Oral History: Monroe Shigley – Plant Manager at Ethyl Dow Plant, Kure Beach (1936-1941)

Monroe Shigley Interview Was Submitted by Howard Hewett – September 5, 2014

[Editor Note:
Howard Hewett was born in 1939 in Wilmington.  His family’s home was located just outside of the Fort Fisher gates until his family moved to Freeport Texas in 1956.

His father Curtis, worked on clearing the land and building the Ethyl Dow plant in Kure Beach starting in 1933.   When the plant started operations, he became a plant operator, then shift foreman, plant foreman and later Supervisor. After the war when the demand lessened for ethylene dibromide, the plant was mothballed but it was kept in semi-running condition.  Curtis Hewett maintained his role as supervisor of the remaining crew, eventually supervising the closing down of the Ethyl Dow plant in Kure Beach.

Howard Hewett has been living in Freeport since his family moved there in 1956.  Recently, he began submitting articles to the Federal Point History Center, detailing his youth experiences in Fort Fisher.  See here, here, and here.

Recommended background information on Ethyl Dow in Kure:

What is the Ethyl-Dow Plant? – Ben Steelman,  Wilmington StarNews
History of the Ethyl Dow Plant    (YouTube video 6:58) – Produced by Johnny Reinhold

Note: All of the photos in this post were taken about 80 years ago. ]


[Editor: View and Read The Full Story ]

On Sept. 5, 2014, Howard Hewett wrote:

This oral history is an interview with Monroe Shigley. He’s one of the first technical people at the Ethyl Dow plant at Kure Beach.

In two of the digital photos that I submitted, showing Ethyl Dow labs, Monroe Shigley is the center person.  You may wonder how I knew that fact.  As you read the document, Shigley makes mention on a one year old daughter. She was born in James Walker Hospital in 1940 and was named Mary Monroe Shigley.

I was also born in James Walker in late 1939.  Our paths did not cross until 1956 when we were attending the same high school and were in the same graduation class.  We have been friends for years.  We communicate regularly, so I sent her this document & photos that I am sending you for her review.   She identified her dad.   [Editor:  We thank Mary Monroe Shigley Carhart for providing these photos of her parents.]

This oral history of the Ethyl Dow Company at Kure Beach, NC is an excerpt from an interview of Monroe Shigley after he retired from the Dow Chemical Co.

He was one of the key people from the beginning at Federal Point Ethyl Dow Kure Beach plant.  He arrived at the Kure Beach plant in 1933 from Midland, MI and became Plant Manager from 1936 to 1941. This is not just a technical history but shows his great insights, personal reflections and stories, of a point in time on the Federal Point peninsula.

Ralph Buell was the interviewer. Buell retired from Texas Operations, Dow Chemical Co. as Manager of Human Resources.  Monroe Shigley retired from Dow Chemical on Aug 1, 1970.

The complete interview was given to me by the Buell family.  The original document was created on a typewriter.  This paper is submitted by Howard Hewett, retired from Texas Operation, Dow Chemical, Co.

My connection to this project is that I was a Federal Point Ethyl Dow Brat 1939-1956.

The full narrative of Monroe Shigley’s oral history of his years in Kure Beach begins following the images below.


[Click on any image for larger view – or slideshow]

Here is the relevant portion of the interview with Monroe Shigley, after he retired. Questions were presented by Ralph Buell.


Monroe Shigley - 1934

Monroe Shigley – 1934

Monroe Shigley:
At the Dow plant in Midland, Michigan, Fred Heinie Langell was involved in developing a process for taking bromine out of seawater.  The use of tetraethyl lead in gasoline was growing by leaps and bounds in those days (1920s) to the point that Dow with its brine supplies could not hope to provide the increasing amounts of ethylene dibromide which had to be added to tetraethyl lead to make the antiknock fluid.

I was to become involved with this process development, but before getting to that, let me back up a few years.  Herbert Dow’s interest in bromine had caused him to look into seawater as a source, and he had sent a man by the name of Joe Bayless around the shores of the country to determine salinities at various places.  To determine the salinities he had a little gadget consisting of a number of glass balls of varying densities.  He would report the number of balls that floated in his water samples.  At one time Mr. Harlow let me read the reports.  Joe was interested in people and would tell about the folks he had met.  One report I recall told about a fellow who had a bad case of boils, told about his family, and at the end said that the seawater there floated three balls. Or maybe it was four.

Ethyl Dow Plant -Kure Beach

Aerial view from Cape Fear River outfall (lower) to Atlantic Ocean intake.

From Bayliss’ work and later studies by Roy Osmun, a shoreline of the Atlantic Ocean near Wilmington, North Carolina was chosen as a place where the salinity was fairly high, although not as high as at Baffin Bay in Texas.

In 1928 or 29, Dow leased property on the cape Fear Peninsula 17 miles south of Wilmington. The peninsula at that point was about a mile wide, with the Cape Fear River on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other.

There they built a pilot plant where they pumped seawater through a six inch pipe from the beach, acidified it, chlorinated it and distributed it at the top of a brick tower.  There it trickled down through lath packing, a Herbert Dow development for contact between liquids and air.  Air blown through the lath extracted the free bromine and carried it to another section of the structure where it was absorbed in recycled soda ash solution.


Ralph Buell:

G.F. (Brick) Dressel was responsible for the pilot plant, but Glen Cantwell operated it.



Yes, both were Dow men from Midland.  The product from this pilot plant was a bromide-bromate solution containing about 50,000 parts per million of bromine.  This was about 700 times as concentrated as the 69 parts per million in seawater.

While this was going on, the Ethyl Gasoline Corporation was looking for its own source of bromine.  They leased a ship which they called “The Good Ship Ethyl” and sailed around the country testing seawater and working on a process for taking bromine out of seawater as tri-bromaniline.  The concept was to chlorinate seawater to free the bromine, add aniline, and separate the tribromaniline by filtration.  They were apparently unaware of acidification because John Grebe later got a patent on the process using acidification along with chlorination.  As they must have found, fine mesh filtration of seawater is next to impossible.  If you have ever tried to filter seawater through filter paper, you find that it is teeming with organic growth; you can get only a small amount through the paper before the growths plug it.  For that or other reasons the tribromaniline process was not a success.

So Ethyl got together with Dow and it was decided to form a jointly owned company, The Ethyl Dow Chemical Company, to take bromine out of seawater using the Dow process.  Ethyl was to handle the finances and Dow would handle all of the production aspects.



I guess that Ethyl gave up and that Dow was able to report that it had demonstrated the first step of the process and was certain that it could go the rest of the way.  I am presuming this, for I was not a part of the bromine activities at that time.  In any case, plans went forward to build a 10,000,000 pound per year ethylene dibromide from seawater plant at Kure Beach.

Someone suggested that before they built the two big blowing-out towers, each of which had an area of about 3700 square feet, they should check the distribution systems, for many thousands of gallons per minute of seawater had to be evenly spread over these areas.


Early Land Clearing 1933

Ethyl Dow – Landing Clearing 1933


This was 1933.  So Dow built a small section of a blowing-out tower using the design planned for the large units to check distribution. Heinie Langell had the responsibility for building the unit and testing it.  It was at that point that, probably because he knew me, he had me transferred out of the Main Lab to help with the project.



Yes, it was in Midland, in an unoccupied section of an old bromine plant.  My job was to calibrate the water flow orifice, run the unit at different rates, and check distribution by means of collection chambers at the bottom of the unit.  The distribution turned out to be very poor, and I had to make a demonstration run for Mr. Harlow and Mr. Barstow so they could see for themselves.  They told me to see what I could do to fix it.

As a kid, I loved to play in the water.  On my grandfather’s farm in Hart, one of my uncles would dam up a little creek for a pond, build me a raft, and I would paddle around on it.  So playing in water again was great.  They gave me the high school football coach as an assistant. We started checking at the top of the unit and learned that distribution was poor at the very top.  Distribution was accomplished by means of slotted ceramic tubes extending vertically though the bottoms of wooden boxes.  The primary boxes had four tubes, each of which fed a secondary box with eleven tubes.  We measured the flows from each of the tubes and found that irregularities could be corrected by installing baffles in the boxes.

With the distribution at the top of the tower even, the distribution at the bottom was still poor, the water moving laterally as it passed through the lath packing.  It was obvious that the rest of the problem was in the lath packing itself.  I don’t know whether you were familiar with the lath packing used at Freeport.



The packs were tilted ever so slightly because the bottom comb was at an incorrect angle.  The carpenter shop made us some shims. After we shimmed up each pack to make the angles equal, the distribution was good. Heinie and I designed some simple equipment which could be used in installing lath to assure the proper angles.  Then they sent me to Kure Beach to help put the lath combs in the new towers.  Heinie was in charge of the installation; he got the day shift.  Art Asadorian from the Bromine Lab was senior to me, so he worked the afternoon. I got the midnight shift.


Atlantic Intake

Ethyl Dow – Atlantic Seawater Intake – Extended 150 ft. into the ocean


No, this was the real thing.  At the site of the old Kure Beach pilot plant, an intake structure was built.  Seawater was drawn between two sheet steel piling jetties extending about 150 feet into the water, passed through a settling basin and through trash screens before entering large pumps.  Each of the pumps delivered 30,000 gallons per minute to pipes which carried the seawater to an inclined dam, which we called the “hydraulic jump”.

From there, the water passed through a short canal before entering a pond of several hundred acres where there was solar warming.  The pond extended about two thirds the width of the peninsula, near to the site of the bromine extraction units.  The two blowing-out towers were brick structures about 50 feet high and each had about 3700 square feet of horizontal area.  Physically connected to the blowing out towers were the brick absorption towers where the blown out bromine was absorbed by a sodium carbonate solution, as in the pilot plant.  The de-brominated seawater would flow into the Cape Fear River, a tidal estuary.

Intake Pumps

Ethyl Dow – Intake Pumps delivered 30,000 gallons per minute

A short distance from the blowing out towers was a building which housed the steaming out towers which extracted elemental bromine from the product of the blowing out/absorption step, reactors for converting bromine to ethylene dibromide, and steam distillation equipment for final purification.  Somewhat further away was the ethylene plant where ethylene gas was made by passing ethyl alcohol vapors over hot kaolin.

Adjacent to that were the coal fired boilers which provided building heat and steam for distillation.  Engineering for the plant had been done in Midland, and responsibility for its construction had been assigned to a Dow man named Norris Coalwell.

This was Dow’s first venture outside of Midland, and things did not go well.  A storm destroyed part of the intake structure, an ethylene storage tank being pressure tested on a barge rolled into the Wilmington harbor, and the principal contractor “went broke”.  Norris was not able to handle the deluge of problems and had a nervous break-down, so A.P.Beutel, then Willard Dow’s assistant was sent to Kure Beach to take command.  And that he did; he was able to take setbacks in stride.

I drove to Wilmington in the fall of 1933 when the blowing out towers had been erected and were ready for the lath packing. Dow had leased an old hotel near Kure Beach and most of the Dow people and their families stayed there. I was one of them.


EDCCO Club had a dining room just for the Ethyl Dow staff and employees. This building was The Breakers Hotel in Wilmington Beach, leased by Ethyl Dow for their employees.

EDCCO Club had a dining room just for the Ethyl Dow staff and employees. This building was The Breakers Hotel in Wilmington Beach, leased by Ethyl Dow for their employees.


It was the old Breakers Hotel (Editor: The Breakers Hotel in Wilmington Beach) . We learned later that at one time it had been a brothel.  One of the guys said he could not sleep for thinking what might have gone on in his room.

The hotel, during our residence had a big dining room, named the EDCCO Club, where everyone ate.  The number 1 table fed the top people: the Beutels, the Bransons (head of construction), the L.J. Richards (chief engineer), and the Willard Dows and Ethyl bigwigs when they came.  That table had finger bowls and the services of William Polite, a distinguished black headwaiter who wore formal dress.  The second table had some of William Polite’s time but no finger bowls.

Of perhaps ten tables, I and some others were at the last table. More business was certainly done at the top tables but at ours we had more fun.

We got the lath packing done, started the blowing out and absorption units and filled the storage tanks with the bromide/bromate solution, awaiting the startup of the second stage of the process.   The second stage was the steaming out tower where the bromide/bromate solution was to be acidified with sulfuric acid and the released elemental bromine was to be distilled out and condensed.  They were having trouble getting the second stage started so we just had to shut the blowing out towers down and stand by.  Mr. Harlow was following the progress regularly, and I saw him occasionally.   He came to breakfast one morning and said, “Shig, we did better last night; we only broke 13 condenser coils.   The bromine was condensed in 14 thin walled ceramic coils.


Ethyl Dow-Blowing out Towers

Ethyl Dow – Blowing Out Towers


No, not then. Some years later we used Pyrex. What was happening at the steaming out tower was this, shortly after starting the unit, unexplained pressure would start building up in the condensers and within a matter of hours they would blowout.  The plant would shut down, be repaired the next day, and the next night the same thing would happen for no apparent reason.  Night after night this continued. One morning Mr. Harlow got in touch with me and said that the steaming out crew was worn out and that night I was going to have to run it.

I did not know too much about steaming out towers.  I had seen a similar unit in Midland and was there when they were testing a new condenser design using Pyrex glass and graphite tube sheets.  The test lasted only a few hours, for the graphite was disintegrated by the bromine.  I spent that day learning what I could about the new steaming out towers and where everything was.  By six o’clock that evening the unit had been patched up from the previous night’s blowout, so they started it up and left me there with two operators.   I was quite apprehensive.  They had given me operating instructions, one of which was to maintain the excess acid in the tower effluent at 1.5 pounds per cubic foot.

Ethyl Dow - DiBromide Building

Ethyl Dow – DiBromide Building

When they left me the excess was about 1 and the pressure was an acceptable 2 inches of water.  The concentrated sulfuric acid was hand controlled by a little valve two floors up from the control room.  I did all of the controlling myself, and not knowing how far to turn the valve to reach the 1.5 level I made changes so small that it scarcely changed.  Meanwhile the pressure in the system remained at 2 inches.  I continued to adjust the acid valve in almost negligible increments but the acid stayed at or near 1.0.  I was doing the titrations on the effluent and was also able to determine the bromine remaining in it.  The one pound per cubic foot of acid excess was getting the bromine out, and because the blowing out towers where the effluent would normally go were not running more excess acid would have been wasted.   So I decided to leave the acid level where it was, the pressure stayed at or about 2 inches, and when morning came the plant was still running.  It was the first time the unit had run all night.

I was the “fair haired boy” for a while for having succeeded in making the tower run.  Jack Chamberlain from the Midland Physics Lab was doing some work at the plant then, and he headed the investigation to find the reason for the success.  To make a long story short, the chlorine addition to seawater at the blowing out towers was hand controlled and erratic because of surges in the chlorine system.  Excess chlorine led to excess chloride, chlorate and bromate in the absorber product.  The extra 0.5 pounds of acid released elemental chlorine which could not escape and caused the damaging pressure in the steaming out condensers.

It was a lucky break for me that I happened to be there the night others had set the acid too low, but they gave me credit for taking advantage of it.  Shortly after that I was asked to serve as assistant to Brick Dressel, Manager of the Ethyl-Dow plant.  It was a fascinating experience.  Brick was a wonderful man to work for and we worked well together.  I was responsible for plant operations while Brick handled the business aspects, including contacts with the Ethyl Gasoline Corporation.  Those were sometimes stressful because their ideas and those of Dow did not always coincide.



Initially Dow thought that all materials should be moved the 17 miles between the plant and Wilmington by truck, and they had figures to prove it.  The Intracostal Waterway cut across the peninsula between Wilmington and the plant, so it was impractical to extend a railroad between them. Ethyl was half owned by Standard Oil of New Jersey, which was water transportation oriented.   So Ethyl said, regardless of the figures, water transportation was the best way.  So that is the way Ethyl-Dow went.

Ethyl-Dow bought a wood hulled vessel named the Vanessa, which had at one time been a rum runner.  Pressure tanks were put in the hold to haul sulfuric acid, the acid being unloaded by air pressure.  On deck were carried chlorine cylinders, soda ash, coal, coke, and drums of denatured alcohol to the plant.  The drums, after cleaning, were used to ship ethylene dibromide.  The denaturant in the alcohol was a material called “Dipples Oil”.  It was present in small amounts but enough to give the alcohol a foul smell.

Early in 1935 it was apparent that the increasing demand for our product would require a plant expansion.  In preparation for that, Ethyl Dow ordered a big barge and a new tugboat to move materials up and down the river.  Brick wanted to handle materials on and off the barge with a single boom rig like a crane.  Ethyl could not accept that; handling had to be done in the standard marine way where two booms were used.  Ethyl Dow would have preferred a Fairbanks-Morse diesel engine on the tug, but Ethyl Corporation said it would be a General Motors Winton Diesel.

The Marine Department of Standard Oil oversaw the  design and construction of the tugboat, which had a pilot house control to start and stop the reversible 250 horsepower engine.  Brick went to New York for the first trial run; returning to port the tug hit the dock very hard for the pilot house control did not function.  That was not the only tug problem but I will get to that later.

Let’s go back to 1934.  The startup of this first plant to remove bromine from seawater received much publicity.  Someone came up with the idea that a movie should be made of the plant and its process for educational purposes.  As an added innovation, it was suggested that the film used for shooting should be made from potassium bromide, the bromine for which would be that extracted from seawater.  Art Asadorian was assigned the job of making the KBr.  He diverted enough liquid bromine to partially fill a large ceramic pot, reacted it with caustic potash in an open enclosure, separated and purified the KBr and sent it to Eastman Kodak.  Eastman used it to make the film for the documentary of the process entitled “The Magic Key“.  Copies of that film should be somewhere in the Dow files.  I borrowed one and used it as part of a half hour “Minerals from Seawater” presentation I made at a Houston TV station in the 1950’s.

The excess bromate problem having been brought under control, the Ethyl-Dow plant operated very well, slightly exceeding its designed capacity of 10 million pounds of ethylene dibromide per year.  Operating problems were minor and most were quickly solved while others took longer.

Ethyl Dow - Boiler Room

Ethyl Dow – Boiler Room

I was called to the ethylene plant late one evening when the operator noticed a strong odor of rotten eggs and a milky color in the reactor condensate.  I ran tests in the laboratory and found that there was a sulfur compound in a new batch of kaolin catalyst which had just been put into some of the reactors.  We dumped that kaolin and put in what we had left of the old batch.  When Brick came in the morning, he called Midland where they had been making ethylene in the same way and using kaolin from the same source for many years without any such trouble.  The kaolin came from Gordon, Georgia. The company supplying it was unaware of any changes it all came from the same pit.

Before the day was over I was on my way to Gordon with a trunk full of analytical equipment.  There my tests showed that there was one new area of the pit in which there was a sulfur compound of unknown nature or origin.  So an area of sulfur free kaolin was dug by hand and hauled by mule-drawn wagons to a siding where it was loaded on a freight car for immediate shipment to Wilmington.  I tested every wagon-load; it was 100 degrees in the shade, and no shade.

Speaking of the ethylene plant brings back memories about alcohol.  We learned from others that the property on which the Kure Beach plant was built formerly had a number of illegal stills making “North Carolina Corn” liquor.  Carolina Corn was something special, having quite a reputation as a drink. Erwin S. Cobb once said that it had all of the qualities of swallowing a lighted lantern.  One of my shift foreman told me that there were yet some stills near the plant and offered to take me to see them.  But I had been deputized, as had Brick, so that was no place for me to be seen.

The Alcohol Tax unit of the U.S. Treasury Department kept their eyes on us, for we were using large quantities of denatured alcohol.  Their agents visited us frequently, and I would have to show them around as they looked for places where the alcohol could be illegally diverted.

Ethyl alcohol was one of our more expensive raw materials, and I became aware that our alcohol/ethylene units were losing 5 to 10 of the feed alcohol in the condensate.  This was going down the sewer, as it had in Midland for many years.  I decided to see what could be done about that.  From my Walker, Lewis and McAdams textbook, it appeared that we should be able to recover that alcohol by steam distillation.  I went through some calculations and designed a unit to do the job economically.  Brick thought we should run a demonstration pilot unit before asking for authorization to build the larger unit.  So I designed a little pilot unit and one of my chemists ran it and collected the data.  It worked just fine.

The next time a Treasury agent came for inspection, I proudly showed him what we were doing.  When I had finished, he said something like this: “My Gawd, man do you know what you have done?  You have built and are operating an illegal still.”  He then pulled a notebook from his pocket and proceeded to tell me the penalties for such a deed.  I was shocked; you could have bought me for a nickel.  But the agent was a fatherly type and said, that our intentions were good and that we should get back to the office and apply for a permit to do what we were doing.  He asked what else we were doing that might fall into the same category.  I told him we were steam distilling ethylene dibromide.



No, it was not an alcohol, but it was a distillation, and we had to have permits for such things.  We even had to get a permit for the little Barnstead still in the laboratory, the unit for making distilled water.  To conclude the alcohol story, we did get approval to build the full size recovery unit, built it, and reduced our alcohol losses to almost zero.  Another problem which came to light about a year after the plant startup involved materials of construction.  In the interest of economy, some of the seawater canals were lined with untreated wood piling.  The Midland engineers were unaware of the appetite of marine borers for untreated wood. The teredoes, limnorias and martesias soon made sponges out of the wood piling below water level, and the wood had to be replaced by concrete at some inconvenience to production.

Still another problem was the failure of the fine mesh “travelling screens” to prevent marine growth and debris from entering the blowing out towers and plugging the slots in the distributor tubes.  Crabs, shells and small fish would cling to the screen panels as they rolled up, elude the cleaning sprays at the back, and enter the downstream water flow.  The blowing out towers had to be shut down at least once a month to clean the distributor tubes. Almost all of the maintenance crew, painters, pipe fitters, electricians and machinists would go into the smelly tops of the towers to do the job.   Everyone could be counted on to do what had to be done, regardless of their trades.  It was some years later that we started using screens which kept the same side of the mesh always facing the incoming flow.

In December of 1935, Brick Dressel received word that he was being transferred to Marquette, Michigan, to be the new Manager of the Cliffs-Dow plant there.  I was to be the new Manager of the Ethyl-Dow plant.

Mary Graham & Monroe Shigley - Wedding Day Feb 8, 1936

Mary Graham & Monroe Shigley – Wedding Day Feb 8, 1936

Plant Manager's House at plant

Ethyl Dow’s Plant Manager’s Lodging overlooking the river – overlooking Cape Fear River

At that time I was engaged to be married to a lovely Wilmington girl named Mary Graham.  Brick had been living adjacent to the plant in a house designed by Alden Dow overlooking the Cape Fear River.  We were married February 8, 1936 and promptly moved into the house.

When there was trouble for which I had to go to the plant in the night, Mary would put on her bathrobe and sleep in the car outside whatever unit was having the trouble while I worked inside.   For a while, I was handling both Brick’s old job and mine. Then Henry Roebke became my assistant to lighten my load.

Shortly after we were married, Willard Dow came for a visit.  He seemed to enjoy getting around seeing people and talking with them. We always tried to keep the plant in good order, and the day before he arrived I checked to be sure that it was.  At the intake I found one of my favorite operators busily cleaning shrimp instead of caring for the pumps.  In the past schools of shrimp would occasionally come up on the screens and too often operators would leave their posts to clean them for themselves and others.

Ethyl Dow - Intake Basin

Ethyl Dow – Intake Basin

In my youthful wisdom I had issued an order that there was to be no more shrimp cleaning on the job.  For this disregard of orders I rebuked the operator severely and at length.  When I ran out of breath he said to me, “Well, you see it’s this way. Your wife called me a little while ago and said she was having Mr. Dow for lunch tomorrow and could I please get her some shrimp?”   That was one of several amusing incidents at the intake.  We were pumping large quantities of seawater after it passed through the gap between the two jetties and was screened.  Roller towel type screens were supposed to keep fish and trash from getting into the pumps but did not always do so.



No, they were different.  The squirrel cage idea came to me later as I was pondering the screen problem. Our first screens were articulated screen frames fastened to chains which ran on sprockets, forming a continuous wide belt of screens from below the water line to above it.  The belt would move vertically up against the water flow, then over and down below the water again.  Sprays on the down side were supposed to knock the screenings into a trough, but some stuff clung to the screen long enough to enter the down-stream flow.  The intake screens were course mesh and a fish could stick its head into the screen and ride over the top.  Some fish could survive passage through the big pumps, but others would be cut up and serve as food for the fish that did make it.

ED Top of Jump - Going into pond

Top of Hydraulic Jump where the Mayor of CB, councilmen & Baptist minister were fishing.

The seawater entered the warming pond over the hydraulic jump and through a short canal. That was a great place for the fish to feed and the fish grew quite large.  The hydraulic jump was an inviting place to fish, but we posted signs prohibiting fishing.  If someone chanced to fall in at the time the pumps stopped, he would be sucked back into the pumps. We were at the end of a 110 mile power line and there were occasional power interruptions.

There were indications that people were fishing at the hydraulic jump at night, so one night we decided to have the plant protection surprise them.  The surprise was ours; we caught the Mayor of nearby Carolina Beach, one of the councilmen and the Baptist minister.  All of our faces were red.

Ethyl Dow - Jump into pond

Hydraulic Jump. From HWY 421 looking toward pond from intake

Another time a big school of shad entered our intake basin.  There were so many of them that they were practically pushing themselves out of the water.  The screens could not handle that load, so many fish were carrying over and going through the pumps, some in parts.  It was a feast time for gulls and they came from miles around.  The high concentration of gulls attracted the attention of the Fish and Game Department and their representative warned me that unless the slaughter was stopped he would have the plant shut down.  We were not sure how we could chase the fish out of the basin.  We finally set bucket cranes beside the basin, shut the pumps down and let water flow back over the hydraulic jump while splashing the bucket in the basin.  There was a slight flow out the jetties, and once some fish started to go out, the rest followed and the basin was clear again.



That’s right.

Our jetties extending out into the Atlantic Ocean gave us some concern because of their possible contribution to beach erosion.  You know that wind driven waves move beach sand in the direction the wind is blowing.  Sand moving along the beach could move as far as the jetties and then would have to go to the end of the jetties and deposit in deeper water.  Waves would pick up more sand on the downwind side, thus scouring the beach.  So concerned were we about our effect on the beach that, Brick had me take pictures of long stretches of the beach every month or so.  One area of particular interest was a few miles south at old Fort Fisher where the beach was eroding quite badly.  Wilmington was the last Confederate port to be closed during the Civil War because of its defense by the fort.   In 1865 the fort was bombarded by a big Federal fleet but the fleet was driven off.

After storms, the eroded beach would be littered by relics of the bombardment, whole cannon balls and parts of cannon balls.  I picked up many fragments and have given most of them away.  Some months after the bombardment, the Yankees came back under cover of night, landed a force a few miles north of the fort, and built an earthen breastwork across the peninsula to defend against an army stationed in Wilmington. They captured the fort from the rear.  When the first bromine from seawater plant was built in 1933 the breast-work was used as one side of the seawater storage pond.

This story about Fort Fisher has a personal angle.  The girl I married was the granddaughter of the Major in the Corps of Engineers who had designed the gun emplacements.  When the Ethyl Dow brick blowing out towers were demolished in 1952 much of the debris was hauled and dumped on the bank as rip-rap to defend what was left of Fort Fisher.



When I became the plant manager in 1936, I was faced with a new problem.

EDCO Tug in Cape Fear River

EDCO Tug in Cape Fear River

The new tug EDCO had a serious vibration at the RPM range at which it had to run to push the barge up the river on a falling tide.  The head of the big engine would bob sideways between an eighth and a quarter of an inch.  Specialists came from General Motors, collected reams of information, and said that the trouble was not with the engine.  Hull people came and said that the fault was not with the hull.  The propeller experts came, too, and denied that the propeller was responsible.  So we were left with the problem with no answers from the experts. Dan McDonald, Superintendent of Maintenance, reduced the bobbing somewhat by putting braces between the head of the engine and the sides of the tug.  But our insurers threatened to cancel our insurance unless we removed them.

We were really hogtied; we had already given up the Vanessa because we were counting on the new tug and barge.  The problem became my number 1 priority.  I made several trips up and down the river in the tug measuring temperatures, speeds, engine RPM’s and engine movements.  I sent the data to General Motors and requested performance information on the engine and was surprised to learn it could be safely run much faster than we had been able to run it.  When we had run it over the vibration range, the engine overheated and froze some pistons.

Engine Room EDCO tug

Engine Room of EDCO Tug

To me it seemed logical that what we needed to do was to put on a smaller propeller so we could run the engine over the vibration range without overloading it.  At the very least, we should try it.  In those days, money spent over a certain amount had to be approved by “Authorizations” by both Dow and Ethyl.  I sent an Authorization request to Midland after talking to Mr. Harlow about it.  My reasoning seemed logical to him, but he was not a boatman.  Midland approved the request, but Ethyl balked.  They said that the tug was properly designed and would not approve changes unless recommended by a qualified marine engineer.

They said they would send down a vibration expert.  Ethyl contacted the man who studied and solved the vibration problem on the tremendous French liner, the Normandy. He came to Wilmington at $400.00 per diem plus expenses.  I met him at the train, took him to the plant, showed him my information, and took him on a trip on the tugboat.  Within an hour or so he agreed that a smaller propeller should be tried.  Mary entertained him for the rest of the day and he went back to New York that night. We got a new propeller as fast as we could, put it on, and it worked fine.



The vibration range was still there, but we were able to run through it and above it to a vibration free rpm without overheating.  Perhaps you remember the tug that was used for many years for moving oyster shell barges up and down the canal at Freeport.



It was the tug EDCO. It was bought by Dow after the Kure Beach plant shut down after the war.  The deck house had to be lowered to get under the canal bridges.  All of my tug information was given to Oliver Beutel, whose responsibility the tug became.

In 1936 we doubled the output at Kure Beach with new equipment and a different method which we called the SO2 process.  The blowing out step was the same, but instead of absorbing the bromine laden air in a soda ash solution, it was mixed with sulfur dioxide in a long mixing chamber.  The resulting hydrobromic and sulfuric acids in the form of fog and droplets were filtered out on glass wool.


Ethyl Dow - Dog Houses

Dog Houses – Ethyl Dow


We called them “dog houses” because of their shape.  There were no dog houses in the original design; they came later.  The process had been conceived and pilot planted in Midland.



The Chemical Engineering Laboratory did the work.  Ted Heath was the director of the lab, but Bill Schambra did the pilot plant job using sulfur dioxide from cylinders.  Our plant’s source of sulfur dioxide was rotary sulfur burners.  When we started the plant, the fog coming out of the fans was substantial.  We were putting hydrobromic and sulfuric acids all over the place.   My wife remembers that the first night after the plant started I was out all night checking poles and trees to see how far the acids had gone.


Control Room & Lab (Monroe Shigley in center)

Control Room & Lab (Monroe Shigley in center)


They had not gone as far in the laboratory as to use sulfur dioxide from sulfur burners; they had only demonstrated that the reaction would go and that the product could be filtered out on glass wool and that on a small scale.  Our big fans were condensing unreacted or unfiltered acids and spewing them out, so very quickly the dog houses were built over the fan discharges to provide another layer of glass wool to catch the acids.  To make a long story short, we learned how to operate the sulfur burners in such a way as to produce a minimum of sulfur trioxide and the amount of material escaping the doghouses was reduced to a minimum.

After the bugs were worked out, the new process worked well and provided us with some overall cost reductions.  The new unit had other innovations.  Bill Schambra had spent time at Kure Beach working on lath packing and he came up with what we called “Schambra Shim Lath”.

This installed in the new blowing out tower permitted us to distribute more seawater and blow more air per cubic foot, thus producing more bromine.

Scarcely had the 1936 addition begun operating when it was decided that still more ethylene dibromide was needed.  We had essentially doubled the original plant with the 1936 expansion.  We redoubled it in 1938 with more intake pumps, a much larger blowing out and sulfur dioxide absorption unit, more steaming out towers, reactors, stills and ethylene units.  We bought some more transportation equipment, this time another barge with deck tanks for moving de-natured alcohol and ethylene dibromide.  The tug was running well so water transportation wise we were doing great, although we did experience one temporary problem worthy of comment.

ED Barge at dock on Cape Fear

Barge & tug at Ethyl Dow dock on Cape Fear river

The Cape Fear River at the plant site was about two miles wide.  The main ship channel ran north and south about two thirds the way across the river.  Our shallower barge channel ran east and west and was maintained by dragging a heavy steel beam behind the tug on a falling tide.  On one occasion when a government dredge was working upstream in the main channel, our own channel was filled with sediment too heavy for our tug and beam to handle.

We felt sure that the big dredge was the culprit, so I went to see the chief of the Corps of Engineers Office in Wilmington.  He denied any responsibility, so one of our chemists got samples of known dredge deposits; samples of the filled areas of our channel and samples distant from both.  Analyses showed that the plug in our channel was identical to the dredge discharge.

Confronted with that fact, the Corps of Engineers dredge cleaned out our entire channel, at no cost to Ethyl-Dow.

In 1938 war clouds were gathering in Europe.  The French and the British could foresee problems ahead and wanted their own source of bromine.  So the French first, and the British later, contacted Ethyl to see if they could get the know-how for bromine from seawater.  I recall the time when two Frenchmen came to the Kure Beach plant with Mr. Harlow.  They came in the morning and were going to New York that evening for consultation with the Ethyl people.  Mary and I planned to have them to dinner before they left.  After we had been through the plant, Mr. Harlow called me aside and said that there were to be no more discussions about bromine until the meeting with Ethyl.  He said they were going on different trains.

Mary and I would take them to the stations and it would be Mary’s job to entertain them on the way.  So after dinner we got in the car.  I drove and Mr. Harlow sat with me in the front seat while Mary sat in the back with the Frenchmen and chatted with them about French cooking and other things.  We put the Frenchmen on a train at Fayetteville and Mr. Harlow on a later train at Wilson, and came home.

We were to learn later that negotiations were completed in New York and that the French would be given the know-how.

Shortly afterward, Jacques Coulon, an employee of Establishments Kuhlman came to get information on the process.  I met him at the train and took him to dinner.  He could speak little English so we communicated with hand signals and what little French I remembered from college days.  He was a Major in the French Anti-aircraft Reserves.  Fortunately, we had an engineer, Morris McGowan, who had worked in Canada and who could speak some French. McGowan and Bill Schambra conveyed the process information and practically designed a plant for him at Port deBouc, near Marseille, France.  I was scheduled to go there and help to start it, but the Germans overran it before the plant was finished.



The plant was completed and operated.  The man who was to have been manager of the plant was a Jew; the Germans shot him.  I visited the plant and was shown through it when I was in France in 1960 with my family.  There was a big plaque at the plant entrance remembering the dead manager.  Coulon was in Paris at the time so I did not see him.



It was running then, and as far as I know it is still running.  The British also negotiated for plant know-how and Imperial Chemical Industries were contracted to build two bromine from seawater plants at points on the English coast.  They were referred to as “Shadow Plants”.  ICI sent three engineers to Kure Beach to get the information.

They brought with them a trunk full of confidential information which they kept locked.  At first they were very secretive, but as we became better acquainted they started opening up more and more.  After the first Kure Beach plant was started, a Dow man named Leroy Stewart wrote quite an article about the plant in the April, 1934 issue of Industrial and Engineering Chemistry.

The ICI man had studied that article carefully and had even sized piping from pictures accompanying it.  They did a lot of work on the physical chemistry of the process, and actually knew more about the chemistry of seawater than we did.  But they lacked materials of construction know how, particularly as wet bromine was concerned.  They were somewhat chagrined to find that we had designed, built and operated the plant largely by trial and error and without detailed physical chemistry.  Ultimately they gave us copies of their reports.

ICI did build and operate the two bromine plants.  One was managed by Bill Venn, the leader of the three who came to Kure Beach.  He wrote us occasionally during the war and told of the numbers of times he and others at the plant had to leave their posts to man anti-aircraft guns stationed at location.  At least one of the plants was still running when I was in England in 1960 but I did not see it.



I do not know, but I have an idea that Dow received a down payment for-the know-how.  I do know that bromine from seawater was a lucrative venture for Dow.  Willard Dow told me that at one time DOW’s share of the Ethyl-Dow profits contributed one fourth of the total Dow profits.



Initially we were making ethylene dibromide for 10 or 11 cents per and sold it for 30.  Our final capacity at Kure Beach was 48 or 49 million pounds per year and our production cost was under 10 cents.

[Editor:  49 million lbs  X  $.20 profit per lb = $9,800,000.  minimum PROFIT in 1940 dollars]  All of the product was going to Ethyl, so there was a lot of discussion about pricing and about DOW’s contributions to lower costs.

Ethyl Dow Lab (Monroe Shigley in center)

Ethyl Dow Lab (Monroe Shigley in far center)

To assist in those discussions someone, perhaps from Ethyl wanted to get “standard costs” for ethylene dibromide.  The job to get them fell on my shoulders. It was not simple; we had four units and two processes which operated at different efficiencies at a given seawater temperature.   All of the efficiencies varied with seawater temperature and the rates at which the units were operating.

Seawater temperatures varied from 30 degrees Centigrade in the late summer to about 10 degrees in the winter.  The higher the temperature, the higher the efficiency and the higher the rate, the lower the efficiency.  I had to unscramble those variables to arrive at “Standard costs”.

So I set up a matrix and went through many hundreds of calculations on a 20 inch slide rule.  I would take the work home at night and work until my eyes gave out, then start again the next day.  Finally I developed a “standard cost” curve plotting costs versus annual production.  This presumed optimum use of the several units running at optimum rates.  Other curves were prepared to adjust the standard curve for changes in raw materials and power.

Years later, after the bromine plant was expanded at Freeport, it was decided that my standard cost curve should be updated.  I was out of  Ethyl Dow by then and Bill Smith was given the job.  Computers were available by that time, so Bill put all of the basic data in a computer, pushed a button, and in almost no time produced figures which had taken me weeks to get.  The report was brought to me for review.  I could not pass judgment until I had picked a couple of conditions, calculated them as I had before and checked my figures against Bill’s.  They agreed.



I think this would have been in the late 1940’s or early 50’s.

Back to 1938 again, the use of tetraethyl lead for civilian and military use continued to accelerate and Ethyl was concerned whether they could get enough ethylene dibromide for it.  So we started looking for another plant site. From the work Joe Bayliss had done, it appeared that the Gulf Coast was a good place to start.

Two potential places were picked out for study, Corpus Christi and Freeport, TX.   I am not sure who picked them, perhaps E.O.Barstow who had overall responsibility for Dow’s inorganic production.  Barstow had been to both places, and Corpus Christi was his overwhelming choice, for seawater had higher salinity there and it was a nicer place to live.

Freeport was a little, rundown village; it had holes in the roads that Porter Hart said would have had bridges across them had they been in Michigan.

I sat in on many meetings where Willard Dow,  A.P. Beutel,  E.O. Barstow and Ivan Harlow debated the relative merits of the two sites for ethylene dibromide production. Bill Schambra and I did all of the economics for both sites.  Bill was my right hand in those days.  One day we were called into Barstow’s office where he gave us a real “dressing down”.  He though he remembered that we had once shown the cost at Corpus Christi to be more favorable than at Freeport, and accused us of doing a little pencil work to shade the figures in favor of Freeport, the strong choice of Dow and Beutel.

We must have convinced him that we would not have done such a thing, otherwise neither of us would have been around any longer.  Freeport was chosen. I went there several times taking water samples, sometimes alone, sometimes with Mr. Harlow.  We rented boats and went up and down the waterway and out in the gulf getting water at various depths, testing salinities with a special hydrometer.  Surface water tended to be diluted by overriding Brazos flow, but at depths below about ten feet salinities were generally about 85% of that at Kure Beach.

The initial concept was that Ethyl Dow would build the ethylene di-bromide plant and that Dow would construct facilities beside it to supply power, steam, ethylene, chlorine and caustic.  But as Beutel and Dow looked more closely at the location, there appeared to be greater opportunities than just supplying Ethyl-Dow.

There were nine or ten salt domes within a radius of 25 miles of Freeport, sulfur was being produced nearby, there was a deep-water port, a major river nearby, and cheap natural gas at one cent per thousand cubic feet.  It would have been a mistake to have chosen Corpus Christi.

As the Ethyl-Dow plant was being built in Freeport, it got to be a “tail on the dog” instead of the dog itself. Because of the advantages the Freeport location provided, Dow decided to produce other things, among them ethylene glycol, ethylene dichloride and magnesium from seawater.



I think so.  The consideration of Texas started with the need for expanded bromine production.  There was no mention of other products in the Willard Dow-Beutel-Barstow-Harlow debates about Freeport and Corpus Christi that I attended.  Those ideas came later, and suddenly we realized that there was much more going on across the fence than just supplying utilities for Ethyl Dow.



That is right. An effluent canal serving both plants was dug around Velasco to the Brazos River, which was a tidal estuary at that point. It was far more important for the bromine plant than for the magnesium.  The first Freeport bromine plant produced 45 million pounds of ethylene dibromide per year using gulf water at the rate of 200,000 gallons per minute, while the first magnesium plant rated at 12 million pounds per year needed only 2600 gallons per minute.



I think we were counting on Dow for ethylene.



It seems to me that we built an alcohol ethylene plant as a standby. We certainly needed it, for Dow’s ethylene plant was up and down.  In any case, the Freeport bromine plant was started up in late 1940 or early 1941 using the sulfur dioxide process, and it ran well.  It had one innovation; we removed the chlorine impurity from the condensed bromine by adding a small stream of hydrobromic/sulfuric acid to the steaming out condensers, eliminating the bromine still we had used at Kure Beach.

I was still in charge of both plants so I shuttled between them, spending a week or two at Kure Beach and a week or two at Freeport.  Henry Roebke was put in charge of the Freeport operation and Luther Evans was transferred from Kure Beach as part of his staff.  Glenn Cantwell became the man in charge at Kure Beach.  He had been involved with Kure Beach production since 1936 and before that had been the manager of Dow’s iodine plant in California.  He was a senior man, having been a part of the operation of the mustard gas plant in Midland during World War I.  He pitched for our plant softball team and acquired the nickname “Dizzy Dean”.



My move to Freeport came as a surprise. During a visit to Freeport in June, 1941, I was called to Dr. Beutel’s office.  He said that some of the Dow plants were having serious problems and that he had arranged for my transfer from Ethyl Dow to Dow immediately to help solve them. From earlier chats with friends I was aware that things were not going well across the fence.

There was a boron problem which had been partially solved, a cantankerous magnesium chloride shelf dryer which was limiting magnesium production and an ethylene plant which frequently broke down – and a 40 foot by 40 foot process storage tank tipped over.  A Dow mechanical engineer named George McGranahan was the first Manager of the Texas Division as it came to be known, but seemed to be making little progress in getting things under control.

So, much as he had done when the first Kure Beach construction got out of hand, Dr. Beutel came to Freeport to take charge.  McGranahan was made responsible for maintenance and engineering. Nelson Griswold was transferred from Cliffs-Dow to handle power and utilities, and I was moved from Ethyl Dow to be in charge of all operations.

The three of us would have the titles of Assistant Manager, and would be responsible to Beutel.  Beutel promised me an increase in salary, but insisted that I be on the job “a week from next Monday”.  That was only ten days away.  I called Mary that night, and she got busy arranging for movers and putting our Wilmington house on the market.  We had moved into town after our first daughter was born.  We and our two girls, ages 3-1/2 and 1 were on our way to Freeport within five days and I reported to Beutel on the appointed Monday.




Oral History – Howard Hewett – Part 1

The October-November “Pop-eyed” Mullet Run

Submitted by:  Howard Hewett,  Jones Creek, TX – August 20, 2014

Fishing Boat Breakers - CB

Click – for larger image

In late October early November, the fall Atlantic mullet run was a major food supply for the Hewett-Lewis family as far back as the establishment of the clan on Boones Neck (Shallotte River) in Brunswick County in the late 1700’s.  After moving to Federal Point, Uncle Crawford Lewis, my grandfather and my Dad maintained the family tradition of fishing.

Striped mullet are active schooling fish frequently seen jumping and clearing the water by more than three times their body length.  Some fish may be 24 inches in length.  Their jumping habits have earned them the nickname “jumping mullet.”  Because of their thick, fleshy eyelids, they are also called “pop-eyed” mullet.  This was the most common name used when referring to them by our family.

Striped “pop-eyed” mullet

Striped “pop-eyed” mullet

Striped “pop-eyed” mullet are native to North Carolina.  In October-November when it’s time to spawn, they move out of the bays and inlets, traveling along the shore on their way to off shore waters.  The spawning process normally occurs at night.  The female mullet can release from two to four million eggs per season.  A mature mullet can average one to three pounds.  The roe mullets in North Carolina may weigh as much as seven pounds.   And, of course, the roe is a fall delicacy.   Roe and grits are to die for!

During the mullet run, a family who could get a gill net around a school of mullet would be able to feed the family salted down mullet through the winter.   This fact made it imperative that when the opportunity arrived, the family needed to avail itself of a school of fish.

The story I want to relate took place before my tenth birthday (I think) just shortly after World War II.   I had often referred to the story as Dad’s “Can a Sunday mullet run be considered an “Ox in the Ditch”?  On the way home from church this November Sunday afternoon, Dad spotted a large school of mullet just outside the surf.  By the time we got home you could actually see this school up the beach from our front porch.  For a family to claim rights to a school fish, it was imperative that a spotter be placed along the shore opposite the fish.  So Dad sent me to claim ownership and to follow the school of mullet down the beach toward the house.

As I left the house, Mother and Dad were discussing the religious aspects of violating another family tradition by following what we practiced. The observance of the Sabbath as stated in Isaiah 58: 13-14.  “If you refrain from trampling the Sabbath, from pursuing your own interests on my holy day; if you call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable; it you honor it, not going your own way, serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs; then you shall take delight in the Lord.  And I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Jacob, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

As Dad and Mother continued the discussion about this strong Christian principle and maybe grandmother, Addie Jane, was consulted as well, Dad made preparations with Uncle Crawford to get the boat in position on the beach.  Now this did not take long because at this time of year, the boat and net was always ready.  As the story goes, Dad and Crawford decided that in this particular situation, there was a need to provide winter food for the family, so they decided that the New Testament passage in Luke 14:5 would be the guiding principle for that day.   As Jesus said, “If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on the Sabbath.”  The school of fish that I was following was massive and the water was black with fish.  When the wave would break, all you could see was large roe mullet.   It was one of those magnificent schools of mullet.

Other fishermen only approached me one time, but I was recognized as Curtis’ boy.  The only thing they said was “tell your Dad to holler if he and Crawford needed any help.”  I’ve often thought about how easy it was to project possession of a school of fish by having an 8 to 9 year-old represent ownership in the late 40’s.  There was respect for the rights of possession and there were no questions or challenges.  I wonder in today’s world if people in the same situation would allow someone so young to represent family ownership and show respect for an unwritten entitlement.

When I was within 100 yards, Dad waved to me to come and get in the boat.  The family boat was approximately 16-18 feet lapstreak with a high bow, high gunnels and a deck in the stern where the net was located.  The stern sloped from the gunnels to the rail with a more rounded shape.  It was a modified wine glass shape that was common to surf boats in the mid 1940-1950’s.  There were two seats for two oarsmen.

Seine Netting

Seine Netting

My job was to be sure the net fed out as we went around the school of mullet.  These nets were called gill nets or seine nets.  The net had a cork line on the top and a lead line on the bottom. It was approximately 8-10 feet in height.  Dad and Crawford’s net were approximately 100 yards long.  On this particular day, we had a 25-yard slue running along the beach with a bar that was about 50 yards across with the breakers pounding on the edge of the bar.

To get a boat across the slue, transverse the bar and cross the breaker required a great deal of skill and timing not only to get the boat outside the wave action but to arrive just in time along with the fish.   The action was never for the faint of heart.  When Uncle Crawford said “Let’s take her to sea, Curtis,” there was an adrenaline rush.   I can tell you that Dad and Crawford were bulls when it came to their oaring skills.   When the oars hit the water and they made their first pull your head would pop back and for every pull thereafter.

Fishing Nets on the Beach - Winner

Pulling Fishing Nets on the Beach Near the Winner Store & Bath House (click)

The staff on the beach end of the net was normally manned by another member of the family and beach goers who would work for a mess of fish.    As we crossed the bar, I would continue to maintain the net as it feed out over the stern and would be sure it did not get hung up on anything in the boat.  Once across the bar and seaward to the breaker creating a slight hook shape in the positioning of the net, we would pause to allow the fish to come to us.

Popeyed Mullet on Incoming Tide

Popeyed Mullet on Incoming Tide

On this occasion, Dad and Crawford discussed their concerns about the size of this school of mullet and the danger of damaging the net with all the pressure of thousands of pounds of fish.   The decision was made to cut through the middle of the school allowing some to escape seaward.   So we came back across the breakers with mullet jumping in the boat as well as across the boat.   This process also created an adrenaline rush.  Once ashore, we started pulling the staff back through the slue to the beach.   By this time, we may have had 25-30 volunteers, which enhanced our ability to get the net ashore.  The catch that day was several thousand pounds.  Volunteers got all the fish they wanted.   A large portion of the catch was sold to a fish house outside of Wilmington.

Grandmother was in charge of the family portion and preparing the mullet for salting.  Our saltbox was in one of the bedrooms at grandmother’s house.  It was two feet deep by three feet wide and about 6 feet long.   After that day’s catch, all the family had their saltboxes filled to the top with filleted mullet and roe.

Lesson learned that November day:  Only take what you need and do not waste resources.


Editor’s Note:

Relatives mentioned by the author:
Uncle Crawford Lewis, his Grandfather, and his Dad, Curtis Hewett

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

Howard Hewett – Oral Histories

Mullet mania: Diners who once shunned the lowly ‘bait fish’ are rediscovering its rich flavor and heart-healthy benefits
By Liz Biro – Star-News Correspondent, 2007

… and check the ‘Related Posts’ below

The Hewett Homes in Fort Fisher, NC

Submitted by:  Howard Hewett:  August 24, 2014

The last six pictures below show our home at 833 S. Fort Fisher Blvd over the years.   The house is still there today.

My Dad, Curtis Hewett, built our family house in 1932. I was born in 1939. This house was the family home until our move to Texas in 1956.

The first image is the nearby Fort Fisher gates. Photo by Louis T. Moore c. 1932.

The second image is of our beach-front home at 833 S. Fort Fisher Blvd – as viewed from my grandmother’s home which was located directly across the road.

The third picture is of my grandmother’s house, Addie Lewis Hewett Todd.  Her house was directly across the road from our family home. Years later her house was moved into Kure Beach.

[Click any image for larger view]
Davis Road to Fort Fisher Gates

Kure Beach: Davis Road down to Fort Fisher Gates
[Click – for detailed Google Map]

Looking from our house, toward the Fort Fisher Gates, Dad owned half way to the gates and Crawford Lewis owned up to the gates.

Looking north along Hwy 421, from the Fort Fisher gates up to Davis Road, there were 3 equal parcels that ran from the ocean, all the way across to the Cape Fear River.

Crawford Lewis at the gate, Hewett’s in the middle & the Davis’ down to Davis Road.


Oral History – Howard Hewett – Part 2

Fishing off Fort Fisher in a Small Boat – in the 1940s and 50s

Submitted: August 22, 2014
Text by:  Howard Hewett  –  Growing up on Federal Point, NC

NOAA Coast Chart - Snow's Cut to The Rocks

NOAA Nautical Coast Chart
Snow’s Cut to The Rocks

Fort Fisher Coquina

Fort Fisher Coquina

Fairly close to Fort Fisher, there are some rocks (coquina) that jut out into the Atlantic.  I never asked Dad if he knew how long they had been exposed, but they were one of my favorite places to surf fish for trout and bluefish in the fall.

There were times when I gigged flounder with Uncle Crawford Lewis in the same location.

About half a mile to a mile out to sea from these rocks, there were a number of the blockade-runner wrecks that sank, leading up to the final siege of Fort Fisher in early 1865.  The powder vessel is also in this area.

One of Dad’s favorite activities was taking summer guests (men only) out to fish over these wrecks.   Now, this was not for the faint of heart, although it was truly an adventure.  You see, Dad’s choice of boats for these trips was about 12 foot in length, really no more than a small rowboat.

I was allowed to sit in the bow and the one guest would sit in the stern.  Dad would sit in the middle and do the rowing.

Fishing Boat Breakers - CB

Click – for larger image

Now, the trick would be to row across the bar and wait for the breakers to come to a lull, and then Dad would head to sea before the next wave broke on the bar.

Then he would row out to the wreck and we would fish.  Dad’s GPS system for locating these spots was pretty basic.  He would line up the Fort Fisher Monument and the Kure Beach water tank.

On one of the wrecks farther out he would line up the Monument and the Breakers Hotel at Wilmington Beach (current location of the ‘Sea Colony’ at Ocean Blvd. and 421 in Carolina Beach).

Fishing in a small boat in the open Atlantic was sometimes more than our guest’s stomach could manage.  It was not unusual for our guest to lose his breakfast.  Uncle Bubba Roebuck, (LTJG “Buck” Roebuck), liked to join us on these adventures, but I think he always got sick.

Our fishing tackle was low-tech.  We used a drop lines with only a couple of hooks and a sinker.  No fancy tackle!  Our boat anchor was also not high-tech.

Dad would put some bricks in a burlap sack.  After we had caught enough fish for dinner, we would prepare to head toward shore.  He would remove the bricks from the sack, put the fish in the sack, tie a cork to the rope and then tie the rope to the boat.  All this just in case we turned over crossing the breakers.

The return from one of these fishing adventures was also quite a trick.  Dad would sit just outside the breakers until he decided which wave to follow into shore.

Over the WavesCatching the wave was something like the technique used in surfboarding.  The only difference being that you rode the crest on the backside of the wave and maintained your position by rowing forward to stay up or place your oars deep in the water to create drag so you do not go over the crest of the wave.

I can tell you that when the waves are big, doing this will get your heart rate up, a real adrenaline rush!  The men in the Hewett-Lewis family were skilled boatmen dating back to their whaling days.

Lapstreak Boat Closeup


Footnote on our boat:  I am sure there were boats that I do not remember, but the boat I remember well was built somewhere around 1948-1950.  I watched Dad build it in the garage.  It was made of cypress and was a lapstreak with a “V” bow.

The gunnels probably were not more than 2 feet high.  I remember Dad laying the keel and the stem.  The stem was shaped with a draw knife. (Dad’s draw knife is in my tool cabinet today and I have used it many times in my duck carving.)

After the stem, keel, ribs and stern board were in place, the sides were installed.  The bottom and bench were the last to be put into place.  The boat had a great shape and was easy to get into the water.  In the early 1950s, I was allowed to take it by myself and go out beyond the breakers to fish.  At that time I learned the technique of crossing the bar and riding a wave on the return trip.

Fishing off Fort Fisher- Hewett House & Boat - Kure Beach

Hewett Family House and Boat
1 block north of Fort Fisher Gate

This photo is the Hewett’s family home, one block north of the Fort Fisher Gate, and the boat in the foreground was the one used in most of our fishing trips.









Oral History – Joseph Ryder Lewis Jr. – Part 5

Interviewed by Ann Hertzler and Jeannie Gordon

The Hermit and the Buffer Zone

Ft Fisher Hermit

Fort Fisher Hermit

We’ve been down there [Kure Beach] some times, but we certainly had nothing to do with the Hermit. The Hermit would get a ride to Carolina Beach and go to the grocery store, and he’d be standing out there on the highway, trying to get a ride back. There weren’t many people…I wouldn’t even let him in the back of my truck. That’s how close I was to the Hermit.

The highway used to go out further. There was a big mound on the front of Ft. Fisher that finally got washed away and they had to move the road back to where it is now.

The buffer zone was for Sunny Point. It was where ammunition went in. I think they drew a three-mile limit around it. That’s what they took as the buffer zone. And people that were living on the river, at that point in time, were forced to move out. The old church that we had down there had to go. I think it was around ’57 or the early 60’s.

Corps of EngineersWhen I went to work for the Corp in ’52, we’d never heard of an environmentalist. They didn’t even exist. When I first started out we were actually doing construction for the Army in ‘52 in various places. We got into river basin studies and that’s where we were working with river basins. To see where you could build a dam that would be a value as far as retaining flood waters, releasing minimum water during drought periods.

Joseph Ryder Lewis, Jr.

Joseph Ryder Lewis, Jr.

When I came back to Wilmington in ’57, we were doing river basin studies and the Wilmington District, at that time, the Wilmington District was pretty well confined to river basins. Here in NC, the Wilmington District, the lower limit was the Cape Fear River and the upper limit was the Roanoke River, which is right up against the Virginia line. We were evaluating the river basins in that area.

Evaluating the Cape Fear River basin and the Neuse River basin, we finally built two dams that I helped work on.

When I was growing up, it was perfectly proper to dredge and use the dirt to fill in a swamp area. That’s illegal today. So, one of my environmentalist friends referred to me as the Dam Engineer. He said the only thing I wanted to do is build dams. When I retired, I said, well, when we start having water shortages east of the Mississippi River, it’s not because we don’t have water, it’s because we refused to develop reservoir sites to hold flood water.

Oral History – Joseph Ryder Lewis Jr. – Part 4

Interviewed by Ann Hertzler and Jeannie Gordon

The 1940s – 1950s

As I grew up, they built two cottages next to our house and in the summertime, she [mother] did a lot of boarding, too. She’d fix meals for people who were working. So we did a lot of boarding and a lot of renting rooms in the summertime. Then about 1940, there were six cottages built just below us, two on the road, then two, then two, back towards the woods. My parents bought them. At the beginning of the War the tourists weren’t coming down here much so the folks that had them built sold ‘em to us.

Joseph Ryder Lewis, Jr.

Joseph Ryder Lewis, Jr.

When the shipyard started in Wilmington and the military came down here, you couldn’t find a place to live, period. This place was very crowded and so little ole cottages were even rented during the winter. There was a camp down here. A camp down at Ft. Fisher and there was one right back over just beyond Cape Fear Blvd. There was a big one back there. It was just a summer camp. It was there just during the war, let’s put it that way. And after the War, there were a lot of the old barracks that were moved various places and there’s still some old barracks on this island that people live in.

Ethyl-Dow Plant, Kure Beach

Ethyl-Dow Plant, Kure Beach

After I got out of high school, I worked the summer at the Ethel Dow Plant until about a month before my birthday came along. I got terribly sick one night. My oldest sister took me to James Walker Hospital and they wouldn’t even let me come back home. They said he has an attack of acute appendicitis and we’ve got to take it out. So they took my appendix out.

OK. Well, to volunteer for the Navy, you had to get a physical prior to turning 18.

I had to go to Raleigh to get it. When I got to Raleigh, the doctor said you need to go back home and recuperate from that operation more. So, I had turned 18, shortly thereafter, I had to go sign up for the draft. And it was March of ’45, they drafted me into the Army. I’m about as young a World War II veteran as there is. I was sent to the Pacific. And they put us on a troop ship and sent us to the Pacific.

Corps of EngineersI graduated from State in ’52, went to work for the Corps of Engineers in Savannah, Georgia, and I went to the Jacksonville District and worked down there for 6 months, Corp of Engineers. I left the Corp and came to Polk Air Force Base and worked there about 2 years. At that time, just my mother and father were in the house and my father was sick. And I was trying to get back, close to Wilmington. I was still single, and it was 1957 before I got back. Was transferred to Wilmington with the Corp of Engineers. And I was single and I stayed right with my parents, to help them.

My dad passed away but my mother was still in the house and I stayed there with her until I fell from grace in 1966 and married a young Vietnam War widow who had 3 little girls. And then that’s when we moved to Pine Valley. I was still working for the Corps during that time. And then we had 2 little girls, and I had a female dog in the back yard and I said, My Lord, change the recipe and with all these girls, we’d better quit.

And so with 5 girls and a female dog, I had to be a benevolent dictator.

Oral History – Joseph Ryder Lewis Jr. – Part 3

Interviewed by Ann Hertzler and Jeannie Gordon

School Years: 1930s – June, 1944

When I first started to school, we were living over here on the highway; and there was no school down here.

Joseph Ryder Lewis, Jr.

Joseph Ryder Lewis, Jr.

There had previously been one down there somewhere, close to where Dow Plant used to be. That was before my time.

But it was gone when I came along.  Mrs. Hines, I think, she was a teacher over there. That’s the Mrs. Hines of the Senior Center.

My first five years of school I had to ride a school bus to Myrtle Grove. That’s up on the Sound about 5 or 6 miles. When I was getting ready for 6th grade, Carolina Beach was supposed to have a new school built, completed and ready to occupy when I started my 6th grade. But they hadn’t completed it, so we had to go on the Boardwalk to the Old City Hall, with a two-room operation. That was 1937-38, I think. It was a one through six. Two rooms, so in one room was 4, 5 and 6; the other room was 1, 2 and 3. The 7th grade, I was bused to Winter Park Grade School. The 8th grade, I was bused to Tileston in Wilmington.

Carolina Beach School 1937-38 year

Carolina Beach School – Class of 1937-1938
Grades 4, 5, 6.
[Click for larger image – and student names]

I’ll tell you what, if you got in trouble at school, you could get a ruler on  your hand and slap it. The teacher would do that …that was about the easiest thing they punished you with. Back in those days, too, if they found out at home, instead of them getting after the teacher or the school department, you got another one.

One interesting thing was when we were in the 6th grade at that school on the Boardwalk. The boardwalk right in front of that building was wood, wasn’t concrete like it is now, with cracks in it. Well, at break time we would go look down through these cracks and you’d see money down there, quite often. We would get a piece of bubble gum and stick it on a long handle stick and stick it down there to get that money. And then we would go to Mr. Cliff Smith’s store down on the corner and get us an extra snack.

And at that point in time, you could get under the boardwalk on the front. It was hunting money by just walking along the edge of the shore, on the beach. You can’t find coins today, I don’t know why it’s gone, I don’t think there’s much of it there today, but you could go along there and there were coins laying there and you’d just pick ‘em up.

School Bus 1930's

School Bus 1930’s

I wasn’t in basketball or baseball or football. I wasn’t in any of it. And one reason was that you had to ride the school bus to school and up in Wilmington, if you didn’t ride that school bus back home in the afternoon, how would you get home? See, New Hanover High School is in the 14 or 1500 block and we could walk down to 3rd street and it wasn’t too bad to get a ride with some men who lived down here but worked in Wilmington. And they would be coming home and pick you up.

I got along very well in high school. But I graduated in June of ’44, had gone through 12 grades, and I was 17 years old. My birthday is the latter part of October, so see I wouldn’t be 18 until the latter part of October. You had to register for the draft when you turned 18 and you could join the Marine Corp or the Army, but you couldn’t join the Navy after you turned 18. You could up until you turned 18, so I was going to join the Navy just before I turned 18, as a volunteer.


Oral History – Joseph Ryder Lewis Jr. – Part 2

Interviewed by Ann Hertzler and Jeannie Gordon

My daddy had the house built from his World War II bonus or something. I think it was a $1000 and that pretty well closed the house in. So I was probably 2 or 3 years old when we actually moved into the house. That was part of the Lewis estate. My grandparents, on the Lewis side, deeded out parcels of land to their various children.

Their main activity was farming or fishing. And right across the street [from the History Center] was the main garden area, up until the middle 50’s or so, and now, when I got hold of it, it was classified as wetlands. Couldn’t do anything on it. But it used to be main farmland over there. Sweet potatoes were very important, a very important crop. Collards, a very important crop. They had watermelon patches, they had soy beans and they had other things for the animals.

Joseph Ryder Lewis, Jr.

Joseph Ryder Lewis, Jr.

Where we were living, out on the highway, was not in the town of Carolina Beach. The town of Carolina Beach started at the first street that goes across from St. Joseph Street. That went up there to that nursing home. That was the northern end of Carolina Beach.

My parents would not allow my brother and I, who was a couple years younger than I am, to go down there and roam around that beach, or to go up on the Boardwalk. That’s when we were young, unless we were escorted. You see, a lot of this stuff that went on, well like, Jimmy Davis and Milton Warwick, who came along later than I did, they were right there in town where they were involved in everything. I was in the country. And we had a big garden out back of our house, pole beans, sweet potatoes, pig pen. We had hogs, milk goats and milk cows and we did have a nanny goat.

The house that my grandparents lived in, I became the owner of it much later, but it was down where that first development is, just this side of the movie theater…Carolina Beach Village, isn’t it? All right, the first house there, as you drive in there, to the left, would have been right on the grounds where my grandparent’s home was. The sound was there, but at low tide you could not float a boat. You could walk out in the mud if you wanted to, but you might be up to your knees or further in the mud. There was no water. Eventually, the first thing that was dredged was a little 80 ft. canal on the other side and the fill dirt from that was used to help build Canal Drive. This was not made into a nice waterway area until about the late 50’s or whenever the town of Carolina Beach had the first berm project, planned on good sand underneath that mud out there. They dredged it out.


I don’t remember when we got power. I was probably 6 or 7 years old, or a little older, when we got electricity along there. We finally got a well with an electric pump on it. But we had the outhouse as long as I was growing up.

We had chickens. I remember one time Mom said, “that old rooster out there is getting after your baby sister, I want you boys, me and my brother, to kill that thing. We’re going to eat him Sunday. Well, we’d killed chickens before, but the way we did it was you had to hold the chicken with his head on a piece of wood and the other would chop his head off. You’d get blood on you and all that kind of stuff. Well, we’d seen some of these older people take one and wring his neck. We decided we were gonna wring his neck. So we did it. But the point was we just swung him around and when we finally turned him loose, he just started wobbling on off. Then we had to go catch him again and kill him the way we normally would have.

You didn’t take a bath every day, and a lot of times, one of the good times to take a bath was when my mother was washing clothes out in the backyard. We had an old iron pot out there, you had fire around it. That’s where you got hot water and that’s where the clothes were put in to clean them. And then you took them out and put them in these tubs for rinsing. Well, a lot of times we got our bath in there.

We had a little ole scooter, we got that for Christmas one time, and that was a big deal, just a little ole tiny two-wheeled scooter that we could ride on the highway—traffic was very, very little.

We did get to swim a little bit in the ocean and my daddy and my brother and I did a lot of floundering. But it was at night. He had a gasoline lantern, and we would go over to the river. There were plenty of places you could go to the river back then, Sugar Loaf was one of them. Just drive right there. And you’d go at low tide and the wind had to be the right way for you to do it. And you’d walk right along the edge of the water. The flounder would be bedded up right in the edge of the water and the only thing you’d see is his eyes. But that’s the way we did our main fishing, and we did a lot of that floundering. You had a gig and you stuck it through ‘em and then you took your hand and put it underneath and brought him up and put him on a string or line and we’d just drag them in the water behind us.

Oral History – Joseph Ryder Lewis Jr. – Part 1

Interviewed by Ann Hertzler and Jeannie Gordon

Joseph Ryder Lewis, Jr.

Joseph Ryder Lewis, Jr.

I’m not called by my first name because…you don’t remember the famous black boxer we had, Joe Lewis. I went through high school and always down here, as Ryder. As soon as I got in the military, they go by your first name, middle initial, so Joseph R. Lewis becomes Joe Lewis right quick.

When I got out of the military, and spent my career with the Corps of Engineers, that is an Army outfit. When I came back to Wilmington in ’57, it was Joe Lewis at that office. But it was still Ryder Lewis down here. Somebody might call from down here, up at the office and want to speak with Ryder Lewis and they’d say, we don’t have anybody by the name. Or somebody might come from there, down to here, oh well, we have a Joe Lewis who lives at Carolina Beach. I know you all know him. They don’t know him. It took about a year or so before enough people knew…

 My grandparents lived down here, on the Lewis side, and bought about 150 acres of land in 1907, or somewhere along there. And the deed says they paid $400 for it and it was in the woods, in the jungle. Right where our house was, was in the woods.

They deeded out quite a bit of it to their different children. But when they died, there was still 30 or 40 acres of it that had not ever been distributed. And furthermore, I’m one of the few people in a big family that was able to go to college and get a good job. But, when I started to work with the Corps as a graduate engineer, in 1952, my annual salary was $3,410 a year!

Hazel came along and did some pretty good damage here and that was in ’54 and I was working in Savannah, Georgia, with the Corps at that point in time. My uncle was an old carpenter and a fisherman, he didn’t have much of anything and his wife was very sick and he tried to sell this place. Tried before and after Hazel and nobody would buy it. I told Uncle Henry, in 1955, I said, “Uncle Henry, I will buy that property from you for what you were asking for it before Hazel came and keep it in the family, if you’ll let me pay you $500 every 6 months plus 6% interest, until I get it paid for.” Well, $500, back in 1955, [was a lot of money] for somebody who didn’t have any money and a sick wife, and he said that would be fine. So he sold it to me. When I made the last payment, he wrote on the deed of trust, “paid in full and satisfied.”

It was just like a jungle. And, I had it surveyed after I started doing a little something here. The original survey called for seven and a half acres. The thing about it was, it went out into the Sound area a hundred or more feet, I couldn’t claim that, so I actually wound up with about six acres or something like that.

The old shopping center down here, coming from 421 all the way to St. Joseph’s Street belonged to two aunts. One of the aunts had the old, original Lewis home and she had no income. She was an old maid and the county was giving her something like $30 a month and putting a lease on the property. So I told Aunt Rose that I’ll buy that place, I’ll take your house, and I’ll pay off that lease and I’ll put lights, electricity in the house, which they didn’t have, and I’ll take care of you as long as you live if you’ll deed this property to me. Well, she trusted me enough, she did it. So that was about 8 acres.

The other aunt, she had 8 or 9 acres on out to the highway. I got hers in a similar way. I bought it. And, that’s the way I got started in getting some of the Lewis property. Then they were getting close to building that bridge up here and they moved the highway over some and they got on Lewis property. A good bit of it was on undivided property. So they wanted the Lewis family to come up with one person to deal with the state. Well, all my old uncles and aunts and my old cousins agreed that I should be the one to represent them. So I did.

By the way, I was the only one among my uncles and aunts, and cousins that had a good job. Back in those days. And I was paying property taxes each year on the undivided portions of the estate. After we settled with the state, then a few of my uncles that were left, they said that somebody ought to be in charge of this undivided part of the property anyway. Because a good bit of it was behind somebody else. Anyway, it wound up that all my uncles and aunts and cousins, except 3 cousins, agreed that … Well, I made a proposal to each one of them, and they agreed, except 3 held out on me, and that put me at about 30 or 40 more acres.

Property for Proposed Ryder Lewis Park

Property for Proposed Ryder Lewis Park

Property tax went up and I finally told those three, I said that the time has come for you to buy, to sell, or let’s divide it. I’m not going to pay property tax on the undivided Lewis estate anymore unless I have the title to it. So they said let’s divide it. I said OK. I’ll have it surveyed and have a map drawn. You can pay your portion of that. They agreed to that. After I had the map drawn, I turned the map over to them and I said OK, you tell me how to divide it. And the thing about it was there were about 14 acres down at this area, mostly behind somebody else, and then it was split completely and then it was another 15 acres in between people.

Town of Carolina Beach Property -- Proposed Ryder Lewis Park

Town of Carolina Beach Property — Proposed Ryder Lewis Park

I gave the town a little over 10 acres of land, that most of it was classified as wet land, and I thought they were going to make a park area. But they wound up, it’s only a 100 ft. on the highway and goes back 400 ft., over 10 acres, donated it.

That area is where they put those ugly ponds out there on the highway. I didn’t give it to them for that, either. The mayor at that point in time, Ray Rothrock, he was interested in having another possible site for a well, on the east side of 421. And that’s another reason why I went ahead and donated it.



Ann Hertzler Memorial Oral History Fund Established

Ann Hertzler

Dr. Ann Hertzler

In memory of long-time member, Dr. Ann Hertzler, we have established a special memorial fund to purchase equipment and materials to continue the Oral History projects she was so instrumental in establishing.

Dr. Ann Atherton Hertzler was Professor of Human Nutrition, Foods and Exercise at Virginia Tech, from 1980-2001. She retired as Professor Emeritus of Nutrition in 2001. She then moved to Kure Beach to live near the ocean which she had come to love during her Fulbright year in Australia.

Her awards included recognitions from Penn State, the American Dietetic Association, and as a Fulbright Scholar to Australia. Among her research interests was Nutrition Education for Children.

In 2005 Virginia Tech established the Ann Hertzler Children’s Cookbook and Nutrition Literature Collection. Her initial donation of publications dating from 1910 has grown to nearly 400 items.

In retirement Ann was an active volunteer at the Latimer House and the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center, along with her work with the Federal Point Historic Preservation Society. She was also the editor for Modern Recipes from Historic Wilmington published by the Historical Society of the Lower Cape Fear in 2003.