were there. The Kure Beach Land Development property ended at the Fort Fisher property marked by the pillars.

He believes that they were built long after Louis and Thomas Orrell bought the property. He does remember that there was a gate between the pillars and a fence on either side that went from the ocean to the river.  The Orrell brothers had cows and pigs and wanted to keep them contained.  Walter Winner was the caretaker of the property and had his home there near the monument.

And so, after extensive research on the UDC Monument and the Orrell brothers at the New Hanover County Public Library and the Cape Fear Museum, as well as talking to a number of locals including Howard Hewett, whose family lived below Kure Beach, and Jay Winner, whose father worked for the Orrells we are pretty much left to go by the amazingly clear memories of Punky Kure. For now, the best we can say is that “we think they were built by Thomas and Louis Orrell sometime in the 1930’s.

 

From King’s Highway to US 421 Part IV “The Railroad “Trolley” That Never Was”

By: Rebecca Taylor

In the 1880’s, while Captain Harper was bringing hundreds of people to the new resort of Carolina Beach by steamship from the docks in downtown Wilmington, another beach was being developed. In 1888, the Wilmington Sea Coast Railroad, under president William Latimer, built a rail line from Wilmington to Ocean View Beach, (now know as Wrightsville Beach) as far as the Island Beach Hotel, on what we now call Harbor Island.  A year later a second rail line was built that extended the line onto the barrier island as far as the Breeze Hotel.

Then in 1902, Hugh MacRae, owner of the Wilmington Gas Light Company, as well as the Wilmington Street Railway Company, bought the two smaller lines. He converted the steam trains to electric trolleys and extended the line all the way to the Carolina Yacht Club. Popular from the start, by July 4th of 1910, the “beach cars” carried 10,000 people to Wrightsville Beach.

Determined not to be left behind, the developers of the beaches on the southern end of New Hanover County, on Federal Point, were determined to add rail access to the resorts of Carolina Beach, Wilmington Beach, and Fort Fisher Sea Beach as well. As early as 1891, an article ran in the Wilmington Weekly Star stating that the Fort Fisher Land and Improvement Company was surveying land to run rail lines all the way to Fort Fisher. For unknown reasons that plan never came to fruition.

“The Carolina Beach Railway Company was organized and chartered for the purpose of building a Railway linking Carolina Beach with Wilmington. Many of the leading business men in this section, men who are on the ground and know conditions, have become interested in the project.”

Then in the early 1920’s, another developer stepped in, determined to build the long talked about rail line. The Carolina Beach Railway Company received a charter from the North Carolina General Assembly and began making plans for a line that would run from Sunset Park,  the “new” suburb on the South side of Wilmington, to the booming resort of Carolina Beach.

A state-wide campaign to raise funds by selling stock was conducted in 1920. Among the public relations promises were:

 “Sentiment in the community is wholly with the Carolina Beach Railway Company.  Expressions of approval are heard on every hand because it is realized that a mainland beach, easily accessible by Trolley, is the one thing lacking in the community, and in North Carolina. The accomplishment of this will naturally turn everyone towards Carolina Beach because it will be much safer than any other resort on the South Atlantic coast.”

Always ready to take a dig at Wrightsville Beach, the company’s publicity also stated: “The absence of rivers, creeks and bays is explained by its distance from the neighboring inlets. Consequently, the treacherous undertow and currents that take their annual toll from bathers are entirely missing at this Resort.

Among the officers of the new company were P.Q. Moore, the then serving mayor of Wilmington and John D. Bellamy who had served as congressman for the area and was general council for the Seaboard Air Line Railway. Also listed is Secretary and Manager was A. W. Pate, the owner of the New Hanover Transit Company as well as the Greystone Inn.

It’s hard to find out exactly what happened to the plan. There is a report in the newspaper that they had begun clearing land for the roadway in early 1921. However, by July of 1921, a stock salesman named J. P. Lindsey was suing Pate and the Company for $15,000 claiming he had a contract for a 15% share in stock in the company and 15% of the front lots at Carolina Beach.

After that all publicity for the railroad disappears, and by 1929, the promotional publicity for Carolina highlights the fact that you can reach the beach by automobile via. “asphalt road.”

 

From Kings Highway to US 421

By: Rebecca Taylor

Roads to Federal Point, NC – Part III:  

“Cars come to the Beach”

 

After the Civil War, in Southeastern North Carolina, roads remained primitive. The trip to communities like Federal Point remained along treacherous sandy tracks and the drive from Wilmington via horse or mule drawn wagon was long and often unpleasant. Therefore, the Cape Fear River remained the primary “highway” between local communities, as it had been for several centuries. Then in the mid 1880s, Captain John Harper, who delivered mail, merchandise, and passengers by steamship daily from Wilmington to Southport, began dropping people off at the local landmark, “Sugar Loaf,” on the eastern side of the river. From there, fishermen and eventually “sea bathers” hiked across the peninsula to the ocean-side. But, in summer it was a long, hot and buggy walk to and from the beach.

It didn’t take long for Captain Harper to realize the potential that existed in this quiet backwater of southern New Hanover County. In January of 1887, the Wilmington Star reported that,  The Carolina Beach Company, recently formed, had begun work on a railroad which was to run from near Sugar Loaf, about 13 miles below Wilmington on the Cape Fear River, across the peninsula to the Atlantic coast, near the head of Myrtle Grove Sound… The iron rails have already been purchased and the rolling stock provided.  The railroad work was to be completed in about two months, and the line was not to be more than two miles in length. At the terminus of the railroad on the ocean side will be put in perfect order and a “playground” will be furnished for the excursionists where they can go and enjoy themselves.” And so, the seaside resort of Carolina Beach was founded.*

Then in 1908, Henry Ford revolutionized the world with the Model T. Suddenly the automobile was available to the American middle class at an affordable price. After twenty years, people with the means to visit the bustling resort of Carolina Beach, suddenly had a way to get there without having to rely on Captain Harper’s steamship schedule.

 

March 3, 1909        CAROLINA BEACH

Mr. Walter Sprunt made a trip to Carolina Beach in his Maxwell automobile and it was stated that this was the first touring car to reach that point. WILMINGTON  DISPATCH,  3-4-1909.

 

By 1910, the local citizens of the Federal Point area were holding a “Good Roads Rally” calling for better roads to be built by New Hanover County. Amazingly, by, “March 1915, the contractor had his convicts at work on the new road at Carolina Beach, the 7 ½ miles between the “Loop” road and the beach.”

 On July 7, 1916, the Wilmington Dispatch reported, “Last Sunday there were about 50 machines (automobiles) visiting the Beach, coming down the excellent new Carolina Beach Road. When the Boulevard at Carolina Beach is completed in the near future, this will be one of the prettiest drives in the county.”

Unfortunately, not every resident of Federal Point was happy about the new “infernal contraptions.” On June 28, 1917, the Wilmington Dispatch reported, “Councilman James M. Hall and his little son, Thomas Gray Hall, were attacked by an enraged bull as they made their way to ‘The Rocks’ at the lower end of Federal Point.  The Wilmington Councilman was on his way to visit a party of campers at “The Rocks,” when at a point below Carolina Beach a herd of cattle was encountered and a bull was enraged by the sight of the automobile.  Councilman Hall opened the throttle and soon left the mad animal behind. WILM. DISPATCH, 6-28-1917

In May of 1922, the Wilmington Dispatch reported, “By actual count, 584 automobiles were parked at Carolina Beach when the pavilion being organized by the Ocean Beach Company, under the management of Lem Davis, opened for the season.

And, by 1925, the promoters of the resort could say, “The formal opening of Carolina Beach, “the beach you can reach by automobile,” featured an opening dance in the remodeled pavilion with music by the “Southern Collegians,” of the University of North Carolina.  Flashlight pictures of the dancers and the crowd in the pavilion were taken, with the view of preserving these to mark the new era of prosperity for Carolina Beach.” 

*Always a visionary, Captain Harper sold 200 acres of his land holdings at Carolina Beach in 1912 to the Southern Realty and Development Company for $30,000. He agreed to continue steamship service to the beach for two years.

 

From King’s Road to US 421 — Roads to Federal Point, NC

Part II

By: Rebecca Taylor

We know that the first road to the Federal Point area was the “King’s Road,” with its colonial ferry to Brunswick Town on the western bank of the Cape Fear River which was in existence by the mid 1700s. However it would be a long and sometimes twisting path until the area was truly connected to the state and national highway system in the twentieth century. Some of the early attempts at road building in the lower portion of New Hanover County are documented in the Bill Reaves Files, as follows.

December 18, 1874:

A bill was introduced in the State House at Raleigh to incorporate the Wilmington and Federal Point Plank Road. WILM.STAR 10-20-1874

 January 7, 1878:

Henry G. Davis resigned as overseer of the Federal Point Road, and W. H. Williams was appointed to the position at a meeting of the New Hanover County Commissioners.   WILM.STAR, 1-8-1878.

 March 3, 1896 :

The appropriation for a public road in Federal and Masonboro Townships was reconsidered, and on motion $500 was appropriated for the road known as the “New Federal Point and Masonboro Road.”  W.D. Rhodes was appointed to superintend work on the new road.  WILM.DISPATCH, 3-3-1896.

 

May 5, 1896:

New Hanover County Commissioner Montford, who had been appointed to examine the work done on the new public road, called the new Federal Point road, reported that the work had been done well under the supervision of Mr. D.S. Rhodes.  Seven miles of the road had been beautifully graded and only about a mile remains to be completed.  WILM.MESSENGER, 5-5-1896.

 

February 8, 1898:

The new Federal Point road delegation asked for a special appropriation of $250 to change the course of about 2 miles of their road, starting about 8 miles from the city.  The cost would be for 7,000 yards of ditching.  It was claimed that the change would save the traveling of about 4 miles of deep sand road for quite a number of people in that section. Messrs. Hines and Horne were spokesmen for the delegation.    WILM.STAR, 2-8-1898.

 

March 26, 1907:

Members of the Board of County Commissioners went down into Federal Point and Masonboro Townships to confer with committees of citizens representing rival delegations urging the permanent improvement of one of the county roads leading into that section.  The Commissioners are at sea as to which of two routes to adopt, the people of the townships differing upon which is best.  Messrs.  Melvin Horne, Owen Martindale and Horton Freeman urged the adoption of the old Federal Point Road, and Messrs. G. W. Trask, George W. Rogers and D. J. Fergus urged the adoption of the “Masonboro route.”  A decision was postponed until the next meeting.  WILM.STAR,   3-28-1907.

 

February 21, 1910:

Fales Collection, NHCPL

“Good Roads Rally” was held at Carolina Beach by citizens of Federal Point Township, for the purpose of discussing the good roads question.  It was attended by a number of enthusiastic persons.  The meeting was presided over by Mr. J. H. Williams. 

One of the features of the session was a strong and forceful speech by Mr. J. D. Fergus.  In his remarks he called attention to the great need in Federal Point Township for good roads.  He believed that the township had been discriminated against as not a mile of good road had yet been installed in the township. 

He called attention to the fact that the loop now being made with the Masonboro road would not come within a mile of Federal Point Township.  A committee of five drafted strong  resolutions calling upon the county commissioners for relief.  The meeting was held at Kure’s at Carolina Beach with a big free oyster roast and fish fry.  WILMINGTON  DISPATCH,  2-17-1910;  2-22-1910.

 

MARCH 16, 1915 :

The contractor had his convicts at work on the new road at Carolina Beach, the 7 ½ miles between the “Loop” road and the beach.

From a historical standpoint this stretch of road south of the “Loop” was one of the most interesting in the county. By the roadside could be seen the famous double breastworks used by the Confederates to defend this section from invasion, while at intervals could be seen long avenues, leading to the sound from the river.  These roads were hundreds of years old and were used until later years in the salt making industry, which was of quite large proportions here at one time.

 A short distance further to the right going down to the beach, was Sedgeley Abbey, the historical old ruins spoken of in Mr. James Sprunt’s new book, “Chronicles of the Cape Fear.” This old mansion was connected with the sound by means of a perfectly straight avenue which could still be dimly seen.

Further down on the river side a half mile from the road, was the site of the famous old Gander Hall, whose colonial owner made himself a joke forever in this community by going into the business of raising geese. Preferring to raise the large white ones exclusively, he purchased scores of that kind, with the result that he had a farm full of ganders and not a lady goose in the bunch. It was also interesting to notice the red cedar telephone poles which line the roadside.  These were used by the government during the Spanish-American War to connect Wilmington by telegraph with a signal station shortly this side of the beach in order that Wilmington might be warned of the approach of the anticipated Spanish fleet.  Later the poles were sold to a telephone company when all danger was past. WILM.DISPATCH, 3-15-1915.

 

From King’s Road to US 421 — Roads to Federal Point, NC

by: Rebecca Taylor     – Part 1

As we all know the development of Carolina Beach was largely dependent on Captain Harper’s Steamship line. From the mid-1700’s to the 1920s, the Cape Fear River served as the primary route from Wilmington to Southport.

Beginning in the 1880’s, during summer months, he began dropping passengers off at Sugarloaf Dune (and later Doctor’s Point), where the three car Shoo-Fly train carried passengers from the riverbank to the oceanfront for fishing, surf bathing, and just enjoying  fresh breezes as a break from the downtown heat.

But did you know that long before there was a Carolina Beach there was an inter-state highway that ran through Federal Point?

 

 

The King’s Highway

The King’s Highway, named after King Charles II, who asked the governors of his colonies to establish a line of communication between the colonies in 1660, very soon after being crowned.

The entire length of The King’s Highway did not become a continuous wagon road until about 1735. Incorporating the Boston Post Road (opened in 1673), the route traveled over 1,300 miles, from Boston, Massachusetts to Charles Town, South Carolina.

Along the route, there are numerous communities today with a King Street, King’s Road, or King Avenue, all remaining from the days when it was called the King’s Highway.

From the Quaker communities around Edenton, the old highway followed what is now US Highway 17 to New Bern, North Carolina, an important seaport and the early colonial capital of North Carolina. From New Bern, the highway bypassed White Oak and Angola Swamps in a fairly direct line to Wilmington, North Carolina, at the Cape Fear River. As US Highway 17 does today, the old road continued on to Georgetown, and finally to Charles Town, the colonial capital of South Carolina, and the southern terminus of the King’s Highway.

Big Sugar Loaf Ferry

With a road running from Wilmington to Charlestown South Carolina, there needed to be a way to cross the Cape Fear River. In 1727 (Wilmington didn’t exist yet), the first authorized ferry in North Carolina was established from Brunswick Town on the western bank of the Cape Fear River and the “haulover” on the eastern bank. It was also known as the “Ferry at Big Sugar Loaf” and appears to have docked within what is now the Carolina Beach State Park.

The colonial general court authorized Cornelius Harnett Sr.*, to keep a ferry “from a place on the West side of the River to a place called Haulover, and that he received a sum of five shillings for a man and a horse and half a Crown for each person.”

The 1733,  Mosley map shows the ferry directly opposite Brunswick Town, on land owned by Col. Moore, at the foot of what was later named Telfair Creek, which runs into what is now Snow’s Cut.

The ferry continued to run under a series of owners until at least 1775. However, by March of 1776, British warships had entered the Cape Fear and well armed troops were placed ashore. Those troops carried out sporadic raids on Brunswick Town and the surrounding countryside.

The town was undefendable and abandoned for the more secure and prosperous Wilmington, where a ferry from Wilmington, across Eagles Island had been established in 1766.

*Cornelius Harnett, Jr., a major force in the Patriot cause during the American Revolution, was just three years old when his family moved to Brunswick Town.  A member of the Sons of Liberty and the chairman of the North Carolina Committee of Safety, he was elected to the Continental Congress in May of 1777, and served three years before returning to Wilmington. Near the close of the War he was captured by the British in Onslow County and brought  to Wilmington. There he was imprisoned in an open blockhouse where his health declined rapidly. Although paroled from prison, he died soon afterwards. Harnett is interned in St. James Churchyard.

 

From Barracks to Beach Cottage

Part II – The Barracks Today

The Society is currently trying to document and catalog all the cottages on Federal Point that were relocated and remodeled from the original buildings at the WWII Fort Fisher installation.

We got a huge start from Punky Kure, Jim Dugan and John Batson who took a golf cart and drove the streets of Kure Beach and identified almost 50 buildings for us – but we hear there are more!

We would also like to help any of the owners of these historic buildings memorialize their importance to our local history through our Plaque Program.

PLEASE let us know if you own one of these cottages – we’d love to get pictures inside as well as outside. Call Rebecca or Cheri at 910-458-0502.

From Barracks to Beach Cottage – in 2021

Oral History: Remembrances of Life on Federal Point, 1940 -1959

 

From Barracks to Beach Cottages

Fort Fisher WW II – Part I

Camp Davis, located between Wilmington and Jacksonville, NC, was built in 1941, as one of seven anti-aircraft training bases for the U.S. Army’s First Army, Fourth Corps.

Though there were originally five training sites as the reservation expanded, the Fort Fisher site — located 50 miles south of the main base — became the primary firing range for Camp Davis. And as Fort Fisher’s importance grew, so did its facilities.

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 crowning addition to these improvements was the construction of a large airstrip at Fort Fisher — an endeavor that destroyed a sizable portion of the once-formidable “land front” of the 80-year-old bastion. In these unstable times, national defense took precedence over historic preservation.

By the time anti-aircraft training operations ceased at Fort Fisher in 1944, the facility had grown to include an 80-seat cafeteria, a 350-bed hospital and dental clinic, and covered an area of several hundred acres.

 After the War

Camp Davis and its satellite ranges closed in October 1944, — with nearly one full year of war yet to be waged in both theaters of conflict. The government quickly sold off the buildings to locals – at fire-sale prices and many locals purchased them and moved them to locations, primarily in Kure Beach. Today there are quite a number of these buildings still standing, being used today as businesses and beach cottages.

Next Month: Fort Fisher – Part II



The Barracks Today

How many of the old Fort Fisher barracks can you spot before next month when we run a list drawn up by A. Kure, J. Batson and J. Dugan of the barracks that remain? Would you believe there are at least 49?

 

Christmas During the 1918 Pandemic

(Click Image)

by Rebecca Taylor

[excerpts from The ATLANTIC (3/3/2020) and USA TODAY (11/24/2020)]

In December, 1918, in the midst of the pandemic, 1,000 public-health officials gathered in Chicago to discuss the disease which had by then killed an estimated 400,000 people over three months. They did not know the cause of the epidemic, they had no treatments, and they had little idea how to control its spread.

Face masks, which were then being worn by a large portion of the general public, offered no guarantee of protection (and that remains true of face masks today). Many health officials believed that the masks provided a false sense of security. Perhaps that was correct, but there was still a value in providing any kind of security.

Chicago’s health commissioner made this clear. “It is our duty,” he said, “to keep the people from fear. Worry kills more people than the epidemic. For my part, let them wear a rabbit’s foot on a gold watch chain if they want it, and if it will help them to get rid of the physiological action of fear.”

Just as cases rose after Armistice Day celebrations, they rose again after Thanksgiving. Dallas, Minneapolis, San Antonio, San Francisco and Seattle saw surges. Omaha relaunched a public health campaign. Parts of Cleveland and its suburbs closed schools and enacted influenza bans in early December.

In this 1918 photo made available by the Library of Congress, volunteer nurses from the American Red Cross tend to influenza patients in the Oakland Municipal Auditorium, (Edward A. “Doc” Rogers/Library of Congress via AP)

On Dec. 6, the St. Paul Daily News announced that more than 40 Minneapolis schools were closed because of the flu, below the headline “SANTA CLAUS IS DOWN WITH THE FLU.”

Health officials asked “moving picture show” managers to exclude children, closed Sunday schools and ordered department stores to dispense with “Santa Claus programs.”

On Christmas Eve, health officials in Nebraska made influenza a mandatory quarantine disease, and fines ranged from $15 to $100 for violations. Approximately 1,000 homes in Omaha were placarded, meaning their occupants were unable to leave for at least four days after the fever had subsided.

In Denver, the Salvation Army canceled its annual Christmas parties for children,

Influenza epidemic in United States. St. Louis, Missouri, Red Cross Motor Corps on duty, October 1918. (National Archives)

and the Women’s Press Club canceled its New Year’s Eve ball. School Christmas assemblies were canceled in Fall River, Massachusetts, and families with an influenza patient in their homes were warned not to entertain guests and barred from borrowing books from the library.

On page 7 of its Nov. 23 edition, the San Francisco Examiner reported “‘Flu’ Masks To Be Ousted Thanksgiving.”
Image Provided by Influenza Encyclopedia Graphic by Karl Gelles, USA TODAY.
(Click Images)

By January, the USA was fully engulfed in its third wave of influenza.

The virus spread throughout the winter and spring, killing thousands more. It infected one-third of the world’s population and killed approximately 675,000 Americans before subsiding in the summer of 1919.

“What did they do wrong? That’s hard to say, but all of these measures are like Swiss cheese. They have holes, so you try to use as many layers as possible,” Markel said. “To me, those surges just represented whether there was social distancing or not. Flu didn’t stop circulating, the question was when did people go out and get exposed to it? And that’s what’s going on now.”

 

 

 


Quarantine 1918

*  No Internet; Facebook, Twitter, Zoom
*  No Cell Phones
*  No Streaming – or Television
*  News came from the daily newspaper or radio
*  No curbside pickup restaurants
*  No Grubhub, Door Dash, Uber Eats
*  Fresh Food refrigeration limited to “ice” box
*  No Air Conditioning           

“How bad do we have it?”