by: Howard Hewett, Jones Creek, TX – October, 2015 (Part 2 of 2) (Read Part 1)
Cape Fear Lighthouse 1903-1958 Bald Head Island
Winter Time Camping
In 1951, my scout troop, along with our scout master, Chevis Faircloth, liked to use the abandoned ammunition bunkers in the winter as one of our camping locations. I remember it well because on one occasion a yellow jacket bit my ring finger just in front of my new scout ring. Before I could get the ring off, my finger swelled to the point that I could not remove it. It was good the Chevis had a pair of side cutters. It is reported that someone known as the Fort Fisher Hermit lived in one of the bunkers for 17 years from 1955 to 1972.
Another one of our favorite camping spots in the winter was Silver Lake. My friend Jimmy Collier’s dad was in real estate. At the time, he had purchased the lake and the land around it. You could get to it by a dirt road. Jimmy’s dad had poured a concrete slab and had built a fireplace a hundred or so yards off from the lake. This made a good camping spot.
I recall Jimmy and I frying chicken on an open fire in the fireplace. We decided to it would be great if we made some milk gravy. I think we had too much oil so we continue to add flour and milk resulting in a semi-brown mixture. It was definitely a learning experience. Our final product was more like glue than gravy, but the chicken was good.
Summertime Camping on Bald Head Island
From time to time, there were camping trips on Bald Head Island. Our scout leader Chevis Faircloth would organize the trip and someone with a large boat would take us to the south side of Corncake Inlet and put us ashore.
Cape Fear Lighthouse – 1914
With our camping gear of fishing poles, some staples, very little clothing and jungle hammocks, we hiked about five miles to the general location of the wrought iron and steel frame lighthouse. We set up camp in dense grove of live oaks within 100 yards or so of the lighthouse because, as I can best recall, there was a source of water there. The grove of oaks was thick enough to enable all of us to hang our hammocks. All of our hammocks were surplus purchased at the Army surplus store at Carolina Beach. They were referred to a “jungle hammocks.” I assume most of them were surplus from the Pacific theater.
The hammock could be used with a spreader – two 30” sticks cut from the brush to hold the hammock open – or without the sticks, which allowed the canvas bottom to come up around you. This was all right when it the weather was cool, but on hot summer nights, I preferred the stick spreaders. Attached to the bottom canvas was a four-wall mosquito net.
Once in the hammock, you would zip yourself in, which was needed because of the abundance of mosquitoes on Bald Head Island. Attached to the top of the netting was a tarp like material, which acted as a tent. It had eight lines that connected to the corners and sides of the tarp. The lines on the ends could be attached above the rope that was holding up the hammock and the other six could be attached to low hanging branches to form a tent over your hammock. This provided good shelter when it rained.
Because of the heavy population of hogs that roamed the island, it was not unusual to have hogs visit the camp at night; it was good to be sleeping above ground. Some nights when it got too hot in the oak grove, we would slip out to the beach and lay at the edge of the water on our back and watch the stars between the flashes of light from the lighthouse. There always seem to be a sea breeze on the point in the direction of Frying-Pan shoals.
We basically had the island to ourselves, other than the wildlife and occasional Coastguard men, the island had no human inhabitants. Our days were spent fishing and exploring.
There was an old lighthouse that stood on the riverside of the island, which as the time was just called “Old Bald Head Lighthouse.” It was covered in a jungle of grape vines and was a little on the spooky side. At this writing, it is referred as “Old Baldy.” On some trips when the grapes were ripe, everyone got their fill of grapes, and, of course, purple hands.
I was 15 years old when Hurricane Hazel hit the Carolina coast. Our house exterior was covered in what’s called 105 siding. Dad had decided to cover it with asbestos shingles, which was a very popular siding. The project was not completed. So the morning the storm hit, we were outside trying to secure the unfinished siding by nailing strips of wood at the top of the last course of shingles.
I recall my mother coming to the window and saying “Curtis, waves are coming over the sand dunes up toward Kure Beach.” Dad quickly gathered up the Hewett-Lewis clan with some provisions and headed through the back roads of Kure Beach to the Ethyl Dow Office complex which was a strong concrete/brick structure and relatively high off the river.
Dad was Ethyl Dow’s supervisor for the facility at that time. Most of the employees who lived on the Atlantic brought their families to the plant along with those who had no place to go. I do not recall how many folks were there, but families were assigned offices as their personal areas. Dad’s office was a nice-sized one with a desk and a drafting table. The drafting table became my bed. The plant lunchroom became gathering place for coffee and a place to visit.
The main concern was to stay away from exterior windows. I remember a couple of things during the height of the storm. While standing in a protected doorway, I saw a heavy piece of corrugated siding come off one of the buildings and fly through the air. It hit a telephone pole and snapped in two. Later in the day, I saw the export dock float off its pilings.
During a lull in the storm, I was allowed to ride with my Dad and others to the building referred as to the seawater intake. Dad wanted to check for flooding in the pump building. Waves were extremely high and were actively breaking in the intake basin and crashing against the outer wall of the building. Needless to say, we did not stay long. By the time we returned to the office building, the wind had started to pick back up.
I do not recall how long we sheltered at the plant, but it was less than 48 hours. When the storm passed, we returned home and observed devastation all around us. Our home was intact, but houses up and down the beach were gone. Our beloved sand dunes, in front of our house, no longer existed. There was about 5-6 inches of sand covering the yard and debris from houses everywhere. Recovery and getting back to some normalcy took many weeks.
My dad, Howard Curtis Hewett, Sr., and I have had many discussions over the years about what saved our house. It could have been we were just lucky that the debris in the wave action never reached the house.
Hardpan showing after Hurricane Hazel, 1954.
The other mitigating factor that may have contributed to the house’s longevity is the geologic formation in front of the house that dad called “hardpan.”
The material appeared to be a mixture of compacted very black sand-clay substance that had a lot of wood in the composition. Rubbing it would turn your hands black. I do not know how thick the formation was but during some of the Nor’easters or Northeasters, I was aware of as much as four foot of the formation exposed. This formation was three to four foot under the sand.
There was a lot of beach damage during Hurricane Hazel. Our beloved beach hill was completely gone. In the weeks that followed, there were many hours of clean-up and repairs. One weekend, as a reprieve from all the work, Dad suggested we launch the boat in front of the house and travel down to the blockade wrenches out from Fort Fisher.
This particular day the surf was pounding the bar about 35 yards from the beach with 8 to 10 foot breakers. The waves were running across the bar and emptying in a slough that was approximately 15 yards wide. There was very little wave action on the beach side of the slough. Because of the distance from the house to the blockade-runner wrecks, we attached our 9.9-horse Johnson motor to the boat.
This was a motor that was purchased from surplus, but was in fairly good running condition. It had a large exposed fly-wheel and required a starter rope to start. After all the preparations were completed, we slipped the boat into the water. I was in the stern seated on a 5-gallon bucket operating the motor and Dad was sitting on the middle bench. We ran down the slough under minimum power as Dad watched for a lull in the breakers.
When the opportunity came, Dad said, “Let’s take her to sea.” Having a history with seafaring people, Dad used this term quite often. He used it to make a lot of things active around the water. Another term for putting on the brakes was “throw out the anchor.”
Anyway, we were on plane before we got out of the slough and we were racing across the bar. As we approached the breakers our motor sputtered and quit. Even with a herculean effort the motor would not restart.
We survived the first wave, but the second broke directly into the boat. The force of the wave pushed us back toward the beach, but we did not turn over. Our boat was full of water up to the gunnels. Dad and I jumped out onto the bar and found we were still in four feet of water. The force of the wave was so powerful that it washed Dad’s wallet out of his back pocket. Dad spotted it floating away, but was able to retrieve it by quick action on his part. The slough was somewhat deeper and it was a struggle to get the boat back to the beach. We later repaired the motor, but we never used it in that application again.
Federal Point Mosquitoes
The mosquitoes that inhabited Federal Point were as vicious as mosquitoes anywhere. The best example that I can relate took place in 1959 while I was a sophomore at Texas Lutheran College. I went back to North Carolina to spend the summer with my grandmother.
That summer I worked at two of the stations and helped transport building supplies from Wilmington’s rail-head to Carolina Beach when needed. Because Howard Knox and I grew up together starting in first grade and continuing at Sun Set Park and New Hanover High School, we were paired on the same work shift so we could have our free time together.
To promote the boat sales, we were allowed to take the demonstration boat out water-skiing on our days off. You could ski almost all day on a 5-gallon tank of gas and we did not have to buy the gas. But, thinking back, you could buy a gallon of gas for about the same price as a loaf of bread. Both were less than 20 cents.
We were allowed to use the station’s Jeep after hours so we would often check out all the lovers’ parking spots for people who were stuck in sand, which was not unusual and it was a good way to pick up some extra cash.
Over the years of reading and listening to early narratives of Federal Point, most stories contained stories of mosquitoes. One quote that has always stood out to me is the appraisal by Cpl. Theodore “Ted” Litwin, 445th AAA Battalion, Camp Davis at Fort Fisher. He stated, “Hell hole! The biggest joke we had going were ‘combat mosquitoes’ that were at the airport. They pumped 50 gallons of gas in them before they found out it was a mosquito.”
My story just adds to the mosquito lore.
One particular night when the mosquitoes were extremely viscous, Howard Knox and I were checking all the lovers’ parking spots south of the gates at Fort Fisher. We came across a couple’s car that was buried to the axle and the mosquitoes were eating the occupants alive. They did not want to wait for us to pull them out; instead, they wanted us to take them back to Carolina Beach as quickly as possible. We put them in the back of Jeep delivered them to their beach cottage.
Upon arrival, the guy gave us his keys and handed us each a $50 dollar bill to retrieve the car. When a guy pays $100 in 1959 to get away from Federal Point’s mosquitoes, it put some perspective on the comments of the soldiers in the early days of Fort Fisher.
[All photos provided by Howard Hewett – Click any image for more detail]
The Beach Hill in front of Hewett home prior to Hurricane Hazel 1952-53
General location of our front yard beach hill after Hurricane Hazel 1954. Showing hardpan & some tree stumps.
Definition of Hardpan: (härd’pān’)
A hard, usually clay-rich layer of soil lying at or just below the ground surface, in which soil particles are cemented together by silica, iron oxide, calcium carbonate, or organic matter that has precipitated from water percolating through the soil.
Hardpan does not soften when exposed to water. Also called caliche.
Bulldozers pushing sand to form a beach hill. The power pole was behind beach hill prior to Hazel.
Looking north toward the Danner Home (at Davis Rd); south of the Kure Beach city limits.
by: Howard Hewett, Jones Creek, TX – October, 2015 – (Part 1 of 2)
[In this article, I combined several short stories that were originally intended for my grandchildren in my ‘Howard’s Ramblings’ series.]
Fort Fisher during World War II
The Fort Fisher area was used as a military training base during World War II.
The main highway in the area was U.S. 421. The Hewett house was located on the Atlantic side of the road, one block north of the Fort Fisher Gates. (see photos)
The highway ran maybe 75 yards parallel to sand dunes on the ocean side until it reached the historic ruins of Fort Fisher. At this point (currently The Riggins), the road curved out closer to the Atlantic and was located east of the old civil war main battery and then crossed in front of the Civil War Memorial. From there the road ran south to Federal Point ending at the Buchanan Battery.
In early 1941, the Army started anti-aircraft training along the beach and down on the sandy flats by the bay. The arriving trainees were faced with the some harsh conditions on Federal Point, as were those who were in Fort Fisher’s original Civil War garrison. A member of the 558th AAA Battalion stated the area was “a forlorn spit of sand and scrub growth pinched between the Atlantic Ocean and the Cape Fear River; a quagmire of sand, sand, and more sand. It was strictly a no-nonsense place designed to put grit and fire in the bowels and brains of its trainees. They had to learn to coexist with the ubiquitous sand and mosquitoes to survive on Federal Point.” I will share a story later about our Federal Point mosquitoes.
There were barracks, mess halls, recreational facilities, warehouses, radio and meteorological stations, a post exchange, photo lab, outdoor theater, guardhouse, an administration building and infirmary. Passageways made of cinder block and concrete connected some of these buildings while boardwalks connected others. By the time training operations ceased in 1944, the base covered an area of several hundred acres and had grown to include an 80-seat cafeteria, a 350-bed hospital and a dental clinic.
My early remembrances are just snapshots of what I actually saw during 1941-1944 because I was only two to five years old; what I recall are just flashes of events. Of course, there was evidence of the army being there long after they left the area.
Gun Emplacements Along the Beach
Starting just in front of our house and running south along the beach almost to the historical grounds of Old Fort Fisher were gun emplacements.
I later read that most were 40-millimeter automatic cannons and 50-caliber machine guns. I recall that some of the gun bunkers were quite large. There were at least three large guns between our house and the two large houses just south of the gates. (Reference: Federation Point Historical Preservation Society, Oral History, Earl Page-Part 3, “Blue Top Cottages”)
Actually, there was a 50-caliber machine gun nest just outside of our yard and a 40-millimeter anti-aircraft battery with a searchlight within 30 yards of the edge of our yard on the south side. Thinking back on it now, it seem strange to me why the gun emplacements were located outside of the gates and they were located so close to our residence.
I do not remember how long the 50-caliber gun emplacement was located in the edge of the yard. I do have some recollection of the noise and the searchlights at night. The searchlights were used to help locate the targets. There were also blackouts from time to time. I never asked Dad about how he was able to sleep in the early days of shift work at Ethyl Dow.
Target sleeves on long cables were towed up and down the beach by airplanes for the gunners to develop their gunnery skills. South of Old Historical Fort Fisher was a target range for gunnery practice on stationery and well as moving ground targets. This mechanized target range enabled gunners to receive versatility training and learn to be effective against tanks and other armored vehicles.
After the Army left, there was evidence that the target sleds were pulled across the target range by a cable hooked to pulleys so a bulldozer could pull the target from a safe distance. The targets were rigged so it could be pulled both ways. The mechanized target range was located slightly north of the training facilities’ ammunition bunkers and the “Rocks” were located a little farther south of the bunkers.
Being Staked Out on the Beach
When I was very young, no more the two or three, my mother was a “Fisher Woman” extraordinaire. Mother and Clara Danner loved to surf fish on the beach in front of the house for blues, trout and Virginia mullets.
The problem that arose was what to do with the new kid on the block. Mother’s solution was to tie a rope around my ankle and connect it to a stake so I could play at the water’s edge; occasionally, I was washed back and forth by wave action. I know this story is true because I heard it from several relatives later in life. Today, they’d probably arrest a mother for child endangerment; although the treatment had no ill effect on me. Mother’s solution resulted in creating a water bug. Being around water was part of my developmental process and fostered my appreciation and love for the Atlantic Ocean. I became an excellent swimmer and could work magic with my belly board.
Pig for a Pet
Dad and his pet pig “Poli” Dec. 26, 1932
After my father Curtis’ death in 1995, a photo surfaced of my dad and his pet pig. A description on the back confirmed that he not only had a pet pig, but he had named it. That Dad had a pig does shed light on the fact that in later years we were also allowed to have a pet pig. This occurred sometime before the Army closed the base.
Now this was not an ordinary pig; our pig thought he was a dog. He was put in a pen at night, but during the day he would follow us around. Being a city girl, mother was a little embarrassed when the pig would follow us down road when she went visiting the neighbors. She would tell us to make the pig go home.
The service guys from Fort Fisher would pass by in their Army jeeps and would honk their horns, hoot and holler and bang on the doors. To mother’s chagrin, some would “oink, oink” at us as they drove by.
This story did not have a happy ending for the pig. Mother survived all the embarrassment, but unfortunately the pig got too large to handle and, of course, he eventually ended up on the dinner table. Those experiences were all part of growing up.
Remembrances after the Army departed
After the war some of the barracks and buildings were sold as surplus. Some of these became beach homes at Kure and Wilmington beaches and some were used in place.
I recall that one of the warehouses was taken over by a seafood processing plant. My grandmother worked there while it was open. Their specialty was devil crabs. I remember the boiling vats along with the distinctive odor of crabs and spices. The picking and processing room was a screened-in porch. Since there was no air conditioning, the product was moved to refrigeration as quickly as possible.
The Baptist Assembly
The Baptist Seaside Assembly took up residence in some of the buildings left by the Army, which became the summer headquarters for the North Carolina State Baptist Convention in 1948. They used some of the buildings and barracks for an administration building, assembly hall and dormitories. I was quite familiar with the facilities.
My step-grandfather, J. N. Todd, was the caretaker of the buildings for a short time while the Baptist Assembly was active at Fort Fisher. I stayed a number of nights with him and my grandmother. It was one spooky place at night for a 10-year-old. An opportunity to see the hospital morgue at one time did not help control my young imagination.
The Joys of Growing Up One of the pleasures I recall in the late forties was when Uncle Crawford Lewis gave my cousin Joe Hewett a set of soap derby wheels.
We made a two-seat cart that required one to steer with his feet and one to act a brake-man. Our first project was to add a mast and a sail to the cart. The best condition for this adventure was when the wind was blowing out of the northeast. Highway 421 ran south and was a two lane narrow road, which did not allow for any tacking. With a strong wind, it was a wild ride down south. On some occasions, our cart would start coming apart due to the stress and we would have to abort the run. There were several designs changes before we could make a complete run.
With all the terrain being relatively flat on Federal Point, it was hard to find a good incline. My step-grandfather saved the day by allowing us to use the cinder block corridor that ran from the old Army hospital to the Baptist Assembly’s Administration building and assembly hall, which was approximately 100 yards away. The corridor was approximately eight feet wide and ten feet in height. It was basically a concrete cinder block structure with the windows missing. The original windows were spaced about every twenty feet.
As best as I can recall, the slope of the corridor was approximately two feet in 100 yards. This was a perfect place to use our cart especially for a couple of flatlanders. Traveling down this corridor while gaining speed with the sunlight filtering through the window gave a couple of 10-year-olds the illusion of traveling at a high rate of speed. We would spend hours riding our cart down the corridor. But, all good things must come to an end. As I described earlier, the administration building was at the end of our run so it was imperative that our brakes worked properly. When, as one might have predicted, our braking mechanism failed, we ended up going through a set of double doors into the Assembly Hall. The impact of the door did cause us to stop before hitting the exterior wall on the other side of the room. We were fortunate that the double doors did not have a center post. But, nevertheless, we had several cuts and bruises. This ended our favorite escapade down the corridor. We were admonished by my step-grandfather and were required to help with the repairs.
Money in the Sand at Fort Fisher
I am sure this event took place before 1952. The military was using some parts of Fort Fisher acreage for training again. The timing suggests that the activity may have been in preparation for or in response to the Korean War. Most of the World War II barracks had been sold to private citizens for homes and commercial offices so the Army set up temporary structures for barracks that had three-foot walls with canvas tent structures mounted on top. The floors were compact red dirt that was hauled in from somewhere in North Carolina.
I recall seeing these tent barracks many times over a period of a couple of years. Dad had a contract with the Army that gave him the rights to mess hall garbage. We would pick up the garbage every second day after the evening mess and would haul several 55-gallon drums to the pigpens on the River Farm. I have no remembrance of the number of pigs raised and or the numbers sold commercially, but I think Dad did well during this period. I do remember going to the stockyard in Wilmington on more than one occasion.
When the Army left and things returned to normal, Dad, Grandmother and I were out one day looking for blackberries or wild peaches. We came across the location of the tent barracks and to our surprise, there was money setting on a little red dirty pedestal. Every time it rained more coins were washed to the surface. The denominations were varied in quantity but there were quarters, dimes, nickels and pennies. Our take may have been as much as dollar to dollar and a half at first. What developed over the next several months was a routine that became a family outing.
This speaks well of how easy it was to entertain a family in early 1950’s. After a good rain, we would load up the old beach buggy (a stripped-down 1938 Ford frame with exposed engine, radiator and firewall/windshield with wood deck designed to carry nets and a small boat) and head out to search for money left behind. Our take varied on each outing, but we found enough money to make the event like a big treasure hunt.
We finally stopped going when our reward and excitement of the search dwindled. I recall Dad would say, “Well, we found enough money to purchase a loaf of bread.” In retrospect, I think you could buy loaf of bread for 12 cents in those days, so on average our take was not very much, but the outing was what is was all about.
Providing for the Family
Sugar cane vat comparable to one used during the Hewett’s fall hog killing.
As noted in earlier writings, the family fished, farmed and raised livestock. Dad always had pigs that the family would slaughter and butcher on cold fall days.
This yearly event was a family affair with all hands on deck. Uncle Crawford Lewis and my Dad were the primary orchestrators of the slaughter and did all of the heavy lifting.
After the pigs were shot in the head and their throats slit, the pigs were hung in a nearby large oak to allow proper bleeding. From there they were placed in scalding water in a vat until the hair could be scraped off. The pig was removed to a workbench to complete the cleaning process. Sometimes more than one trip to the vat of scalding hot water was necessary.
Once the pigskin was almost pure white, it was hung again to remove the internal organs. The pigs were allowed to cool to the daily ambient temperature. If the weather was cold enough, the butchering process could take several days. The meat was either salted down and placed in box to cure or smoked in a smokehouse. A portion was made into sausage.
One of the by-products was “crackling,” a fried fat that was added to corn beard which gave the bread a bacon taste. Lye was added to the oil from the fat. This became grandmother’s laundry soap.
by: Howard Hewett, Jones Creek, TX – July, 2015 – Part 7
Some of the following background information is from my recollection of the events as I grew up on Federal Point between 1939 and 1956, and what my father, Howard Curtis Hewett Sr, and my grandmother, Addie Jane Lewis Hewett, related to me. Other background information is from research and is so noted.
A major portion of our seafood came out of the bays south of where we lived in Fort Fisher. But first, it is important to understand how those bays were formed.
A major Atlantic storm in 1761 opened an inlet that crossed the peninsula south of the current Fort Fisher monument. The New Inlet had a major impact on the main channel or ‘Bald Head’ channel of the Cape Fear River resulting in the significant decrease in depth.
By 1839, sand, silt and forming shoals from the New Inlet threatened the southerly approach to the river from the Bald Head channel. There were concerns that the Bald Head channel would not be available to shipping coming into the river from the southerly approach. The alternate route would force shipping to go out around ‘Frying Pan Shoals’ and enter the river through the New Inlet. This added to their passage time into Wilmington.
Northerly shipping traffic could enter the New Inlet, which avoided the treacherous Frying Pan Shoals, located 29 southeast of Smith Island.
New Inlet as recorded in Civil War mapping records, 1864 (Cowles, Davis, Perry, & Kirkley, 1895)
In 1870 funds were appropriated to close the New Inlet and other breaches that occurred as a result of storms and gales. The land mass was a narrow strip of sandy beach with very low swampland on the river side. The map above is an excellent representation of the topography of Federal Point in 1864. By observing the map, one can see what a formidable task the closing of the New Inlet and breaches were.
In 1871, another storm further deepened the New Inlet. Actual construction work to close the New Inlet took place from 1870 to 1891. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers were the overseers of the rock dam project.
They sank wooden cribbing and then added stones to bring the dam to sea level. Asst. Engineer Henry Bacon suggested that they add heavy granite capstones to bring the structure to two feet above sea level.
In 1877, a storm opened a breach between Smith Island, commonly called ‘Bald Head’ and Zeke’s Island which Civil War Military Maps recorded as ‘Zeeks Island’ (see the map above).
From 1881-1891, a dam similar in construction to the one built between Buchanan Battery to Zeke’s Island dam was built from Zeke’s Island to Smith Island.
When all the construction was completed, the upper section from the Buchanan Battery to Zeke’s Island was approximately 5,300 feet. The Swash Defense Dam from Zeke’s Island to Smith’s Island was 12,800 feet. The total distance of the project was over three miles (Reaves, 2011).
In 1891, the New Inlet was declared officially closed (Jackson, 1995). This rock dam is known by the locals as “The Rocks.” With the closing, tidal basins formed between The Rocks and the Atlantic. For our family, these bays became a plentiful source of shellfish.
During the time that I was growing up on Federal Point, there was the existence of another inlet south of the original New Inlet. We called it “Corncake Inlet.” I do not know exactly when Corncake Inlet opened, but it was a much smaller inlet. I do recall that Corncake Inlet would be wider and deeper depending on storm activity. Corncake Inlet was the source for fresh seawater for the bays.
My best recollection from stories told by my dad is that a schooner carrying corn went aground on a shoal while entering the inlet and remained there for a several days. These schooners were called corn-crackers because of their cargoes. I always wondered if that is how the inlet received its name. I assume it was opened before The Rocks were completed, but these breaches opened and closed depending on storm activity.
Dad liked to take our boat up toward the Corncake Inlet to fish for sheepshead at a place that he referred to as the “cribbing.” As I can best remember, it was east of the rock dam, basically located in the direction of Corncake Inlet. I believe that the cribbing was the remains of a temporary cofferdam that controlled some of the water flowing through the inlet into the river during the rock dam construction. I based this on the heavy flow of water traveling through this cut when we were fishing at this location.
However, after completing some research, I discovered another possibility. The cribbing may have been the remains of a stone dike cribbing built in 1853 by Captain Daniel P. Woodbury (Rayburn, 1984). What I recall seeing was mainly a wooden structure at water level. There could have been stones under the water.
Our family believed that what we called the upper bay was a clamming paradise. The upper bay was east of the Fort Fisher munition bunkers.
When the tide was out, the large sand flats would yield clams about the size of a small to medium fist. Our tools of the trade were four-prong rakes. You did not have to rake very deep – usually less than an inch. A bubble hole would sometimes indicate the presence of a clam.
The resulting designs in the sand from the raking process were quiet similar to “Karesansui” as in Japanese Zen garden art. I assure you that at the time, I did not have any idea what a Zen garden was.
The only way our family prepared clams was by making clam chowder. You could go to the bays and get a “mess” of clams and have clam chowder for dinner. Chicken soup was a well-known combatant for the common cold, but in our family clam chowder was used exclusively.
Oysters for Dinner
There were two methods of oystering that we used. The favorite and most productive was chipping oysters off the rocks with a homemade chipping hammer. With approximately three miles of rocks, there were ample surfaces for oysters to grow. Most of the oysters grew on the bay side of the “Rocks.” The accessibility to the rocks was made available by a concrete cap that was installed in the 1930’s by the Corps of Engineers (Jackson, 1995). The farther you walked out on the rocks, the availability and quality of oysters increased.
Prior to moving to Texas in 1956, we went oystering on the Rocks for the last time. On this trip, we came off the rock with four bushels of oysters. Dad and I each carried the inside handles of two bushels while Grandmother and my brother Tom Hewett carried the outside handles. We had to stop from time to time to rest, but we were able to make it to the trailer.
The reason I share this particular event is that Grandmother had been claiming her hip had been hurting for a couple of weeks. A couple weeks after the oystering trip we found out she was suffering from a broken hip. My grandmother, Addie Lewis Hewett Todd, was around 70 years old at that time; it could be said that she was cut from some very good cloth – one tough pioneer grandmother. Grandmother lived to be 96 years old.
The other oystering method required a boat and a clam basket device that had long handles. Mechanically the mechanism was similar to a post-hole digger. However, instead of two shovel devices there were two baskets that opened and closed with the movement of the handles. I would refer to them as long-handle tongs. This method required positioning the boat over an oyster bed that was maybe two to three feet under the water. You could locate these beds at low tide so at high tide we could position the boat over the top of the bed. This method was more of a hit and miss operation because you could not see exactly what you were doing and you brought up a lot of mud and shells.
North Carolina Oyster Roast
We had a fire pit made of brick that had a metal plate over the pit. Oysters were placed on the plate with the oyster’s mouth pointing down; joints were in an upward position. Wet burlap bags were placed over the oysters. A fire was started in the pit and when the metal plate became hot a little water was poured over the burlap to get the process started. As steam was created, the oysters would open up their mouths resulting in the liquid inside draining down on the plate, which converted to more steam. Dad would monitor the oysters and would enhance the steam process by adding more water as needed. He always liked to see a lot of steam. Within a short time all of the oysters would be opened and very tender.
The oysters were then brought to the table. If wanted you wanted to eat, each individual had to shuck his or her own oysters. When we had guests that were not familiar with the methods of shucking oysters, someone in the family would get them started; most folks were able to quickly get a feel for the process and could be left alone.
The shucked oysters went into a cup containing each individual’s favorite sauce mixture. Our family was partial to a melted butter, heated ketchup and vinegar mixture with a little hot sauce. Crackling cornbread was the family’s favorite accompaniment to be eaten along with the oysters.
Shrimping on the Cape Fear River
Some of my fondest memories are of late afternoon trips to the river. Dad had purchased some fairly good shrimp nets on one of our trips to Holden Beach in Brunswick County. With the panels from the net he made a seine net with lead on the bottom rope and corks on the top and two staffs on each end. It is hard to say how long it was, but my guess it was approximately four feet high and 150 feet long. We would load the whole family, along with those who happened to be visiting on the flat-bed trailer pulled by our Cub Cadet Tractor and head over to the river using Davis Road.
The Davis’ river front property was adjacent to the Hewett’s river front property. Living on a beach with the Atlantic at our door, we had a lot of summer visitors. Visitors who wanted to help would split up into two groups with Dad (Howard Curtis Hewett Sr.) manning the staff closest to the shore. Dad was the director of operations and I was in charge of the other end. We would pull the net out into the river until it was approximately 3-1/2 feet deep. Then we would pull the net parallel to the shore for 50 yards or so; finally, we headed for the shore.
The key was to have both staffs arrive at the same time. This process would yield (depending on the conditions) anywhere from a 2-1/2 to a 5-gallon bucket of shrimp. On lean days more pulls were required. Sometimes the Cape Fear River had such an abundance of shrimp that only a short-haul was necessary to fill a 5-gallon bucket.
On one occasion, I remember a small wave from a ship going down the channel causing shrimp to jump up on the shore, but I only recall seeing that once. By suppertime, we had shrimp peeled and ready for the frying pan.
An eight-foot long sink that was purchased from the surplus sold at the closing of the Army base after the war enhanced processing the shrimp. I recall it being a four-person process consisting of a couple of peelers, a person to devein, and a quality control inspector. The inspector was usually my grandmother because she was noted for her food preparation quality control. When it came to seafood, Grandmother’s seafood preparation techniques put her in a league of her own.
I have a special memory about Grandmother Roebuck (Meme) on one of the trips to the river. It was one of those times that we did not have a big group so Meme wanted to help on my end. Actually, I think she just wanted to get out in the water to cool off. On our second pull, we had moved farther down the beach than normal. This area of the beach had more of a muddy bottom than the usual sandy bottom.
As we started to shore, Meme got bogged down to her knees in the shallow water. To help her, I had to drop the staff. After getting her legs back on the surface of the bottom, she still could not stand up so I rolled her out of the area until she could stand up. Of course, she was laughing all the way. Now leaving the staff did not make my “no-nonsense” dad happy and I can’t write what he said to me but Meme sat down on the beach and roared with laughter. The more dad fussed with me, the more her laughter increased. To this day I have a hard time not smiling when I think about that afternoon at the river.
There was an abundance of fish, but the variety depended on the time of year. The fall mullet run provided the family fish for a good part of the year. It was the only seafood that we salted down for short-term storage. When needed, the mullet was removed and soaked in fresh water until most of the brine was removed. Regardless of the soaking, the fish was always on the salty side.
The surf provided trout, blue fish, some flounder, croakers and Virginia mullet. Offshore there was an abundance of black bass around the wrecks of the blockade runners.
Clam Diggers: Mr Todd, Danny Orr, Addie Jane, Mrs Orr
The most prolific flounder fisherman of the family was my Uncle Crawford Lewis. Dad may have been a close second. Their method was to pull a small skiff with a rope tied to their waist along the shallow waters of the bays.
Their gigging tools consisted of a three-prong pitchfork and a gas lantern. With one hand holding the lantern and the pitch fork in the other, they would gig a flounder, set the lantern down on the bow of the skiff and in one fluid motion flip the flounder in the boat without actually reaching down into the water. The quantity was not what floundering was all about. Quality and size were more important. They would be looking for large flounders around 4-5 pounds.
Just enough for three families to have baked flounder and sometimes maybe a little fried fish. If the moon and the tide were right, it seemed like they would go every night. This might seem strange, but there was no television back in those days so when it got dark, it was time to go floundering. Providing food for a growing family was paramount. The favorite way to prepare the flounder was to bake the whole flounder in a roasting pot with onions and potatoes.
I think it is important to say that regardless of the abundance of seafood, we only took what we needed.
Rayburn, R.H. (1985). One of the Finest Rivers in the South: Corps of Engineers Improvements on the Cape Fear River below Wilmington, 1881-1891. Lower Cape Fear Historical Society, Inc., Volume 28, Number 2, February, 1985.
Reaves, Bill. (2011). Federal Point Chronology 1725-1994. New Hanover Public Library & Federal Point Historic Preservation Society. Wilmington, NC. (Compiled by Bill Reaves from Wilmington newspapers articles.)
Our daughter Georgianne called today on the way home for our 4th of July celebration to ask what method is the best to determine watermelon ripeness. She was stopping in Hempstead, TX (Texas Watermelon Capital) to pick up a melon for our 2009 celebration. Her dilemma was which ripeness checking method should be employed. She asked if she should use the Thump Method or the Broom Straw Method. Now, I am not quite sure what the Broom Straw method is, so I directed her to use the “Thump It Method”.
This discussion brought back a flood of memories of Dad’s watermelon patch over on our river farm at Federal Point. In North Carolina, cool spring weather delays the planting of watermelons so it was usually the first of July before our watermelons were ready for the harvest. Dad called his watermelons Georgia Rattlesnakes.
1951 Howard Hewett – 12 yrs – Georgia Rattlesnake Watermelon grown on Hewett patch in Federal Point
Georgia Rattlesnake Watermelons
In doing a little research, I found that there was a type of watermelon grown in Eastern United States starting around 1870 that was named Georgia Rattlesnake. I would not be surprised if some of Dad’s seeds were passed along through the hands of the Hewett- Lewis family using the same method that Dad used.
At the time of planting, a mound (hill) was created to plant the seeds. A typical planting was three seeds per hill along with a little fertilizer. As the plants grew, only the healthy plants were allowed to remain in the hill. Planting was spread out over several weeks so all the watermelons would not ripen at the same time.
As the watermelons developed, Dad started taking notes on the growth of some of the melons in the patch. The largest and best shaped melons were singled out by Dad placing an “X” on the topside with his fingernail. As these melons continue to develop, he would place a second “X” and so on. A three “X” watermelon was a very special watermelon. By selection, the seeds from the three “X” watermelons were used for the next season’s planting.
Normally, XXX melons were not sold, but served to family and friends. The rule when eating a XXX melon was no seeds went on the ground. Dad collected all the mature seeds. They would be washed and dried on a screen. The seeds would end up in a Mason jar and stored for the next year’s planting.
It is interesting that not all one X melons made it to two Xs or two Xs to three Xs. Dad’s marks were based on potential. During the growing season some would not meet his expectations and would be sold for a lesser valve.
1951 (l-r) Thomas Hewett (7) – Wayne Hewett Bell (5) – Jackie Hewett (3) – Alex Hewett Bell (8) – Photo by: Howard Hewett using a Brownie Camera
The size of the patch was around four to five acres. It is probably evident to the reader that the size of our watermelon patch produced a lot of melons and there were always enough melons for the family, along with some to be sold commercially.
We sold some in front of our home in a stand. My brother Thomas and I would alternate watching the stand while one of us would put one watermelon in a wagon and haul it up to the beach and sell door-to-door. We worked the beach from the Fort Fisher gates to the light at Kure Beach.
We actually had regular customers who would purchase one melon a week but sometimes more while they were available. Dad’s watermelons had dark and light green alternating stripes. Maybe that is how they got their name. Most of the larger melons weighed 35-45 pounds. The large two “X” ones sold for $5.00.
We would make a sale and go back a get another one. My brother and I would make five to six trips a day until we had cleared all the melons out. When our inventory became low, we would pick again. A lull between picking allowed a little break for us to swim and fish.
Now anyone who has operated a watermelon patch or had first hand knowledge what an enticement a watermelon patch can have on a bunch of young boys with a lot of time on their hands. On occasion, we had visitors at night. In most cases, their little foray into the night failed. All roads leading in or out of the river farm were inhabited by our relatives, the Lewises and the Davises. So the whole family was a large security force for the patch. During watermelon season, the Kure Beach police would come to the rescue when called. Once the intruders were sent on their way, Dad would reward the police with a large watermelon the next day.
My sister Jackie is holding a custom watermelon knife in the photograph above. It is still a family heirloom and will be passed on to future generations for the traditional watermelon cutting on the 4th of July.
[Editor: After Howard submitted the above article, we followed up with a series of clarifying questions. Howard’s detailed responses provided an additional story about the Hewett family in Federal Point during the 30’s – 50’s. Continue reading … Part 2]
The Hewett-Lewis-Davis-Henniker families with the help of others started Federal Point Methodist Episcopal Church.
The certification of the Federal Point Methodist Episcopal Church, South, was established by Bishop R. G. Waterhouse on November 23, 1914. The church was dedicated on June 17, 1917 by Rev. J. H. Shore. He was the presiding elder of the Wilmington District of the North Carolina Conference. On this occasion, he delivered the sermon.
My father, Howard Curtis Hewett Sr. and his sister Ethel Virginia Hewett were baptized in 1920 at the ages of six years and eight years, respectively, as found in the Register of Infant Baptisms. The original Register of Membership and Register of Infant Baptisms for Federal Point Church was given to the Carolina Beach United Methodist Church, Carolina Beach, N.C., following the death of Howard Curtis Hewett Sr. in 1995. Links to copies of the original Register are displayed at the end of this document.
Although very young, I do have memories of very hot summer Sundays with all the church windows open, no screens, everyone dressed to the nines, Aunt Beatrice Davis playing a bellows-type organ and the congregation singing “He Lives, He Lives.”
I remember my mother singing in the choir and Dad, Grandmother and I sitting on the right side of the sanctuary usually by a window. When it was hot Dad allowed me to sit on the window sill. The benches were handcrafted without any cushions.
On these occasions, as the preacher delivered his sermon, everyone would be fanning away and I assure you there was not a breath of air moving. If you listened closely, you could hear the insects droning outside. There was no such thing as casual dress which made everyone that much hotter. I never saw my father in church on Sunday without a tie.
I have fond memories of church dinners on the grounds under the oak trees and Uncle Otis Davis and Uncle Wilbur Davis making fresh squeezed lemonade in a big crock-pot with lots of sugar. My mother Helen Roebuck Hewett would not drink the lemonade because she claimed they stirred the lemonade with their hands, but in their defense, I seem to recall there was a paddle; whether it was used may be up for debate. There was always fried chicken, deviled eggs, collard greens, biscuits and potato salad. My favorites were deviled eggs and homemade pickles.
There was water available from a hand pump located next to the road that led to Uncle George Henniker’s and Aunt Sarah Ellen’s home on the river. I do not remember the quality of the water only that it was there. Kids were drawn to the pump like it was a magnet, cupping their hands under the spout while another kid pumped. Usually more water ran down their elbows onto the ground than they were able to capture. In the current environment, folks would marvel that kids could be entertained with a hand water pump. This type of pump was common to everyone’s back porch.
Another memory I have related to the church was my first Christmas pageant. I had one line to deliver. I think the reason I remember the pageant was because I had stage fright to the point that when it came time to deliver my line, “Hark! I bring you good tidings,” I could not utter a single word. As I recall the Sunday school teacher had to deliver my line from the door of the classroom. I was a little embarrassed, even mortified, but relieved that those words were finally spoken even though it was not by me.
Albert Walker Hewett – Addie Lewis Hewett Curtis Hewett – Virginia Hewett about 1926
There is one story about my grandfather, Albert Walker Hewett, and my grandmother, Addie Jane Hewett, that occurred when my father Howard Curtis Hewett was around 12 years old and my Aunt Ethel Virginia Hewett Bell would have been 14 years old.
They had all gone to church on a Wednesday night. When the kerosene lamps were turned off at the end of the service, it became quiet and dark in those Federal Point woods.
The story goes that Grandfather and Dad went out to the Model T, set the magneto, turned the crank, and when it fired, they jumped in and headed for home, which was about 2.8 miles away.
The road home from the church ran down what is currently called the Dow Road (built in 1916), but instead of making the 90-degree turn at K Ave., the road continued straight and ran almost parallel to the river passing Uncle John and Aunt Rebecca Davis’ home. It then continued past the Lewis homestead on down to the home that Grandfather and Grandmother moved into when they married in 1911. Their original house was located in what is currently the Air Force recreational facility.
Since the Hewetts are known for not having the gift of gab, Grandfather and Dad headed home without comment. Upon arriving at home, it was determined that Addie and Virginia were not in the back of the Model T.
In rural North Carolina, there were not that many paved roads so you may have thought it impossible for them to drive 2.8 miles on a sandy rut-filled road without Grandmother saying “Albert, please slow down.” I think the Hewett women must have picked up a more “talkative gene” along the way.
In telling this story my dad once said, that “Wash Foot Methodists were not very talkative.” Dad never related what Grandmother said when they got back to the church that night, but when telling this story, he would always grin.
Federal Point Methodist Church 1935 Foreground – Albert W. Hewett Grave
On the right is a photo of my grandfather’s grave site in 1935 with the church in the background.
It is the only photo I have of the church. The church in this photo appears to be a rectangular shape. In studying this photo, the orientation of the church and the grave-site is not exactly as I remember it. The current fence runs perpendicular to the head of my grandfather’s grave and my remembrance is that the church was basically parallel to the fence. I also recall that the entrance to the church was facing the road; the elevation required four or five steps to reach a landing at the door.
I remember the church having a ‘T’ shaped floor plan with the sanctuary being the longer section with two rooms on each side. There were windows on the back wall on each side of the pulpit. In the room on the right side there was a bellows-type organ. This room was completely open to the sanctuary. It most likely served as a classroom. On the left side toward the cemetery there was another classroom.
My remembrance indicates that there was a relocation of the original church sanctuary with an addition to the original building transforming it into a ‘T’ floor plan. The time period of these changes had to be between 1935 and early 1940. By 1945, the church was as I remember it.
As reported on April 3, 1938 by the Wilmington Star, the family of A. W. Hewett (Albert Walker Hewett) gave the Federal Point Methodist Church a silver communion service in his memory. (Wilmington Star, 4-7-1938, 4-8-1938) I did not learn of this until I read the “Federal Point Chronology 1728-1994” compiled by Bill Reaves. It was published by the New Hanover Library and the Federal Point Historic Preservation Society in 2011.
During the writing of this document, I learned from my brother Thomas Walker Hewett that the communion service consisted of a serving tray with glass communion cups and a plate for the bread with each having a cover. At the closing of the Federal Point Methodist Church, our grandmother obtained possession. Following Grandmother’s death, my Aunt Virginia Hewett Bell took possession until her death in 1992. Several years after Aunt Virginia’s death, the serving pieces were given to the St. Paul Methodist Church at Carolina Beach, N.C. by Alex and Wayne Bell. The communion set now resides in their historical display case.
It is interesting for me to think about receiving communion using these serving pieces since this is a special part of the Christian tradition, my own connection with family history and our family’s special connection with the traditions of the Methodist Church. But as I think about it, I mostly likely did not receive communion until joining St. Paul Methodist Church in Carolina Beach, N.C. in 1951 at the age of twelve.
1920 – Federal Point Methodist Church – Some Members
Federal Point Methodist Members – 1920
I believe the date of this photo of some members of the church is around 1920. This photo is interesting not only from the period aspect but from the relationships of members of the early Federal Point Methodist Church. I arrived at this date by applying the birthdays of some of the younger children, then extrapolating by their appearances.
Curtis Hewett (Dad) was born on July 23, 1914. Gladys Davis was born in 1917 and Leotha Davis was born on August 28, 1919. Leotha appears to be around four months old. My best assumption is the photo was taken around early 1920.
At this time Georgianna Lewis would have been the matriarch of the Lewis family. Edward Lewis would be Isabell Lewis Foushee’s father (Oral History – FPHPS). We do not know which one of the Samuel Lewises is actually Sam Lewis. Samuel A. Lewis would be the grandfather of Ryder Lewis(Oral History – FPHPS).
Rebecca Hewett Davis is holding Leotha Davis with sons Otis and Wilbur standing on the front row. Gladys is a daughter who was born in 1917 and died in 1922 at the age of four years old. John Webster Davis and daughter Beatrice Davis are not shown.
George Henniker (Henniker Ditch) is top center and his wife, Sarah Ellen Hewett Henniker, on the right were the parents and grandparents of the Henniker and Peterson clan. George Henniker was originally from England where he was a merchant sailor.
Grandfather Albert Walker Hewett and Grandmother Addie Jane Lewis Hewett are shown with Aunt Virginia and my dad, Howard Curtis Hewett Sr. Georgiana Andrews Lewis is the mother of Addie Jane Lewis Hewett.
Ethyl-Dow Plant in Kure Beach, NC Lem’s recent Ethyl Dow post is one that I can add some additional history to because the Ethyl Dow Chemical Co. had a direct impact on my family. My Dad went to work for Ethyl Dow in 1933 as a laborer helping clear the land for the Kure Beach Plant.
As construction progressed, Dad continued to work at the plant site. 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. Dad maintained his role as supervisor of the remaining crew.
When the decision was made to demolish the plant, Dad & his crew were responsible for clearing all the equipment. Then most mechanical equipment was sold to potential buyers.
In 1953, our family moved to Freeport, Texas for a 1 year project at the Ethyl Dow plant there. Dad was somewhat an expert in the packing of the blowing out towers which had a special lath packing made of cypress. The project included purchasing the cypress, manufacturing the lath packing and installing it in the towers.
We returned to Federal Point in 1954 just in time for hurricane Hazel. By 1956, the plant was cleared and all equipment sold. Dad turned the key to the Office building over to a demolition contractor.
If you viewed the YouTube video – History of the Ethyl Dow Plant (Island Ecology for Educators-Final Project), produced by Johnny Reinhold in 2012 and recently posted on Facebook by Lem Woods, some of the concrete & brick rubble material from the plant demolition was later used at Fort Fisher to combat beach erosion. The article is a fairly accurate history of the Kure Beach plant.
In 1956, the Hewett family moved back to Freeport, Texas where Dad continued to work for Ethyl Dow until the shutting down of the Texas Operation plant in early 1970’s. Again, Dad was given the responsibility for clearing the Freeport plant, selling the equipment and turning the plant over to a demolition contractor.
During Dad’s 47 year Dow career he worked in two Ethyl Dow plants, 1400 miles apart and had the distinction of walk out the front door and turning the front door key to demolition contractors which ended the existence of the Ethyl Dow Chemical Co.
As to the Ethyl Dow plant at Kure Beach, Dad was able to save some photo history of the plant. I have post some of the photos here with a comment attached to each picture.
[Editor: Part 2: After Howard Hewett submitted the Watermelon Patch article (Part 1), we followed up with a series of clarifying questions (blue italics).Howard’s detailed responses provide an interesting history about the Hewett family in Federal Point during the 30’s – 50’s.]
What was your family relationship to the others in pictures?
Wayne Hewett Bell and Alex Hewett Bell are my first cousins. The Hewett Bells are my dad’s sister’s boys. I was the photographer with my Brownie Hawkeye camera.
Was the Watermelon patch a Hewett enterprise or a Lewis / Hewett / Davis enterprise?
The watermelon patch was a Hewett enterprise.
Was the 4-5 acre patch located on the Hewett property?
Yes, we owned land from the Atlantic to the Cape Fear River.
Davis Road to Fort Fisher Gates Flag is Howard Curtis Hewett Family Home.
That’s something about which I have not given a lot of thought….it was about 100-125 yards wide and about one mile from the Atlantic to the Cape Fear River.
Let’s see: 125 yards x 3 = 375 ft. (1 mile in ft.= 5280 ft.) 5280 x 375 = 1,980,000 sq. ft. (43,560 sq.ft. in an acre) so 1,980,000 divide by 43,560 = 45.45 acres.
The property was purchased by my Grandfather Albert Walker Hewett. (1879-1935)
The Lewis property ran from the Fort Fisher gate to the side of ours and was basically the same size as the Hewett property. It was purchased by my Great-Grandfather William Lewis (1861-1903).
John Davis’ property was on the Kure Beach side of us but he purchased more land. He had land on both sides of Davis Road. Growing up we did not call it Davis Road; it was just the road to Uncle John & Aunt Becky’s house. Aunt Becky Hewett Davis was my Grandfather’s sister. John and his son Lee Otha Davis farmed also.
Foot note: William Edward Lewis (1863-1903) drowned during a sudden storm as he was bringing the family’s livestock to Federal Point onboard a Sharpie schooner from Shallotte inlet through southern outer shoals of the Cape Fear River. He is buried in an unmarked grave in Southport, NC.
Did you have older brothers or sisters to help with the work?
No. I was the oldest. Tom & Jackie were too young to work the farm during period of story.
Did your dad (besides working at Ethyl Dow) do all or most of the tending to the patch?
Grandmother and Albert Walker Hewett Home – located directly across Hwy 421 from the author’s family home, just outside the Fort Fisher Gates,
My grandfather Albert Walker Hewett operated the farm until his death in 1935. My dad, Howard Curtis Hewett, worked the farm growing up. Dad was 21 when his father died so he continued to take care of the farm.
The Hewetts & Lewises moved from Lockwood Folly Township (Boones Neck, near the Shallotte Inlet) Brunswick County, NC to Federal Point between the years of 1900-1903.
The Hewetts moved to North Carolina in 1752 from Cape May, NJ. The family made their living as whalers. In North Carolina they continued fishing but warmer weather was more conducive to farming. The Hewett family owned a sizable amount of land in Brunswick County. One of the Hewett daughters married a man whose last name was Holden. Land changed hands… thus, Holden Beach … I do not know if this change of hands was due to dollars or a wedding dowry.
The patriarch of our family in North Carolina was Joseph Hewett (1700-1795). He had eleven children and five brothers so the number of Hewetts in Brunswick Co. grew exponentially over the years. I am a direct descendant of Joseph. When I say we owned land, I am speaking collectively as a part of the Hewett clan.
The time period of the story is mostly Dad’s operation. We grew corn, strawberries, red potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions and pole beans. When Grandfather Albert Walker was living, he provided vegetables for Grandfather Roebuck’s Grocery Store in Wilmington. Albert’s spring pole beans were the first to market because of the location of the farm on the river. The Castle Hayne farms north of Wilmington were several weeks later because of their northern location.
The family garden was at my grandmother’s. One of my remembrance stories that I have in draft form is our life and how we provided a living on Federal Point. I certainly was working on the river farm at a young age, disking land & tilling after school and always working on Saturday. The “Do Gooders” would be up in arms today if they saw an eight-year-old on an open-wheeled tractor pulling a disc.
[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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
Monroe Shigley Interview Was Submitted by Howard Hewett – September 5, 2014
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:
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.
Ralph Buell was the interviewer. Buell retired from Texas Operations, Dow Chemical Co. as Manager of Human Resources. Monroe Shigley retired from Dow Chemical on Aug 1, 1970.
The complete interview was given to me by the Buell family. The original document was created on a typewriter. This paper is submitted by Howard Hewett, retired from Texas Operation, Dow Chemical, Co.
My connection to this project is that I was a Federal Point Ethyl Dow Brat 1939-1956.
The full narrative of Monroe Shigley’s oral history of his years in Kure Beach begins following the images below.
[Click on any image for larger view – or slideshow]
Here is the relevant portion of the interview with Monroe Shigley, after he retired. Questions were presented by Ralph Buell.
Monroe Shigley – 1934
At the Dow plant in Midland, Michigan, Fred Heinie Langell was involved in developing a process for taking bromine out of seawater. The use of tetraethyl lead in gasoline was growing by leaps and bounds in those days (1920s) to the point that Dow with its brine supplies could not hope to provide the increasing amounts of ethylene dibromide which had to be added to tetraethyl lead to make the antiknock fluid.
I was to become involved with this process development, but before getting to that, let me back up a few years. Herbert Dow’s interest in bromine had caused him to look into seawater as a source, and he had sent a man by the name of Joe Bayless around the shores of the country to determine salinities at various places. To determine the salinities he had a little gadget consisting of a number of glass balls of varying densities. He would report the number of balls that floated in his water samples. At one time Mr. Harlow let me read the reports. Joe was interested in people and would tell about the folks he had met. One report I recall told about a fellow who had a bad case of boils, told about his family, and at the end said that the seawater there floated three balls. Or maybe it was four.
Aerial view from Cape Fear River outfall (lower) to Atlantic Ocean intake.
From Bayliss’ work and later studies by Roy Osmun, a shoreline of the Atlantic Ocean near Wilmington, North Carolina was chosen as a place where the salinity was fairly high, although not as high as at Baffin Bay in Texas.
In 1928 or 29, Dow leased property on the cape Fear Peninsula 17 miles south of Wilmington. The peninsula at that point was about a mile wide, with the Cape Fear River on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other.
There they built a pilot plant where they pumped seawater through a six inch pipe from the beach, acidified it, chlorinated it and distributed it at the top of a brick tower. There it trickled down through lath packing, a Herbert Dow development for contact between liquids and air. Air blown through the lath extracted the free bromine and carried it to another section of the structure where it was absorbed in recycled soda ash solution.
WHO DID THIS?
G.F. (Brick) Dressel was responsible for the pilot plant, but Glen Cantwell operated it.
WERE THEY DOW MEN?
Yes, both were Dow men from Midland. The product from this pilot plant was a bromide-bromate solution containing about 50,000 parts per million of bromine. This was about 700 times as concentrated as the 69 parts per million in seawater.
While this was going on, the Ethyl Gasoline Corporation was looking for its own source of bromine. They leased a ship which they called “The Good Ship Ethyl” and sailed around the country testing seawater and working on a process for taking bromine out of seawater as tri-bromaniline. The concept was to chlorinate seawater to free the bromine, add aniline, and separate the tribromaniline by filtration. They were apparently unaware of acidification because John Grebe later got a patent on the process using acidification along with chlorination. As they must have found, fine mesh filtration of seawater is next to impossible. If you have ever tried to filter seawater through filter paper, you find that it is teeming with organic growth; you can get only a small amount through the paper before the growths plug it. For that or other reasons the tribromaniline process was not a success.
So Ethyl got together with Dow and it was decided to form a jointly owned company, The Ethyl Dow Chemical Company, to take bromine out of seawater using the Dow process. Ethyl was to handle the finances and Dow would handle all of the production aspects.
WAS THIS AFTER A PROCESS COMPARISON WAS MADE? HOW DID THEY ARRIVE AT THIS CONCLUSION?
I guess that Ethyl gave up and that Dow was able to report that it had demonstrated the first step of the process and was certain that it could go the rest of the way. I am presuming this, for I was not a part of the bromine activities at that time. In any case, plans went forward to build a 10,000,000 pound per year ethylene dibromide from seawater plant at Kure Beach.
Someone suggested that before they built the two big blowing-out towers, each of which had an area of about 3700 square feet, they should check the distribution systems, for many thousands of gallons per minute of seawater had to be evenly spread over these areas.
Ethyl Dow – Landing Clearing 1933
WHAT YEAR WAS THIS?
This was 1933. So Dow built a small section of a blowing-out tower using the design planned for the large units to check distribution. Heinie Langell had the responsibility for building the unit and testing it. It was at that point that, probably because he knew me, he had me transferred out of the Main Lab to help with the project.
THE RESEARCH FOR THIS WAS STILL IN MIDLAND?
Yes, it was in Midland, in an unoccupied section of an old bromine plant. My job was to calibrate the water flow orifice, run the unit at different rates, and check distribution by means of collection chambers at the bottom of the unit. The distribution turned out to be very poor, and I had to make a demonstration run for Mr. Harlow and Mr. Barstow so they could see for themselves. They told me to see what I could do to fix it.
As a kid, I loved to play in the water. On my grandfather’s farm in Hart, one of my uncles would dam up a little creek for a pond, build me a raft, and I would paddle around on it. So playing in water again was great. They gave me the high school football coach as an assistant. We started checking at the top of the unit and learned that distribution was poor at the very top. Distribution was accomplished by means of slotted ceramic tubes extending vertically though the bottoms of wooden boxes. The primary boxes had four tubes, each of which fed a secondary box with eleven tubes. We measured the flows from each of the tubes and found that irregularities could be corrected by installing baffles in the boxes.
With the distribution at the top of the tower even, the distribution at the bottom was still poor, the water moving laterally as it passed through the lath packing. It was obvious that the rest of the problem was in the lath packing itself. I don’t know whether you were familiar with the lath packing used at Freeport.
YES, THEY WERE IN THE OLD TOWERS AT ETHYL-DOW.
The packs were tilted ever so slightly because the bottom comb was at an incorrect angle. The carpenter shop made us some shims. After we shimmed up each pack to make the angles equal, the distribution was good. Heinie and I designed some simple equipment which could be used in installing lath to assure the proper angles. Then they sent me to Kure Beach to help put the lath combs in the new towers. Heinie was in charge of the installation; he got the day shift. Art Asadorian from the Bromine Lab was senior to me, so he worked the afternoon. I got the midnight shift.
Ethyl Dow – Atlantic Seawater Intake – Extended 150 ft. into the ocean
WAS THIS STILL ON A TEST BASIS?
No, this was the real thing. At the site of the old Kure Beach pilot plant, an intake structure was built. Seawater was drawn between two sheet steel piling jetties extending about 150 feet into the water, passed through a settling basin and through trash screens before entering large pumps. Each of the pumps delivered 30,000 gallons per minute to pipes which carried the seawater to an inclined dam, which we called the “hydraulic jump”.
From there, the water passed through a short canal before entering a pond of several hundred acres where there was solar warming. The pond extended about two thirds the width of the peninsula, near to the site of the bromine extraction units. The two blowing-out towers were brick structures about 50 feet high and each had about 3700 square feet of horizontal area. Physically connected to the blowing out towers were the brick absorption towers where the blown out bromine was absorbed by a sodium carbonate solution, as in the pilot plant. The de-brominated seawater would flow into the Cape Fear River, a tidal estuary.
Ethyl Dow – Intake Pumps delivered 30,000 gallons per minute
A short distance from the blowing out towers was a building which housed the steaming out towers which extracted elemental bromine from the product of the blowing out/absorption step, reactors for converting bromine to ethylene dibromide, and steam distillation equipment for final purification. Somewhat further away was the ethylene plant where ethylene gas was made by passing ethyl alcohol vapors over hot kaolin.
Adjacent to that were the coal fired boilers which provided building heat and steam for distillation. Engineering for the plant had been done in Midland, and responsibility for its construction had been assigned to a Dow man named Norris Coalwell.
This was Dow’s first venture outside of Midland, and things did not go well. A storm destroyed part of the intake structure, an ethylene storage tank being pressure tested on a barge rolled into the Wilmington harbor, and the principal contractor “went broke”. Norris was not able to handle the deluge of problems and had a nervous break-down, so A.P.Beutel, then Willard Dow’s assistant was sent to Kure Beach to take command. And that he did; he was able to take setbacks in stride.
I drove to Wilmington in the fall of 1933 when the blowing out towers had been erected and were ready for the lath packing. Dow had leased an old hotel near Kure Beach and most of the Dow people and their families stayed there. I was one of them.
EDCCO Club had a dining room just for the Ethyl Dow staff and employees. This building was The Breakers Hotel in Wilmington Beach, leased by Ethyl Dow for their employees.
DO YOU REMEMBER THE NAME OF THE HOTEL?
It was the old Breakers Hotel (Editor: The Breakers Hotel in Wilmington Beach) . We learned later that at one time it had been a brothel. One of the guys said he could not sleep for thinking what might have gone on in his room.
The hotel, during our residence had a big dining room, named the EDCCO Club, where everyone ate. The number 1 table fed the top people: the Beutels, the Bransons (head of construction), the L.J. Richards (chief engineer), and the Willard Dows and Ethyl bigwigs when they came. That table had finger bowls and the services of William Polite, a distinguished black headwaiter who wore formal dress. The second table had some of William Polite’s time but no finger bowls.
Of perhaps ten tables, I and some others were at the last table. More business was certainly done at the top tables but at ours we had more fun.
We got the lath packing done, started the blowing out and absorption units and filled the storage tanks with the bromide/bromate solution, awaiting the startup of the second stage of the process. The second stage was the steaming out tower where the bromide/bromate solution was to be acidified with sulfuric acid and the released elemental bromine was to be distilled out and condensed. They were having trouble getting the second stage started so we just had to shut the blowing out towers down and stand by. Mr. Harlow was following the progress regularly, and I saw him occasionally. He came to breakfast one morning and said, “Shig, we did better last night; we only broke 13 condenser coils. The bromine was condensed in 14 thin walled ceramic coils.
Ethyl Dow – Blowing Out Towers
IT WASN’T PYREX?
No, not then. Some years later we used Pyrex. What was happening at the steaming out tower was this, shortly after starting the unit, unexplained pressure would start building up in the condensers and within a matter of hours they would blowout. The plant would shut down, be repaired the next day, and the next night the same thing would happen for no apparent reason. Night after night this continued. One morning Mr. Harlow got in touch with me and said that the steaming out crew was worn out and that night I was going to have to run it.
I did not know too much about steaming out towers. I had seen a similar unit in Midland and was there when they were testing a new condenser design using Pyrex glass and graphite tube sheets. The test lasted only a few hours, for the graphite was disintegrated by the bromine. I spent that day learning what I could about the new steaming out towers and where everything was. By six o’clock that evening the unit had been patched up from the previous night’s blowout, so they started it up and left me there with two operators. I was quite apprehensive. They had given me operating instructions, one of which was to maintain the excess acid in the tower effluent at 1.5 pounds per cubic foot.
Ethyl Dow – DiBromide Building
When they left me the excess was about 1 and the pressure was an acceptable 2 inches of water. The concentrated sulfuric acid was hand controlled by a little valve two floors up from the control room. I did all of the controlling myself, and not knowing how far to turn the valve to reach the 1.5 level I made changes so small that it scarcely changed. Meanwhile the pressure in the system remained at 2 inches. I continued to adjust the acid valve in almost negligible increments but the acid stayed at or near 1.0. I was doing the titrations on the effluent and was also able to determine the bromine remaining in it. The one pound per cubic foot of acid excess was getting the bromine out, and because the blowing out towers where the effluent would normally go were not running more excess acid would have been wasted. So I decided to leave the acid level where it was, the pressure stayed at or about 2 inches, and when morning came the plant was still running. It was the first time the unit had run all night.
I was the “fair haired boy” for a while for having succeeded in making the tower run. Jack Chamberlain from the Midland Physics Lab was doing some work at the plant then, and he headed the investigation to find the reason for the success. To make a long story short, the chlorine addition to seawater at the blowing out towers was hand controlled and erratic because of surges in the chlorine system. Excess chlorine led to excess chloride, chlorate and bromate in the absorber product. The extra 0.5 pounds of acid released elemental chlorine which could not escape and caused the damaging pressure in the steaming out condensers.
It was a lucky break for me that I happened to be there the night others had set the acid too low, but they gave me credit for taking advantage of it. Shortly after that I was asked to serve as assistant to Brick Dressel, Manager of the Ethyl-Dow plant. It was a fascinating experience. Brick was a wonderful man to work for and we worked well together. I was responsible for plant operations while Brick handled the business aspects, including contacts with the Ethyl Gasoline Corporation. Those were sometimes stressful because their ideas and those of Dow did not always coincide.
WHAT WERE SOME OF THOSE DIFFERENCES?
Initially Dow thought that all materials should be moved the 17 miles between the plant and Wilmington by truck, and they had figures to prove it. The Intracostal Waterway cut across the peninsula between Wilmington and the plant, so it was impractical to extend a railroad between them. Ethyl was half owned by Standard Oil of New Jersey, which was water transportation oriented. So Ethyl said, regardless of the figures, water transportation was the best way. So that is the way Ethyl-Dow went.
Ethyl-Dow bought a wood hulled vessel named the Vanessa, which had at one time been a rum runner. Pressure tanks were put in the hold to haul sulfuric acid, the acid being unloaded by air pressure. On deck were carried chlorine cylinders, soda ash, coal, coke, and drums of denatured alcohol to the plant. The drums, after cleaning, were used to ship ethylene dibromide. The denaturant in the alcohol was a material called “Dipples Oil”. It was present in small amounts but enough to give the alcohol a foul smell.
Early in 1935 it was apparent that the increasing demand for our product would require a plant expansion. In preparation for that, Ethyl Dow ordered a big barge and a new tugboat to move materials up and down the river. Brick wanted to handle materials on and off the barge with a single boom rig like a crane. Ethyl could not accept that; handling had to be done in the standard marine way where two booms were used. Ethyl Dow would have preferred a Fairbanks-Morse diesel engine on the tug, but Ethyl Corporation said it would be a General Motors Winton Diesel.
The Marine Department of Standard Oil oversaw the design and construction of the tugboat, which had a pilot house control to start and stop the reversible 250 horsepower engine. Brick went to New York for the first trial run; returning to port the tug hit the dock very hard for the pilot house control did not function. That was not the only tug problem but I will get to that later.
Let’s go back to 1934. The startup of this first plant to remove bromine from seawater received much publicity. Someone came up with the idea that a movie should be made of the plant and its process for educational purposes. As an added innovation, it was suggested that the film used for shooting should be made from potassium bromide, the bromine for which would be that extracted from seawater. Art Asadorian was assigned the job of making the KBr. He diverted enough liquid bromine to partially fill a large ceramic pot, reacted it with caustic potash in an open enclosure, separated and purified the KBr and sent it to Eastman Kodak. Eastman used it to make the film for the documentary of the process entitled “The Magic Key“. Copies of that film should be somewhere in the Dow files. I borrowed one and used it as part of a half hour “Minerals from Seawater” presentation I made at a Houston TV station in the 1950’s.
The excess bromate problem having been brought under control, the Ethyl-Dow plant operated very well, slightly exceeding its designed capacity of 10 million pounds of ethylene dibromide per year. Operating problems were minor and most were quickly solved while others took longer.
Ethyl Dow – Boiler Room
I was called to the ethylene plant late one evening when the operator noticed a strong odor of rotten eggs and a milky color in the reactor condensate. I ran tests in the laboratory and found that there was a sulfur compound in a new batch of kaolin catalyst which had just been put into some of the reactors. We dumped that kaolin and put in what we had left of the old batch. When Brick came in the morning, he called Midland where they had been making ethylene in the same way and using kaolin from the same source for many years without any such trouble. The kaolin came from Gordon, Georgia. The company supplying it was unaware of any changes it all came from the same pit.
Before the day was over I was on my way to Gordon with a trunk full of analytical equipment. There my tests showed that there was one new area of the pit in which there was a sulfur compound of unknown nature or origin. So an area of sulfur free kaolin was dug by hand and hauled by mule-drawn wagons to a siding where it was loaded on a freight car for immediate shipment to Wilmington. I tested every wagon-load; it was 100 degrees in the shade, and no shade.
Speaking of the ethylene plant brings back memories about alcohol. We learned from others that the property on which the Kure Beach plant was built formerly had a number of illegal stills making “North Carolina Corn” liquor. Carolina Corn was something special, having quite a reputation as a drink. Erwin S. Cobb once said that it had all of the qualities of swallowing a lighted lantern. One of my shift foreman told me that there were yet some stills near the plant and offered to take me to see them. But I had been deputized, as had Brick, so that was no place for me to be seen.
The Alcohol Tax unit of the U.S. Treasury Department kept their eyes on us, for we were using large quantities of denatured alcohol. Their agents visited us frequently, and I would have to show them around as they looked for places where the alcohol could be illegally diverted.
Ethyl alcohol was one of our more expensive raw materials, and I became aware that our alcohol/ethylene units were losing 5 to 10 of the feed alcohol in the condensate. This was going down the sewer, as it had in Midland for many years. I decided to see what could be done about that. From my Walker, Lewis and McAdams textbook, it appeared that we should be able to recover that alcohol by steam distillation. I went through some calculations and designed a unit to do the job economically. Brick thought we should run a demonstration pilot unit before asking for authorization to build the larger unit. So I designed a little pilot unit and one of my chemists ran it and collected the data. It worked just fine.
The next time a Treasury agent came for inspection, I proudly showed him what we were doing. When I had finished, he said something like this: “My Gawd, man do you know what you have done? You have built and are operating an illegal still.” He then pulled a notebook from his pocket and proceeded to tell me the penalties for such a deed. I was shocked; you could have bought me for a nickel. But the agent was a fatherly type and said, that our intentions were good and that we should get back to the office and apply for a permit to do what we were doing. He asked what else we were doing that might fall into the same category. I told him we were steam distilling ethylene dibromide.
HE SURELY DID NOT CONSIDER ETHYLENE DIBROMIDE AN ALCOHOL, DID HE?
No, it was not an alcohol, but it was a distillation, and we had to have permits for such things. We even had to get a permit for the little Barnstead still in the laboratory, the unit for making distilled water. To conclude the alcohol story, we did get approval to build the full size recovery unit, built it, and reduced our alcohol losses to almost zero. Another problem which came to light about a year after the plant startup involved materials of construction. In the interest of economy, some of the seawater canals were lined with untreated wood piling. The Midland engineers were unaware of the appetite of marine borers for untreated wood. The teredoes, limnorias and martesias soon made sponges out of the wood piling below water level, and the wood had to be replaced by concrete at some inconvenience to production.
Still another problem was the failure of the fine mesh “travelling screens” to prevent marine growth and debris from entering the blowing out towers and plugging the slots in the distributor tubes. Crabs, shells and small fish would cling to the screen panels as they rolled up, elude the cleaning sprays at the back, and enter the downstream water flow. The blowing out towers had to be shut down at least once a month to clean the distributor tubes. Almost all of the maintenance crew, painters, pipe fitters, electricians and machinists would go into the smelly tops of the towers to do the job. Everyone could be counted on to do what had to be done, regardless of their trades. It was some years later that we started using screens which kept the same side of the mesh always facing the incoming flow.
In December of 1935, Brick Dressel received word that he was being transferred to Marquette, Michigan, to be the new Manager of the Cliffs-Dow plant there. I was to be the new Manager of the Ethyl-Dow plant.
Mary Graham & Monroe Shigley – Wedding Day Feb 8, 1936
Ethyl Dow’s Plant Manager’s Lodging overlooking the river – overlooking Cape Fear River
At that time I was engaged to be married to a lovely Wilmington girl named Mary Graham. Brick had been living adjacent to the plant in a house designed by Alden Dow overlooking the Cape Fear River. We were married February 8, 1936 and promptly moved into the house.
When there was trouble for which I had to go to the plant in the night, Mary would put on her bathrobe and sleep in the car outside whatever unit was having the trouble while I worked inside. For a while, I was handling both Brick’s old job and mine. Then Henry Roebke became my assistant to lighten my load.
Shortly after we were married, Willard Dow came for a visit. He seemed to enjoy getting around seeing people and talking with them. We always tried to keep the plant in good order, and the day before he arrived I checked to be sure that it was. At the intake I found one of my favorite operators busily cleaning shrimp instead of caring for the pumps. In the past schools of shrimp would occasionally come up on the screens and too often operators would leave their posts to clean them for themselves and others.
Ethyl Dow – Intake Basin
In my youthful wisdom I had issued an order that there was to be no more shrimp cleaning on the job. For this disregard of orders I rebuked the operator severely and at length. When I ran out of breath he said to me, “Well, you see it’s this way. Your wife called me a little while ago and said she was having Mr. Dow for lunch tomorrow and could I please get her some shrimp?” That was one of several amusing incidents at the intake. We were pumping large quantities of seawater after it passed through the gap between the two jetties and was screened. Roller towel type screens were supposed to keep fish and trash from getting into the pumps but did not always do so.
WERE THE SCREENS THE SQUIRREL CAGE TYPE?
No, they were different. The squirrel cage idea came to me later as I was pondering the screen problem. Our first screens were articulated screen frames fastened to chains which ran on sprockets, forming a continuous wide belt of screens from below the water line to above it. The belt would move vertically up against the water flow, then over and down below the water again. Sprays on the down side were supposed to knock the screenings into a trough, but some stuff clung to the screen long enough to enter the down-stream flow. The intake screens were course mesh and a fish could stick its head into the screen and ride over the top. Some fish could survive passage through the big pumps, but others would be cut up and serve as food for the fish that did make it.
Top of Hydraulic Jump where the Mayor of CB, councilmen & Baptist minister were fishing.
The seawater entered the warming pond over the hydraulic jump and through a short canal. That was a great place for the fish to feed and the fish grew quite large. The hydraulic jump was an inviting place to fish, but we posted signs prohibiting fishing. If someone chanced to fall in at the time the pumps stopped, he would be sucked back into the pumps. We were at the end of a 110 mile power line and there were occasional power interruptions.
There were indications that people were fishing at the hydraulic jump at night, so one night we decided to have the plant protection surprise them. The surprise was ours; we caught the Mayor of nearby Carolina Beach, one of the councilmen and the Baptist minister. All of our faces were red.
Hydraulic Jump. From HWY 421 looking toward pond from intake
Another time a big school of shad entered our intake basin. There were so many of them that they were practically pushing themselves out of the water. The screens could not handle that load, so many fish were carrying over and going through the pumps, some in parts. It was a feast time for gulls and they came from miles around. The high concentration of gulls attracted the attention of the Fish and Game Department and their representative warned me that unless the slaughter was stopped he would have the plant shut down. We were not sure how we could chase the fish out of the basin. We finally set bucket cranes beside the basin, shut the pumps down and let water flow back over the hydraulic jump while splashing the bucket in the basin. There was a slight flow out the jetties, and once some fish started to go out, the rest followed and the basin was clear again.
JUST BOUNCED THEM OUT OF THERE!
Our jetties extending out into the Atlantic Ocean gave us some concern because of their possible contribution to beach erosion. You know that wind driven waves move beach sand in the direction the wind is blowing. Sand moving along the beach could move as far as the jetties and then would have to go to the end of the jetties and deposit in deeper water. Waves would pick up more sand on the downwind side, thus scouring the beach. So concerned were we about our effect on the beach that, Brick had me take pictures of long stretches of the beach every month or so. One area of particular interest was a few miles south at old Fort Fisher where the beach was eroding quite badly. Wilmington was the last Confederate port to be closed during the Civil War because of its defense by the fort. In 1865 the fort was bombarded by a big Federal fleet but the fleet was driven off.
After storms, the eroded beach would be littered by relics of the bombardment, whole cannon balls and parts of cannon balls. I picked up many fragments and have given most of them away. Some months after the bombardment, the Yankees came back under cover of night, landed a force a few miles north of the fort, and built an earthen breastwork across the peninsula to defend against an army stationed in Wilmington. They captured the fort from the rear. When the first bromine from seawater plant was built in 1933 the breast-work was used as one side of the seawater storage pond.
This story about Fort Fisher has a personal angle. The girl I married was the granddaughter of the Major in the Corps of Engineers who had designed the gun emplacements. When the Ethyl Dow brick blowing out towers were demolished in 1952 much of the debris was hauled and dumped on the bank as rip-rap to defend what was left of Fort Fisher.
THAT’S QUITE A STORY.
When I became the plant manager in 1936, I was faced with a new problem.
EDCO Tug in Cape Fear River
The new tug EDCO had a serious vibration at the RPM range at which it had to run to push the barge up the river on a falling tide. The head of the big engine would bob sideways between an eighth and a quarter of an inch. Specialists came from General Motors, collected reams of information, and said that the trouble was not with the engine. Hull people came and said that the fault was not with the hull. The propeller experts came, too, and denied that the propeller was responsible. So we were left with the problem with no answers from the experts. Dan McDonald, Superintendent of Maintenance, reduced the bobbing somewhat by putting braces between the head of the engine and the sides of the tug. But our insurers threatened to cancel our insurance unless we removed them.
We were really hogtied; we had already given up the Vanessa because we were counting on the new tug and barge. The problem became my number 1 priority. I made several trips up and down the river in the tug measuring temperatures, speeds, engine RPM’s and engine movements. I sent the data to General Motors and requested performance information on the engine and was surprised to learn it could be safely run much faster than we had been able to run it. When we had run it over the vibration range, the engine overheated and froze some pistons.
Engine Room of EDCO Tug
To me it seemed logical that what we needed to do was to put on a smaller propeller so we could run the engine over the vibration range without overloading it. At the very least, we should try it. In those days, money spent over a certain amount had to be approved by “Authorizations” by both Dow and Ethyl. I sent an Authorization request to Midland after talking to Mr. Harlow about it. My reasoning seemed logical to him, but he was not a boatman. Midland approved the request, but Ethyl balked. They said that the tug was properly designed and would not approve changes unless recommended by a qualified marine engineer.
They said they would send down a vibration expert. Ethyl contacted the man who studied and solved the vibration problem on the tremendous French liner, the Normandy. He came to Wilmington at $400.00 per diem plus expenses. I met him at the train, took him to the plant, showed him my information, and took him on a trip on the tugboat. Within an hour or so he agreed that a smaller propeller should be tried. Mary entertained him for the rest of the day and he went back to New York that night. We got a new propeller as fast as we could, put it on, and it worked fine.
NO MORE VIBRATIONS?
The vibration range was still there, but we were able to run through it and above it to a vibration free rpm without overheating. Perhaps you remember the tug that was used for many years for moving oyster shell barges up and down the canal at Freeport.
WHAT WAS THE NAME OF THAT TUG?
It was the tug EDCO. It was bought by Dow after the Kure Beach plant shut down after the war. The deck house had to be lowered to get under the canal bridges. All of my tug information was given to Oliver Beutel, whose responsibility the tug became.
In 1936 we doubled the output at Kure Beach with new equipment and a different method which we called the SO2 process. The blowing out step was the same, but instead of absorbing the bromine laden air in a soda ash solution, it was mixed with sulfur dioxide in a long mixing chamber. The resulting hydrobromic and sulfuric acids in the form of fog and droplets were filtered out on glass wool.
Dog Houses – Ethyl Dow
WHERE WERE THE BIRD BOXES AT THIS TIME? – ON TOP OF THE TOWERS?
We called them “dog houses” because of their shape. There were no dog houses in the original design; they came later. The process had been conceived and pilot planted in Midland.
WHO DID THIS WORK UP THERE?
The Chemical Engineering Laboratory did the work. Ted Heath was the director of the lab, but Bill Schambra did the pilot plant job using sulfur dioxide from cylinders. Our plant’s source of sulfur dioxide was rotary sulfur burners. When we started the plant, the fog coming out of the fans was substantial. We were putting hydrobromic and sulfuric acids all over the place. My wife remembers that the first night after the plant started I was out all night checking poles and trees to see how far the acids had gone.
Control Room & Lab (Monroe Shigley in center)
DID YOU FORESEE THE NEED TO TAKE IT OUT, OR DID NOT THE LABORATORY FORESEE THIS?
They had not gone as far in the laboratory as to use sulfur dioxide from sulfur burners; they had only demonstrated that the reaction would go and that the product could be filtered out on glass wool and that on a small scale. Our big fans were condensing unreacted or unfiltered acids and spewing them out, so very quickly the dog houses were built over the fan discharges to provide another layer of glass wool to catch the acids. To make a long story short, we learned how to operate the sulfur burners in such a way as to produce a minimum of sulfur trioxide and the amount of material escaping the doghouses was reduced to a minimum.
After the bugs were worked out, the new process worked well and provided us with some overall cost reductions. The new unit had other innovations. Bill Schambra had spent time at Kure Beach working on lath packing and he came up with what we called “Schambra Shim Lath”.
This installed in the new blowing out tower permitted us to distribute more seawater and blow more air per cubic foot, thus producing more bromine.
Scarcely had the 1936 addition begun operating when it was decided that still more ethylene dibromide was needed. We had essentially doubled the original plant with the 1936 expansion. We redoubled it in 1938 with more intake pumps, a much larger blowing out and sulfur dioxide absorption unit, more steaming out towers, reactors, stills and ethylene units. We bought some more transportation equipment, this time another barge with deck tanks for moving de-natured alcohol and ethylene dibromide. The tug was running well so water transportation wise we were doing great, although we did experience one temporary problem worthy of comment.
Barge & tug at Ethyl Dow dock on Cape Fear river
The Cape Fear River at the plant site was about two miles wide. The main ship channel ran north and south about two thirds the way across the river. Our shallower barge channel ran east and west and was maintained by dragging a heavy steel beam behind the tug on a falling tide. On one occasion when a government dredge was working upstream in the main channel, our own channel was filled with sediment too heavy for our tug and beam to handle.
We felt sure that the big dredge was the culprit, so I went to see the chief of the Corps of Engineers Office in Wilmington. He denied any responsibility, so one of our chemists got samples of known dredge deposits; samples of the filled areas of our channel and samples distant from both. Analyses showed that the plug in our channel was identical to the dredge discharge.
Confronted with that fact, the Corps of Engineers dredge cleaned out our entire channel, at no cost to Ethyl-Dow.
In 1938 war clouds were gathering in Europe. The French and the British could foresee problems ahead and wanted their own source of bromine. So the French first, and the British later, contacted Ethyl to see if they could get the know-how for bromine from seawater. I recall the time when two Frenchmen came to the Kure Beach plant with Mr. Harlow. They came in the morning and were going to New York that evening for consultation with the Ethyl people. Mary and I planned to have them to dinner before they left. After we had been through the plant, Mr. Harlow called me aside and said that there were to be no more discussions about bromine until the meeting with Ethyl. He said they were going on different trains.
Mary and I would take them to the stations and it would be Mary’s job to entertain them on the way. So after dinner we got in the car. I drove and Mr. Harlow sat with me in the front seat while Mary sat in the back with the Frenchmen and chatted with them about French cooking and other things. We put the Frenchmen on a train at Fayetteville and Mr. Harlow on a later train at Wilson, and came home.
We were to learn later that negotiations were completed in New York and that the French would be given the know-how.
Shortly afterward, Jacques Coulon, an employee of Establishments Kuhlman came to get information on the process. I met him at the train and took him to dinner. He could speak little English so we communicated with hand signals and what little French I remembered from college days. He was a Major in the French Anti-aircraft Reserves. Fortunately, we had an engineer, Morris McGowan, who had worked in Canada and who could speak some French. McGowan and Bill Schambra conveyed the process information and practically designed a plant for him at Port deBouc, near Marseille, France. I was scheduled to go there and help to start it, but the Germans overran it before the plant was finished.
WAS THE PLANT FINISHED?
The plant was completed and operated. The man who was to have been manager of the plant was a Jew; the Germans shot him. I visited the plant and was shown through it when I was in France in 1960 with my family. There was a big plaque at the plant entrance remembering the dead manager. Coulon was in Paris at the time so I did not see him.
HOW LONG DID IT RUN?
It was running then, and as far as I know it is still running. The British also negotiated for plant know-how and Imperial Chemical Industries were contracted to build two bromine from seawater plants at points on the English coast. They were referred to as “Shadow Plants”. ICI sent three engineers to Kure Beach to get the information.
They brought with them a trunk full of confidential information which they kept locked. At first they were very secretive, but as we became better acquainted they started opening up more and more. After the first Kure Beach plant was started, a Dow man named Leroy Stewart wrote quite an article about the plant in the April, 1934 issue of Industrial and Engineering Chemistry.
The ICI man had studied that article carefully and had even sized piping from pictures accompanying it. They did a lot of work on the physical chemistry of the process, and actually knew more about the chemistry of seawater than we did. But they lacked materials of construction know how, particularly as wet bromine was concerned. They were somewhat chagrined to find that we had designed, built and operated the plant largely by trial and error and without detailed physical chemistry. Ultimately they gave us copies of their reports.
ICI did build and operate the two bromine plants. One was managed by Bill Venn, the leader of the three who came to Kure Beach. He wrote us occasionally during the war and told of the numbers of times he and others at the plant had to leave their posts to man anti-aircraft guns stationed at location. At least one of the plants was still running when I was in England in 1960 but I did not see it.
WHAT DID Dow DO, SELL THE KNOW-HOW OR GET A ROYALTY?
I do not know, but I have an idea that Dow received a down payment for-the know-how. I do know that bromine from seawater was a lucrative venture for Dow. Willard Dow told me that at one time DOW’s share of the Ethyl-Dow profits contributed one fourth of the total Dow profits.
Initially we were making ethylene dibromide for 10 or 11 cents per and sold it for 30. Our final capacity at Kure Beach was 48 or 49 million pounds per year and our production cost was under 10 cents.
[Editor: 49 million lbs X $.20 profit per lb = $9,800,000. minimum PROFIT in 1940 dollars] All of the product was going to Ethyl, so there was a lot of discussion about pricing and about DOW’s contributions to lower costs.
Ethyl Dow Lab (Monroe Shigley in far center)
To assist in those discussions someone, perhaps from Ethyl wanted to get “standard costs” for ethylene dibromide. The job to get them fell on my shoulders. It was not simple; we had four units and two processes which operated at different efficiencies at a given seawater temperature. All of the efficiencies varied with seawater temperature and the rates at which the units were operating.
Seawater temperatures varied from 30 degrees Centigrade in the late summer to about 10 degrees in the winter. The higher the temperature, the higher the efficiency and the higher the rate, the lower the efficiency. I had to unscramble those variables to arrive at “Standard costs”.
So I set up a matrix and went through many hundreds of calculations on a 20 inch slide rule. I would take the work home at night and work until my eyes gave out, then start again the next day. Finally I developed a “standard cost” curve plotting costs versus annual production. This presumed optimum use of the several units running at optimum rates. Other curves were prepared to adjust the standard curve for changes in raw materials and power.
Years later, after the bromine plant was expanded at Freeport, it was decided that my standard cost curve should be updated. I was out of Ethyl Dow by then and Bill Smith was given the job. Computers were available by that time, so Bill put all of the basic data in a computer, pushed a button, and in almost no time produced figures which had taken me weeks to get. The report was brought to me for review. I could not pass judgment until I had picked a couple of conditions, calculated them as I had before and checked my figures against Bill’s. They agreed.
WHAT YEAR WAS THAT?
I think this would have been in the late 1940’s or early 50’s.
Back to 1938 again, the use of tetraethyl lead for civilian and military use continued to accelerate and Ethyl was concerned whether they could get enough ethylene dibromide for it. So we started looking for another plant site. From the work Joe Bayliss had done, it appeared that the Gulf Coast was a good place to start.
Two potential places were picked out for study, Corpus Christi and Freeport, TX. I am not sure who picked them, perhaps E.O.Barstow who had overall responsibility for Dow’s inorganic production. Barstow had been to both places, and Corpus Christi was his overwhelming choice, for seawater had higher salinity there and it was a nicer place to live.
Freeport was a little, rundown village; it had holes in the roads that Porter Hart said would have had bridges across them had they been in Michigan.
I sat in on many meetings where Willard Dow, A.P. Beutel, E.O. Barstow and Ivan Harlow debated the relative merits of the two sites for ethylene dibromide production. Bill Schambra and I did all of the economics for both sites. Bill was my right hand in those days. One day we were called into Barstow’s office where he gave us a real “dressing down”. He though he remembered that we had once shown the cost at Corpus Christi to be more favorable than at Freeport, and accused us of doing a little pencil work to shade the figures in favor of Freeport, the strong choice of Dow and Beutel.
We must have convinced him that we would not have done such a thing, otherwise neither of us would have been around any longer. Freeport was chosen. I went there several times taking water samples, sometimes alone, sometimes with Mr. Harlow. We rented boats and went up and down the waterway and out in the gulf getting water at various depths, testing salinities with a special hydrometer. Surface water tended to be diluted by overriding Brazos flow, but at depths below about ten feet salinities were generally about 85% of that at Kure Beach.
The initial concept was that Ethyl Dow would build the ethylene di-bromide plant and that Dow would construct facilities beside it to supply power, steam, ethylene, chlorine and caustic. But as Beutel and Dow looked more closely at the location, there appeared to be greater opportunities than just supplying Ethyl-Dow.
There were nine or ten salt domes within a radius of 25 miles of Freeport, sulfur was being produced nearby, there was a deep-water port, a major river nearby, and cheap natural gas at one cent per thousand cubic feet. It would have been a mistake to have chosen Corpus Christi.
As the Ethyl-Dow plant was being built in Freeport, it got to be a “tail on the dog” instead of the dog itself. Because of the advantages the Freeport location provided, Dow decided to produce other things, among them ethylene glycol, ethylene dichloride and magnesium from seawater.
WAS THE VERY FIRST THING PLANNED IN TEXAS THE ETHYL DOW PLANT, AND THE MAGNESIUM AND OTHER THINGS CAME AFTER THAT DECISION?
I think so. The consideration of Texas started with the need for expanded bromine production. There was no mention of other products in the Willard Dow-Beutel-Barstow-Harlow debates about Freeport and Corpus Christi that I attended. Those ideas came later, and suddenly we realized that there was much more going on across the fence than just supplying utilities for Ethyl Dow.
I HAD HEARD IN THE PAST THAT THEY WANTED TO FIND A PLACE WHERE THEY COULD BRING THE SEAWATER IN FOR THE MAGNESIUM, MAYBE FOR BROMINE ALSO, IN SUCH A WAY AS TO TAKE IN FRESH SEAWATER, EXTRACT MAGNESIUM, AND THEN PUT THE SPENT SEAWATER INTO A CANAL THAT WAS A SIGNIFICANT DISTANCE FROM THE SEAWATER INTAKE WITH A MINIMUM OF BACK DILUTION.
That is right. An effluent canal serving both plants was dug around Velasco to the Brazos River, which was a tidal estuary at that point. It was far more important for the bromine plant than for the magnesium. The first Freeport bromine plant produced 45 million pounds of ethylene dibromide per year using gulf water at the rate of 200,000 gallons per minute, while the first magnesium plant rated at 12 million pounds per year needed only 2600 gallons per minute.
WHERE WERE YOU GETTING ETHYLENE AT THAT TIME? WAS IT STILL ETHANOL?
I think we were counting on Dow for ethylene.
I KNOW THAT IT HAPPENED, BUT I DID NOT KNOW WHEN.
It seems to me that we built an alcohol ethylene plant as a standby. We certainly needed it, for Dow’s ethylene plant was up and down. In any case, the Freeport bromine plant was started up in late 1940 or early 1941 using the sulfur dioxide process, and it ran well. It had one innovation; we removed the chlorine impurity from the condensed bromine by adding a small stream of hydrobromic/sulfuric acid to the steaming out condensers, eliminating the bromine still we had used at Kure Beach.
I was still in charge of both plants so I shuttled between them, spending a week or two at Kure Beach and a week or two at Freeport. Henry Roebke was put in charge of the Freeport operation and Luther Evans was transferred from Kure Beach as part of his staff. Glenn Cantwell became the man in charge at Kure Beach. He had been involved with Kure Beach production since 1936 and before that had been the manager of Dow’s iodine plant in California. He was a senior man, having been a part of the operation of the mustard gas plant in Midland during World War I. He pitched for our plant softball team and acquired the nickname “Dizzy Dean”.
YOU SAID YOU WERE COMING OVER AND STAYING PART OF THE TIME IN FREEPORT AND THEN BACK TO WILMINGTON. WHAT HAPPENED THEN TO CAUSE YOU TO HAVE TO MOVE TO FREEPORT?
My move to Freeport came as a surprise. During a visit to Freeport in June, 1941, I was called to Dr. Beutel’s office. He said that some of the Dow plants were having serious problems and that he had arranged for my transfer from Ethyl Dow to Dow immediately to help solve them. From earlier chats with friends I was aware that things were not going well across the fence.
There was a boron problem which had been partially solved, a cantankerous magnesium chloride shelf dryer which was limiting magnesium production and an ethylene plant which frequently broke down – and a 40 foot by 40 foot process storage tank tipped over. A Dow mechanical engineer named George McGranahan was the first Manager of the Texas Division as it came to be known, but seemed to be making little progress in getting things under control.
So, much as he had done when the first Kure Beach construction got out of hand, Dr. Beutel came to Freeport to take charge. McGranahan was made responsible for maintenance and engineering. Nelson Griswold was transferred from Cliffs-Dow to handle power and utilities, and I was moved from Ethyl Dow to be in charge of all operations.
The three of us would have the titles of Assistant Manager, and would be responsible to Beutel. Beutel promised me an increase in salary, but insisted that I be on the job “a week from next Monday”. That was only ten days away. I called Mary that night, and she got busy arranging for movers and putting our Wilmington house on the market. We had moved into town after our first daughter was born. We and our two girls, ages 3-1/2 and 1 were on our way to Freeport within five days and I reported to Beutel on the appointed Monday.
Submitted by: Howard Hewett, Jones Creek, TX – August 20, 2014
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 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.
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.
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
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.
Relatives mentioned by the author:
Uncle Crawford Lewis, his Grandfather, and his Dad, Curtis Hewett