Posts Tagged ‘historical markers’

From left to right, state Rep. Ted Davis, Jr., Cultural Sec. Susan Kluttz, state Sen Thom Goolsby and state Rep. Susi Hamilton stand with the new highway marker

From left to right, state Rep. Ted Davis, Jr., Cultural Sec. Susan Kluttz, state Sen Thom Goolsby and state Rep. Susi Hamilton at the unveiling of the new Modern Greece highway marker

The New Year started off with a bang as a crowd of more than 5,000 people turned out at Fort Fisher State Historic Site in Kure Beach Saturday for the 148th anniversary of the Civil War battle that took place there.

The battle was instrumental in ending the war as it resulted in the closing of Wilmington’s port, which was then called “the Lifeline of the Confederacy” because of its role in supplying the Confederate army.  It was prominently featured in Steven Spielberg’s recent film Lincoln.

The day’s activities included re-enactors talking with visitors about camp life during the January 1865 campaign, infantry and artillery units conducting drills and firing demonstrations and speakers on an array of Civil War-related topics.

The day also included the dedication of a new historical highway marker for the Civil War blockade runner Modern Greece. Research on the Modern Greece led the State of North Carolina to establish one of the nation’s first underwater archaeology programs—now part of the Department of Cultural Resources—and eventually resulted in the recovery of thousands of artifacts.

Click here for pictures of the event and here to learn more about the Battle of Fort Fisher.

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I grew up in Wilson—long nicknamed the World’s Greatest Tobacco Market—but I never heard the extraordinary tale of how bright leaf tobacco was first cured.

An accident in 1839 led to one of the most important breakthroughs in North Carolina agriculture history.   A slave named Stephen on Abisha Slade’s Caswell County farm worked as a blacksmith and oversaw the curing of the tobacco crop. On one occasion, due to the warmth created by the fire, Stephen fell asleep in the curing barn. A few hours later, he woke up to find the fire almost completely out. To try to keep the heat going, he rushed to his blacksmithing pit, retrieved charcoal and threw hot coals on the curing fire, creating a sudden, intense heat. His actions caused the tobacco to cure quickly, leaving it with a vivid yellow color.

Cured bright leaf tobacco. Photograph courtesy of Michael T. Southern, N.C. State Historic Preservation Office.

The new tobacco, which became known as bright leaf tobacco, soon became popular with smokers.  Within a generation, the success of bright leaf made North Carolina a leader in the United States’ tobacco industry.

Tobacco has long been a critical factor in North Carolina’s economy and history.  The tobacco barns that used to dot the landscape, however, are disappearing.  Many farmers have turned to different crops.  And those who still cultivate tobacco use modern technology for curing.  The State Historic Preservation Office has a nifty website that examines surviving tobacco barns of various types and gives tips for preserving them and suggestions on adaptive reuse.

The state’s oldest flue-cure barns are found in the Old Bright Belt and the northern Middle Belt along the Virginia border. The compact barns are most often built of hewn logs. Photograph courtesy of the State Historic Preservation Office.

Both the Tobacco Farm Life Museum in Kenly and  Duke Homestead State Historic Site in Durham offer opportunities to explore and learn about traditional tobacco culture.  On September 8th, Duke Homestead is hosting a free  Harvest and Hornworm Festival. Activities will include demonstrations of historic tobacco harvesting, stringing and curing, hornworm races, a MoonPie eating contest, musical entertainment, and craft vendors.

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I am just back from a trip to Scotland.  It was a dream vacation for me—a return to the land of my forefathers, so to speak.  My grandmother’s family tree was bursting with “Mc’s.”  The photo that I share is appropriate to my blog—it is of me and my son at the Clava Cairns, a site with prehistoric burial cairns and standing stones near Inverness.

The Clava Cairns near Inverness are truly a step back in time.

But, after visiting castles, battlefields, and lochs, I was having a hard time concentrating on a North Carolina travel topic.  And, then I thought of North Carolina’s own rich Scottish heritage.  Many Scottish emigrants, Highland, Lowland, and Ulster (Scots-Irish), have made an impact on our state.

One of Scotland’s most beloved heroines, Flora MacDonald, lived in North Carolina for awhile. There is no shortage of reminders of the Scottish influence in North Carolina:  place names, pipe and drum bands, highland games, and heritage societies.  The Museum of the Cape Fear in Fayetteville interprets that area’s strong Scottish history.  The Scottish Tartans Museum in Highlands showcases the history of Scottish tartans and Highland clothing.

A great way to get a taste of Scotland without having to take a trans-Atlantic flight is to check out some of the Highland games that occur around North Carolina throughout the year.  Among the events are the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games, the Triad Highland Games, the Rural Hill Scottish Festival & Loch Norman Highland Games, and the Scotland County Highland Games.

I will be back to reality next week with more North Carolina history—posts will become more occasional, focusing on special events and happenings—as the summer travel season comes to a close.

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I am fortunate to be able to spend a good deal of time in and around Black Mountain.  I am always amazed at the breadth of talent and artistry in the area.  It’s not uncommon for a small town to have a creative atmosphere, but I’m always reminded of the days when Black Mountain was home to a remarkable experimental center of learning.

supine dome

The Supine Dome Model with Si Sillman (bending), Buckminster Fuller, Elaine de Kooning, Roger Lovelace, and Josef Albers, Black Mountain College, summer of 1948. Photograph courtesy of the Beaumont and Nancy Newhall Estate, Scheinbaum and Russek Ltd., Santa Fe, New Mexico

Founded in 1933, Black Mountain College focused on fine arts education—but the education was not always text-book, so to speak.  The teachers and students lived together as a community and learned from one another.  One writer stated “As the college evolved, it assumed characteristics of a small college, a summer camp, a religious retreat, a pioneering community, an art colony and a farm school.”  In a way, it defies categorizing—it is, simply, Black Mountain College.

The list of teachers and students at Black Mountain College reads like a virtual who’s who of 20th Century arts, including musicians, painters, poets, actors, dancers, fiber artists, sculptors, and architects.  Names like Robert Rauschenberg, Walter Gropius, Robert Motherwell, Josef Albers, John Cage, Charles Olson, Buckminster Fuller, Merce Cunningham and Willem de Kooning.

The North Carolina Archives accepted the college’s administrative records after it closed in 1956.  The papers and the manuscript collections associated with students and faculty have long been popular with researchers who traveled to Raleigh from all over the world to study the influential college.  The archives’ collections related to Black Mountain College recently have been transferred to the new Western Regional Archives, officially opening on August 13 in Asheville.

John Cage and Merce Cunningham, Black Mountain College 1953 Summer Institute in the Arts. Black Mountain College Research Project Papers, Visual Materials, North Carolina State Archives, Western Regional Office.

Having the documents and photographs close at hand will surely be a great complement to Asheville’s  Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center, a facility that explores and preserves the legacy of the college through exhibits and programs.  And, of course, North Carolina is known around the world for the breadth of its traditional and contemporary arts.  Learn more at the North Carolina Arts Council.

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I don’t think that many people are aware that the two most famous sets of conjoined twins in the 19th century called North Carolina home – Chang and Eng Bunker (the original Siamese Twins) and Millie-Christine McKoy (the Carolina Twins or the Two-Headed Nightingale).


Chang and Eng Bunker. Image from the State Archives.

Chang and Eng Bunker, born in Thailand (then Siam) in 1811, amassed a fortune for themselves on the circus and exhibition circuit and retired to North Carolina in 1839.

They first lived in Wilkes County, where they married sisters Sarah and Adelaide Yates. With growing families, the brothers purchased land in Surry County and built large homes a little over a mile apart. For the rest of their lives they spent 3 nights at one house and then 3 nights at the other.

If you visit the Andy Griffith Playhouse  in Mount Airy you can see a large collection of Siamese Twin memorabilia. The North Carolina Collection at UNC-Chapel Hill has Chang and Eng papers and artifacts.

Millie-Christine considered herself one person and railroad lines even issued letters to conductors instructing them to require only one ticket for the “dual woman.”  She was born into slavery near Whiteville, Columbus County, in 1851.


Millie-Christine McKoy. Image from the State Archives.

Exhibited initially as a curiosity, the twins eventually learned to sing and dance.  She even performed for Queen Victoria in England. Having eventually been able to profit from shows and exhibitions (after emancipation), Millie Christine purchased the Columbus County property on which she’d been born.

The State Archives has manuscript collections for both Millie-Christine and Chang and Eng—they have put together an educational resource site that includes digitized images of some of the documents.

Chang and Eng and Millie-Christine are buried in North Carolina, and using findagrave.com, you can see their final resting places. (You can also see the grave of celebrated 20th century conjoined twins, Daisy and Violet Hilton, who spent their last years working at a grocery store in Charlotte.)

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Blackbeard is perhaps the best known of the pirates who haunted our coast in the 1700s.  But did you know that the bloodiest pirate battle in North Carolina history did not involve him?  Rather, it was at the hands of one of his protégés in the waters off what is now Southport, N.C.

Stede Bonnet gave up a life among the planter elite on Barbados to become a pirate in 1717.  He was known as the “Gentleman Pirate,” not so much for the way he behaved, but for his dress and for the way he launched his piratical career.  Instead of capturing a vessel, he purchased and armed a ship, naming it the Revenge, and he hired a crew – yes he paid them.  I wonder what that job interview was like?

Stede Bonnet

Stede Bonnet in an early 18th century engraving by an artist who had never seen the pirate.

The novice pirate entered the North American shipping lanes and began plundering.  Blackbeard, partnering with Bonnet, captured the ship that he would call Queen Anne’s Revenge while commanding Bonnet’s Revenge.  The two joined forces a few times; in fact, Bonnet was aboard the Queen Anne’s Revenge during Blackbeard’s weeklong blockade of Charleston, S.C.  Following Blackbeard’s grounding of the Queen Anne’s Revenge, Bonnet returned to solo pirating, capturing over a dozen ships.

In August, 1718, he established a base near present-day Southport, since the Cape Fear estuary offered a secluded place to rest and re-outfit.  Because of the Charleston incident, South Carolina’s governor sent ships in search of pirates.  They found Bonnet on September 27.  A fierce battle ensued, ending with the surviving pirates’ surrender after six hours.  Stede Bonnet was hanged on December 10, 1718, effectively ending the “Golden Age of Piracy” in North Carolina.

You can see the historical marker about Stede Bonnet, placed near a creek and a neighborhood sporting his name in Southport.  The North Carolina Maritime Museum at Southport features a display about him.  But, one of the coolest ways to spend an evening is with Southport’s Captain Bert Felton, who will take you out in his restored 1938 workboat to where the battle took place.  He offers a fantastic, history-filled cruise.

There is no better way to take in the history and natural history of the Southport area than a tour with Captain Bert Felton in his restored 1938 work boat, the Solomon T.

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A couple of things crossed my desk recently that I wanted to share.  I got word about the upcoming annual homecoming in Pembroke this week for the Lumbee Tribe.  There are a ton of educational and cultural activities, culminating on Saturday, July 7.  Be sure to visit the Museum of the Native American Resource Center at Pembroke, too—they will open at 11:00 on Saturday, after the parade.  The other thing is that last week, while researching for my post on outdoor dramas, I found, sadly, that Strike at the Wind was no longer in production.  The long-running play told the story of North Carolina’s own Robin Hood figure—Henry Berry Lowrie.

Henry Berry Lowrie

Henry Berry Lowrie. Photo believed to have been taken about 1845.

Viewed by some as a hero and by others as a criminal, Lowrie has been a legend ever since he disappeared in the swamps of Robeson County in 1872.  There is a historical marker about him near Pembroke.

During the Civil War the Robeson County Indians (now known as Lumbee) were considered free people of color.  And, as such, were often forced to perform hard labor for the Confederacy. Many Lumbees worked on Fort Fisher or in salt mines.

Henry Berry Lowrie and his brothers, like many young Lumbee men, took to the swamps of eastern North Carolina to escape forced labor.  They began to raid the homes of white Robesonians, taking guns, clothing, and supplies.  Following a violent raid in February 1865, the Confederate Home Guard went to the home of Henry Berry’s father, Allen Lowrie, where they found items from the raid.  Allen’s family was taken into custody and eventually Allen and his son William were executed for the crime.

In March of 1865 Henry Berry and his brothers, some cousins, and a few other men embarked on a seven-year campaign of murder and larceny.  Most of the men who were murdered by the band were in some way involved in the Lowrie executions.  During the height of the “Lowrie War” Henry Berry often appeared in public, and occasionally shared the spoils of his raids.  His Robin Hood-like behavior made him popular among the poor.

 Governor William W. Holden declared Henry Berry Lowrie an outlaw in 1868. A bounty of $10,000 was placed on him in 1871.  Lowrie disappeared in February 1872 and the bounty was never collected.  Whether he was killed or whether he lived for a time after his disappearance we may never know.

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