John W. Plummer, Jr. – Part One
By: Elaine Henson
Carolina Beach’s first mayor was born in Plummerville, Robeson County, North Carolina, on July 17, 1874. John Wilkinson Plummer, Jr. was a first generation American, as his father came to the U.S. at age 15 with his family from Lincolnshire, England. The Plummer family settled in Milwaukee, Wisconsin where a few years later, the senior John Wilkinson Plummer enlisted in the Union Army. He was assigned to Company G of the 24th Regiment of Wisconsin. For four years he fought bravely in the Civil War until it ended earning the rank of Captain.
After the war, he found his way to North Carolina and Robeson County where in 1867, he married Miss Susan Gilbert. He worked for the Manchester Railroad, an early branch of the Coastline, and then Wilmington, Charlotte and Rutherfordton Railroad. In 1888, Captain Plummer moved his family to Wilmington. The year before, Captain John Harper had launched the resort of Carolina Beach where the Plummers later owned some cottages and spent summers.
In town, he went into the confectionery business selling sweets of all kinds including homemade candy along with fruit, nuts, tobacco and fireworks. The business started out on Front Street moved to North 2nd Street, Princess Street and back to Front at 219 North Front between Grace and Chestnut Streets. Captain Plummer’s son, John W. Plummer Jr. followed his father in the confectionery business in the early 1990s. Soon after they began making ice cream in the back of their store.
On September 7, 1906, our future mayor, John W. Plummer Jr., married Caroline Rowell King in the small town of Cronly in Columbus County. The young couple made their home in Wilmington and soon had the first two of their three children, son Robert Cronly Plummer (1908-1960) followed by daughter, Doris Grey Plummer (1910-1992). In 1912, to fit the needs
of their growing family, the Plummers built a bigger home at 312 North 5th Avenue that remains to this day. Five years later, Helen King Plummer (1917-1972) completed their family.
Due to his father’s declining health, Mr. Plummer, Jr. had taken over the family business. Captain Plummer died August 15, 1911, with the funeral being conducted at his residence, 119 South 6th Street and his burial at Oakdale Cemetery.
The demand for Plummer’s ice cream was growing. By 1918, Mr. Plummer had installed modern pasteurizing, mixing and freezing equipment that completely manufactured the ice cream without ever being touched by human hands. It was capable of making 1,000 gallons of ice cream daily. With this new equipment, he was able to expand selling ice cream at Carolina Beach where his family spent summers at their cottage. He opened Plummer’s Store on the boardwalk and became very involved in the summer community to the point that he became the lessee of Carolina Beach for the 1923 summer season. In that capacity, he was in charge of all the entertainment at the pavilion, orchestras for dancing, holiday celebrations, the bath house, etc.
The following newspaper clipping details The Sunset Six, the orchestra John W. Plummer, Jr. hired to play at the Pavilion for the summer of 1923. On May 31, 1923, they gave a performance at the Plummer’s Carolina Beach home. [Courtesy of Bill Reaves Files NHCPLL]
May 31, 1923 CAROLINA BEACH
In May of 1923, property owners at Carolina Beach organized a movement to incorporate the town. John W. Plummer, Jr. was surely a member of this group as he was one of the 3 commissioners named in the incorporation papers that passed in the NC Legislature in March, 1925. [Courtesy of Bill Reaves Files NHCPLL]
May 10, 1923 CAROLINA BEACH
Next month: John W. Plummer, Jr. Part Two