October Meeting – Remembering Hazel

View 47 photos of Hurricane Hazel in Carolina Beach, Oct. 15 1954:  Brummitt Collection

 

hazle-mapThe Federal Point Historic Preservation Society will hold its monthly meeting on Monday, October 17, 7:30 p.m. at the Federal Point History Center, 1121-A North Lake Park Blvd., adjacent to Carolina Beach Town Hall.

This month our program will be “Remembering Hazel.” Steve Pfaff, with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, returns to give an overview and how Hazel rates in the history of North Carolina hurricanes.

In addition we have Byron Moore and Charlie (Tommy) Greene, both long time members of our  Society, on board to talk about their personal experiences during and after noaaHazel.

From Wikipedia: At landfall on October 15, 1954, the hurricane brought a storm surge of over 18 feet to a large area of coastline, producing severe coastal damage; the damage was greater since the hurricane coincided with the highest lunar tide of the year.

Brunswick County, North Carolina, suffered the heaviest damage, where most coastal dwellings were either destroyed or severely damaged. For example, in Long Beach, North Carolina, only five of the 357 buildings were left standing.

The official report from the Weather Bureau in Raleigh, North Carolina stated that as a result of Hazel, “all traces of civilization on the immediate waterfront between the state line and Cape Fear were practically annihilated.” According to NOAA, “every pier in a distance of 170 miles of coastline was demolished”.

Nineteen people were killed in North Carolina, with several hundred more injured; 15,000 homes were destroyed and another 39,000 were damaged. The number of people left homeless by the storm was “uncounted thousands.” Damages in the Carolinas amounted to $163 million, with $61 million incurred by beachfront property. Total damage in the United States historic-plaqueranged from $281 million to $308 million.

While Hazel caused the most damage in the Carolinas, the storm did not lose all of its intensity. Going north, Hazel turned extratropical by midday when it merged with a cold front; however, it retained hurricane-strength winds and it was continuing to drop heavy rainfall.

 

Jack Fryar—History Buff

by Nancy Gadzuk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Zach Hammer, Producer of ‘Summers at Seabreeze’

by Nancy Gadzuk

zachZach Hanner spoke at the July 18, 2016 monthly meeting of the Federal Point Historic Preservation Society.

Zach was the creator of the informative and entertaining musical production, Summers at Seabreeze, produced in 2015 at TheatreNOW, a performing arts complex in Wilmington featuring dinner theater.

Zach is Artistic Director of TheatreNOW, as well as being a driving force in many other artistic ventures in the Southeast.
summers-seabreeze-2Zach talked about his personal experiences that led to the creation of Summers at Seabreeze.

He’d been given the opportunity as a free-lance writer for the Wilmington Star-News to write an article about Seabreeze, the African-American beach community just north of Carolina Beach. But with documentary filmmaker Ken Burns as his role model, Zach wanted to do more than write a single article for the newspaper. And in 2014, he began to do just that.

He read existing writings about the community, including a UNCW master’s thesis on Seabreeze, and contacted about half a dozen former Seabreeze residents who were willing to share their experiences with him.

He learned about the ferry driver on the small ferry running between Seabreeze and Carolina Beach who would “whop rowdy passengers over the head with a cane,” presumably from one of those rowdy passengers. By the time Zach had interviewed three or four people, he said, “I knew I had a show.”

He combined the oral histories of his interviewees with other sources of local history to tell the story of Seabreeze during its heyday in the 20th century as an African-American resort.

Since both food and music were major components of life in Seabreeze, telling its story through a dinner theater production made perfect and delicious sense, with musical greats like Fats Domino visiting Seabreeze and enjoying their famous clam fritters.

Summers at Seabreeze

Summers at Seabreeze

I had the good fortune to enjoy Summers at Seabreeze when it played in Wilmington last summer – although as a long-time New Englander, I have to say that clam fritters are supposed to be round spheres, not pancakes like the ones served in Seabreeze.  But they were delicious!

While some of the actors in Summers at Seabreeze were seasoned professionals, some were not, and part of the experience, from Zach’s point of view, was to expand and grow all the participants.

Zach would like to stage another, perhaps larger scale, version of the play and hopes to explore that possibility in the future.

Those who saw Summers in Seabreeze last year certainly hope he does.

 

July Meeting – Zach Hanner “Summers at Seabreeze”

Monday, July 18, 2016  7:30 pmsummers at seabreeze

The Federal Point Historic Preservation Society will hold its monthly meeting on Monday, July 18, 7:30 p.m. at the Federal Point History Center, 1121-A North Lake Park Blvd., adjacent to Carolina Beach Town Hall.

Our Speaker this month will be Zach Hanner, author of the musical Summers at Seabreeze. He will discuss the process of creating the show and its evolution.

Zach Hanner is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a BA in Performance Studies. For the last 24 years, he has worked as an actor, writer and director on stage, in film, zachtelevision and commercials in both the southeast region and the New York area.

Hanner is also a musician and former freelance contributor to the Wilmington Star-News and the Myrtle Beach Sun Times.

Currently, he serves as Artistic Director of TheatreNOW, a unique performance space in downtown Wilmington specializing in dinner theater.

He also serves as Executive Director of Superstar Academy, a nonprofit theater outreach program that provides acting opportunities for a variety of young people in the Wilmington area.

In 2006, Hanner was assigned a story for the Star-News about the Seabreeze community. Fascinated by the idea of an isolated African-American community thriving in the era of Jim Crow, he continued to ponder various ways to try and tell the story of this magical place and in 2014 began the research that would eventually become “Summers at Seabreeze,” a live-action documentary told through voices from history as well as from interview subjects who grew up in the heyday of the Seabreeze phenomenon.

The play, nominated for a Star-News award for “Best Original Production,” was a hit for TheatreNOW in the summer of 2015 and featured choreography from Kevin Lee-Y Greene and musical contributions from Grenoldo Frazier.

What are the Seneca Guns?

Steve Plaffby Nancy Gadzuk

Steve Pfaff, Warning Coordinator Meteorologist at the Wilmington office of the National Weather Service, provided some insight and information to help answer this question at the History Center’s April 18, 2016 open meeting.

He first showed some short video clips on the Seneca Guns from a segment of The Unexplained Files, a TV series produced by the Science Channel. The clips included an audio recording of the “boom” most of the audience recognized as the sound of the Seneca Guns, as well as interviews with locals who described their experiences hearing the Guns.

Steve was featured on the video as the down-to-earth scientist who explained some possible causes of the Seneca Guns and served as an antidote to the show’s sensationalist presentation of the Seneca Guns as both terrifying and earth-shattering. (Two representative episodes of The Unexplained Files are “Voodoo Zombies” and “UFO Meets Missiles at Malstrom Air Force Base,” so the Seneca Guns were up against some stiff competition for high drama.)

Seneca Guns OriginsThe Seneca Guns got their name from James Fenimore Cooper’s short story, “The Lake Gun,” that featured similar sounds heard near New York’s Seneca Lake. Most occurrences are near water, as sound travels better through water than through air. They seem to be more common during temperature inversions, when cool, dense air near the ground creates a sound channel that sounds can reverberate against, creating the booms we hear at ground level.

Steve described some of the possible causes for the Seneca Guns, such as the collapse of underwater caves, distant thunderstorms, shallow offshore earthquakes, sub-marine landslides, undersea methane release, and offshore military operations—and then gave us scientific evidence and data that seemed to disprove most of these theories.

Seneca Guns - LandlidesCaptain Skippy Winner spoke from the audience about his own experiences in the past as a boat captain sending his observations and readings of sub-marine landslides and turbulence to the Weather Service to add to their data compilation.

Steve acknowledged the importance of input such as Skippy’s in documenting and understanding the realities of weather activity.

Did Steve ever give us the definitive answer as to what causes the Seneca Guns? Not really, but offshore military operations seemed the most plausible to me.

James Fenimore Cooper had his own explanation for the phenomenon:

“Tis a chief of the Senecas, thrown into the lake by the Great Spirit, for his bad conduct. Whenever he tries to get upon the land, the Spirit speaks to him from the caves below, and he obeys.”  

“THAT must mean the ‘Lake Gun?’ ”  

“So the pale-faces call it.”

Elaine Henson on Vintage Bathing Suits – May Program

postcard of suitsVintage Bathing Suit Exhibit

This summer the Federal Point History Center, located next to Town Hall at 1121 North Lake Park Boulevard, will host an exhibit called Vintage Bathing Suits: 1900-1970 which includes 22 suits from the time period.

The exhibit will be open on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 10 am to 4 pm during June, July and August.  There will be an opening reception for the exhibit on Sunday, June 12, 2016, 2-4 pm at the History Center.


Monday, May 16, 2016swimsuits  7:30 p.m. (past events)

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

Our speaker this month will be our president, Elaine Henson, who will present The Bathing Suit in Vintage Advertising which looks at the evolution of bathing attire from early 1900s to the 70s.

Early suits were made of cotton or wool and looked more like dresses than the suits we see today.  The “dresses” had undergarments including bloomers below the knees and were worn with wool stockings, slippers and matching head-gear.  Men’s suits were wool knit tunics with sleeves and knee-length shorts.

Over time, the sleeves disappeared, the shorts became shorter, new fabrics appeared and suits became more athletic looking.  Suits became more stylish in many colors but still had little or no foundation features.  WWII brought the two piece with a brassiere like top and bottoms going from the waist to mid-thigh.  The post war years saw zippers, boning and other types of foundations in bathing suits.

 

Rebecca Taylor, Finding Your Family History – February Meeting

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

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

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

A retired librarian, Rebecca’s interest in her family’s history was kindled by watching Who Do You Think You Are? and Finding Your Roots as well as taking a trip to the Midwest where her paternal ancestors were from.  And, of course, like anyone living in SE North Carolina, finding her Civil War ancestors.  It helped that her partner, also a retired librarian, had been working on her family history for a number of years and already had a subscription to Ancestry.com.

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

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

 

Scott Len: Overview of CCC’s and Camp Sapona

Camp Sapona - Southport's Ownby Nancy Gadzuk

Scott Len spoke to a large crowd at the January 18, 2016 meeting of the Federal Point Historic Preservation Society on the Civilian Conservation Corps, 1933-1942, with a special emphasis on the CCC’s Camp Sapona, located in Southport.

Scott grew up listening to his granddad talk about his days in the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in Utah, and these conversations piqued his interest in knowing more. When Scott retired to Southport, he began researching the history of the CCC’s Camp Sapona, which had been built on and around Leonard Street, a stone’s throw from his new home.

Camp Sapona 1934The nation was reeling from the weight of the Great Depression when Franklin Roosevelt was elected President. One of his first acts as president was to introduce a bill for Emergency Conservation Work on March 27, 1933. The bill cleared both houses of Congress in four days and FDR signed it into law on March 31. The first enrollees signed up on April 7, and the first Civilian Conservation Corps camp opened on April 17.

Seventeen days after Roosevelt signed the legislation, the first camp opened. Imagine government moving that quickly now! Within three months, the CCC had 275,000 enrollees in 1300 camps.

Young single men between the ages of 18 and 26, who had dependents—parents, siblings, cousins, grandparents—were eligible to join the CCC. They could enroll for six month periods, and could re-enroll for up to a total of eighteen months. The men were given a place to live, a job, clothing, and $30 a month, $25 of which was sent home to family. And food. Food was a big deal for enrollees. Young men gained on average twelve pounds while they were part of the CCC. It was the first time many of them had had three meals a day in a very long time.

Camp Sapona - Work Project MapCamp Sapona, or Camp P-62, Company 427, operated from October 1934 to December 1937. The first enrollees lived in tents while clearing the surrounding pine woods to build camp buildings. Work then concentrated on building access to forest areas, and the enrollees built roads, bridges, fire breaks, as well as fire towers in Shallotte, Maco, and Bolivia. Wild fires were a big problem in the area and the Sapona enrollees spent 6,102 man-days fighting fires. (CCC kept very good records!)

Enrollees worked eight-hour days, five days a week. In off hours, there were plenty of opportunities for education, training, and recreation. The camp offered classes in literacy, math, carpentry and other vocational skills. Their large motor pool encouraged mechanic skills training. Camp Sapona had a wood shop and a blacksmith shop. Their big rec hall would hold dances open to Southport residents. The local Amuzu Theater provided entertainment for the enrollees.

The camp had organized sports teams and its own newspaper, the Sapona Sandspur. They had a series of canine mascots, including Soapy, considered by the newspaper to be the King Arthur of the Sapona Canine Round Table—“though he is not of royal blood and, so far as can be determined, is of the cur and hound breed.”

It’s not surprising that many enrollees would sign up for a second or even a third six month period, fulfilling the goal of training and rehabilitating young men.

Motor Pool - Camp SaponaNorth Carolina had a total of 163 CCC camps, with an average of forty-five operating in any one year, giving employment to more than 75,000 men and channeling more than $82,000,000 into the state.

Over 3,000,000 men served in the CCC throughout the country during its eleven years of operation.

President Roosevelt declared “a government worthy of its name must make a fitting response” to the unemployment of its citizens, and the Civilian Conservation Corps was part of that response. It was the most popular of the New Deal programs.

A government worthy of its name. We would do well today to follow FDR’s lead.


Interested in learning more about family members’ CCC service? The CCC kept excellent personnel records on enrollees. Start here for instructions on requesting these records:

CCC Legacy includes resources to continue CCC research and includes a complete state by state listing of all CCC camps.

Brooks Newton Preik: River Pilots of the Cape Fear River

by Nancy Gadzuk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Standing on Our Family’s Shoulders

Howard Hewett

Howard Hewett

by Nancy Gadzuk

The Federal Point Historic Preservation Society hosted a special guest on Monday, November 2, 2015: Howard Hewett, who has chronicled details of his childhood in several articles on the History Center’s website.  Howard was visiting North Carolina recently and he shared memories of his childhood here in the late 1930’s up to 1956, when the Ethyl Dow plant closed and his family moved to Texas.

Hewett - Foushee - Kure - Winner

Hewett – Foushee – Kure – Winner

Howard gave us some family history, beginning with Hewett ancestors arriving first in Massachusetts and then moving to Brunswick County in the 1700’s, and eventually to Federal Point in 1900. As Howard put it, ‘We stand on our family’s shoulders. It’s important to know your history.’ Indeed, the large audience included many Hewett, Lewis, and Davis family members.

Howard shared recollections about farming and fishing, and by the time he got to Myrtle Grove School and Carolina Beach Elementary School, others began chiming in with their own recollections of school and agreed: ‘We really ripped up our britches there.’

Hewett - Foushee - KureWomen in the audience recalled taking their ironing boards down to the beach and using them as surfboards. They needed to take care to keep the pointed end of the  board above the sand; otherwise the point would stick in the sand and flip them off the board. Of course their mothers were not to find out about these adventures!

Howard’s story of the mullet run was one of many memorable tales from the evening. In an area where people depended heavily on the sea for sustenance, a successful autumn mullet run was an important economic event, and could determine how well, or how much, a family would eat all winter long.

When Howard’s father noticed the swell of a large school of fish in the water after church one Sunday, it caused a temporary theological crisis for the family. Howard’s grandmother was, as he put it, a wash foot Methodist, and the family relied heavily on Scripture to define daily life.

Sunday was supposed to be a day of rest, but Grandmother (who also had a hankering for mullet roe and grits) reminded them of the need to provide for the family. With backing from the New Testament, Grandmother gave her approval to take advantage of what would turn out to be a boon for the entire community. Howard, his father, and Uncle Crawford Lewis headed for the beach.

The first person to see a school of fish would put a ‘spotter’ nearby to make claim to the fish. The fish run then belonged the spotter and his family. This was an unwritten rule, but one everyone in Federal Point knew and honored. Howard, age 9, served as spotter for the mullets while the men were getting the boat ready.

Fishing Nets on the Beach - Winner

Pulling Fishing Nets on the Beach Near Winner’s Place

This particular mullet run went right past Walter Winner’s place. Walter, also a fisherman, shouted out to Howard an offer of help should his father and his Uncle Crawford need it to manage the mullet run.

Howard climbed in the boat to help the men with the nets and they pushed off into the water, rowing hard against the surf. As it turned out, the mullet run was so large that many volunteers were needed on shore to help contain the fish.

When the mullet run was done, the Hewett family had all the mullet they needed, salted and stored for the winter. All the volunteers took fish home, and the remainder was sold to a fish house in Wilmington. Between 1000 and 1500 pounds of mullet were taken.

Henry Hewett (l) - 3 Generations

Henry Hewett (l) – 3 Generations

It had been a good day on the water, and the community, working together as one, got to share in the bounty.

Likewise, it was a good evening at the History Center sharing memories, and at least one person referred to the meeting as ‘a big old family reunion.’