Oral History: Farm Life on Federal Point – 1930-1956 – Part 3

[Editor: In Part 3, Howard Hewett writes about the Hewett family history, and the building of the their family homes that still exist in Kure Beach, 76 – 78 years later.   After Howard Hewett submitted the Watermelon Patch article (Part 1), we followed up with these clarifying questions (blue italics).]   Read Part 2 – for the earlier questions.


Do you have any knowledge of the commercial market for watermelons in Wilmington / Federal Point at that time period?

I am not sure if there were others but dad’s patch was the only one south of Kure Beach.   Now, the Ryder Lewis Jr. (FPHPS Oral History) family may have done some farming along Snow Cut.

As you know, during and after the depression making ends meet was tough.  Wages were depressed all the way up to the mid 60’s.  Most folks had some type of garden.

Ryder Lewis Jr.’s father was Ryder Lewis Sr.  Senior’s father was Samuel Lewis; his father was George Washington Lewis.  George Washington Lewis was my grandmother’s Grandfather (Addie Jane Lewis Hewett)

Another Footnote:  The Hewetts (Grandfather Albert and Grandmother Addie Jane) settled on the east bank of the Cape Fear River in 1911.  The general location is on the river just to the right of the main entrance to the Air Force Radar Station. This area is now used as a military recreational facility.  Dad (Howard Curtis Hewett Sr.) and Aunt Virginia (Virginia Hewett Bell) were both born in this location.   Long after the house was torn down, as late as the 1970; grandmother’s flowers still could be seen in the spring.

Lewis’ home on the river.  Standing on the steps is Addie Jane Hewett with son Howard Curtis Hewett Sr. (my Dad). Photo taken after 1935.

Lewis’ home on the river. Standing on the steps is Addie Jane Hewett with son Howard Curtis Hewett Sr. (my Dad). Photo taken after 1935.

After a fire at the original river home; located where the military recreational facility is now, Grandmother Addie Jane & Grandfather Albert lived in the Lewis Cape Fear River home (FPHPS Oral History) for a period of time while the new house was being built.  The new house was about 150 yards from the Atlantic.

Grandfather Albert died (1935) before the house on the Atlantic side was completed so dad and Uncle Crawford Lewis completed grandmother’s house.

One other side note while I am thinking about the old home place on the river:
A Quote from Col. William Lamb, Commander of Fort Fisher: Concerning the Powder Vessel

“I watched the burning vessel for half an hour … Returning to my quarters, I felt a gentle rocking of the small brick house … which I would have attributed to imagination or vertigo, but it was instantly followed by an explosion, sounding very little louder than the report of a ten-inch Columbiad … The vessel was doubtless afloat when the explosion occurred (as opposed to grounded), or the result might have been very serious.”

The interesting side note about this quote is Dad showed me the remains of a brick building that he referred to as the Lamb House, which was maybe 50 yards north of Grandfather and Grandmother Hewett’s home on the river.  At the time, I was possibly eight to ten years old.

Hewett home on the beach. Photo taken from Grandmother Addie Jane’s house.

Howard Curtis Hewett family home on the beach.
Photo taken from Grandmother Addie Jane’s house.

Dad started construction on his house on the beach front in 1932 and it was completed before Mother and Dad were married in 1938.

The house was located directly across the highway (421) from Grandmother Addie Jane’s house. Dad was working at Ethyl Dow so there was little time for house construction and money was very tight.

The Lewis family home was on the river and was still being lived in by Uncle Edward when I was just old enough to remember.  They later moved to Kure Beach and opened a grocery-service station.  Isabel Lewis Foushee is Edward Lewis daughter, (FPHPS Oral History).  Tom Foushee is Isabel’s son.

Howard Curtis Hewett Home at Fort Fisher - 1955

Curtis Hewett Family Home at Fort Fisher – 1955

Uncle Crawford had built a home next to Grandfather Albert and Grandmother Addie Jane’s house about a hundred fifty yards off the beach.

The family continued to do what they could to provide for the family by farming, raising cattle, pigs, chicken for eggs & food and fishing.  Actually Albert Walker provided vegetables for Grandfather Roebuck Grocery Store in Wilmington.  Albert spring pole beans were the first to market because of the location of the farm on the river.  The Castle Hayne farms were several weeks later because of northern location.

My remembrance of my grandmother Addie Jane was she was a hard-working Christian woman not unlike most women cut from the same pioneer cloth.

Her days consisted of gardening, preparing chickens for dinner (this was not running down to Kroger or HEB to grab chicken from the meat case.)  Preparing chicken started by selecting the right bird from the chicken yard and placing it’s head on the pine stub. You know the story of someone running around like a “Chicken with its head cut off”.

Grandmother's house after it was moved to Kure Beach. (Photo 1991)

Grandmother’s house after it was moved to Kure Beach. (Photo 1991)

Albert Walker also did carpenter work to provide for the family and he and Dad built the Hewett family home. (above, right, across Hwy 421 from Grandmother and Albert Walker Hewett Home).

Our complete farming acreage was lost when the government annexed land on both sides of the river for the buffer zone for the Military Ocean Terminal at Sunny Point near Southport.

The Government buffer zone came just behind Grandmother’s house.  It actually encompassed the family garden.

When Grandmother died in 1986 at age of 95, the remaining property was split between my Aunt Virginia Hewett Bell and my Dad.  At that time, I think there was only about 3-4 acres left.  Dad had sold the ocean front property shortly after we left for Texas in 1956.

After the property was sold, Grandmother’s house was moved to Kure Beach.


[Editor: Grandmother’s house (Part 2) was moved to 326 S 4th Ave, Kure Beach – (Google Maps) – where it still stands, after 78 years.]

[Editor:  The author’s family home described in this article, still stands today (after 76 years) in Kure Beach.  It’s located at 833 S. Ft. Fisher Blvd, Kure Beach, NC – (Google Maps)]


833 S Fort Fisher Blvd (green house). </br> Viewed toward Fort Fisher Gates from Marquesa Way

833 S Fort Fisher Blvd (green house)  View toward Fort Fisher Gates from Marquesa Way, (Sept, 2014)

The author in front of Hewett Family Home. 833 S Ft. Fisher Blvd  Fort Fisher, NC (around 1994)

The author in front of Hewett Family Home. 833 S Ft. Fisher Blvd Fort Fisher, NC (around 1994)












Oral History: Monroe Shigley – Plant Manager at Ethyl Dow Plant, Kure Beach (1936-1941)

Monroe Shigley Interview Was Submitted by Howard Hewett – September 5, 2014

[Editor Note:
Howard Hewett was born in 1939 in Wilmington.  His family’s home was located just outside of the Fort Fisher gates until his family moved to Freeport Texas in 1956.

His father Curtis, worked on clearing the land and building the Ethyl Dow plant in Kure Beach starting in 1933.   When the plant started operations, he became a plant operator, then shift foreman, plant foreman and later Supervisor. After the war when the demand lessened for ethylene dibromide, the plant was mothballed but it was kept in semi-running condition.  Curtis Hewett maintained his role as supervisor of the remaining crew, eventually supervising the closing down of the Ethyl Dow plant in Kure Beach.

Howard Hewett has been living in Freeport since his family moved there in 1956.  Recently, he began submitting articles to the Federal Point History Center, detailing his youth experiences in Fort Fisher.  See here, here, and here.

Recommended background information on Ethyl Dow in Kure:

What is the Ethyl-Dow Plant? – Ben Steelman,  Wilmington StarNews
History of the Ethyl Dow Plant    (YouTube video 6:58) – Produced by Johnny Reinhold

Note: All of the photos in this post were taken about 80 years ago. ]


On Sept. 5, 2014, Howard Hewett wrote:

This oral history is an interview with Monroe Shigley. He’s one of the first technical people at the Ethyl Dow plant at Kure Beach.

In two of the digital photos that I submitted, showing Ethyl Dow labs, Monroe Shigley is the center person.  You may wonder how I knew that fact.  As you read the document, Shigley makes mention on a one year old daughter. She was born in James Walker Hospital in 1940 and was named Mary Monroe Shigley.

I was also born in James Walker in late 1939.  Our paths did not cross until 1956 when we were attending the same high school and were in the same graduation class.  We have been friends for years.  We communicate regularly, so I sent her this document & photos that I am sending you for her review.   She identified her dad.   [Editor:  We thank Mary Monroe Shigley Carhart for providing these photos of her parents.]

This oral history of the Ethyl Dow Company at Kure Beach, NC is an excerpt from an interview of Monroe Shigley after he retired from the Dow Chemical Co.

He was one of the key people from the beginning at Federal Point Ethyl Dow Kure Beach plant.  He arrived at the Kure Beach plant in 1933 from Midland, MI and became Plant Manager from 1936 to 1941. This is not just a technical history but shows his great insights, personal reflections and stories, of a point in time on the Federal Point peninsula.


Oral History – Howard Hewett – Part 1

The October-November “Pop-eyed” Mullet Run

Submitted by:  Howard Hewett,  Jones Creek, TX – August 20, 2014

Fishing Boat Breakers - CB

Click – for larger image

In late October early November, the fall Atlantic mullet run was a major food supply for the Hewett-Lewis family as far back as the establishment of the clan on Boones Neck (Shallotte River) in Brunswick County in the late 1700’s.  After moving to Federal Point, Uncle Crawford Lewis, my grandfather and my Dad maintained the family tradition of fishing.

Striped mullet are active schooling fish frequently seen jumping and clearing the water by more than three times their body length.  Some fish may be 24 inches in length.  Their jumping habits have earned them the nickname “jumping mullet.”  Because of their thick, fleshy eyelids, they are also called “pop-eyed” mullet.  This was the most common name used when referring to them by our family.

Striped “pop-eyed” mullet

Striped “pop-eyed” mullet

Striped “pop-eyed” mullet are native to North Carolina.  In October-November when it’s time to spawn, they move out of the bays and inlets, traveling along the shore on their way to off shore waters.  The spawning process normally occurs at night.  The female mullet can release from two to four million eggs per season.  A mature mullet can average one to three pounds.  The roe mullets in North Carolina may weigh as much as seven pounds.   And, of course, the roe is a fall delicacy.   Roe and grits are to die for!

During the mullet run, a family who could get a gill net around a school of mullet would be able to feed the family salted down mullet through the winter.   This fact made it imperative that when the opportunity arrived, the family needed to avail itself of a school of fish.

The story I want to relate took place before my tenth birthday (I think) just shortly after World War II.   I had often referred to the story as Dad’s “Can a Sunday mullet run be considered an “Ox in the Ditch”?  On the way home from church this November Sunday afternoon, Dad spotted a large school of mullet just outside the surf.  By the time we got home you could actually see this school up the beach from our front porch.  For a family to claim rights to a school fish, it was imperative that a spotter be placed along the shore opposite the fish.  So Dad sent me to claim ownership and to follow the school of mullet down the beach toward the house.

As I left the house, Mother and Dad were discussing the religious aspects of violating another family tradition by following what we practiced. The observance of the Sabbath as stated in Isaiah 58: 13-14.  “If you refrain from trampling the Sabbath, from pursuing your own interests on my holy day; if you call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable; it you honor it, not going your own way, serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs; then you shall take delight in the Lord.  And I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Jacob, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

As Dad and Mother continued the discussion about this strong Christian principle and maybe grandmother, Addie Jane, was consulted as well, Dad made preparations with Uncle Crawford to get the boat in position on the beach.  Now this did not take long because at this time of year, the boat and net was always ready.  As the story goes, Dad and Crawford decided that in this particular situation, there was a need to provide winter food for the family, so they decided that the New Testament passage in Luke 14:5 would be the guiding principle for that day.   As Jesus said, “If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on the Sabbath.”  The school of fish that I was following was massive and the water was black with fish.  When the wave would break, all you could see was large roe mullet.   It was one of those magnificent schools of mullet.

Other fishermen only approached me one time, but I was recognized as Curtis’ boy.  The only thing they said was “tell your Dad to holler if he and Crawford needed any help.”  I’ve often thought about how easy it was to project possession of a school of fish by having an 8 to 9 year-old represent ownership in the late 40’s.  There was respect for the rights of possession and there were no questions or challenges.  I wonder in today’s world if people in the same situation would allow someone so young to represent family ownership and show respect for an unwritten entitlement.

When I was within 100 yards, Dad waved to me to come and get in the boat.  The family boat was approximately 16-18 feet lapstreak with a high bow, high gunnels and a deck in the stern where the net was located.  The stern sloped from the gunnels to the rail with a more rounded shape.  It was a modified wine glass shape that was common to surf boats in the mid 1940-1950’s.  There were two seats for two oarsmen.

Seine Netting

Seine Netting

My job was to be sure the net fed out as we went around the school of mullet.  These nets were called gill nets or seine nets.  The net had a cork line on the top and a lead line on the bottom. It was approximately 8-10 feet in height.  Dad and Crawford’s net were approximately 100 yards long.  On this particular day, we had a 25-yard slue running along the beach with a bar that was about 50 yards across with the breakers pounding on the edge of the bar.

To get a boat across the slue, transverse the bar and cross the breaker required a great deal of skill and timing not only to get the boat outside the wave action but to arrive just in time along with the fish.   The action was never for the faint of heart.  When Uncle Crawford said “Let’s take her to sea, Curtis,” there was an adrenaline rush.   I can tell you that Dad and Crawford were bulls when it came to their oaring skills.   When the oars hit the water and they made their first pull your head would pop back and for every pull thereafter.

Fishing Nets on the Beach - Winner

Pulling Fishing Nets on the Beach Near the Winner Store & Bath House (click)

The staff on the beach end of the net was normally manned by another member of the family and beach goers who would work for a mess of fish.    As we crossed the bar, I would continue to maintain the net as it feed out over the stern and would be sure it did not get hung up on anything in the boat.  Once across the bar and seaward to the breaker creating a slight hook shape in the positioning of the net, we would pause to allow the fish to come to us.

Popeyed Mullet on Incoming Tide

Popeyed Mullet on Incoming Tide

On this occasion, Dad and Crawford discussed their concerns about the size of this school of mullet and the danger of damaging the net with all the pressure of thousands of pounds of fish.   The decision was made to cut through the middle of the school allowing some to escape seaward.   So we came back across the breakers with mullet jumping in the boat as well as across the boat.   This process also created an adrenaline rush.  Once ashore, we started pulling the staff back through the slue to the beach.   By this time, we may have had 25-30 volunteers, which enhanced our ability to get the net ashore.  The catch that day was several thousand pounds.  Volunteers got all the fish they wanted.   A large portion of the catch was sold to a fish house outside of Wilmington.

Grandmother was in charge of the family portion and preparing the mullet for salting.  Our saltbox was in one of the bedrooms at grandmother’s house.  It was two feet deep by three feet wide and about 6 feet long.   After that day’s catch, all the family had their saltboxes filled to the top with filleted mullet and roe.

Lesson learned that November day:  Only take what you need and do not waste resources.


Editor’s Note:

Relatives mentioned by the author:
Uncle Crawford Lewis, his Grandfather, and his Dad, Curtis Hewett

Granddaddy, Crawford, and Ed Lewis – ‘Early Fort Fisher’

Howard Hewett – Oral Histories

Mullet mania: Diners who once shunned the lowly ‘bait fish’ are rediscovering its rich flavor and heart-healthy benefits
By Liz Biro – Star-News Correspondent, 2007

… and check the ‘Related Posts’ below

The Hewett Homes in Fort Fisher, NC

Submitted by:  Howard Hewett:  August 24, 2014

The last six pictures below show our home at 833 S. Fort Fisher Blvd over the years.   The house is still there today.

My Dad, Curtis Hewett, built our family house in 1932. I was born in 1939. This house was the family home until our move to Texas in 1956.

The first image is the nearby Fort Fisher gates. Photo by Louis T. Moore c. 1932.

The second image is of our beach-front home at 833 S. Fort Fisher Blvd – as viewed from my grandmother’s home which was located directly across the road.

The third picture is of my grandmother’s house, Addie Lewis Hewett Todd.  Her house was directly across the road from our family home. Years later her house was moved into Kure Beach.

[Click any image for larger view]
Davis Road to Fort Fisher Gates

Kure Beach: Davis Road down to Fort Fisher Gates
[Click – for detailed Google Map]

Looking from our house, toward the Fort Fisher Gates, Dad owned half way to the gates and Crawford Lewis owned up to the gates.

Looking north along Hwy 421, from the Fort Fisher gates up to Davis Road, there were 3 equal parcels that ran from the ocean, all the way across to the Cape Fear River.

Crawford Lewis at the gate, Hewett’s in the middle & the Davis’ down to Davis Road.


Oral History – Howard Hewett – Part 2

Fishing off Fort Fisher in a Small Boat – in the 1940s and 50s

Submitted: August 22, 2014
Text by:  Howard Hewett  –  Growing up on Federal Point, NC

NOAA Coast Chart - Snow's Cut to The Rocks

NOAA Nautical Coast Chart
Snow’s Cut to The Rocks

Fort Fisher Coquina

Fort Fisher Coquina

Fairly close to Fort Fisher, there are some rocks (coquina) that jut out into the Atlantic.  I never asked Dad if he knew how long they had been exposed, but they were one of my favorite places to surf fish for trout and bluefish in the fall.

There were times when I gigged flounder with Uncle Crawford Lewis in the same location.

About half a mile to a mile out to sea from these rocks, there were a number of the blockade-runner wrecks that sank, leading up to the final siege of Fort Fisher in early 1865.  The powder vessel is also in this area.

One of Dad’s favorite activities was taking summer guests (men only) out to fish over these wrecks.   Now, this was not for the faint of heart, although it was truly an adventure.  You see, Dad’s choice of boats for these trips was about 12 foot in length, really no more than a small rowboat.

I was allowed to sit in the bow and the one guest would sit in the stern.  Dad would sit in the middle and do the rowing.

Fishing Boat Breakers - CB

Click – for larger image

Now, the trick would be to row across the bar and wait for the breakers to come to a lull, and then Dad would head to sea before the next wave broke on the bar.

Then he would row out to the wreck and we would fish.  Dad’s GPS system for locating these spots was pretty basic.  He would line up the Fort Fisher Monument and the Kure Beach water tank.

On one of the wrecks farther out he would line up the Monument and the Breakers Hotel at Wilmington Beach (current location of the ‘Sea Colony’ at Ocean Blvd. and 421 in Carolina Beach).

Fishing in a small boat in the open Atlantic was sometimes more than our guest’s stomach could manage.  It was not unusual for our guest to lose his breakfast.  Uncle Bubba Roebuck, (LTJG “Buck” Roebuck), liked to join us on these adventures, but I think he always got sick.

Our fishing tackle was low-tech.  We used a drop lines with only a couple of hooks and a sinker.  No fancy tackle!  Our boat anchor was also not high-tech.

Dad would put some bricks in a burlap sack.  After we had caught enough fish for dinner, we would prepare to head toward shore.  He would remove the bricks from the sack, put the fish in the sack, tie a cork to the rope and then tie the rope to the boat.  All this just in case we turned over crossing the breakers.

The return from one of these fishing adventures was also quite a trick.  Dad would sit just outside the breakers until he decided which wave to follow into shore.

Over the WavesCatching the wave was something like the technique used in surfboarding.  The only difference being that you rode the crest on the backside of the wave and maintained your position by rowing forward to stay up or place your oars deep in the water to create drag so you do not go over the crest of the wave.

I can tell you that when the waves are big, doing this will get your heart rate up, a real adrenaline rush!  The men in the Hewett-Lewis family were skilled boatmen dating back to their whaling days.

Lapstreak Boat Closeup


Footnote on our boat:  I am sure there were boats that I do not remember, but the boat I remember well was built somewhere around 1948-1950.  I watched Dad build it in the garage.  It was made of cypress and was a lapstreak with a “V” bow.

The gunnels probably were not more than 2 feet high.  I remember Dad laying the keel and the stem.  The stem was shaped with a draw knife. (Dad’s draw knife is in my tool cabinet today and I have used it many times in my duck carving.)

After the stem, keel, ribs and stern board were in place, the sides were installed.  The bottom and bench were the last to be put into place.  The boat had a great shape and was easy to get into the water.  In the early 1950s, I was allowed to take it by myself and go out beyond the breakers to fish.  At that time I learned the technique of crossing the bar and riding a wave on the return trip.

Fishing off Fort Fisher- Hewett House & Boat - Kure Beach

Hewett Family House and Boat
1 block north of Fort Fisher Gate

This photo is the Hewett’s family home, one block north of the Fort Fisher Gate, and the boat in the foreground was the one used in most of our fishing trips.









Oral History – Joseph Ryder Lewis Jr. – Part 5

Interviewed by Ann Hertzler and Jeannie Gordon

The Hermit and the Buffer Zone

Ft Fisher Hermit

Fort Fisher Hermit

We’ve been down there [Kure Beach] some times, but we certainly had nothing to do with the Hermit. The Hermit would get a ride to Carolina Beach and go to the grocery store, and he’d be standing out there on the highway, trying to get a ride back. There weren’t many people…I wouldn’t even let him in the back of my truck. That’s how close I was to the Hermit.

The highway used to go out further. There was a big mound on the front of Ft. Fisher that finally got washed away and they had to move the road back to where it is now.

The buffer zone was for Sunny Point. It was where ammunition went in. I think they drew a three-mile limit around it. That’s what they took as the buffer zone. And people that were living on the river, at that point in time, were forced to move out. The old church that we had down there had to go. I think it was around ’57 or the early 60’s.

Corps of EngineersWhen I went to work for the Corp in ’52, we’d never heard of an environmentalist. They didn’t even exist. When I first started out we were actually doing construction for the Army in ‘52 in various places. We got into river basin studies and that’s where we were working with river basins. To see where you could build a dam that would be a value as far as retaining flood waters, releasing minimum water during drought periods.

Joseph Ryder Lewis, Jr.

Joseph Ryder Lewis, Jr.

When I came back to Wilmington in ’57, we were doing river basin studies and the Wilmington District, at that time, the Wilmington District was pretty well confined to river basins. Here in NC, the Wilmington District, the lower limit was the Cape Fear River and the upper limit was the Roanoke River, which is right up against the Virginia line. We were evaluating the river basins in that area.

Evaluating the Cape Fear River basin and the Neuse River basin, we finally built two dams that I helped work on.

When I was growing up, it was perfectly proper to dredge and use the dirt to fill in a swamp area. That’s illegal today. So, one of my environmentalist friends referred to me as the Dam Engineer. He said the only thing I wanted to do is build dams. When I retired, I said, well, when we start having water shortages east of the Mississippi River, it’s not because we don’t have water, it’s because we refused to develop reservoir sites to hold flood water.

Oral History – Joseph Ryder Lewis Jr. – Part 4

Interviewed by Ann Hertzler and Jeannie Gordon

The 1940s – 1950s

As I grew up, they built two cottages next to our house and in the summertime, she [mother] did a lot of boarding, too. She’d fix meals for people who were working. So we did a lot of boarding and a lot of renting rooms in the summertime. Then about 1940, there were six cottages built just below us, two on the road, then two, then two, back towards the woods. My parents bought them. At the beginning of the War the tourists weren’t coming down here much so the folks that had them built sold ‘em to us.

Joseph Ryder Lewis, Jr.

Joseph Ryder Lewis, Jr.

When the shipyard started in Wilmington and the military came down here, you couldn’t find a place to live, period. This place was very crowded and so little ole cottages were even rented during the winter. There was a camp down here. A camp down at Ft. Fisher and there was one right back over just beyond Cape Fear Blvd. There was a big one back there. It was just a summer camp. It was there just during the war, let’s put it that way. And after the War, there were a lot of the old barracks that were moved various places and there’s still some old barracks on this island that people live in.

Ethyl-Dow Plant, Kure Beach

Ethyl-Dow Plant, Kure Beach

After I got out of high school, I worked the summer at the Ethel Dow Plant until about a month before my birthday came along. I got terribly sick one night. My oldest sister took me to James Walker Hospital and they wouldn’t even let me come back home. They said he has an attack of acute appendicitis and we’ve got to take it out. So they took my appendix out.

OK. Well, to volunteer for the Navy, you had to get a physical prior to turning 18.

I had to go to Raleigh to get it. When I got to Raleigh, the doctor said you need to go back home and recuperate from that operation more. So, I had turned 18, shortly thereafter, I had to go sign up for the draft. And it was March of ’45, they drafted me into the Army. I’m about as young a World War II veteran as there is. I was sent to the Pacific. And they put us on a troop ship and sent us to the Pacific.

Corps of EngineersI graduated from State in ’52, went to work for the Corps of Engineers in Savannah, Georgia, and I went to the Jacksonville District and worked down there for 6 months, Corp of Engineers. I left the Corp and came to Polk Air Force Base and worked there about 2 years. At that time, just my mother and father were in the house and my father was sick. And I was trying to get back, close to Wilmington. I was still single, and it was 1957 before I got back. Was transferred to Wilmington with the Corp of Engineers. And I was single and I stayed right with my parents, to help them.

My dad passed away but my mother was still in the house and I stayed there with her until I fell from grace in 1966 and married a young Vietnam War widow who had 3 little girls. And then that’s when we moved to Pine Valley. I was still working for the Corps during that time. And then we had 2 little girls, and I had a female dog in the back yard and I said, My Lord, change the recipe and with all these girls, we’d better quit.

And so with 5 girls and a female dog, I had to be a benevolent dictator.

Oral History – Joseph Ryder Lewis Jr. – Part 3

Interviewed by Ann Hertzler and Jeannie Gordon

School Years: 1930s – June, 1944

When I first started to school, we were living over here on the highway; and there was no school down here.

Joseph Ryder Lewis, Jr.

Joseph Ryder Lewis, Jr.

There had previously been one down there somewhere, close to where Dow Plant used to be. That was before my time.

But it was gone when I came along.  Mrs. Hines, I think, she was a teacher over there. That’s the Mrs. Hines of the Senior Center.

My first five years of school I had to ride a school bus to Myrtle Grove. That’s up on the Sound about 5 or 6 miles. When I was getting ready for 6th grade, Carolina Beach was supposed to have a new school built, completed and ready to occupy when I started my 6th grade. But they hadn’t completed it, so we had to go on the Boardwalk to the Old City Hall, with a two-room operation. That was 1937-38, I think. It was a one through six. Two rooms, so in one room was 4, 5 and 6; the other room was 1, 2 and 3. The 7th grade, I was bused to Winter Park Grade School. The 8th grade, I was bused to Tileston in Wilmington.

Carolina Beach School 1937-38 year

Carolina Beach School – Class of 1937-1938
Grades 4, 5, 6.
[Click for larger image – and student names]

I’ll tell you what, if you got in trouble at school, you could get a ruler on  your hand and slap it. The teacher would do that …that was about the easiest thing they punished you with. Back in those days, too, if they found out at home, instead of them getting after the teacher or the school department, you got another one.

One interesting thing was when we were in the 6th grade at that school on the Boardwalk. The boardwalk right in front of that building was wood, wasn’t concrete like it is now, with cracks in it. Well, at break time we would go look down through these cracks and you’d see money down there, quite often. We would get a piece of bubble gum and stick it on a long handle stick and stick it down there to get that money. And then we would go to Mr. Cliff Smith’s store down on the corner and get us an extra snack.

And at that point in time, you could get under the boardwalk on the front. It was hunting money by just walking along the edge of the shore, on the beach. You can’t find coins today, I don’t know why it’s gone, I don’t think there’s much of it there today, but you could go along there and there were coins laying there and you’d just pick ‘em up.

School Bus 1930's

School Bus 1930’s

I wasn’t in basketball or baseball or football. I wasn’t in any of it. And one reason was that you had to ride the school bus to school and up in Wilmington, if you didn’t ride that school bus back home in the afternoon, how would you get home? See, New Hanover High School is in the 14 or 1500 block and we could walk down to 3rd street and it wasn’t too bad to get a ride with some men who lived down here but worked in Wilmington. And they would be coming home and pick you up.

I got along very well in high school. But I graduated in June of ’44, had gone through 12 grades, and I was 17 years old. My birthday is the latter part of October, so see I wouldn’t be 18 until the latter part of October. You had to register for the draft when you turned 18 and you could join the Marine Corp or the Army, but you couldn’t join the Navy after you turned 18. You could up until you turned 18, so I was going to join the Navy just before I turned 18, as a volunteer.


Oral History – Joseph Ryder Lewis Jr. – Part 2

Interviewed by Ann Hertzler and Jeannie Gordon

My daddy had the house built from his World War II bonus or something. I think it was a $1000 and that pretty well closed the house in. So I was probably 2 or 3 years old when we actually moved into the house. That was part of the Lewis estate. My grandparents, on the Lewis side, deeded out parcels of land to their various children.

Their main activity was farming or fishing. And right across the street [from the History Center] was the main garden area, up until the middle 50’s or so, and now, when I got hold of it, it was classified as wetlands. Couldn’t do anything on it. But it used to be main farmland over there. Sweet potatoes were very important, a very important crop. Collards, a very important crop. They had watermelon patches, they had soy beans and they had other things for the animals.

Joseph Ryder Lewis, Jr.

Joseph Ryder Lewis, Jr.

Where we were living, out on the highway, was not in the town of Carolina Beach. The town of Carolina Beach started at the first street that goes across from St. Joseph Street. That went up there to that nursing home. That was the northern end of Carolina Beach.

My parents would not allow my brother and I, who was a couple years younger than I am, to go down there and roam around that beach, or to go up on the Boardwalk. That’s when we were young, unless we were escorted. You see, a lot of this stuff that went on, well like, Jimmy Davis and Milton Warwick, who came along later than I did, they were right there in town where they were involved in everything. I was in the country. And we had a big garden out back of our house, pole beans, sweet potatoes, pig pen. We had hogs, milk goats and milk cows and we did have a nanny goat.

The house that my grandparents lived in, I became the owner of it much later, but it was down where that first development is, just this side of the movie theater…Carolina Beach Village, isn’t it? All right, the first house there, as you drive in there, to the left, would have been right on the grounds where my grandparent’s home was. The sound was there, but at low tide you could not float a boat. You could walk out in the mud if you wanted to, but you might be up to your knees or further in the mud. There was no water. Eventually, the first thing that was dredged was a little 80 ft. canal on the other side and the fill dirt from that was used to help build Canal Drive. This was not made into a nice waterway area until about the late 50’s or whenever the town of Carolina Beach had the first berm project, planned on good sand underneath that mud out there. They dredged it out.


I don’t remember when we got power. I was probably 6 or 7 years old, or a little older, when we got electricity along there. We finally got a well with an electric pump on it. But we had the outhouse as long as I was growing up.

We had chickens. I remember one time Mom said, “that old rooster out there is getting after your baby sister, I want you boys, me and my brother, to kill that thing. We’re going to eat him Sunday. Well, we’d killed chickens before, but the way we did it was you had to hold the chicken with his head on a piece of wood and the other would chop his head off. You’d get blood on you and all that kind of stuff. Well, we’d seen some of these older people take one and wring his neck. We decided we were gonna wring his neck. So we did it. But the point was we just swung him around and when we finally turned him loose, he just started wobbling on off. Then we had to go catch him again and kill him the way we normally would have.

You didn’t take a bath every day, and a lot of times, one of the good times to take a bath was when my mother was washing clothes out in the backyard. We had an old iron pot out there, you had fire around it. That’s where you got hot water and that’s where the clothes were put in to clean them. And then you took them out and put them in these tubs for rinsing. Well, a lot of times we got our bath in there.

We had a little ole scooter, we got that for Christmas one time, and that was a big deal, just a little ole tiny two-wheeled scooter that we could ride on the highway—traffic was very, very little.

We did get to swim a little bit in the ocean and my daddy and my brother and I did a lot of floundering. But it was at night. He had a gasoline lantern, and we would go over to the river. There were plenty of places you could go to the river back then, Sugar Loaf was one of them. Just drive right there. And you’d go at low tide and the wind had to be the right way for you to do it. And you’d walk right along the edge of the water. The flounder would be bedded up right in the edge of the water and the only thing you’d see is his eyes. But that’s the way we did our main fishing, and we did a lot of that floundering. You had a gig and you stuck it through ‘em and then you took your hand and put it underneath and brought him up and put him on a string or line and we’d just drag them in the water behind us.

Oral History – Joseph Ryder Lewis Jr. – Part 1

Interviewed by Ann Hertzler and Jeannie Gordon

Joseph Ryder Lewis, Jr.

Joseph Ryder Lewis, Jr.

I’m not called by my first name because…you don’t remember the famous black boxer we had, Joe Lewis. I went through high school and always down here, as Ryder. As soon as I got in the military, they go by your first name, middle initial, so Joseph R. Lewis becomes Joe Lewis right quick.

When I got out of the military, and spent my career with the Corps of Engineers, that is an Army outfit. When I came back to Wilmington in ’57, it was Joe Lewis at that office. But it was still Ryder Lewis down here. Somebody might call from down here, up at the office and want to speak with Ryder Lewis and they’d say, we don’t have anybody by the name. Or somebody might come from there, down to here, oh well, we have a Joe Lewis who lives at Carolina Beach. I know you all know him. They don’t know him. It took about a year or so before enough people knew…

 My grandparents lived down here, on the Lewis side, and bought about 150 acres of land in 1907, or somewhere along there. And the deed says they paid $400 for it and it was in the woods, in the jungle. Right where our house was, was in the woods.

They deeded out quite a bit of it to their different children. But when they died, there was still 30 or 40 acres of it that had not ever been distributed. And furthermore, I’m one of the few people in a big family that was able to go to college and get a good job. But, when I started to work with the Corps as a graduate engineer, in 1952, my annual salary was $3,410 a year!

Hazel came along and did some pretty good damage here and that was in ’54 and I was working in Savannah, Georgia, with the Corps at that point in time. My uncle was an old carpenter and a fisherman, he didn’t have much of anything and his wife was very sick and he tried to sell this place. Tried before and after Hazel and nobody would buy it. I told Uncle Henry, in 1955, I said, “Uncle Henry, I will buy that property from you for what you were asking for it before Hazel came and keep it in the family, if you’ll let me pay you $500 every 6 months plus 6% interest, until I get it paid for.” Well, $500, back in 1955, [was a lot of money] for somebody who didn’t have any money and a sick wife, and he said that would be fine. So he sold it to me. When I made the last payment, he wrote on the deed of trust, “paid in full and satisfied.”

It was just like a jungle. And, I had it surveyed after I started doing a little something here. The original survey called for seven and a half acres. The thing about it was, it went out into the Sound area a hundred or more feet, I couldn’t claim that, so I actually wound up with about six acres or something like that.

The old shopping center down here, coming from 421 all the way to St. Joseph’s Street belonged to two aunts. One of the aunts had the old, original Lewis home and she had no income. She was an old maid and the county was giving her something like $30 a month and putting a lease on the property. So I told Aunt Rose that I’ll buy that place, I’ll take your house, and I’ll pay off that lease and I’ll put lights, electricity in the house, which they didn’t have, and I’ll take care of you as long as you live if you’ll deed this property to me. Well, she trusted me enough, she did it. So that was about 8 acres.

The other aunt, she had 8 or 9 acres on out to the highway. I got hers in a similar way. I bought it. And, that’s the way I got started in getting some of the Lewis property. Then they were getting close to building that bridge up here and they moved the highway over some and they got on Lewis property. A good bit of it was on undivided property. So they wanted the Lewis family to come up with one person to deal with the state. Well, all my old uncles and aunts and my old cousins agreed that I should be the one to represent them. So I did.

By the way, I was the only one among my uncles and aunts, and cousins that had a good job. Back in those days. And I was paying property taxes each year on the undivided portions of the estate. After we settled with the state, then a few of my uncles that were left, they said that somebody ought to be in charge of this undivided part of the property anyway. Because a good bit of it was behind somebody else. Anyway, it wound up that all my uncles and aunts and cousins, except 3 cousins, agreed that … Well, I made a proposal to each one of them, and they agreed, except 3 held out on me, and that put me at about 30 or 40 more acres.

Property for Proposed Ryder Lewis Park

Property for Proposed Ryder Lewis Park

Property tax went up and I finally told those three, I said that the time has come for you to buy, to sell, or let’s divide it. I’m not going to pay property tax on the undivided Lewis estate anymore unless I have the title to it. So they said let’s divide it. I said OK. I’ll have it surveyed and have a map drawn. You can pay your portion of that. They agreed to that. After I had the map drawn, I turned the map over to them and I said OK, you tell me how to divide it. And the thing about it was there were about 14 acres down at this area, mostly behind somebody else, and then it was split completely and then it was another 15 acres in between people.

Town of Carolina Beach Property -- Proposed Ryder Lewis Park

Town of Carolina Beach Property — Proposed Ryder Lewis Park

I gave the town a little over 10 acres of land, that most of it was classified as wet land, and I thought they were going to make a park area. But they wound up, it’s only a 100 ft. on the highway and goes back 400 ft., over 10 acres, donated it.

That area is where they put those ugly ponds out there on the highway. I didn’t give it to them for that, either. The mayor at that point in time, Ray Rothrock, he was interested in having another possible site for a well, on the east side of 421. And that’s another reason why I went ahead and donated it.