Oral History – Teens On the Beach – 1940’s and 1950’s

From interviews conducted by Ann Hertzler and Jeannie Gordon – Oral History Committee
Compiled by Ann Hertzler from interviews with Andy Canoutas, Glenn Flowers, Margaret Ford, Isabel Foushee, Jeannie Kure, Jack Lewis, Ed Niedens, Mike Robinson, Ray Rothrock and Dub Hegler)

Some mothers went to the beach with their children. One family had a little dog that walked in front of their young son to keep him from going in the ocean. Some children could go to the beach in the day time where they could be seen, but not after dark. Older kids would sit on the pier or on beach blankets. No one had chairs. They’d play in the water, walk on the beach, look for shells, talk, and be teenagers. It was an innocent time. Lawrence Kure told 14 year old Isabelle Lewis, Punkie Kure, Roberts Hall, and Sun Waters not to jump off the end of the pier (1943-44). They nonchalantly walked out, and then ran to the end ironing_board_surfof the pier, jumped in the water, and swam back.

In the 1940s, the ocean had big waves. You used an inner tube or jumped on a wave and body surfed. Surf boards or boogie boards hadn’t been invented yet. Body surfing was swimming with the crested wave, going down like a surf board, and skidding in. A perfect surf board for riding the waves was mother’s ironing board – a flat board about 5 ft long – 2 ft wide that lay between 2 chairs or on the kitchen table. “When the wave breaks, you’ve got to keep the nose of the ironing board up. If the nose goes down, the point digs into the sand and you “could flat get a belly ache.” Some Moms didn’t know her son used her ironing board until he forgot to bring it home. Some surfers got a wide board and cut it bow-shaped. Later Andy Canoutas obtained a 15’ surf board made by a friend, hollow on the inside so water had to be drained after each use. Mike Robertson brought in surf boards to rent at Kure Beach Pier.

Life Guards: surfers
Andy Canoutas was the first paid life guard by local businesses at Kure Beach when he was 15 (1950). Andy guarded up to 1963 from the first jetty south of the pier to the next jetty with a stand for him to sit on. He wore short, tight suits like boxer shorts. Tourists from nearby cottages crowded the beach with the life guard. Parents would look after the little ones; but the 8 to 11-year-old boys were the wild ones. In times of danger, Andy had a whistle to get their attention. He used a buoy to rescue a lot of people because of rip currents. Bobby Ford and Eddie Neidens were life guards. No radio or phone was available to call for help; but the lifeguard had a key to the Town Hall to get to the oxygen system. Individuals also saved lives of friends and neighbors stepping in a hole in the beach with tremendous sand bars at low tide and quickly going from waist deep to neck-deep, or caught in the rip current.

July 4th at the Beach – through the years.

From  the Bill Reaves –  Federal Point Files

July 4, 1873
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, 1928    
A big celebration was held at Carolina Beach to celebrate the holiday.  The program of events was as follows:

11 to 12:30 – Free music and dancing in Danceland Pavilion.
3 to 5:30 – Dancing
5 – Fishing Boat Races in the Ocean
5:30 – Swimming Races and Athletics
8:40 – Dancing in Danceland
9:30 – Grand Fireworks Display
10 p.m. to 1 a.m. – Dancing in Danceland
Music by The Carolinians.  Dancing all day!        (Wilm.Star, 7-1-1928) (adv)

July 4, 1930  
The first flight card ever presented at Carolina Beach was offered at the Pavilion, under the promotership of T.A. Shepard and T.H. Skipper. The welterweight boxing bout was between Ken Burris, of Fort Bragg and Wilmington, and Dave Eddleman, of Charlotte.  There was also a middleweight bout between Al Massey of Goldsboro, and Red Collins, of Charlotte, and a lightweight bout between Carter Casteen, of Wilmington, and Hugh Penny. (Wilm.Star, 7-2-1930)

July 4, 1934  
It was estimated that between 12,000 and 15,000 persons visited Carolina Beach alone during the holiday, while Walter Winner of Fort Fisher Beach reported the largest crowd of bathers and fishermen at that resort in the past four years.  Kure’s Beach also reported a large attendance.  Thousands of blacks, traveling by automobile, by truck and on foot visited Seabreeze Beach during the day.  Dances were held at the Carolina Beach pavilion and the Greystone roof garden.  Each place reported a capacity crowd.

Only one fatality was reported at any of the reports; a black man, Robert Harper, was drowned at Seabreeze when he ventured out over his depth in the Inland Waterway.  His body was not recovered.  Jimmy Tolbert and his Royal Melodians played at the Carolina Beach pavilion and Cliff Smith and his Orchestra furnished music at the Greystone with Miss Julia Ellington as soloist.  (Wilm.News, 7-5-1934)

Mrs. Fry’s Recipe Collection – 1932

Oral History
Interview and narrative by Ann Hertzler

MaFry 2Before the 1900s, favorite recipes of family and friends were recorded in a manuscript cook book, usually recipes that needed proportions such as fancy desserts. In the 1930s, home economists developed recipes for new super market products for use with new gas and electric ranges.  In a journal labeled Cooking Receipts – Mrs. C.B. Fry – 1932  Mrs. Fry filed print and picture recipes from magazines, newspapers, and food labels. The manuscript is now owned by her granddaughter, Brenda Fry Coffey of Kure Beach.

Mrs. C. B. Fry (Ada Sessoms Fry), alias Ma Fry, came to Kure Beach in 1943 with husband Pa Fry (Charles Brover Fry), their son (Therman J. Fry), his wife (Mary Lee Tyler Fry), and granddaughter (Brenda Lee Fry). Ma Fry and her daughter were wonderful cooks for “Fundy’s”, their family restaurant in Kure Beach after World War II. Mrs.

Fry was the secretary of the Progressive Association which applied for official town status of Kure Beach in 1946 and granted in 1947. She also rode on the first Kure Beach Float in Wilmington’s first Azalea Parade. The float depicted a fishing scene with adults and children fishing. Large plastic fish dangled from fishing lines.

Mrs. Fry’s recipe collection provides a look back in history. Home economists were teaching homemakers how to care for the electric refrigerator which could now store ice cream in limited amounts. Many of the recipes of the 30s continued to promote use of cream, butter, and gelatin. Favorite recipes in Mrs. Fry’s collection were baked calf’s heart and jellied tongue.   

scanMany of the printed recipes in Ma Fry’s book were advertised as developed and tested by – food scientists in government – Dr. Louis Stanley, Bureau of Home Economics, USDA. – home economists working for General Foods Inc, Better Homes and Gardens, and the Good Housekeeping Institute.
– columnist -Mrs. S. R. Dull, Atlanta; Housewives’ Exchange: The Charlotte Observer.
– home economists in food companies- Libby, McNeill, & Libby, Heinz, Minute Tapioca, Knox Sparkling Gelatin, Jello, Crisco, Eagle Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk, Baker’s Best Chocolate, Coconut; California Prunes, Swift’s Premium Ham, Red Label Karo, Eatmoor Cranberries, Calumet Baking Powder, Swan’s Down Cake Flour, and Washborn Crosby Gold Medal Flour, the latter promoted by Kate Smith and Aunt Jenny.

Clipped recipes were kept in kitchen drawers, recipe files, and indexes as advertised in 1933 by Better Homes and Gardens. This was before the days of television.

Ads in Ma Fry’s collection pictured women in dresses and aprons preparing:
– homemade cookies, cakes and  gelatins;
– freshly caught fish;
– homemade biscuits, pancakes, waffles, muffins;
– home made sauces with fresh ingredients, canned soup, or bottled sauces;
– whipped cream from rich milk (cream) – (no fake whipped cream toppings);
– recipes with high sugar syrups canned fruits.

Men and boys in cooking ads in the 1940s were distinguished by chef’s hats and aprons preparing a special dish. By the 1950s men were shown “grilling out.”

Mrs. Fry’s Recipe Collection – 1930s & 40s

AuntJennyMost recipes were made from scratch except for a few canned goods available on the market. Canned foods advertised in newspaper clippings in Mrs. Fry’s book were tomatoes, pork ‘n beans, cream soups, canned milk, baby food, and condiments such as Worcestershire Sauce, ketchup, mustard, hot sauces, mayonnaise, and vinegar. Cooking fats were Crisco, lard, and butter. Margarine was mixed in a clear plastic bag. Kids fought over who popped the bubble to blend the yellow color into the white margarine.

Foods advertised in Ma Fry’s recipe clippings from the 1930s to the 50s were Instant Potatoes, Cheese Whiz, Kraft Singles, Reddi – Whip, Dannon Yogurt, Frozen French Fries, TV Dinners, and Instant Rice. Pizza was not yet a household item. Fast Food of the 1950s were not yet on the Island.

Ma Fry’s recipe clippings from The Charlotte Observer (ca 1939) included a column -Teach Children To Cook. It was written by a Charlotte Housewife for little girls with the “urge to cook.” Two-year-olds learned to make fancy pies and cakes in the sand box.  Lessons suggested helping mother stir custards, prick holes in the piecrust, and make food for parties and grandparents. Recipes provided for children were Jellied Waldorf Salad, Pineapple Chiffon Pie, Pig in Blankets, Brochette of Bacon and Sweetbreads, Creamed Onions and Bacon, Kidney and Bacon Grill, Frozen Tomato Cottage Cheese Salad, Crisp Bran Cookies, Scrambled Dried Beef with Bacon. A column on a Teen-Age Kitchen Party suggested teens cook their party foods: frankfurters, Chili-con-carne, and pork sausage patties. The Charlotte News Grocery Editor, Florence Thomas, featured ideas for Tea and Picnic Sandwiches – rolled, checkerboard, and ribbon shapes for the attractive tea table.

Mrs. Fry’s collection included the following recipes. Any look familiar? Straight from her recipe collection of 50 or 60 years ago, they are still delicious today.

ChefHatsOyster Sauce
Fry small oysters in a little fat for 3 minutes. Add a little cream and heat thoroughly. This is delicious with any broiled or baked white fish.

Parboil frankfurters, drain and cool. Roll baking-powder biscuit dough out thin, cut it into squares and roll one frankfurter in each. Bake 15 minutes in hot oven – 375 – 400 o. The dough may be spread with mustard before rolling up.

Savory Wilted Lettuce
1 cupful diced salt pork, 3 quarts cut lettuce, 2 tablespoons vinegar, salt, onion juice
Wash lettuce and cut in pieces. Cook salt pork in a heavy skillet until brown and very crisp, remove from the fat.  Add the lettuce to the hot fat and sir until it wilts.  Add the vinegar and cooked salt pork.  The time of cooking will very with the time to wilt the lettuce.  A small quantity of onion juice may be added.

Crunchy Cookies
½ c sweetened condensed milk        2 cups shredded coconut
Drop by spoonfuls on a well-buttered pan about an inch apart. Bake in a moderate oven (350o) until a delicate brown about 10 minutes.

Molasses Candy
The ingredients are 2 cups of molasses, 3 tablespoons butter, 2-3 cup of sugar, and 1 tablespoon of vinegar.  First, melt butter, than add molasses and sugar, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Boil over slow fire until brittle when tried in cold water. If you use a confectioner’s thermometer, it should register about 255 o. Just before removing from fire, add vinegar, which will make the candy foam up. Pour into well-buttered pans.  
When the candy is cool enough to handle, you may pull until it turns light colored. Draw into sticks and cut into inch lengths. If you wish, molasses nut candy, add 1 cup of chopped nut meats and a pinch of salt, just before taking candy from stove.

2 cups cake crumbs or Crumbled Lady Fingers, 4 tablespoons Sherry Flavoring,  
3 tablespoons strawberry Jam, 1 Banana, ½ cup walnuts, ½ pint whipping cream
Place the cake crumbs in the bottom of a pudding dish and moisten with the sherry. Cover with a layer of whipped cream.  Add a layer of the sliced bananas and strawberry jam. Cover with whipped cream and sprinkle the top with the chopped walnuts. Refrigerate for several hours and serve.

Banana Pudding
5 bananas                   ¾ cup evaporated milk
½ lemon, grated rind and juice    ¾ cup water
1 ½ tablespoons butter         2 eggs
Fine bread crumbs            1/3 cup sugar
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla            ¼ teaspoon salt
Line the bottom of a well greased baking dish with banana slices. Dot with bits of butter, sprinkle with lemon juice, and cover with fine bread crumbs.  Repeat the process. Mix milk and water, add lemon rind and scald. Combine the slightly beaten eggs, sugar, and salt. Pour the hot milk over the egg mixture, add vanilla and pour over bananas. Set dish in a pan of hot water and bake in a moderate oven (350o) until set – about 30 minutes.    

– Ann Hertzler  – Federal  Point Historic Preservation Society – Oral History Project. (Commercial illustrations from  clippings contained in the manuscript book.)


Oral History – Granddaddy, Crawford, and Ed Lewis – ‘Early Fort Fisher’

Oral History by Ann Hertzler

Auto at Fort Fisher

Auto at Fort Fisher

Granddaddy William Edward Lewis paid $700 for land at the Fort Fisher columns from the river to the ocean, brought his family from Shallotte, and died about a year later (1903) when his boat turned over.

His two sons, Crawford and Ed Lewis (born in 1904), married and lived at Fort Fisher.

Son Crawford Lewis and wife Ruth lived on Fort Fisher Road just right of the columns (Fort Fisher Gates) on the way to the river.

One way to take fish to Wilmington was to row a boat.

Crawford Lewis, Bud Waters, and others helped LC Kure build the pier in 1923.

When son Jack was born in the 1930s, Crawford was helping build the loop road across the bridge around the right side to Wrightsville Beach. He also worked at Ethyl Dow for many years.

Crawford’s house had three bed rooms, a bathroom, a long kitchen and front room. When son Jack was 12, the wood stove was replaced with a kerosene stove. They grew lots of hot peppers, made hot pepper vinegar, stayed busy canning, and had an ice box. They had no electricity and used kerosene lamps. Well water was for drinking, bathing in a washtub, scrubbing clothes with a washboard and drying on an outdoor clothes lines. They had chickens, a woods full of wild hogs, and lots of fish and shell fish nearby.

Ft. Fisher Traffic:  Jack Lewis reported that the first car to come down through the Fort Fisher area “like to scare everybody to death.” The car had a blowout and left the old tube. Daddy (Crawford) found it and thought it was something you wear. “He cut it in two, tied up the end of it, pulled it up his legs; said they were good boots.”

A busy afternoon in the 30s was watching 50 cars go by. One Sunday Crawford’s Model T Ford stuck in the beach sand. He picked up the entire front and set it to the right of the rut; then moved the rear, crab walking the car to the hard sand. Next day, the area reported a giant turtle had come ashore at Fort Fisher. Jack Lewis remembers trucking up the road in a 34 Plymouth at a “big 35 mph.”

IsabellHudsonEd Lewis, Crawford’s youngest brother, Ed was born in 1904 just after their father drowned in the river.

Ed, his wife Gertie, and their four children – Anna Lee (Sis), James Edward Jr. (Brother), Isabell, and Judy lived between Crawford’s house and the river on a beautiful little knoll.

The house had a living room, two bed rooms, and a kitchen on the first floor and a bedroom up stairs. The family had an old wood stove, later kerosene, to heat water for bathing in a big tin tub in the kitchen. Toilets were outhouses.

The Rural Free Delivery (RFD) mail box was at the road edge.  Aladdin Oil Lamps provided light until they got electricity at the river home when Isabell was nine years old (1939); and a phone when they moved to the store in Kure Beach in the 40s.

Before electricity, Ed listened to the news from Walter Winchell on his crystal radio set. After electricity in 1939 the kids listened to radio shows such as The Shadow Knows, The Lone Ranger, and The Creaking Door.

In the 1930’s Ed Lewis had cows he took on a barge to one of the islands with good vegetation. They had pig killings with all of the neighbors. Down on the river they had cows and pigs, ducks, chickens, and things from the water – a lot of clams, oysters, duck, fish and birds, and all kinds of wild life food. Ed Lewis said his mother would give him one shot gun shell and tell him to go get supper.

If he was going duck hunting, he’d wait till he got 2 or 3 lined up so that he could get them with one shell. He did exaggerate at times.

What Were They Thinking?

From the Bill Reaves Federal Point Files

[as published in the FPHPS Newsletter, May, 2009]

Well it’s done!  It has taken two years for the FPHPS History Center volunteers to finish transcribing three boxes of 3X5 cards  from the Bill Reaves – Federal Point files into digital format.  A HUGE thanks to Gail McCloskey, Lois Taylor, Cathy Wahnefried, and Juanita Winner who typed and typed and typed, sometimes in the middle of the night.   The files are now available for keyword searching at both the History Center and the Local History Room at the New  Hanover County Public Library in Wilmington.

[Update – March, 2014: the entire Bill Reaves Federal Point Files are now available on the FPHPS website.  Search is available via the ‘Search’ oval at the top right of all FPHPS website pages.]

This month we look at:

Sea Turtlesadult_turtle

June 14, 1891 – Carolina Beach Notes: Turtle egg hunting is engaged in by all the residents with much success.

June 22, 1896  – Mr. McSween, engineer on the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad, caught a large turtle near the hotel and presented it to the guests of the Hotel Oceanic.  The turtle weighed about 400 pounds and measured 5 feet by 3 1/2 feet.  It was to be served on Friday at 5 p.m.  (Wilm Messenger, 6-24-1896).

June 24, 1897    – Carolina Beach Notes: A turtle which had been recently captured was butchered by Mr. Will West and was found to contain 613 eggs after laying 133 earlier, making a total of 746.  Turtle steak and soup was added to the Sunday menu.  (Wilm Dispatch, 6-24-1897)

June 27, 1915   – The party started out primarily for the purpose of hunting for turtles and did find a turtle nest.  A turtle weighing 200 pounds was captured at the beach and it was later liberated at the urgent request of a large number of visitors, who were moved to sympathy by the turtle’s tears. (Wilm Dispatch, 6-28-1915)

August 2, 1915    – A turtle weighing about 200 pounds was captured at Carolina Beach Saturday night at 11 p.m. in front of Mr. Thomas E. Cooper’s cottage.  The turtle had come ashore to build a nest.  An examination of the nest a few minutes later revealed 98 eggs.  Mr. Joseph J. Loughlin was summoned because of his experience with turtles.  The turtle did not give much resistance and was turned over on his back.  Biddle Brothers, who conducted a restaurant, was to use the turtle in making soup.   (Wilm Dispatch, 8-2-1915)

June 25, 1922  – “Madam Turtle,” aged about 500 years, was lured on the beach to the edge of the boardwalk by the electric light at the Fort Fisher Beach mistaking it for the moon.  She was also lured by the sweet music of the “Rockaway Five” orchestra.  If she had not been disturbed by all these influences, she probably would have laid her hundred eggs.  Lawrence Kure and E.W.L.Gilbert , assisted by a score of visitors, dragged the turtle up  to the pavilion where she was placed on exhibition.   She weighed about 500 pounds.  After exhibiting, she was to be returned to the Atlantic Ocean.  Before she was disturbed she had laid about eleven eggs.  At some time in her long life, she had probably met a shark as her right hind foot was gone.   (Wilm Dispatch, 6-26-1922)

July 25, 1926  – A Sea Turtle weighing between 400 and 500 pounds was captured alive at Fort Fisher by Walter Winner, W.P. Holmes, H.E. Rouark, J.C. Pigott.  The turtle was exhibited at Mr. Winner’s place of business.  114 eggs were also found. (Wilm Dispatch, 7-16-1926)

August 6, 1931  – A truck was employed at Fort Fisher Beach in effecting the capture of a 500 pound sea turtle.  Walter Winner had caught one turtle and was returning with a truck to haul it in when a second was spotted.  The turtle was frightened by the noise of the truck and headed back into the waves but the truck pulled in front of it and it was stopped.  The turtle was loaded on the truck, and Mr. Winner and his companions proceeded to pick up the first turtle now lying on its back.   (Wilm News, 8-7-1931)

June 14, 1933 – Walter Winner, sport fisherman of Fort Fisher, reported that someone had murdered several large sea turtles within the past few nights as they came up on the beach to lay their eggs between Carolina Beach and Fort Fisher.  Some of the turtles had been killed by large clubs and knives.  On June 13th, a party of Asheville fisherman caught a 100-pound turtle nearby. (Wilm News, 6-14-1933)

What’s in a Name? “Federal Point”

The following appeared in the FPHPS Newsletter in 2002

Federal Point: Monkey Junction to Fort Fisher

Federal Point:
Monkey Junction to Fort Fisher

The Federal Point Historic Preservation Society is named for Federal Point Township, which makes up a large portion of New Hanover County southward of Monkey Junction, bounded on the west by the Cape Fear River and on the east by the Atlantic Ocean.

The peninsula includes many neighborhoods along River Road and Mrytle Grove Sound including Seabreeze.  South of Snow’s Cut lies Carolina Beach, Wilmington Beach, Hanby Beach, Kure Beach and Fort Fisher.

Wilmington Beach was recently annexed into Carolina Beach, and Hanby Beach was annexed into Kure Beach.

Even though some of these communities are relatively new, this whole area is rich in history from prehistoric time, when native Indians frequented the area, through the period of colonization and early settlement, the Civil War and both World Wars.

The earliest mention of Federal Point by name appears on a map engraved by Joshua Potts around 1777.

However, it is generally accepted that it was named during the 1790’s in honor of the new Federal Government and the ratification of the United States Constitution by North Carolina in 1789.

In 1861, with the onset of the Civil War, the Confederates changed the name to Confederate Point, but it was changed back again in 1865 with the fall of Fort Fisher and the occupation of Wilmington.


Bald Head: The History of Smith Island and Cape Fear

Did You Know?
Excerpts from David Stick’s Bald Head: The History of Smith Island and Cape Fear

  • William S. Powell, distinguished historian and author of the definitive North Carolina Gazetteer, says that the name Bald Head is properly applied only to a small area of no more than a few hundred acres occupying the extreme southwest portion of the southernmost of the islands in the complex.
  • The name CAPE FEAR first appeared on a map drawn by a member of Sir Walter Raleigh’s 1585 colony en route to Roanoke Island, stating: “wee were in great danger of a Wracke on a breache called the Cape of Feare.”
  • The vast areas of Smith Island marshland and the tidal creeks winding among them provide a productive spawning ground for a variety of marine creatures, not the least of which are oysters, shrimp, clams, and crabs, as well as a number of fin-fish, including spot and mullet.
  • Bald Head’s best-known and most-publicized marine visitor is the giant loggerhead turtle, which sometimes weighs as much as half a ton.  Awareness of the plight of the endangered loggerheads is especially acute on Bald Head, where a unique cooperative arrangement involving the developer, residents, the Nature Conservancy, and government agencies has resulted in an active “Turtle Watch” program.
  • Landgrave Thomas Smith, a prominent merchant from Charlestown, secured a grant for the island on which Cape Fear was located on May 8, 1713 for the purpose of trading with the Indians.
  • In September 1717 the notorious pirate Stede Bonnett was captured by Colonel Rhett in the waters of the Cape Fear River adjacent to Bald Head Island.
  • During the War of Jenkins’ Ear (cir. 1740’s) a Spanish man-of-war appeared off Bald Head, harassing vessels entering Port Brunswick and commandeering others departing North Carolina with naval stores. As a result Fort Johnston was begun for the defense of the Cape Fear River.
  • Benjamin Smith , the last of the heirs of Landgrave Thomas Smith to hold title to Smith Island and Bald Head, died in 1826 following a distinguished career in which he served as an aide de camp to General Washington as well as Governor of North Carolina, 1810-1811.
  • In 1784 the North Carolina Assembly authorized a special duty of six pence per ton to be paid by all vessels entering the Cape Fear, the proceeds to be used for “erecting beacons and buoys at the mouth of the Cape Fear River.”  By 1789 there was enough money in the hands of the commissioners to begin construction of a lighthouse on Bald Head.  Benjamin Smith, a member of the commission and owner of Bald Head, donated 10 acres, with the stipulation “that no person, shall be allowed to carry or keep on the said island, or any part thereof, any cattle, hogs, or stock of any kind.” The lighthouse keeper was permitted to keep poultry, a cow, and a calf but anyone found hunting on the Island would be fined five pounds the first time and ten pounds for each succeeding offense.
  • John J. Hedrick, an engineer from Wilmington and commander of the Confederate “Cape Fear Minute Men” was put in charge of the building of Fort Holmes on the west side of Bald Head.  The primary mission of the 1,400 men of the 40th Regiment, North Carolina Troops under Hedrick’s command was to prevent enemy landings anywhere on Smith Island; another was to go to the aid of any friendly vessel unfortunate enough to run aground on or near the island.
  • An early plan, in the 1920’s and 30’s, for development of what the promoter called “Palmetto Island” resulted in clearing for proposed roads, and construction of a pier, a pavilion, and a partially completed hotel.
  • Frank O. Sherrill of Charlotte purchased Bald Head Island in 1938 with plans for a major resort which would include a four lane  “ocean highway” down the East Beach from Fort Fisher – to be paid for by the State of NC. In 1963 he consolidated his holdings by purchasing the federal property surrounding the two Lightstations and Lifesaving Station.
  • In 1972 the Carolina Cape Fear Corporation purchased Bald Head from Frank Sherrill and announced development plans; however, politics, an economic recession, and a new public awareness of the value of undeveloped natural areas doomed their project to failure.
  • Today 10,000 acres of marsh and estuary belong to the State of North Carolina. The Bald Head Island Conservancy and the North Carolina Nature Conservancy are involved in managing the undeveloped land.


Why We’re All Called Tar Heels – Part 2

Why We’re All Called Tar Heels
Reprinted by permission of the author William S. Powell

Part 2 of 2  – [from December, 2008 FPHPS Newsletter]    

Read:  Part 1

Tar_Heel_postcard[Editor’s Note: Harry Warren, Director of the North Carolina Forestry Museum in Whiteville, NC, passed this article along to us during his presentation at our August meeting.  We thought it was so good that we wanted to share it with all the membership.]

A San Francisco magazine, Overland Monthly, in its August 1869 issue, published an article on slang and nicknames. The author cited a number of terms used in the Old North State. “A story is related,” he wrote, “of a brigade of North Carolinians, who, in one of the great battles (Chancellorsville, if I remember correctly) failed to hold a certain hill and were laughed at by the Mississippians for having forgotten to tar their heels that morning. Hence originated their cant name ‘Tarheels.’”

A piece of sheet music, Wearin’ of the Grey, identified as “Written by Tar Heel” and published in Baltimore in 1866, is probably the earliest printed use of Tar Heel.

On New Year’s Day, 1868, Stephen Powers set out from Raleigh on a walking tour that in part would trace in reverse the march of Gen. William T. Sherman at the end of the Civil War. As a part of his report on North Carolina, Powers described the pine woods of the state and the making of turpentine. Having entered South Carolina, he recorded in this 1872 book, Afoot & Alone, that he spent the night “with a young man, whose family were away, leaving him all alone in a great mansion. He had been a cavalry sergeant, wore this hat on the side of his head, and had an exceedingly confidential manner.”

“You see, sir, the Tar heels haven’t no sense to spare,” Powers quotes the sergeant as saying. “Down there in the pines the sun don’t more’n half bake their heads. We always had to show ‘em what the Yankees was, or they’d charge to the rear, the wrong way, you see.”

As in this particular case, for a time after the Civil War, the name Tar Heel was derogatory, just as Tar Boilers had been earlier.  In Congress on Feb. 10, 1875, a black representative from South Carolina had kind words for many whites, whom he described as “noble-hearted, generous hearted people.” Others he spoke of as “the class of men thrown up by the war, that fine class of men I mean, the ‘tar heels’ and the ‘sand hillers,’ and the ‘dirt eaters’ of the South – it is with that class we have all our trouble…”  The name also had a bad connotation in an entry in the 1884 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica which reported that the people who lived in the region of pine forests were “far superior to the tar heel, the nickname of the dwellers in barrens.”

wearing002The New York Tribune further differentiated among North Carolinians on Sept. 20, 1903, when it observed that “the men really like to work, which is all but incomprehensible to the true ‘tar heel’”.

At home, however,  the name was coming to be accepted with pride.  In Pittsboro on Dec. 11, 1879, the Chatham Record informed its readers that Jesse Turner had been named to the Arkansas Supreme Court. The new justice was described as “a younger brother of our respected townsman, David Turner, Esq., and we are pleased to know that a fellow tar heel is thought so much of in the state of his adoption.” In Congress in 1878, Rep. David B. Vance, trying to persuade the government to pay one of his constituents, J.C. Clendenin, for building a road, described Clendenin in glowing phrases, concluding with: “He is an honest man…he is a tar heel.”   In 1893, the students of The University of North Carolina founded a newspaper and christened it The Tar Heel.  By the end of the century, Tar Heel – at least within the state – had been rehabilitated. John R. Hancock of Raleigh wrote Sen. Marion Butler on Jan. 20, 1899, to commend him for his efforts to obtain pensions for Confederate veterans.  This is an action, Hancock wrote, “we Tar Heels, or a large majority of us, do most heartily commend.” And by 1912, it was a term of clear identification recognized outside the state.  On August 26 of that year, The New York Evening Post identified Josephus Daniels and Thomas J.L. Pence as two Tar Heels holding important posts in Woodrow Wilson’s campaign.

So there it was in 1922, the stamp of credibility on Tar Heel. Surely an august institution such as The New York Evening Post would never malign two gentlemen of the stature of Daniels and Pence, no matter how bitter the presidential election campaign.  The badge of honor stuck, and, in a manner of speaking, North Carolina residents who have sat back on  their heels ever since, happy to be Tar Heels.  Who’d want to be a Sandlapper, anyway?

We are Tar Heels – not “Tarheels”
Always write our name as two words, even when using
it as an adjective (e.g., “The Tar Heel tradition”
Tar [space] Heels   

Why We’re All Called Tar Heels – Part 1

Reprinted by permission of the author William S. Powell

Part 1 of 2     [first published in the November, 2008 FPHPS Newsletter]

Read: Part 2

[Editor’s Note: Harry Warren, Director of the North Carolina Forestry Museum in Whiteville, NC, passed this article along to us during his presentation at our August meeting.  We thought it was so good we wanted to share it with all the membership.]

We all have had to deal with the problem at one point or another, particularly when we go abroad (more than two states away) and declare our state of residence.  “Oh, that’s such a beautiful state,” folks respond, before pausing. “But why are you called Tar Heels?”        

The why comes easily, but when it all started takes explaining. In fact, history shows that North Carolina residents have taken an albatross from around their necks and pinned it on their chests like a badge of honor.  The moniker is rooted in the state’s earliest history, derived from the production of naval stores – tar, pitch and turpentine – extracted from the vast pine forests of the state.  Early explorers from Jamestown pointed out the possibilities for naval stores production along the Chowan River.  Eventually Parliament offered a bounty for their production, and North Carolina became an important source of tar and pitch for the English navy.  For several years before the American Revolution, the colony shipped more than 100,000 barrels of tar and pitch annually to England.

The distillation process for tar and pitch was messy and smelly. Rich pine logs were stacked, covered with earth and burned.  The tar ran out through channels dug on the lower side of the pile. Because of this product, so extensively produced in North Carolina, the people of the state were called “Tarboilers,” according to the first volume of the Cincinnati Miscellany and Ohio journal published in 1845. Forty-three years later, the poet Walt Whitman also recorded that the people of North Carolina were called “Tar Boilers.” In both cases the name clearly was applied in derision. In May 1856, Harper’s Magazine mentioned someone who “lost his way among the pine woods that abounded in that tar and turpentine state,” while an 1876 book on the Centennial Exposition described someone who “‘spent his youth in the good old ‘Tar and Turpentine State.’”

A story that at best must be considered folklore states that when Lord Cornwallis’s troops forded the Tar River in early May 1781 en route to Yorktown, they emerged with tar on their feet.  This marked their passage through North Carolina as tar heels.  The tar reputedly had been hastily dumped into the river to prevent the British from capturing it.  This story cannot be traced beyond the 20th century and may have been made up to suggest the naming of the river.    

But when, beyond doubt, did the term Tar Heel begin to be applied to North Carolinians? Clearly during the Civil War.  In the third volume of Walter Clark’s Histories of the Several Regiments from North Carolina in the Great War, 1861-1865, published in 1901, James M. Ray of Asheville records two incidents in 1863 that suggest the nickname’s original application. In a fierce battle in Virginia, where their supporting column was driven from the field, North Carolina troops stood alone and fought successfully.  The victorious troops were asked in a condescending tone by some Virginians who had retreated, “Any more tar down in the Old North State, boys?” The response came quickly: “No; not a bit; old Jeff’s bought it all up.”  “Is that so? What is he going to do with it?” the Virginians asked. “He is going to put it on your heels to make you stick better in the next fight.”  

After the Battle of Murfeesboro in Tennessee in early January 1863, John S. Preston of Columbia, S.C., the commanding general, rode along the fighting line commending his troops.  Before the 60th Regiment from North Carolina, Preston praised them for advancing farther than he had anticipated, concluding with: “This is your first battle of any consequence, I believe. Indeed, your Tar Heels have done well.”

Similarly, sometime after North Carolina troops had fought particularly well, Gen. Robert E. Lee is said to have commented: “God bless the Tar Heel boys.” Like the Cornwallis story, however, the exact occasion has not been noted.  

Lights of the Lower Cape Fear

Lights of the Lower Cape Fear – Some Important Dates
By Rebecca Taylor & Gayle Keresey

—  [first published in the October, 2008 FPHPS Newsletter]

1761  –  In 1761, the pilot road across the beach at the “Hawl-over” was blown out by a terrific hurricane and was converted into what was to be known as “New Inlet.”

1784  –   NC General Assembly passed an act levying an additional sixpence per ton duty on all vessels entering the Cape Fear River, the proceeds to be set aside for construction of the proposed lighthouse at Bald Head.  Benjamin Smith, owner of Smith Island, offered to donate ten acres of  “high land on the promontory of Bald Head” to the state of NC,  after a special assembly action providing protection of the cattle and hogs he grazed on the Island.

1789 – The NC General Assembly enacted legislation that added Smith Island to the “commissioners of pilotage for the bar and river of Cape Fear” and further prohibited any person from keeping “cattle, hogs and stock of any kind on Smith’s Island.”

August 7, 1789 – United States Congress passed act “for the establishment and support of light-houses, beacons, buoys and public piers.”  As of August 15, 1789 the federal government would assume all costs for lighthouses and other aids-to-navigation. They assumed all responsibility for twelve colonial lighthouses and four incomplete projects including Bald Head.

November 27, 1789  – “A committee of the House of Representatives reported that the Cape Fear commissioners had contracted with a man named Thomas Withers to deliver 200,000 bricks to Bald Head for the purpose of erecting a lighthouse.”

1790  – NC General Assembly transferred land for Bald Head and Ocracoke lighthouses to Federal Govt.

1795  – Congress had to make three additional appropriations of over $7,000 before the work was finished. Bald Head Light lit.  First keeper Henry Long who was paid $333.33 a year.

1810  – US Dept of Treasury authorizes double line of 2000 poles filled with brush to stop reported erosion endangering Bald Head.

April 1813 – Bald Head “lighthouse it self is washed down.” Only remnant of Bald Head lighthouse is steel engraving showing a water spout approaching the lighthouse.

May 22, 1816  – Treasury Dept. published calls for proposals for the building of a Light-House on Bald Head (Old Baldy) in the State of North Carolina.

1817 – Bald Head (Old Baldy) completed and lit.

September 1816 – March 1817 – Federal Point Lighthouse (#1) was built by Benjamin Jacobs. He was paid $1300. The beacon was 40 feet high and painted white. It stood on the north side of the entrance to the Cape Fear River.

April 7, 1817  – Charles B. Gause deeded an acre of land on Federal Point to the United States government for the erection of a light house. The deed was recorded in New Hanover County Deed Book P, page 396.

April 13, 1836 –  Federal Point (#1) was destroyed by fire.

1837 – Federal Point Lighthouse (#2) and a Dwelling House was built by Henry Stowell. The height of the tower was 40 feet from base to lantern, which was a Fixed light with 11 Winslow Lewis Patent lamps with 14 inch reflectors. The visibility was 15 miles.

1843-1845  – “A complete renovation of the lighthouse Federal Point (#2) and the keeper’s dwelling was made during the years 1843 through 1845.”

August 14, 1848  – Congress authorized bill for series of lighthouses from Bald Head to Wilmington. $3,600 for: beacon light on the Upper Jetty, Cape Fear river. $3,500: beacon light on Campbell’s island;  $3,500: beacon light at Orton Point  $3,500; light boat at Horse Shoe Shoal $10,000; two beacon lights placed at Price’s Creek  $6,000; two light-houses and keeper’s house on Oak Island  $9,000;  two buoys marking the bar  $500.”

1849   – “The last inlet light to be placed along the Cape Fear River was the Price[‘s] Creek Lighthouse, which was built in 1849.  Two structures were actually built on the river, and were part of a larger group of river lights that helped ships reach Wilmington, North Carolina’s largest port. The lights included Oak Island, Campbell Island, Orton’s Point, and a lightship at Horse Shoe [Shoal].  The beacons were configured as range lights that would line up to better reveal the inlet and help vessels navigate the channel.”

September 7, 1849 – “Oak Island lights were completed.”  “…It had two free-standing beacons and a separate structure for the keeper,” commonly called Caswell Lights.

May 2, 1851    Letter from Mr. Rankin commending payment to Wm. A. Wright “for services rendered under the appropriation for the erection of Light Houses.”
— January 1, 1850 erection of Beacons at Oak Island.
— May 1 – Aug. 17, 1850 Erection of Beacon at Orton Point.
— May 1 – Aug. 17, 1850 Erection of Beacon at Campbell’s Island.
— January 21 – Aug 17, 1851 Erection of Beacons at Price’s Creek.
In this letter there is a P.S. reading; “The Light Boat has arrived.”

“During the War” –  “Despite the fact that all lights were extinguished at the advent of the hostilities between the States in 1861, Colonel William Lamb found it necessary to have a beacon at Fort Fisher mounted on a very high mound of earth called Mound Battery, to guide the blockade runners through New Inlet. The beacon was only lighted upon the return of the proper signal from a friendly vessel and after the vessel had entered the Cape Fear safely, the light was extinguished. From reports, this light was a type of mobile unit.”

1863 –  “Price’s Creek Light House – Confederate States Signal Station.  We see on the Western side of the Cape Fear River the old antebellum light house and keeper’s residence on Price’s Creek, which were used during the Civil War as a signal station – the only means of communication between Ft. Caswell at the western bar and Fort Fisher at the New Inlet was Smithville, where the Confederate General resided.”  There are also references to signal communication between Ft. Fisher and Ft. Anderson near Orton Pt.

After the war  –  “The lighthouses on the Cape Fear River south of Wilmington, extinguished during the war, were not replaced, except for the screw-pile at Federal Point near New Inlet and the small lighthouses on Oak Island near the mouth of the main river.  Temporary day markers were erected to take the place of the other lights on the Cape Fear, and in the 1880’s a series of fourteen unattended range beacons, for the most part consisting of lanterns mounted on top of pilings, were installed to aid mariners navigating the lower reaches of the river. “

1865  – Frying Pan Shoals:  “A two-mast schooner-rigged vessel was anchored off the tip of the shoals in ten fathoms of water.  The hull and lower part of the masts were painted yellow and the words ‘Frying Pan Shoals,’ in bold black letters on each side, the vessel exhibited two lights at an elevation of forty feet above see level.”

1866  Cape Fear (Old Baldy) Lighthouse was extinguished because a new lighthouse had been erected on Federal Point. “Screw pile at Federal Point”

1879  – Oak Island range lights rebuilt.  “Commonly called Caswell Lights.”  “Also, written records clearly describe the lights that were rebuilt in 1879. The front range light was a wooden structure with gingerbread-house elements, secured to a sixteen-foot high by fourteen-food wide brick foundation…”  “…The lower or rear light was a simple one, Mounted on skids so it could be moved when the channel periodically shifted.”

June 14, 1879 – Mr. Henry Nutt, chairman of the Committee on River and Bar Improvement, informed the Wilmington newspaper, The Morning Star, that New Inlet was closed.  It was his honor to be the first to walk across this day, at 12 noon, dry-footed, from Federal Point to Zeke’s Island, a distance of nearly a mile, in the company of his grandson, Wm. M. Parsley.

1880  – The Bald Head Lighthouse (Old Baldy) was re-lighted, because the New Inlet was now closed.  The Federal Point Lighthouse (#3) was found to be useless.

August 23, 1881 – The lighthouse at Federal Point was destroyed by fire late this afternoon.  This lighthouse had not been in use since the closing of New Inlet, but it was occupied as a dwelling by Mr. Taylor, the former keeper.  It was a wooden structure, situated about one mile from the site of Fort Fisher.

1893  –   “A hurricane seriously damaged the Oak Island range lights and keeper’s house.”   “Front beacon was rebuilt.”

July 18, 1893  – Congress approved $35,000 for Cape Fear Lighthouse.  Also authority for an additional $35,000 if needed.

August 31, 1903   –  Charlie Swan became keeper of the NEW Cape Fear Lighthouse.  He lit the lamp that put it in service.

1941  – Bald Head Lighthouse (old Baldy) becomes a radio beacon.

May 15, 1958  – “The former keeper for Cape Fear Lighthouse, Cap’n Charles Swann, threw the switch that activated the Oak Island Lighthouse on May 15, 1958.  This was the last lighthouse built in North Carolina, and one of the last built in the United States.” Two Marine Corps helicopters were needed to put the lamp into place.”

September 12, 1958 – Cape Fear Lighthouse demolished.

1964 – Frying Pan Lightship – replaced by 1/5 million dollar “tower.”

November 27, 1964  – Last Frying Pan Lightship was relieved of duty after 110 years.   Was reassigned at a “relief” ship for the Cape May Station.  Was Lightship # 115, the first diesel on the east coast.

1964  – Frying Pan Light Station – Built in Louisiana and brought on a huge barge to NC, 28 miles southeast of Cape Fear – cost $2 million.

Spring/Summer 2004 – Frying Pan Schoals Station scheduled to be demolished.