Seabreeze Part 4 — Growth of Seabreeze

by Rebecca Taylor

In February, 1930, the Wilmington Star reported that, “Electric poles are now being set from Wilmington to Seabreeze, a colored resort, by the Tide Water Power Company for the extension of electrical current.” Then in July of 1931, the Wilmington News reported that the North Carolina Negro Insurance Association held its annual convention at Seabreeze with speakers from Durham, Winston, Charlotte as well as smaller towns.seabreeze #1

By the Labor Day holiday of 1933, the Wilmington Star reported that “Ten thousand Negroes visited Seabreeze yesterday. They came by trucks, motor cars, buses, and, in fact, every mode of vehicle. Some trucks were loaded with as many as 75 to 100 men, women, and children all packed in these vehicles like sardines. Four large buses were employed in conveying the crowds to and from the resort. Trucks came from Fuquay Springs, Lumberton, Pembroke, Charity Cross Roads, and from numerous other towns in eastern and Piedmont North Carolina.”

By July of 1934, Dr. Foster F. Burnett, a local Negro physician who was a Harvard University graduate, constructed a convalescent home and recreation center at Seabreeze that would  accommodate up to 10 persons at a time. A pier was also constructed from the home to the sound. Dr. Burnett had plans to also build tennis courts, a golf course and other recreational facilities. That same month Dr. Burnett was promoting a request to the State Highway and Public Works Commission to improve the road connecting State Highway 40 with Seabreeze.

By the summer of 1935, the resort was so developed that the North Carolina Utilities Commission voted to grant a franchise to a Wilmington bus company to operate a bus line from Wilmington to Seabreeze.

In July 1938, the Wilmington Star reported the “purchase of a site at Seabreeze in connection with a development for colored tourists, to cost about $7,600 was announced yesterday by Ben McGhee. The pavilion is to be located off the Carolina Beach road near the entrance to Seabreeze.”

By the summer of 1938, C.C. Spaulding, President of the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company of Durham, announced plans to purchase a lot and build a vacation home at Seabreeze. “Spaulding announced his plan following a weekend visit to the resort in which he was favorably impressed with the quietness of the resort on the southern side of Seabreeze as most conductive to rest and relaxation.”

Seabreeze #2By the mid-1930s, Seabreeze was in full swing. They had so many visitors that parking became a problem.  On summer weekends cars lined Carolina Beach Road for up to a mile. On holiday weekends the New Hanover County Sheriff assigned deputies to supervise traffic flow to and from the resort. At least 10 restaurants, including Barbecue Sam’s, served summer visitors. The area’s cooks quickly became famous for their clam fritters, often with finely chopped bell peppers and onions.

At some point in the 1930s, there seems to have been talk of incorporating Seabreeze as a municipality.  An editorial appeared in the Wilmington Star that advised them that it would be “Wise to go Slow” concluding with; “It is, therefore, our advice to our Negro citizens to proceed with caution. They should do everything possible to develop their resort, and for this they are to be commended, but corporate responsibilities may invite worries that are not compensated by such benefits as might accrue.”

Seabreeze Part 3 – With the Turn of the Century

Freeman Family at Mt. Pilgrim Church

Freeman Family at Mt. Pilgrim Church

by Rebecca Taylor

The Freeman Heirs

In July 1902, Robert Bruce Freeman Jr., appeared in the New Hanover County Clerk of Court’s Office bearing his father’s will for probate.

The surviving children (all sons) from Robert Bruce’s first marriage inherited most of the Old Homestead. Robert Bruce, Jr., Archie, Rowland, Nathan, and Ellis received fifty-seven acres each.

Dulcia, the widow of Robert and Catherine’s son, Daniel Freeman, were granted lifetime rights in fifty-seven acres of the Old Homestead. Thereafter, the property was to be divided equally between Daniel and Dulcia’s children, Ida and Hattie. Lena was also given fifty-seven acres of the Old Homestead.

Lena’s children were to “share and share alike” with Catherine’s children in all the lands outside of the Old Homestead while Lena’s children were not included in the Old Homestead division.”

Unfortunately, the vagueness of the bequest to Lena’s children would haunt the family into the 21st Century.  As early as 1914 “the court appointed a Board of Commissioners to determine the boundaries for each tract. They decided that the tracts would run west to east, from the Cape Fear River to the Atlantic Ocean. This gave each heir access to the river, sound, ocean, and soil suitable for cultivation.”

After Robert Bruce, Jr.’s death, Ellis Freeman, youngest son by his first marriage, took over management of the family lands. “He obtained a $50,000 government permit to sell yellow granite, and created a profitable business carrying people out on the ocean fishing.”

The Beginning of Carolina Beach

In the 1880’s Freeman gave Captain John Harper, owner of the steamer Wilmington and a partner in the New Hanover Transit Company, the right of way to build a railroad through his property at Carolina Beach in exchange for free train passes for the black people of the area.

On March 11, 1887, W. L. Smith, Jr. bought a strip of land comprised of 24 acres for the amount of $66.50. These acres were between the head of Myrtle Grove Sound and the ocean beach. Today this land is located in the heart of the business district of the Town of Carolina Beach.

The following year, 1888, the New Hanover Transit Company sponsored a free excursion to Carolina Beach for indigent and infirmed colored people in Wilmington. About five hundred people took the trip including church members from St. Stephen, St. Luke, St. Mark, Mount Olive, Central Baptist and Chestnut Street Presbyterian churches.

In 1913, the Freeman heirs financed Alexander W. Pate and Joseph Laughlin a large tract with boundaries running from the end of the “old road bed of the New Hanover Transit Company’s railroad” to about 5,000 feet south of Sugar Loaf and then over to the beach.

Seabreeze Established

In the early 1920’s, Ellis Freeman, one of Robert, Sr.’s heirs, sold the first lots on the Seabreeze tract with full right of ingress and egress to and over any and all portion of the sea beach east of and across Myrtle Grove Sound.

Seabreeze managed to promote black ownership of recreational property and businesses – something other black beaches in the country had been unsuccessful in doing in spite of well-organized attempts.”

Seabreeze Beach ResortThe first beach structure called “Seabreeze” was built in 1922. It was about the time of the great boom in beachfront development. It was also a time of resurgent black pride and enterprise, the era of the Harlem Renaissance.

Victoria Loftin

Victoria Lofton

Tom and Victoria Lofton, a prominent black couple from Wilmington, completed construction on the Russell Hotel, a twenty-five room, three-story hotel, restaurant and dance hall. Peter Simpson and his wife opened Simpson’s Hotel and development began to spring up all around.

The Harlem-based, syndicated black columnist Geraldyne Dismond reported, to her surprise, cottages that resembled a “transplanted Seventh Avenue tea room, swank…bungalows and a sporting crowd dressed in linen suits and driving roadsters.”

Seabreeze

Daley Breezy Pavilion

In the spring of 1929, the Wilmington Star reported that at Seabreeze, the Negro resort, a new hotel is under construction.

According to residents of that section it will greatly facilitate the housing problem there during the season and an increase of the number of Negroes visiting this section is expected to result from the construction program.

Then by February 1930 the Tide Water Power Company was extending poles from Wilmington to Seabreeze. And, by July of 1931 the Wilmington News was reporting that the North Carolina Negro Insurance Association held its annual convention at Seabreeze with speakers from Durham, Winston-Salem, Charlotte as well as smaller towns.

 

Seabreeze – A History Part I – The Freeman Family

Seabreeze drawing - CB Images of America

by Rebecca Taylormap cropped

Because Sea Breeze was a leisure site, it has deep meaning for residents and former business owners, as well as for people who patronized it. The old resort has a remarkably wide constituency. All over North Carolina I have encountered people who have vivid and fond memories of Sea Breeze.”  – Jennifer Edwards, 2003

We’ll probably never know why Alexander (b. 1788 d. cir. 1855) and Charity (b. 1798 – d. 1873) Freeman chose to relocate from Bladen County to the headwaters of Myrtle Grove Sound in the 1840s but they appear in the 1840 New Hanover County Census in the “Lower Black River District” (probably in what is now Bladen County) of New Hanover County in a household of 7. Listed in the 1830 & 1840 censuses as “free colored persons,” the family has always proudly claimed a family lineage that includes significant Native American heredity.

By the 1850 census Alexander, a fisherman, Charity, a 52 year old woman, Robert B.,an 18 year old laborer, and Archie,an 11 year old are listed as a household in Federal Point Township.  Clearly the family thrived in the quiet backwater with two large plantations, Sedgeley Abbey and Gander Hall, as their closest neighbors. Deed records show that in 1855 Alexander bought approximately 99 acres of land at the head of Myrtle Grove Sound.  By the time of his death, believed to be sometime in the mid-1850s, his oldest son, Robert Bruce, inherited an estate that included 180 acres “situated on the south side of cedar drain and adjacent to the land of Thomas Williams and Henry Davis.”

In the 1860 Census of Federal Point Robert Bruce Freeman (b. 1832 – d. 1901) is listed as a fisherman and the value of his real estate is listed at $100.00.  In 1857 Robert Bruce married Catherine Davis (b. 1837) probably a relative of the nearby Davis family. By 1870 their family had grown to include Archie (b. 1857 – d. 1930), and Robert Bruce Jr. (b. 1859 – d. 1944), as well as Catherine (b. 1863), Daniel (b. 1867), and  Roland (b. 1869). Their last son, Ellis, was born in 1875.

By the 1870 census almost half of the population of Federal Point Township was listed as black or mulatto and Robert Bruce and Catherine were clearly leaders of their community. In December 1870 Robert Bruce was appointed to the School Committee of Federal Point. By the mid 1870s he had donated land to build a school for “the colored children of Federal Point.” The school opened in 1877, and had 34 students led by teacher Charles M. Epps.

In January 1876 Robert Bruce purchased almost 2,500 acres of land including the old Sedgeley Abbey and Gander Hall plantations with land running between the Atlantic Ocean and the Cape Fear River, becoming one of the largest land holders in New Hanover County.

Robert Bruce donated 10 acres of land along the river (taken from the former Gander Hall Plantation) to St. Stephens AME church in Wilmington to use as a campground – the beginning of the concept of using the sandy waterfront land as an escape for African-American city dwellers.

In 1887 the Wilmington Star noted that “Chief Justice” Freeman opened a law dispensary at Carolina Beach, and he was prepared to issue ―writs at living prices. Special attention given to mandamuses, quo warrants, scieri facieses, capiases and respondum, etc. The blind goddess always on hand with scales in good condition.”

It is clear that Robert Bruce Freeman was considered a “significant” citizen of the Lower Cape Fear. He is listed as serving on the Criminal Court Grand Jury in Wilmington in local newspapers including October, 1879;  February, 1884; and January, 1888.

Catherine died, sometime in the 1870s and in 1888 Robert Bruce married his second wife, Lena (Lizzy) Davis (b. 1871 – d. 1944) and added four additional children to the family; Roscoe, Dorotha, Benjamin, and Tahlia.  Robert Bruce died in 1901 and was buried in a family cemetery. At his death his land was parceled into tracts, designed to be self-supporting waterfront properties.

The Freeman Heirs

In July 1902, Robert Bruce Freeman Jr. appeared in the New Hanover County Clerk of Court’s Office bearing his father’s will for probate.  The surviving children (all sons) from Robert Bruce’s first marriage inherited most of the Old Homestead. Robert Bruce, Jr., Archie, Rowland, Nathan, and Ellis received fifty-seven acres each.  Dulcia, the widow of Robert and Catherine’s son, Daniel Freeman, was granted lifetime rights to Fifty-seven acres of the Old Homestead. Thereafter the property was to be divided equally between Daniel and Duclia’s children, Ida and Hattie. Lena was also given fifty-seven acres of the Old Homestead. Lena’s children were to “share and share alike” with Catherine’s children in all the lands outside of the Old Homestead while Lena’s children were not included in the Old Homestead division.”

Unfortunately, the vagueness of the bequest to Lena’s children would haunt the family into the 21st Century.  As early as 1914 “the court appointed a board of commissioners to determine the boundaries for each tract. They decided that the tracts would run west to east, from the Cape Fear River to the Atlantic Ocean. This gave each heir access to the river, sound, ocean, and soil suitable for cultivation.

After Robert Bruce Jr.’s death, Ellis Freeman, youngest son by his first marriage, took over management of the family lands. “He obtained a $50,000 government permit to sell yellow granite, and created a profitable business carrying people out on the ocean fishing.”

Fishing – A Way of LifeFishing Boat Breakers - CB

The Freemans fished the Intracoastal Waterway with family using casting nets, taking homemade poles into the sound, or sitting on a pier, waiting patiently with baited hook. Somebody had to harvest clams to make those well-known fritters, and kids joined adults in hauling the mollusks.

The Freeman family was legendary for its fishing prowess and had a ‘spot’ that was all its own near Fort Fisher. Other fishing boats respected the Freemans’ territorial rights and did not compete near Fort Fisher. The family owned one motor and three boats, so it was not uncommon to see them string at least two boats together with a rope.

Customers, both black and white, looked forward to the Freemans’ return with the catch of the day.

The Freeman brothers cast wide nets to catch their bait, typically shad, menhaden, pogie, herring. Throughout the day, the Freemans strung up their catch on sea oats, and at the end of the day they would charge 25 cents per string. Kids looking forward to a good meal would watch for the Freeman boats and swim out to help pull them ashore.

Finding Your Family History – by Rebecca Taylor

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

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

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

A retired librarian, Rebecca’s interest in her family’s history was kindled by watching Who Do You Think You Are? and Finding Your Roots as well as taking a trip to the Midwest where her paternal ancestors were from.  And, of course, like anyone living in SE North Carolina, finding her Civil War ancestor.

ancestryIt helped that her partner, also a retired librarian, had been working on her family history for a number of years and already had a subscription to Ancestry.com.

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

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

For more information contact Rebecca Taylor, Federal Point History Center, 910-458-0502, Rebecca@federal-point-history.org

Oral History: Remembrances of Life on Federal Point, 1940 -1959 (Part 2 of 2)

by:  Howard Hewett,  Jones Creek, TX – October, 2015   (Part 2 of 2)     (Read Part 1)

Cape Fear Lighthouse 1903-1958 Bald Head Island

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

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.

Hurricane Hazel

Hewett North Carolina HomeI 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.

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.

After Hurricane Hazel, as the Corp of Engineer were pushing sand around on the beach, Dad had several confrontations with them about damaging the hardpan. There should not be any argument about Dad’s position in that the house has been sitting on the Atlantic Ocean for 77 years as of 2015.

Memorable Fishing Trip After Hurricane Hazel

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.

Howard Hewett

Howard Hewett

During this summer, I worked for the Bame family. My best friend Howard Knox’s father was married to a daughter of the owner of Bame’s holdings. The holdings consisted of a hotel, three full-service gas stations (one station also served as a grocery store), a building supply store and Barbara Boat Sales.

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.

Read Part 1:  Remembrances of Fort Fisher

[Additional resources]
John Moseley – Presents: Fort Fisher in World War II
The Hewett Homes in Fort Fisher, NC – FPHPS -Slide show

Read all Howard Hewett’s Oral History postings on FPHPS


[All photos provided by Howard Hewett – Click any image for more detail]

Backyard Beach Hill before Hazel 1952-53

The Beach Hill in front of Hewett home prior to Hurricane Hazel 1952-53

 

Hardpan sitill showing after Hazel

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.

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 David Rd); south of the Kure Beach City Limits.

Looking north toward the Danner Home (at Davis Rd); south of the Kure Beach city limits.

Hazel - Looking towards Kure Beach

Hazel -Toward Kure Beach City Limits

Hazel - South Kure City Limits

Hazel – South of Kure Beach city limits

Oral History: Remembrances of Life on Federal Point, 1940 -1959

by:  Howard Hewett,  Jones Creek, TX – October, 2015 – (Part 1 of 2)

Howard Hewett

Howard Hewett

[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

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
Farmall.Tom-Punk-Jackie-Codo BoysOne 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 Boiling Pot

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.

Read … Part 2

 

Fort Fisher in World War II – John Moseley

john moseleyThe Federal Point Historic Preservation Society will hold its monthly meeting on Monday, September 21, 7:30 pm at the Federal Point History Center, 1121-A North Lake Park Blvd., adjacent to Carolina Beach Town Hall.

Our speaker this month will be John Moseley, Assistant Site Manager of the Fort Fisher State Historic Site. John’s talk will be on the role Fort Fisher played during World War II.

Though most locals have a general idea of just how important Fort Fisher was to the Confederacy, few know how vital the site was in training men for anti-aircraft artillery.

Original specifications called for a host of features that would make the remote firing range a self-contained post.

These included 48 frame buildings, 316 tent frames, showers and latrines, mess halls, warehouses, radio and meteorological stations, a post exchange, photo lab, recreation hall, outdoor theater, guardhouse, infirmary, and an administration building.

In addition to these facilities, the site featured a 10,000-gallon water storage tank, a motor pool, a large parade ground, and three steel observation towers along the beach.

The main highway in the area, U.S. 421, bisected the sandy ruins of the land in front of historic Fort Fisher. New firing ww2-machineguninstallations were erected along the beach between the highway and the Atlantic Ocean — not unlike Fort Fisher’s ocean-side batteries during the Civil War. These included, among others, batteries of 40-millimeter automatic cannons and 50-caliber machine guns.

In addition, the site’s utilities, living quarters, and other features sprang up west of the shore installations between the highway and the Cape Fear River.

The area surrounding the old Civil War fort was soon dotted with the trappings of a modern military facility and expansion would continue throughout its tenure as a firing range.

Fort Fisher lacked the elaborate recreational facilities found at Camp Davis, but by the Spring of 1943 it boasted a full schedule of activities.

Fort Fisher- WWIIIn August, 1943 the new post theater opened with a screening of Stormy Weather starring Lena Horne. There were also plays and musical variety shows, most of which were performed by the soldiers themselves.

Professional performances sponsored by the United Services Organization (USO) were an added treat, and were often joined by “home grown” talent — including the Fort Fisher Swing Band and other groups.

Many of the post’s trainees were from interior regions of the United States and had never before seen a beach — let alone tried to live near one.

The adjustment was difficult and more than a few soldiers balked at the notion of dining on fried clams and oysters.

To acclimate the men to their new environment, the post offered swimming lessons, advice on how to avoid sunburn, and beach safety instructions.

 

 

From the President: September, 2015

From: Elaine Henson

Elaine Henson

        Elaine Henson

 This month I am asking your help in identifying a post card and a photograph.

gray's cottage

[Click – for detail view]

This post card shows Gray’s Grill, Cottages and Service Station.

Ed Turberg identified the cars in this manner, “The car in the foreground is a Ford, c. 1937-38. The cars with the sloped backs are GM (Pontiac, Olds, Buick) which were popular from 1940 to 1948.”

He estimates the date of this card to be c. 1946. Does anyone remember where Gray’s was?

 

 


 

President's message Sept 2015

[Click – for detail view]

The building in this photograph is an inn or rooming house and appears to be on the corner of Lake Park Boulevard and what was then Myrtle Avenue, now Carl Winner Drive. You can see the yacht basin in the background.

I asked my friend and FPHPS member Charlie Green and he agrees on the location as that corner. Does anyone know what it says on the sign out front?

 

postcard date

 

On the back of the photo is written:
Carolina Beach.  May 1944

 

 

 

 

 

Seafood on Federal Point – 1948-1956 (part 2)

Oral History
by:  Howard Hewett,  Jones Creek, TX – July, 2015 – Part 7.5

[Mark your calendar now! Howard will be visiting from Texas and will present a program on his memories of Federal Point On Monday November 2, here at the History Center at 7:30 pm.]

Howard Hewett

Howard Hewett

Acquiring seafood on Federal Point was a family affair. On a falling tide or low tide we would head for the bays located just south of where we lived at 833 S. Fort Fisher Blvd.

Clamming
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 quite similar to

Clamming Rake

                          Clamming Rake

“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.                                                                                                              

Oystering Knives

Oystering Knives

The oysters were then brought to the table. If 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.