[Originally published in the March, 1996 – FPHPS Newsletter]
At last month’s [Feb, 1996] meeting of the Federal Point Historic Preservation Society, Mr. Bill Dennis, a civil engineer with the US. Army Corps of Engineers – Wilmington District, presented a thorough site history and review of the Fort Fisher revetment project to a well-attended audience. Mr. Dennis, a native of New Jersey, began his slide presentation and discussion with a quick overview of the Federal Point area and how changes in its shape led to a need for a protective seawall to save the fort.
In 1761 a hurricane drastically reshaped Federal Point when it opened a passage known as New Inlet between the ocean and the Cape Fear River.
New Inlet, however, later played an important role during the Civil War as an entrance for sleek, fast blockade runners to slip past the Union fleet and enter the river under the protective guns of Fort Fisher. These ships were able to successfully deliver their valuable cargoes to Wilmington and on to the rest of the Confederacy until early 1865.
‘The Rocks’ from Battery Buchanan to Zeke’s Island
Following the war, Federal Point again underwent a major transition in appearance when the US. Army Corps of Engineers closed New Inlet to improve river navigation. During the 1870s and 1880s the Corps built a stone structure known as “The Rocks” in two sections across the inlet and swash that still exists today.
The upper section of the dam extended from Battery Buchanan on Federal Point to Zeke‘s Island, a distance of 5,300 feet. The continuation of the lower section known as the Swash Defense Dam from Zeke’s Island to Smith’s Island [Bald Head Island], a distance of 12,800 feet, made the entire closure just over 3 miles in length.
Erosion at Ft. Fisher
In addition to the natural deterioration of Federal Point, serious erosion problems occurred near Fort Fisher alter the state intentionally removed coquina rock from the shore just north of the earthworks during the 1920s for use as road construction fill. Since that time approximately 200 yards of sea front has been lost to wave action.
This loss forced the state in the early 1950s to realign the very same highway that had been built with the use of the coquina rock. The North Carolina Highway Department, and later aided by local communities, then began dumping concrete and other large construction debris along the sea front near Battle Acre. As a further means of slowing erosion at Fort Fisher, the state placed a line of rocks along the shoreline in 1970. Storms since that time showed the revetment to be too short. Shoreline erosion continued at a rate of nearly 10 feet per year.
Since the end of the Civil War the ocean has claimed nearly half of the fort.
A more substantial solution to the site erosion problem came in 1995 when matching federal and state funds for a larger revetment project became available. The state and Corps of Engineers approved a plan for a permanent seawall based upon a design of Mr. Dennis.
After two years of planning, an acceptable design called for the construction of a 3,040-foot seawall to extend from south of Battle Acre to north of the Fort Fisher mounds.
Bids went out for the construction of the seawall. Selected for the construction project was Misener Marine Construction, Inc. of Tampa, Florida, at a bid of 4.6 million dollars.
Work on the project began in June 1995, and included a multi-layered rubble revetment with circular tie-ins to natural ground on both ends of the site.
Beginning on the south end, the construction company dug a trench to 3.5 feet below mean sea level in which to lay the revetment ends. Within the trench at both ends, and along the shoreline, a fabric liner was first applied topped by a layer of gravel. Slightly larger bedding stone was then applied and finally a layer of armor stone.
The armor stone, weighing approximately two tons apiece, came from a quarry near Raleigh, while the smaller bedding stone was mined near Castle Hayne.
Approximately 68,000 tons of rock form the seawall. Along Battle Acre the revetment overlaid most of the preexisting rubble. To prevent the new stone from washing into the sea from the sloping shoreline, Misener Marine placed a line of concrete sta-pods at the toe of the protective stone. Nearly four hundred of the pods, weighing 5 tons each and shaped like a tri-pod, were interlocked in a parallel row to the shoreline.
Sticking slightly above the water, marine algae soon covered the sta-pods. On December 15 , 1995, Misener Marine placed the last rock in the revetment—nearly three months ahead of schedule.
The revetment rises slightly above the natural ground elevation at about 12-15 feet above sea level. Behind the revetment, sand was placed to form a gentle slope from the crest of the revetment to the existing ground. Currently landscaping with trees and scrubs is occurring near the revetment.
3,200-foot seawall completed (April, 1996) at Fort Fisher Museum and Earthworks.
A security fence, walkway with stairs leading down to the beach on either end, and two observation gazebos are being constructed. The landscaping and construction projects are expected to be completed by April.
The new revetment should halt the ocean-side erosion of Federal Point for the next fifty years.
Mr. Dennis summarized his work on the design and construction of the seawall project when he jokingly indicated, “It took a Yankee to finally save Fort Fisher.”
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.)
The 4th of July holiday was celebrated by a group of 15 gentlemen who went down the river on the steam tugboat JAMES T. EASTON to Federal Point. They celebrated the 4th by raising a large flag and listening to an oration by A. T. London, Esq. Some of the officers and soldiers from the garrison at Smithville were present and the occasion was hugely enjoyed. While there, the group visited the New Inlet Dam or as we call the Rocks, and inspected them with Henry Nutt, who was chairman in charge of the work. WILM.WEEKLY STAR, 7-11-1873
July 4, 1888
The Fourth of July holiday was celebrated by hundreds of pleasure seekers at Carolina Beach. Throngs of bathers covered the beach in front of the hotel and a few wrestled with the tireless roaring ocean. Some people not caring for surf bathing roamed along the beach gathering shells and bits of seaweed cast up by the waves. Others took a drive in the hack that plied hourly between Battery Gatlin on the north and the storm-beaten blockader wrecks on the south. The drive was refreshing, over a firm, smooth beach, and within the sweep of the surf at times. In the evening there was a grand display of fireworks sent off from the bow of the steamer SYLVAN GROVE under Captain Harper‘s direction. The fireworks continued on the river trip from the beach to Wilmington. WILM.STAR, 7-6-1888; WILM.MESSENGER, 7-6-1888.
July 4, 1891
Everything was perking early making preparations for the crowds of visitors coming to celebrate the Fourth of July. The first arrivals sought the surf at once. There was a good sea and the water was pleasant and beautifully blue.
By noon the beach was crowded. Dancing began early and the ball room at the hotel was soon thronged with merry dancers who kept time to Miller’s Band or listened with delight to their playing. Everywhere at the Beach one would meet members of the Fayetteville colony who had taken up residence at the beach for the season. Visitors at the beach were “free from care, light hearted, in the delightful salt air, one could eat the horns off the brass billy goat.” Joe Hinton, of the Oceanic Hotel, said he believed that all of Wilmington was visiting the Beach and all were hungry. From early dinner until late tea and the last train, there was a great deal of interest in the hotel’s dining room. Soft shell crabs, fish and other delightful food was offered. They gave a good dinner, a fine supper, and pleased all.
Fun was going on all day at Kure’s bowling alley. The place was dressed in flags and banners which made it bright and inviting. The afternoon train brought another 500 visitors. There was plenty of dancing, bathing, fishing and eating. About 1,600 visitors came to the beach and it seemed that one mile of the beach was alive with people and the surf seemed speckled with bathers. The first train home departed at 5:30 p.m., and the last train left at 9 p.m. Carolina Beach closed with increased success and pleasure, another Fourth of July for the Beach. WILM.STAR, 7-7-1891.
July 4, 1898
The greatest crowd in its history visited Carolina Beach and the day was delightfully spent by the great crowd of pleasure-seekers. The Concordia Castle Knights of Golden Eagle had charge of the holiday excursion and afforded every opportunity for enjoyment. A brass band discoursed music at the Oceanic Hotel and a string band furnished music for dancing at the pavilion. The dancing continued until the last boat left the beach. The target match between teams of the Wilmington Light Infantry and the Naval Reserves attracted great interest. The scores resulted in a tie. WILM.DISPATCH, 7-5-1898.
July 7, 1906.
Justice G. W. Bornemann meted out justice with an impartial hand. The judge is a firm believer in order at our two beaches and says that whenever disturbances are raised at the resorts he intended to deal with them in the severest possible manner. Two men, Will Hudson and ―Bill ― Terry were before the judge charged with an affray at Carolina Beach on July 4th. The fighting began over Hudson cursing at Terry. Terry knocked down Hudson. The judge said Terry was justified in his action as he was not looking for any trouble at the time that he was cursed. Terry still had to pay the costs of court, and Hudson received the severe sentence for his conduct, the judge imposed a fine of $10 and costs, which amounted to $16.45. WILMINGTON DISPATCH, 7-7-1906.
‘The Hermit of Fort Fisher’ by David Wright, Directed by Steve Vernon
Big Dawg Productions brings the story of Robert Harrell back for another run. If you missed it the first time, here’s your chance. The play will run at 8 pm for 5 nights, July 29-August 2nd,,2015 at the Greenfield Lake Amphitheater. Tickets ($20.00) can be ordered at the web site: http://www.bigdawghermit.com/ or purchased at the door.
Big Dawg will be keeping the same cast as the original Wilmington and Southport productions and the same director so the show is only bound to grow stronger as the cast and director are well versed in this history and truly immersed in the roles of their characters.
‘Summers at Seabreeze’ Songs and Remembrances from Freeman Beach
TheatreNOW’s summer dinner theater show features a look at an often overlooked aspect of Federal Point’s history.
Shows run at 7pm on Fridays and Saturdays through July 25, 2015. Tickets are $34.00 ($26.00 for children and seniors) include dinner that includes a menu drawn from Seabreeze’s original cuisine – including the famous “clam fritters.” Or tickets for the show alone are $20.00.
Wilmington Star-News Review: “‘Summers at Seabreeze’ feels particularly timely, even as its focus is on the past. It’s a reminder that, no matter what those filled with hate may think, the history of the African-American community has a value, and a beauty, that can’t be taken away and won’t ever be forgotten.”~ John Staton.
[Each school year Rebecca Taylor talks to the 4th graders at Carolina Beach School about the lighthouses of North Carolina and especially “our” own light, the Federal Point Lighthouse.The children then write essays. They read their winning essays at the May meeting]
“How do You Think the Lighthouse Foundation Should be Preserved?” by Bailey Swails
I think that the Town of Carolina Beach should preserve the Federal Point lighthouse foundation by digging up the base of the Federal Point lighthouse and putting the base on display where the base was found. We should put the base of the lighthouse under a thick sheet of glass or plastic. To make sure no one stands on the glass or plastic there should be signs or rope around the foundation.
I believe there should be a sign to show how old the lighthouse is and just the facts on the Federal Point lighthouse. I believe that this move will make tourism grow and that means the Town of Carolina Beach will make more money. I would love for this to happen. I have always wanted to find a lighthouse on Fort Fisher and I have discovered that there is one.
“What Do You Think it Would Be Like to Live at the Federal Point Lighthouse in the 1800’s?” By Hannah Lawrie
I think it would be hard to live at the Federal Point lighthouse because every day you would have to go up stairs and light the bulb. And if it was in the middle of winter it would be freezing up there! Also you have to try not to drop a lantern or the whole place will catch on fire! The house is made out of wood and the lanterns are filled with oil with fire in it! You would also have to pay for the bulb for the lighthouse, and they are probably over $1,000. Any way people in the 1800’s had to cook in very hot rooms because of the boiling water. And I don’t think the bulb upstairs that is over 100 watts helps very much.
But just getting food is truly hard. To get meat you have to go hunting and for fruit and vegetables you have to grow them. There was no Food Lion, Target, or anything like that so people had to be pretty darn applied to their work!
So as you can tell living here for me would be no walk in the park or sleeping on a bed of roses but you do get to be living in some famous history.
For more than a century “the Rocks,” a breakwater built by the Army Corps of Engineers, has separated the channels at the southern tip of New Hanover County from the Cape Fear River. But language added to legislation that would allocate funding to help North Carolina maintain the state’s inlets and waterways is looking to change that.
Senate Bill 160, which is currently before the NC Senate Finance Committee, calls for the portion of the Rocks south of Zeke’s Island – between Zeke’s and Smith Island – to be removed.
The language also would shift the boundary of the Zeke’s Island Reserve 200 feet eastward toward the Atlantic Ocean. The Rocks form part of the reserve’s boundary. According to the bill, the reason for the move would be “for ecosystem restoration and protection of navigational safety.”
But the idea of removing the Rocks has left officials – many of whom didn’t know about the proposal until it was added to the bill in committee – scratching their heads, wondering if there is more to the dam’s removal than just what’s stated in the bill. State Senator, Michael Lee, one of the bill’s primary sponsors, said that’s not the case. He said removing The Rocks would simply help restore the area’s natural equilibrium. “The general idea is that they don’t need to be there, so let’s see if we can get them removed,” Lee said.
Removing the Rocks, part of which extend more than 30 feet down, would change the dynamics of the ecosystem that now inhabits the lagoon.
But the increased tidal flow also would likely put into motion a process that would see New Inlet reopened.
That inlet, which was opened by a hurricane in 1761, closed in the late 19th century – although other channels, including Corncake Inlet, have opened and closed nearby over the decades.
Historically, New Inlet was popular with ship captains but a thorn to officials trying to keep the Cape Fear River shipping channel open. As early as the mid-19th century engineers had concluded that the best way to solve the shoaling woes was to close the inlet.
So in 1875 the Army Corps began work on the Rocks, finishing the 4.25-mile-long dam in 1891 at a cost of $766,000. Shutting off the inlet’s tidal flows stopped most of the sand washing into the shipping channel – and allowed subsequent deepening of the channel to be feasible, including today’s 42 feet.
“Partially opening up the structure would significantly increase the chances of inlet breaches in the vicinity of the opening, which would cause shoaling problems to immediately reappear,” said Spencer Rogers, a coastal engineering expert with NC Sea Grant. But the reopening of the inlet also could offer vessels, assuming the channel was deep enough, a much faster and safer route to the open ocean – a point championed in a column in the April 25, 1971, issue of the Wilmington StarNews. “Reopening of the inlet would have immediate and long-range benefits,” the article states. “The initial results would be to reopen the once available channel from Southport to the Atlantic at Fort Fisher and northward without the long voyage around the shoals which extend seaward from the tip of Bald Head Island.”
But while a reopened inlet could save shippers time and the government maintenance dollars, it also could have major impacts on the environment – and that has some Bald Head officials concerned.
“If you’re opening up an inlet, you never know what’s going to happen,” said Andrew Sayre, mayor of the island village.
Of chief concern is what might happen to the island’s now-healthy East Beach, which could be starved of sand if the sediment that naturally flows down from Pleasure Island gets washed out to sea or into the Cape Fear.
Officials with the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, which manages the Zeke’s Island Reserve, also are concerned about what the removal of the Rocks would do to the reserve’s ecosystem.
Then there’s the question of whether the federal government would approve a change in the reserve’s boundaries, since the reserve is part of the National Estuarine Research Reserve system under the umbrella of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
DENR spokeswoman Michele Walker said the state in 1980 used $1.18 million in federal funds to purchase most of the land that encompasses the reserve.
With so many questions out there, no one expects anything with the Rocks to happen quickly.
Lee said if the provision is approved by the General Assembly he expected a series of studies to take place to gauge the environmental and other impacts from any removal work.
“This wouldn’t be a quick process,” the state senator said. “We’d certainly want to know all of the potential impacts before we took any action.”
Removing the Rocks, part of which extend more than 30 feet down, would change the dynamics of the ecosystem that now inhabits the lagoon. But the increased tidal flow also would likely put into motion a process that would see New Inlet reopened.
That inlet, which was opened by a hurricane in 1761, closed in the late 19th century – although other channels, including Corncake Inlet, have opened and closed nearby over the decades.
But while a reopened inlet could save shippers time and the government maintenance dollars, it also could have major impacts on the environment – and that has some Bald Head officials concerned. “If you’re opening up an inlet, you never know what’s going to happen,” said Andrew Sayre, mayor of the island village.
Of chief concern is what might happen to the island’s now-healthy East Beach, which could be starved of sand if the sediment that naturally flows down from Pleasure Island gets washed out to sea or into the Cape Fear. “This could have a devastating impact on our island,” said Suzanne Dorsey, Executive Director of the Bald Head Island Conservancy.
Officials with the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, which manages the Zeke’s Island Reserve, also are concerned about what the removal of the Rocks would do to the reserve’s ecosystem. Then there’s the question of whether the federal government would approve a change in the reserve’s boundaries, since the reserve is part of the National Estuarine Research Reserve system under the umbrella of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). North Carolina Department of Natural Resources spokeswoman, Michele Walker, said the state in 1980 used $1.18 million in federal funds to purchase most of the land that encompasses the reserve.
The Rocks, south of Zeke’s Island near the tip of New Hanover County, is more than three miles long and at some points 37 feet high and 120 feet wide, said Spencer Rogers, a coastal construction and erosion specialist with N.C. Sea Grant.
Its purpose was to hold back sediment flowing in from an inlet that was opened by a hurricane in the 1800s.
“It’s the most complicated section of oceanfront in all of North Carolina,” Rogers said.
During the Civil War, the inlet was an asset to Confederate forces because blockade runners could navigate the shallow water near the opening, allowing them to get around Union ships that blocked the main channel, he said. But after the war it impeded shipping up the channel.
BALD HEAD ISLAND | Local governments and marine experts say the explanation being given for a bill removing the structure known as “The Rocks” doesn’t pass muster, and they’ll oppose it until they get a better one.
The removal of “The Rocks” between Zeke’s and Smith (Bald Head) Island on the southern tip of New Hanover County, which would also shift the boundary of the Zeke’s Island Reserve 200 feet east toward the Atlantic Ocean, is part of N.C. House Bill 97, the 2015 Appropriations Act. N.C. Senate Bill 160, which originally proposed the action, passed the state Senate in May, but has been stalled in a House committee since. Sen. Michael Lee, R-New Hanover, is a sponsor of the Senate bill.
“Ecosystem restoration and protection of navigational safety” are cited in the legislation as key reasons for removing The Rocks, but local experts say such action could have negative effects such as increased shoaling in the Cape Fear River and erosion on Bald Head Island’s East Beach. Local experts and officials also don’t think the ecosystem restoration reason holds water.
“What I smell in this is that we’re not being leveled with about what’s really going on,” said Larry Cahoon, a professor and oceanographer at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. “Ecologically, I haven’t heard an argument about what’s broken that needs fixing.”
The ecosystem in that area, Cahoon added, has developed over the nearly 150 years The Rocks have been there, and any major changes could be disruptive, particularly if an inlet were to reopen between the Atlantic Ocean and the Cape Fear River.
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 Battle at Fort Fisher as recalled by Colonel Lamb, CSA and General Curtis, USA
Colonel William Lamb – Confederate Commander of Fort Fisher and General Newton Martin Curtis leader of the Union force meet again at Fort Fisher as great friends after more than thirty years.
The American Civil War marked a new era in military science and technology. More powerful rifled artillery and ammunition along with armored gunships created a need for stronger coastal defenses throughout the Confederate South.
Col. William Lamb
This challenge faced Colonel William Lamb upon his taking command of Fort Fisher, a vital part of North Carolina’s lower Cape Fear River defense system on July 4, 1862. Colonel Lamb’s competence and natural engineering skills enabled him to build Fort Fisher to become the strongest bastion in the South by the end of the war.
After two assaults by the largest fleet yet assembled by the United States military forces, the Fort Fisher garrison of 1,900 men and boys were eventually overpowered by 8,000 Union soldiers and sailors on January 15, 1865, during one of the fiercest and bloodiest battles of the War Between the States.
Lamb distinguished himself in the January action, leading the Confederate forces in an ill-fated defense of the Fort till he was felled by a gun shot wound that fractured his hip bone. In the ranks of the opposing forces and equally conspicuous in the vanguard of the assault was Brevet Brigadier General Newton Martin Curtis.
General Newton Martin Curtis
Despite receiving several lesser wounds during the contest, Curtis continued to command his brigade of Federal troops until he was struck by a shell fragment that destroyed his left eye. Neither Curtis nor Lamb would fight in that war again; they were each just twenty-nine years of age.
In the wake of the battle both Lamb (as a-prisoner of war) and Curtis were evacuated to the U.S. Army’s Chesapeake Hospital near Fort Monroe in Virginia. Initially, it was feared that their wounds would prove mortal. In fact, at one point, a coffin had been ordered for Curtis.
In spite of their dreadful injuries, according to an article written by the Reverend WHT. Squires D.D. that appeared in the February 5, 1943 edition of the Norfolk-Ledger Dispatch, entitled, “Norfolk in By-Gone Days,” a curious introduction occurred at the hospital that illustrated the mettle of these two warriors.
Among the wounded taken to the Hampton hospital was General N. M. Curtis, the Federal officer who led the assault that had successfully conquered Fort Fisher. General Curtis was so badly wounded that he could not walk or stand alone; however, when he learned that Colonel Lamb was in the same hospital, he had two hospital attendants take him to Colonel Lamb’s room where he congratulated him warmly on his skillful defense and on his unsurpassed courage and fortitude. He said, “I am proud of you as an American.” Colonel Lamb replied, “I’m not an American I’m a Confederate.”
General Curtis then said, “We Will not discuss that subject. Your side or mine will control this country, it Will not be divided. You and I will be in it and I offer you my hand and friendship. Let it begin now, not years later.” They then joined hands.
In the remaining 44 years of Lamb’s life, General Curtis was to become one of his best friends, and they would work together to improve fraternal relations between the North and South.
William Lamb in Later Life
Eventually the Colonel would come to refer to the General as “my friend the enemy. But for the soldiers and the country it would take time for the scars and wounds of the War Between the States to heal. On May 1, 1865, having taken the Oath of Allegiance and with the conflict all but over, Lamb was released from the hospital, though he was far from well.
That September he was operated on to remove the bullet that was still lodged in his hip. He would require the use of crutches for the next seven years and would be frail in health for the rest of his life. For the bravery and leadership exhibited in the second Battle of Fort Fisher, the partially blinded Curtis would be promoted to Brigadier General, United States Volunteers. He mustered out of the army the following year, as a Brevet Major General, having served four years, eight months.
Finally, some thirty years later in 1891, Curtis was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions at Fort Fisher. He being, “The first man to pass through the Stockade, he personally led each assault on the traverses and was four times wounded.”
About a year and a half after Curtis was issued his medal, Lamb and a host of Confederate Veterans, with reporter T. W. Clawson of the Wilmington Messenger tagging along, revisited Fort Fisher. It had been eighteen years since Lamb had last toured the site of his old command in 1875 and was only the second time that he had returned since its capitulation in 1865.
That evening at the Y.M.C.A. auditorium in Wilmington, NC, at the behest of the Cape Fear Camp No. 254 United Confederate Veterans, the old colonel delivered an address on “the history of Port Fisher.” That address was published in its entirety in the next day’s June 15, 1893 edition of the Wilmington Messenger.
A few months later in October, at the suggestion of General Curtis, Colonel Lamb joined him and again returned to the Fort.
With reporter Clawson once more in tow, the two old officers, one time nemesis and long time friends, inspected the works. At some point in the tour the party took to the Cape Fear River in a sail boat. While trying to put ashore the boat grounded in the shallows a few yards from the embankment. Intending to wade in, the robust Curtis simply stripped off his shoes, rolled up his pants legs and stepped out of the boat. Lamb on the other hand, ever cautious about his health, was reluctant to follow suit. In response to Lamb‘s dilemma, Curtis offered to carry him to dry land on his back. But before he could do so, Clawson interposed on behalf of the General, and so the Colonel rode the scribe ashore instead.
Afterwards Clawson, “…wanted to kick himself for not allowing Colonel Lamb to ride his ‘friend the enemy,’ for he could have witnessed the remarkable instance of a brave and distinguished Federal officer carrying on his back the distinguished Confederate, who, in the years that are gone, was raising Old Harry with shot and shell to keep the General at a safe distance.”
Before the year was out Curtis was working on his own version of the Battles of Fort Fisher. Referencing Lamb’s address, the General composed the definitive Yankee account of the expeditions to take the Fort. His paper was later presented to the Military Order of The Loyal Legion of the United States and published by the Commandery in 1900.
Now for the first time the complete accounts of these two principle participants in the Battles for Fort Fisher are juxtaposed in publication. That their individual interpretation of events is not dissimilar is not surprising.
For in many respects, whether friend or foe, Lamb’s and Curtis‘ lives often mirrored one another. They were roughly the same age, both having been born in 1835. Both attended college and each studied law. And though neither was a military man per say prior to the out break of hostilities, each exhibited a natural military acumen.
After the war both men pursued a career in politics. Lamb was elected mayor of his home town of Norfolk, Virginia, for three terms; while on the other hand, Curtis became a state legislator for New York and a three-term member of Congress. Naturally, they were active in veterans’ organizations.
Sadly, they were both widowers, Curtis lost his wife in 1888, Lamb in 1892. Neither ever remarried. In March of 1909 William Lamb died. Newton Martin Curtis did not last much longer, the following January he too passed away. But their legacy would live on inextricably bound on the common ground of Fort Fisher. Forever and anon, from their respective provinces north and south of the Mason-Dixon Line, Colonel Lamb and General Curtis would be regaled as the “Hero of Fort Fisher.”
Ray Flowers, Site Historian – Fort Fisher Historic Site, May 2007
My Friend the Enemy
Produced by Federal Point Historic Preservation Society
[Source: The Wilmington Weekly Star, Wilmington, N. C., July 22, 1881, provided by Bill Reaves]
Wlliam Lord DeRosset Image courtesy of Cape Fear Historical Institute
LETTER TO THE EDITOR: “Mr. Editor – In your editorial on Fort Fisher, in this morning’s issue, the “facts” have gotten a little “mixed,” and as I had official connection with the defense of Confederate Point in its earliest stages, I have concluded to state what I know of my own knowledge and what I heard actors on the scene.
Capt. C.P. Bolles, under orders from headquarters, erected a battery on the Point in April and May, 1861, a short distance nearer the river than the point at which the famous Blakely gun was mounted in 1864. This battery was intended for two 24-pound Barbette guns, and about May 13th I was ordered with my company (the Wilmington Light Infantry) to proceed from Fort Caswell and occupy and complete the defenses then proposed.
I found the battery entirely devoid of everything necessary for its defense and for preparing therefore, and was told that the guns were lying near low water mark in the river, about one mile from the battery.
The boys went for them with a will, and without implements of any kind, save about 100 feet of seine rope and four pieces of 4×4 scantling, the evening of the second day found the two guns in position and ready for the enemy, as soon as we were supplied with ammunition.
The battery was known as “Battery Bolles,” I think by orders from headquarters. My men constructed breast works for fifty yards on each side of the battery, and thus, the works stood when I was promoted to Major of Third NC Troops and was ordered to Garysburg to take command of the camp of instruction.
At some time during the summer, Col. S.L. Fremont was placed in charge of the construction of other works on the Point, and the result was the casemate battery you refer to and a covered way connecting with Battery Bolles, and the name of the whole works was then changed to Fort Fisher.
My recollection is (having visited the Fort) that there were no rifled guns, but the casemates were supplied with three or four either Dahlgren or 8-inch Columbiad guns.
Fort Fisher, as it finally stood, with the exception of the a mound battery, was planned by General Whiting, I have no doubt. The mound was suggested and built by Colonel Lamb, and is still a monument to his skill and perseverance.
Two 10-inch Columbiads were first mounted there, and no doubt prevented any attempt on the part of the enemy’s ships to enter. The battery at Zeke’s Island was built in part by the engineer forces, and improved and completed by Col. I.J. Hedrick, and commanded by him until he was transferred to Bald Head to build Fort Holmes.
The bricks and stones referred to I understood to have come from the foundation of the old Light House. You will see from the above recollections, which are verified by several of my old command, that accounts of doing on Confederate Point have got a little mixed, and that this statement will serve to give credit to each one interested at any time where credit is due.”