“We can wear old clothes and live off the plantation for years without suffering if we can only get salt, but what is to become of those who have no such resource?” From the Diary of Catherine Ann Devereux Edmonston (May 23, 1862)

The Wilmington Salt Works began operations in 1861 in response to severe salt shortages. Early in the Civil War the Union Army destroyed salt works in Currituck County and later near Morehead City. The Wilmington works was the only operation able to continue salt-making until Union forces destroyed it in April 1864. The Cape Fear Museum interprets salt-making as part of a section on the Wilmington Salt Works in its Civil War exhibit.

Throughout the war regional newspapers printed advice on salt scavenging as a home- front activity. One offered directions for evaporating salt water, another suggested gathering salt from smokehouse floor dirt, and another recommended mixing hickory ash with a little salt for meat preservation. A North Carolina diarist wrote in 1863 that “salt [is] considered cheap at $25 per bu[shel].” The same year women reported stealing 2 bags of salt, among other provisions, during the Salisbury Bread Riot. According to one scholar, “Ella Lonn’s 1933 study Salt as a Factor in the Confederacy is starting to look fresh again.”

A new company, Carolina Salt Works, is now operating in Shallotte, only about 35 miles southwest of Wilmington near the South Carolina border. According to the back of the product package (the cotton sack shown above) Carolina Salt Works gathers seawater during the full moon and produces the salt as a residue of natural evaporation. This process is much like the salt-making on the North Carolina coast during the Civil War.


U.S.S. Constitution (Old Iron Sides)

A Little Known Tidbit of Naval History

The U.S.S. Constitution (Old Iron Sides), as a combat vessel, carried 48,600 gallons of fresh water for her crew of 475 officers and men. This was sufficient to last six months of sustained operations at sea. She carried no evaporators (i.e. fresh water distillers).

However, let it be noted that according to her ship’s log, “On July 27, 1798, the U.S.S. Constitution sailed from Boston with a full complement of 475 officers and men, 48,600 gallons of fresh water, 7,400 cannon shot, 11,600 pounds of black powder and 79,400 gallons of rum”

Her mission: “To destroy and harass English shipping.” Making Jamaica on 6 October, she took on 826 pounds of flour and 68,300 gallons of rum.

Then she headed for the Azores, arriving there 12 November. She provisioned with 550 pounds of beef and 64,300 gallons of Portuguese wine. On 18 November, she set sail for England. In the ensuing days she defeated five British men-of-war and captured and scuttled 12 English merchant ships, salvaging only the rum aboard each.

By 26 January, her powder and shot were exhausted. Nevertheless, although unarmed she made a night raid up the Firth of Clyde in Scotland. Her landing party captured a whiskey distillery and transferred 40,000 gallons of single malt Scotch aboard by dawn. Then she headed home.

The U.S.S. Constitution arrived in Boston on 20 February 1799, with no cannon shot, no food, no powder, no rum, no wine, no whiskey, and 38,600 gallons of water. GO NAVY!

Captain John Harper – from the Bill Reaves Files

August 17, 1880 – The steamer PASSPORT was to make her last trip of the season to the “Rocks” at New Inlet. Capt. John W. Harper, master of the steamer, stated that “the tide will exactly suit for a good day’s fishing at this point, being low water about 12 noon”.  (Wilm Star, 8-13-1880)


August 14, 1883 – A moonlight excursion was offered on the steamboat PASSPORT to Federal Point. Music and dancing, Sheepshead Supper at Mayo’s Place. Fare for round trip 50 cents. One hour at Federal Point. John W. Harper and George N. Harriss, Managers.   (Wilm Star, 8-14-1883)


June 5, 1887  – Fifteen miles from Wilmington on the banks of the ocean is situated Carolina Beach which is daily, rapidly, and deservedly growing in popular favor. How is it reached? One hour is hardly spent on the steamer PASSPORT when the boat moves slowly to Harper’s Pier, where the pleasure seekers disembark to find in readiness a train of cars awaiting to carry them to their destination. These cars are made after the manner of cars used at Coney Island and are convenient and commodious. A ride of five or six minutes through a level and interesting country, filled with flowers and green shrubbery, brings you in full view of the ocean.
read more

Monthly Meeting Report – January, 2013

January Meeting Monday, January 21, 2013 7:30 pm

Captain John Newland Maffitt

Captain John Newland Maffitt

Our speaker this month was Robert “Bob” Maffitt, great grandson of Captain John Newland Maffitt. He will talk about Maffitt’s career as a Confederate Naval officer, blockade runner, and privateer. Born in New York of Irish parents Maffit was raised by his Uncle, Dr. William Maffit in Fayetteville, North Carolina. In 1832, at the age 13, he entered the United States Navy as a midshipman.

By 1843 he was a Lieutenant assigned to the hydrographic survey. Among his assignments was the survey of the waters around Wilmington, NC.

In 1857, Maffitt was placed in command of the brig USS Dolphin and ordered to capture pirates and slavers in the West Indies. On August 21, 1858, Dolphin captured the slaver Echo with 318 Africans on board and sent her into Charleston; the liberated slaves were later sent back to Africa.

With the coming of the Civil War he resigned his position in the United States Navy to become General Robert E. Lee’s naval aide. By August 1862 he was in command of the CSS Florida. After a career that involved blockade running into and out of heavily guarded Mobile Bay. In 1864 he was given command of the CSS Albemarle in defense of the Roanoke River and town of Plymouth, NC.

By the fall of 1864 he was back in Wilmington, commanding the CSS Owl and running the blockade. During his service to the Confederacy, Maffitt repeatedly ran the blockade to carry needed supplies and captured and destroyed more than seventy prizes worth $10 to $15 million.

After the war, Captain John Newland Maffitt, with his wife and children, retired to Wilmington where he became a noted member of the local community.

Today, grandson Robert “Bob” Maffitt lives in Wilmington, N.C. where he is known as “The Ambassador” because of his work in greeting tourist and welcoming them to Wilmington, N.C. as well as relating its colorful history. His education was in mechanical engineering and Mechanical Design, Electro-Mechanical Drafting and Architectural-Structural Drafting.


Two Captains From Carolina: Moses Grandy, John Newland Maffitt

Two Captains From Carolina: Moses Grandy, John Newland Maffitt, and the Coming of the Civil War by Bland Simpson. University of NC Press, 2012

No two men could have come from different circumstances. Moses Grandy was born a slave in Camden County, NC about 1791. He captained freight boats on the Dismal Swamp and bought his freedom three times before he finally gained it.

He became involved in abolitionism in Boston and ultimately appeared before the General Anti-Slavery Convention in London in 1843.

John Newland Maffitt was born on February 22, 1819 aboard a three-masted sailing ship in the North Atlantic. His mother, Ann Carnic was on her way to join her husband, Reverend John Newland Maffit in Connecticut. At age five, with his parents separated, Maffit was adoped by his Uncle, Doctor William Maffitt who farmed and practiced medicine in Cumberland County, NC. 

At thirteen he became a midshipman in the US Navy. He served aboard the USS Constitution (Old Ironsides) and by early 1850’s he was commander of the US Coast Survey schooner Gallitan mapping the waters of eastern North Carolina including the approaches to Wilmington, NC.

Bland Simpson, UNC professor of creative writing and author of numerous books including The Coasts of Carolina: Seaside to Sound Country, presents the lives of these two water-men in a fascinating narrative that sheds light on the social and economic forces that would build throughout the first half of the nineteenth century until war seemed the only way to reconcile these opposing forces.


2013: 148th anniversary of the end of the Civil War

Fort Fisher

Fort Fisher

The year 2013 marks the 148th anniversary of the end of the Civil War. To commemorate the anniversary of the Second Battle of Fort Fisher—the largest land-sea battle of the Civil War—Fort Fisher State Historic Site will host a living history program on January 19, 2013.

Thanks to the recently released Steven Spielberg film “Lincoln” and its multiple references to Wilmington, North Carolina and the Battle of Fort Fisher, millions of movie-goers are now more familiar with the Fort’s important historical role as the last fort to fall to Union troops during the Civil War. Fort Fisher embraces this new spotlight and welcomes history buffs and fans of the movie year-round to explore its Civil War battlefield, monuments, museum, and special events.

As part of the State’s observance of the Civil War Sesquicentennial, the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources’ Fort Fisher State Historic Site will host “Sheppard’s Battery: Confederates Defending the Left Flank,” a special living history program on January 19, 2013. This year’s anniversary commemoration will focus on the Confederate defenders at Sheppard’s Battery and around the “Bloody Gate” on the left flank of Fort Fisher. read more

Epidemic! Quarantine!

After two years of legal paperwork, a single, solar-powered flashing light will be installed this weekend (July 31, 2014) on the hulking remains of a quarantine station in the Cape Fear River.

Ed Pierce was piloting his motorboat on the night of Aug. 4, 2012, when he gave wide berth to an approaching tugboat. He inadvertently slipped out of the shipping channel and crashed into a 16-by-16-foot unlit concrete platform from the long-abandoned structure near Southport.

His wife and partner of four decades Barbara, 55, was killed. Pierce and two other passengers were injured.











By Rebecca Taylor

At last November’s Monthly Meeting , Jack Fryar talked about the yellow fever epidemic in Wilmington in the Summer and Fall of 1862.

But did you know that you can still see a concrete platform from the old quarantine station that was built in the very middle of the Cape Fear River?

Can you imagine what it must have been like to face a host of deadly diseases like small pox, typhoid, yellow fever, cholera and even malaria without having any idea of what caused them or how to treat the people who caught them. The ONLY thing that could be done was try to prevent the scourge from somehow coming to your town.

In 1348 the first formal maritime quarantine was established in the Mediterranean, when Venice created a system whereby an appointed council of three had the authority to inspect ships, cargoes and individuals for up to forty days. In 1403 Venice established the first known maritime quarantine station or lazaretto on Santa Maria di Nazareth an island in the Venetian lagoon. By the 1700’s all major towns and cities along the eastern seaboard of the US had passed quarantine laws though they were generally not enforced unless an epidemic appeared imminent.

As early as 1751 the North Carolina colonial assembly passed a Pilotage Act that required inspection of all ships coming into harbor. However, again it appears to have been “selectively” enforced for Wilmington suffered yellow fever outbreaks in 1819 and 1821.

Then came the Civil War blockade runners and the worst epidemic Wilmington would ever see. Thousands fled the city and over 600 people died. Until the end of the war the blockade running ships were stopped at Smithville (Southport today) or Fort Anderson for inspection and fumigation.

Soon after the war North Carolina law provided for a port physician to draw up quarantine regulations and by 1879 the president of the State Health Board could appoint two additional physicians to a local quarantine committee.

Dr. W. G. Curtis served as port physician from the mid 1870’s to the 1890’s during which time the quarantine station stood on the waterfront of Smithville. But the locals blamed the station for several epidemics in the area and when the waterfront station burned in 1883 locals lobbied to have it moved further from town.

Then, in 1893, Congress established the U.S. Marine Hospital Service and construction of a station in the middle of the Cape Fear River opposite Price’s Creek was begun. It opened in 1897. By 1901 quarters had been added for sailors waiting for their ships to be inspected and by 1904 there was a hospital for sick seamen.

By the 1930’s developments in public health found the facility in the middle of the river obsolete and in 1937 it was no longer being used though a custodian was still looking after the buildings. In 1953 the buildings burned to the ground. However one small concrete pad remains and can be seen from the Bald Head Island Ferry soon after it leaves Southport.

For more detailed information on the Cape Fear River quarantine station, read Ben Steelman’s Wilmington StarNews article (June 8, 2012.) about the quarantine station.

Today's Remains of the Quarantine Station

Today: The Quarantine Station Concrete Platform Remains in Cape Fear River


Sept 4, 2013
StarNews Online – Wilmington

History buffs seek to save deadly platform near Southport
– The remnant was the scene of a fatal boating accident

Much of the station was destroyed by fire in 1952. Hurricane Hazel in 1954 finished off what was left, except for the water tower platform.

Basil Watts, a pilot in the Cape Fear River for 28 years, said the platform “acts as its own marker” for a debris field of concrete and steel from the collapsed station. Submerged pilings remain as well. “You’d have to remove all the debris to make the area safe,” he maintains.  … full story ..


July 31, 2014
StarNews Online – Wilmington

After two years of legal paperwork, a single, solar-powered flashing light will be installed this weekend on the hulking remains of a quarantine station in the Cape Fear River.

Ed Pierce was piloting his motorboat on the night of Aug. 4, 2012, when he gave wide berth to an approaching tugboat. He inadvertently slipped out of the shipping channel and crashed into a 16-by-16-foot unlit concrete platform from the long-abandoned structure near Southport.

His wife and partner of four decades Barbara, 55, was killed. Pierce and two other passengers were injured.

Since that day, Pierce, with the assistance of Wilmington attorney Geoff Losee, has been working to have the structure illuminated in an effort to prevent a similar tragedy.  .. full story ..

The Ocean Plaza

Ocean Plaza - SlapdashBy Leslie Bright & Daniel Norris

Eugene and Marie Reynolds known as Mom and Pop, knew better days were coming as World War II ended in 1945 and soldiers were coming home. Big bands were the rave of the day and the new money could be made on the north end of the Boardwalk of Carolina Beach with the building of a large enough facility to house big bands and large crowds.

The Reynolds had purchased four and a half lots and a bowling alley on the northeast corner of Harper Avenue and Carolina Beach Avenue North in August 1942, from L. M. Massey. [2015: current construction site of The Hampton Inn and Suites]. They decided to remove the bowling alley and make this the footprint for their new Ocean Plaza building.

The building would contain a bathhouse and café on the first floor; a large cabaret or ballroom with bandstand area on the second floor; and a small apartment on the third floor. Work began to build the Ocean Plaza after the beach season of 1945 and continued through the winter and spring of 1946 under the direction of Mr. Shirley, a local contractor.

Once completed, the Ocean Plaza was a sight to behold. It became the new “Crown Jewel” of the Carolina Beach boardwalk. It was opened for business on May 31, 1946, which was Memorial Day weekend.

Bill Grassick and his orchestra, featuring the lovely singer, Betty McHugh, performed to an audience who paid $2.00 per person to attend. Even though the big band era was waning, the Ocean Plaza remained the center of activity as new trends changed musical entertainment.

The Reynolds sold the Ocean Plaza around 1950 and it changed hands several times before May 1961 when E. F. Courie Sr. and his wife, Rosabelle, purchased the property.

Through the years, many notable entertainers performed to large crowds at the Ocean Plaza. Jerry Lee Lewis, Chubby Checkers, Fats Domino, Bo Diddley, and The Embers, to mention a few, attracted audiences from all over.

The Jitterbug, bob, shag, rock & roll, twist and every variety of dance imagined occurred at the Ocean Plaza through the years.

With growth and development of better lodging facilities, the need for a bathhouse on the boardwalk diminished. The bathhouse at the Ocean Plaza was converted into a night club.

During the 80’s and 90’s the entire boardwalk fell into decline causing neglect to many of its structures.

In spite of the decline, the Ocean Plaza remained open struggling at times to do so. The Courie family, including sons, Eli Jr. and Louis, continued ownership until April 1993, when the Ocean Plaza was sold to Leslie and Darlene Bright and son, Sam Bright.

The second floor ballroom was renovated again and opened after several years of inactivity as the private club, Wranglers Dance Hall and Saloon, and later as the Shag Club.

The Brights sold Ocean Plaza to Robert Russo on January 31, 2000 and his Club Tropics was installed on the second floor. Mr. Russo operated Ocean Plaza until April 5, 2006, when he sold to Russ Maynard.

Leslie Bright – Federal Point Historic Preservation Society
From:  Carolina Beach, NC – Images & Icons of a Bygone Era

Source:  SlapDash Publishing, LLC, 2006

Construction begins on boardwalk hotel at Carolina Beach – 2015/02/03


OCEAN PLAZA T-SHIRTS –   Only available at the Federal Point History Center! OP’s gone but not forgotten. But we still have our CLASSIC Ocean Plaza T-shirts and Sweatshirts.

We’ve ordered a variety of sizes and they come in sky blue and daisy yellow.

They make great gifts or mementos and are sure to start a conversation with every ol’timer you meet.

The Bicentennial of The War of 1812 in North Carolina

The “Other” Commemoration

Dolly Madison

Dolly Madison

With all the brouhaha over the Civil War Sesquicentennial it seems that the Bicentennial of the War of 1812 has snuck up on us – even though the year is right there in the name. But it didn’t sneak up on the people at North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources. They’ve got a great web site up with all kinds of information about the role North Carolina played in the war as well as information on a major Symposium being planned for Beaufort on June 29th.

The War of 1812 Committee has partnered with the North Carolina Maritime History Council, the Daughters of the War of 1812, the North Carolina Maritime Museum, and the Friends of the Maritime Museum to develop an informative symposium that will be on June 29th, 2012. Prominent scholars will be on hand to present information on the importance of the War of 1812, and North Carolina’s role in the war effort, with emphasis on the naval war.


[Pictures are from the NCDCR web site]


Web sites of interest on the War Of 1812

Andrew Jackson

Andrew Jackson

NC DCR Archives and History:

Information on “famous” North Carolinians who contributed to the nation’s defense including Dolly Madison, General Andrew Jackson, Otway Burns, and Captain Johnston Blakely:

For those of you who are true military history buffs:

The Known Military Units from North Carolina:

A great online exhibit of artifacts from the period:

The life of North Carolina coastal hero Otway Burns

The defense of Wilmington

The Wilmington Campaign

Parts of the Civil War “Battle of Fort Fisher” were fought across the Federal Point peninsula well north of the Fort itself.  And if you know where to look you can still see remnants of the trenches and embankments today.

Again this year Dr. Chris Fonvielle will lead this popular narrated walk from the Federal Point History Center  (1121 N. Lake Park Blvd.) through the Carolina Beach State Park to Sugarloaf, a landmark on the banks of the Cape Fear River.

The walk will last about 2 hours. A $5.00 donation is requested and can be paid the day of the walk.  There is a limit of 25 participants so everyone can see and hear Dr. Fonvielle’s narration. Reservations may be made beginning March 1 at the Federal Point History Center. Call 910-458-0502.

Sugar Loaf Hill, Carolina Beach, NC
Excerpts from “The Wilmington Campaign” by Chris Fonvielle.

Pg. 34 “Like Old Inlet, New Inlet was also protected by artillery emplacements and earthworks.  Shore batteries guarded the beach strand on Federal Point and Masonboro Sound north of New Inlet.  The most notable of three were Battery Anderson (“Flag Pond Battery” in Union accounts) and Battery Gatlin (“Half Moon Battery” to the Federals because of its crescent shape). Confederate artillerymen used batteries along the beach to duel with Union gunboats and safeguard stranded blockade-runners that had been chased ashore – at least until their cargoes had been salvaged. Protecting the river on the east side was a gun battery on the summit of Sugar Loaf, a large fifty-foot-high sand dune on Federal Point peninsula directly opposite Fort Anderson.  When Wilmington was seriously threatened by attack in 1864, Confederate engineers dug entrenchments from Sugar Loaf across the peninsula to Myrtle Sound, within sight of the ocean.” read more