by Rebecca Taylor
The Freeman Heirs
In July 1902, Robert Bruce Freeman Jr., appeared in the New Hanover County Clerk of Court’s Office bearing his father’s will for probate.
The surviving children (all sons) from Robert Bruce’s first marriage inherited most of the Old Homestead. Robert Bruce, Jr., Archie, Rowland, Nathan, and Ellis received fifty-seven acres each.
Dulcia, the widow of Robert and Catherine’s son, Daniel Freeman, were granted lifetime rights in fifty-seven acres of the Old Homestead. Thereafter, the property was to be divided equally between Daniel and Dulcia’s children, Ida and Hattie. Lena was also given fifty-seven acres of the Old Homestead.
Lena’s children were to “share and share alike” with Catherine’s children in all the lands outside of the Old Homestead while Lena’s children were not included in the Old Homestead division.”
Unfortunately, the vagueness of the bequest to Lena’s children would haunt the family into the 21st Century. As early as 1914 “the court appointed a Board of Commissioners to determine the boundaries for each tract. They decided that the tracts would run west to east, from the Cape Fear River to the Atlantic Ocean. This gave each heir access to the river, sound, ocean, and soil suitable for cultivation.”
After Robert Bruce, Jr.’s death, Ellis Freeman, youngest son by his first marriage, took over management of the family lands. “He obtained a $50,000 government permit to sell yellow granite, and created a profitable business carrying people out on the ocean fishing.”
The Beginning of Carolina Beach
In the 1880’s Freeman gave Captain John Harper, owner of the steamer Wilmington and a partner in the New Hanover Transit Company, the right of way to build a railroad through his property at Carolina Beach in exchange for free train passes for the black people of the area.
On March 11, 1887, W. L. Smith, Jr. bought a strip of land comprised of 24 acres for the amount of $66.50. These acres were between the head of Myrtle Grove Sound and the ocean beach. Today this land is located in the heart of the business district of the Town of Carolina Beach.
The following year, 1888, the New Hanover Transit Company sponsored a free excursion to Carolina Beach for indigent and infirmed colored people in Wilmington. About five hundred people took the trip including church members from St. Stephen, St. Luke, St. Mark, Mount Olive, Central Baptist and Chestnut Street Presbyterian churches.
In 1913, the Freeman heirs financed Alexander W. Pate and Joseph Laughlin a large tract with boundaries running from the end of the “old road bed of the New Hanover Transit Company’s railroad” to about 5,000 feet south of Sugar Loaf and then over to the beach.
In the early 1920’s, Ellis Freeman, one of Robert, Sr.’s heirs, sold the first lots on the Seabreeze tract with full right of ingress and egress to and over any and all portion of the sea beach east of and across Myrtle Grove Sound.
Seabreeze managed to promote black ownership of recreational property and businesses – something other black beaches in the country had been unsuccessful in doing in spite of well-organized attempts.”
The first beach structure called “Seabreeze” was built in 1922. It was about the time of the great boom in beachfront development. It was also a time of resurgent black pride and enterprise, the era of the Harlem Renaissance.
Tom and Victoria Lofton, a prominent black couple from Wilmington, completed construction on the Russell Hotel, a twenty-five room, three-story hotel, restaurant and dance hall. Peter Simpson and his wife opened Simpson’s Hotel and development began to spring up all around.
The Harlem-based, syndicated black columnist Geraldyne Dismond reported, to her surprise, cottages that resembled a “transplanted Seventh Avenue tea room, swank…bungalows and a sporting crowd dressed in linen suits and driving roadsters.”
In the spring of 1929, the Wilmington Star reported that at Seabreeze, the Negro resort, a new hotel is under construction.
According to residents of that section it will greatly facilitate the housing problem there during the season and an increase of the number of Negroes visiting this section is expected to result from the construction program.
Then by February 1930 the Tide Water Power Company was extending poles from Wilmington to Seabreeze. And, by July of 1931 the Wilmington News was reporting that the North Carolina Negro Insurance Association held its annual convention at Seabreeze with speakers from Durham, Winston-Salem, Charlotte as well as smaller towns.