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History Walking and Haunted Cotton Exchange Tours.
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Friday, April 6, 2012

Plank Roads

To bring wealth and awake their state from its supposed economic slumber in the antebellum era, North Carolinians advocated the use of plank roads in the late 1840s.  These wooded highways were purported to be an improvement over rough, dirt roads and a necessary step to create an intrastate (an eventually interstate) trade network of plank roads, railroad hubs, and seaports.  Such an effort was considered much needed, as one historians puts its, because plank roads could free “citizens from the bondage of primitive roads.”

During the late 1840s, entrepreneurs started receiving government charters to build plank roads, and by the mid-1850s, enthusiasm for such projects reached its statewide zenith; there were thirty-nine bills for plank road charters in 1852, and in the 1854-55 legislative session, thirty-two charters were granted.

Support for plank roads usually divided along partisan lines: almost three-fourths of Whigs supported their construction and about the same number of Democrats opposed them.  The plank road movement created spirituous debate and devolved, at times, into character assassination.  As evidenced by one Democrat’s letter to Fayetteville Observer, plank roads symbolized much more than internal improvements: “You [Whigs] is always makin fun of the democrats and hard shel Baptusts.  Case the sertain ways for themselves and case they bleve in the lord and do kist rite and case you hi floun whigs gits licked every onse and a while your awai a maikin things on us to try and injur our Karecktors.”

Except in a few cases, the charter process was similar for plank road companies.  The first step was the election of officers.  Providing detailed construction plans was the second.  The third was soliciting and acquiring subscriptions—the money given by investors for construction costs.  When the starting amount was raised (which varied by law from ten to twenty-five percent of the total expected cost of the road), stockholders convened to elect six to nine directors, who were then given control of subscription money.  Soon afterward, directed by a board and president with the power and privilege of property rights, the companies were incorporated.

Many North Carolinians were excited about the possibilities of plank road construction.  According to one historian, “the spirit of progress was everywhere” in the state.  Those in the mountains hoped plank roads connected them with the rest of the state, so they could benefit from increased trade.  Those in coastal towns, such as Wilmington, envisioned the plank roads leading to and from the ports and contributing greatly to an intrastate trade network.  From the mountains to the coast, and everywhere in between, entrepreneurs forecasted profits and consumers anticipated quicker shipments of needed goods.

At times, however, the logistics of road construction produced contentious debate.  The right of eminent domain was invoked to take individual’s land and some alleged that government officials and plank road officers colluded for personal gain.

Once construction began, public enthusiasm waned.  The development was not for those lacking heart or brawn.  People realized road construction was an arduous task, requiring more effort, money, and maintenance than previously thought.  Workers first graded a roadbed.  Then they elevated the center of the road so that water could drain.  Measuring approximately five by eight feet, wooden sills were laid next as support.  After that, pine planks measuring approximately eight feet long and eight inches wide and four inches thick were laid on top of the sills.  Laws required the roads to be a minimum of eight feet and a maximum of sixty feet, and typically plank roads were eight feet wide and adjacent to a well-graded dirt road.  Avoiding getting stuck in the mud, teamsters traveled on the planks, while individuals and light carriages passed on the dirt road.

To help pay for this construction, companies placed toll houses along the road.  On one road, one rider on horseback paid .5 cent per mile, a teamster with two horses paid 2 cents per mile, a teamster with three horses, 3 cents, and one with six horses, 4 cents.  Believing the companies to be “cheeters,” some avoided the tolls and cheated the companies out of a significant profit.

As with any type of construction, the skill and speed of work crews, the accessibility of raw materials, and the weather determined the time needed to build a road.  A team of fifteen usually laid 650 feet a day, or about one mile a week, or forty miles a year.  One crew of fifteen, however, put down an impressive 1,000 feet a day (more than a third and almost twice as fast as the average crew).  

In the 1850s approximately 500 miles of plank road were laid in North Carolina.  The longest plank road was the Fayetteville and Western, which stretched 129 miles from Fayetteville to Salem.  It was one of the few that received state financial assistance.  Each year the Fayetteville and Western made a profit, and in turn, the state revenue grew.  Many government officials, such as Jonathan Worth of Randolph County and Francis Fries of Salem, also served as company officers.

Scholars suggest that plank roads were doomed from the start.  First, they competed with railroads, a faster mode of transportation.  Also, the timing of plank road construction was bad; in 1856 the North Carolina Railroad connected the mountains with the coast.  Second, travelers cheated road companies by avoiding tolls.  Third, the economic panics of the 1850s discouraged many investors.  Fourth, plank roads required continual and costly maintenance.  And fifth, the circumstances of the Civil War damaged or destroyed many plank roads.

Although the plank road movement was described as a failure, historians consider it an important development that rescued the state from its “slothful” economic condition.  More scholarship needs to be done, however, to determine that the failure of the plank road movement was “inevitable,” and if the Tar Heel state was indeed economically inactive.

Robert B. Starling, “The Plank Road Movement in North Carolina” North Carolina Historical Review (1939) 16: 1-22, 147-73 and Harry L. Watson, “’Old Rip’ and a New Era” in Lindley S. Butler and Alan D. Watson, eds., The North Carolina Experience: An Interpretive and Documentary History, 217-40.
By Troy L. KicklerNorth Carolina History Project

Robert B. Starling, “The Plank Road Movement in North Carolina” North Carolina Historical Review (1939) 16: 1-22, 147-73 and Harry L. Watson, “’Old Rip’ and a New Era” in Lindley S. Butler and Alan D. Watson, eds., The North Carolina Experience: An Interpretive and Documentary History, 217-40.
By Troy L. KicklerNorth Carolina History Project

Thursday, March 29, 2012

History of Business in North Carolina — Overview

    This is the historic and economic story of the Old North State, from Colonial times to the 21st Century. The early history of business in North Carolina is much more complex and developed than has previously been reported. This lack of recognition could have been caused by relatively few surviving journalistic publications of the period and the disruption caused by the Civil War.
This site will provide detailed histories of industries (click for specific industries) and individual businesses, as well as biographical entries on some of the major business leaders in North Carolina.
(Note: We have started the research in the antebellum period, which requires the most research, and will add information on later periods as we have time.)
   North Carolina began as an agricultural colony and state. One problem affecting commerce through the 17th and early 18th centuries was the limited transportation, with much of the state's products having to travel down river through Charleston and South Carolina or through Virginia.

Early Industries

   Examples of early rural industries included wagon making, grist mills, cotton gins, saw mills, cane mills, cabinet/furniture making and much more. 

  In 1790, North Carolina ranked third in population in the U.S., but steadily slipped to fifth place by 1820. The population basically stayed level until 1840 due to ongoing emigration from the state to new states. In 1810, the state was one of the leading industrial states, outranking Massachusetts. But reliance on agriculture, closing of British ports and economic malaise caused the state to drop well down the industrial list by 1830.
For example, a great depression set in prices for North Carolina products during the 1820s and early 1830s. The loss of West Indies trade has lessened demand for lumber and heavy British taxation on tobacco depressed that market. North Carolina cotton began feeling the impact of new cotton fields in Gulf Coast states.
 Poor transportation exacerbated the problems. Few navigable rivers and little road building had the state and residents at a serious disadvantage.

Source: www.historync.org

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Tour Group Discounts

Coming to Visit Historic Wilmington, North Carolina this summer? Tour Group Discounts. 5 Star Story Tellers!

Always a good Day for a Haunted Cotton Exchange or a History Walking Tour!
Group Discounts with 10 or more, age 12 and under FREE with adult.  Great for bus tours groups, clubs,schools, family reunions, company outings, fund raisers..
Fun for the whole family!
Call for Tour Times
Call 910-409-4300

Saturday, March 17, 2012

St. James Church

St. James Church

Corner of Third and Market Streets houses a famous painting of the head of Christ. Ecce Horno, “Behold the Man, “which is estimated to be over 500 years old. A portrait of Christ with a crown of thorns on his head and blood on his face and body.  The painting was captured from a Spanish pirate ship in 1748 at a settlement on the Cape Fear River twenty miles below Wilmington.  The artist who painted the portrait is unknown, although it is thought to be Francisco Pacheon, who lived in Spain in the sixteenth century.

Source: A Pictorial History of Wilmington by Anne Russell

St. James Episcopal Church was established in the year 1729. Proceeds from the sale of goods that had been salvaged from the Fortuna, a Spanish ship that was abandoned after the Spanish had an unsuccessful attack on Wilmington, went to the construction of St. James and its sister church, St. Philip's Church. The original church building for St. James was built and completed in 1770. The church took on a vital role in the American Revolutionary War. British General Lord Cornwallis took up residency in a house across the street from St. James. The British used St. James as a hospital, and later as a riding school to train the British soldiers. The church was torn down and rebuilt in 1839, the new building constructed from the original bricks of the church. Architect Thomas U. Walter, who designed the dome of the United States Capitol, designed the new church building. St. James, yet again, found itself taking a role in war. In the American Civil War, the church was used as a hospital for Union soldiers, who had at the time taken the confederate city of Wilmington after the fall of Fort Fisher. The church's parish house was built in 1923. Next to the parish house was a house built by Henry Bacon, the architect of the Lincoln Memorial in 1901. The Bacon house later became church offices. The church is the resting place of three Episcopal Bishops, Robert Strange, Thomas Atkinson, and Thomas H. Wright, who are buried underneath the church.[2][3]
Church interior
St. James Episcopal Church's oak altar and reredos were carved by Silas McBee, depicting the Nativity, Crucifixion, and Resurrection of Jesus. McBee also designed the Bishop's chair and two of the stained glass windows, imcluding The Resurrection of Christ.
Ecce Homo
A painting of Christ was found in the captain's cabin of the Fortuna by scavengers when being salvaged. The painting turned out to have been done by Spanish artist Francisco Pacheco, and was named Ecce Homo, Latin for Behold the Man. The painting was given to St. James Episcopal Church in 1751, and still resides in the church.[4]
Notable burials
The historic graveyard at St. James has many notable burials.[5] These burials include:
1.                           ^ http://www.stjamesp.org/refresh/templates/about.php?id=3
3.                           ^ http://www.stjamesp.org/refresh/templates/about.php?id=4

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Kenan Fountain
Market Street & Fifth Avenue

An architectural gem, the Kenan Memorial Fountain was erected in 1921 in the middle of the large intersection of Fifth Avenue and Market Street. Wilmington native, William Rand Kenan, Jr., gave the fountain to the city to memorialize his parents, William Rand and Mary Hargrave Kenan.  Carrere and Hastings of New York, a respected architectural firm that designed the New York Public Library, drew the plans for the fountain.  It was made out of Indiana limestone and cost $43,000.   The fountain was sculpted in New York, then dismantled and shipped to Wilmington where it was rebuilt.

When Mr. Kenan gave the fountain to the city most residents still walked or took a streetcar. However, some pessimistic citizens predicted that it would become a traffic hazard.  Their forecast came true as the city grew and automobiles became a preferred mode of transportation.  

 Source: A Pictorial History of Wilmington by Anne Russell
To purchase the book please visit the Two Sisters Bookery @ the Cotton Exchange in Wilmington NC

Thursday, February 2, 2012

History of Wilmington NC

According to the Julian calendar, Wilmington, North Carolina, was incorporated in 1739.  Located on the east bank of the Cape Fear River, the original town is 28 nautical miles from the Atlantic Ocean.  Built on several rises, more like sand dunes than hills, the town ascends 50 feet from the river shoreline.  Despite navigational difficulties along the river, the town grew to become the largest city in the state before the Civil War.  It remained so until the second decade of the 20th century, when the state’s Piedmont tobacco and textile towns rose to prominence. 

Wilmington’s historical significance is reflected in the variety of architectural styles, streetscapes and in other aspects of its material culture.  The Colonial town is most visible in the original grid pattern of the streets, the numbered streets running from north to south and the named streets running from east to west.  Several periods of rapid growth have altered the city’s passage through time.  Very few buildings remain from the early town because of the large fires and antebellum growth stimulated by the 1840 opening of the railroad. 

Three other periods of sustained growth are also noteworthy.  Recovery from the Civil War with increased port and rail expansion precipitated substantial commercial activity in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  Increased business and industry, particularly of cotton and fertilizer, provide a building boom both commercially and residentially, including moves to the first suburbs.  This economic activity spread across the region, evident most notably in the development of the nearby beaches.  After a period of decline during the Great Depression, Wilmington experienced another burst of growth during World War II Military facilities and the North Carolina Shipbuilding Company brought an unprecedented number of new residents who needed housing as well as a myriad of businesses to support their daily lives.  The most recent growth can in the 1990s, after Wilmington was connected to the rest of the country by Interstate Highway 40. 

Source: Wilmington Lost But Not Forgotten by Beverly Tetterron
To purchase the book please visit the Two Sisters Bookery @ the Cotton Exchange in Wilmington NC

Monday, December 19, 2011

Hughs Tire Company 1101 Market Street

We are North Carolina’s oldest Tire dealer, in business since 1921. This is a photo of our original location at 2rd and Market Streets in Wilmington. Folks and businesses have been getting their tires and automobile services from us ever since.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Haunted Cotton Exchange

Top Toad at the Cotton Exchange! 
Strange things are happening there every day!  One of the most haunted locations in Wilmington! 

Haunted Cotton Exchange Tour 

Man from the River 

Friday, May 21, 2010

Historic Wilmington Foundation Plaques

To be eligible for a Historic Wilmington Foundation Plaque, a building must be over 75 years old and be located in New Hanover County. Buildings over 50 years old at Wrightsville Beach, Carolina Beach and Kure Beach are also eligible for a plaque.

To apply for a plaque, please contact the Foundation at 910.762.2511 or email to receive an application.

Application Review Process
The Plaque Committee meets on the second Wednesday of each month to review plaque applications. Applications must be submitted to the Foundation office at least one week prior to the meeting. The Committee reviews applications in the order they are received, and it is common for the process to take several months.

The Research
The application is designed to lead you step-by-step through your research. If the Committee needs more information, a member contacts you and explains what information you need to gather and present before the next meeting. If you choose, you can hire someone to do the research for you. Call HWF to receive the names of architectural historians who will complete the research for you for a fee.

The Plaque Text
After the review process is complete, the Plaque Committee composes a text for your building. The Foundation will send a copy of the text to you, and you may then order your hand-painted plaque.

The Price
The price of a new plaque is $350 for members and $400 for non-members (includes a one-year, tax deductible family membership to the HWF). Call for the cost of a replacement plaque. The price of the plaque must be paid in full before the information is sent to the sign company to be painted. Buildings over 100 years old receive a black plaque and those from 75 to 100 years old receive a maroon color plaque. Historic alleys over 75 years receive green plaques. 50 year-old beach buildings receive a sea oats color plaque with black lettering. Foundation staff will call you when the plaque is ready.

A project completed in partnership with NHC Public Library.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

River Boat Landing

River Boat Landing Corner of Market and Water Streets 

End of Market on Water facing away from the Cape Fear River 

Lori on Tour 

One of the haunted locations in Wilmington NC

Haunted Cotton Exchange Tours tm
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Tour Old Wilmington tm
Scary, creepy and mostly ghostly
Tales of the Cotton Exchange!
Chills and Thrills await you at the one of the most historic & haunted locations in Wilmington.
Tours 7 days a week
Under 12 Free
All Others $12 each
Group, Private and Bus Tours available
Call for Tour Times
(910) 409-4300
Haunted Tours start next to the German Café on the parking lot side.

JM Brooks Building

JM Brooks Building

10 South Water Street

10 South Water Street

River Boat Landing

River Boat Landing

Historic Bellamy

Historic Bellamy

Tom's Drug Store

Tom's Drug Store

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