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Cape Fear History & Heritage

The State and Local History Collection houses materials which relate to North Carolina, with a concentration on Southeastern North Carolina. This is a non-circulating collection.

Cape Fear History & Heritage

Special Collections and Archives of NHCPL


We focus on the heritage and history of the people, places, culture, and natural environment of the Cape Fear region, the City of Wilmington, and the great state of North Carolina. 


  • Housed in the North Carolina Room, much of the Collection has been handed down through several former public and private libraries dating back to the Cape Fear Library of 1760.
  • Although emphasis has been placed on collecting information about Southeastern North Carolina, the collection includes materials from across the State.
  • Visitors may now use our new ScanPro 3000 microfilm machine to view film and create PDF's of desired articles.

  • Materials in the North Carolina Room are for research only and may not be checked out.
  • The use of ink pens is strictly prohibited.  We have pencils available for your use upon request.
  • Accessing manuscript collections requires 24 hour advance notice.
  • Food, drink, and business solicitation are not permitted.
  • All backpacks, purses, laptop cases, and other bags must be stored in a locker.
  • The use of laptops is permitted.
  • The use of digital cameras is permitted though the flash must be turned off.
  • Please limit cell phone usage and remember to be courteous to others if you do need to be on your phone.
  • The backroom is open, but please take books to the reading room tables.
  • Please leave books on the cart near the front desk and we will reshelve them for you.
  • The computers in the North Carolina Room are setup for family and local history only.  The computer lab on the first floor provides access for email and other services.

We appreciate your understanding and for helping us preserve this rare and special collection.

Visiting Special Collections & Archives


  • All research must be done in the NC Room; state and local history materials cannot be checked out.
  • Extensive research requires a trip to the library. Before your visit, please contact us so we can anticipate your needs and be sure staff is available.
  • Accessing manuscript collections requires 24 hour advance notice.
  • Requests from citizens of New Hanover County are taken first. Others are answered in the order received.
    The cost for simple research is 15 cents per photocopy, plus postage.
  • A copy machine (15 cents) and a microfilm printer (25 cents) are available to make copies.
  • High resolution scans of images can be completed for $5.00 each for the first 5 images, and then $1.00 per image thereafter.
  • Some materials are too rare/fragile to be copied. Materials within locked cases require ID for access.
  • Pencils must be used when working in the NC Room.

 

The Hours of the North Carolina Room are as follows:

  • Sunday: Closed
  • Monday and Tuesday: 9:00 AM - 8:00 PM
  • Wednesday and Thursday: 9:00 AM - 6:00 PM
  • Friday and Saturday: 9:00 AM - 5:00 PM

This monthly feature highlights interesting stories and people from the local area using resources available through the North Carolina Room.

From the Collection June 2018: Buried in Rum, The Tragedy of the Martin Family

Photograph from the Louis T. Moore Photograph Collection

Silas Homer Martin was a prominent antebellum businessman in the lumber trade along with partner George Kidder.  Silas Martin's eldest son John Slater Martin was employed as sailor.  On a journey to the Caribbean Sea, John allowed a younger sister Nancy Adams Martin, nicknamed “Nance” to come along. 

Three months into the voyage Nance fell ill and died from consumption (tuberculosis) in Cardenas, Cuba at the young age of 24.  John brought his sister's body home stored in a cask of liquor, usually thought to be rum, to help keep it preserved from decomposition in the tropical heat.  Nance's body was not removed from the cask and the entire cask was buried in Oakdale Cemetery on June 2, 1857.  The small cross that looks like a tree trunk marks the spot where Nance's rum casket was interred.

Three months after Nance’s death, John once more put out to sea on September 10, 1857 with a load of lumber.  Caught by what is now believed to have been a Category 2 hurricane, John Martin is believed to have been swept overboard by the storm.  The boat was found floating adrift in November 1857 with no survivors.  John's body was never found.

The obelisk in the background of the shot above is the Martin family plot and is inscribed with John's name and the words, "Lost at Sea, September 1857".

Special thanks to Oakdale Cemetery Superintendent Eric Kozen.

From the Collection July 2018: The Story of the S.S. Charles C. Pinckney

 

SS Charles C. Pinckney slides into Cape Fear RiverSS Charles C. Pinckney in the Cape Fear River guided by tugboats

Images from the North Carolina Room Photograph Collection

Named after the prominent South Carolina governor and signer of the Consitution, the SS Charles C. Pinckney was the 10th of the 243 liberty ships to have been assembled and launched by the North Carolina Shipbuilding Company in Wilmington during World War II.  The ship was sponsored by Miss Margaret McMahon, a daughter of one of the shipyard’s company officials.  At the launch of the ship, then 14-year old Wilmingtonian Katherine Rhett was the official ship’s “maid of honor.”  During the war, the shipyard became the largest employer in the entire state with over 20,000 black and white workers running three shifts 24 hours a day.

 

Nine months after its launch, the Pinckney was to experience a great tragedy.  The Pinckney left New York on 5 January 1943 under the command of Captain Frank Theoron Woolverton, Jr. as part of convoy UGS-4 carrying war material to support the Allied offensive in North Africa.  Experiencing heavy weather, the ship began to straggle from the convoy.  On 27 January 1943, the German submarine U-514 located the ship and shot three torpedoes, one of which hit the ship causing an explosion of the ordnance in the cargo hold and destroying the bow.  Most of the crew abandoned ship in four lifeboats and a raft.  A contingent of the gun crew stayed aboard and later fired at the German U-Boat when it surfaced just 200 yards away.  Reboarding the stricken vessel, it was determined that the ship was too badly damaged to produce propulsion.  The submarine fired two more salvos of torpedoes, with the second hitting the Pinckney just after midnight on 8 January and caused the crew to abandon the ship for a second time.  U-514 surfaced once more and questioned the crew, but offered no assistance.

 

Although the four lifeboats tried to stay together, they became separated in the heavy seas later that night.  After 11 days adrift, the second mate, four men, and nine armed guards were found by the Swiss freighter Caritas I and taken safely to the Azores Islands.  No trace of the three other lifeboats or the 56 men in them was ever found.  Captain Woolverton was among the lost.

August 2018 From the Collection: Wilmington and Charles Lindbergh

This July 1927 newsletter entitled “Forest Hills” is little more than a prospectus advertising the layout of homes in the then new suburban environ of Forest Hills.  The city of Wilmington itself has long since encompassed the Forest Hills district.  What is striking about this newsletter is the notation of the recent accomplishment of Charles Lindbergh, who had just a month earlier become the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean as well as the first person to fly non-stop between North America and the European mainland.  Previous attempts had ended in failure, disappearance, and even death of other fliers.

For his daring feat, Lindbergh won the coveted Orteig Prize and its $25,000 reward ($373,000 in 2017), not mention a hero’s welcome in France upon landing outside of Paris.  When he arrived back in the United States in June 1927 he was feted and treated to a ticker tape parade on June 13.  This advertisement attempts to use Lindbergh’s fame by engendering the feelings of pride and accomplishment by encouraging Wilmingtonians to achieve the American Dream of owning their own home.

October 2018 From the Collection: Astronaut Artist
This recently rediscovered October 1991 image shows artist Elizabethtown artist Hunt Cole finishing a massive mural on the brick wall of
Kinlaw Funiture in Elizabethtown, North Carolina to honor hometown hero Curtis Lee “Curt” Brown Jr. 
 
Brown grew up in Elizabethtown and was considered a “whizz kid” fixing televisions in the back of his father’s store.  He graduated from East Bladen High School in 1974.  He applied to and was accepted into the United States Air Force Academy where he graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering in 1978.  From 1985 until 1986, he attended Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, California.  Upon graduation, Brown was assigned to Eglin Air Force Base in Florida where he served as a test pilot for both the A-10 and F-16 aircraft.  He remained at Eglin until selected for NASA’s astronaut program in June 1987.  Brown served as a space shuttle pilot on three missions from 1992-1996 and as a mission commander on three more flights from 1997-1999.  As a result of these six missions, Brown spent over 1383 hours in space.  Brown is one of only 7 Americans to have been a part of 6 or more space flights.
 
Cole’s original mural was completed just two days before Brown lifted off into the stars.  The original mural as seen in the image above showed Brown in a blue Air Force uniform, with a space shuttle, and had the Earth as the background.  The mural was updated in 2007 to show Brown in his orange space suit, with a mustache, and with a list of his missions in space.

November 2018 From the Collection: Taking a Break from Hiding Out

This image taken April 21, 1987 shows actor Jon Cryer walking among students from Topsail High School during the filming of the movie Hiding Out. In the movie Hiding Out, Cryer portrays a stockbroker on the run from the mob who attempts to avoid certain death by altering his appearance and enrolling as a high school student. Although set in Delaware, the movie was shot on location in Wilmington, NC including the use of Topsail High School. Hiding Out was released on November 6, 1987.

Cryer would later go on to have multiple film and television roles including the role of Alan Harper on the CBS television show Two and Half Men for which he won two Primetime Emmy Awards.

The North Carolina Room at the Main Branch of the New Hanover County Public Library is taking this opportunity to introduce a new digital collection available through the library’s website. The Movie-Making Collection will highlight southeastern North Carolina’s long role in the film and television industry. Images and newspaper clippings will be included in this freely accessible online collection. The new collection is accessible at the following link:

http://cdm16072.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/landingpage/collection/p16072coll3

December 2018 From the Collection: Train Robbery!

When most people think of train robberies, their first inclination is to think of a scene out of the 1870s or 1880s as bandits or outlaws with bandanas over their faces use their six-shooters to steal money, gold, and the valuables of passengers on the train.  Although certainly not the first train robbery, the infamous 21 July 1873 James-Younger Gang’s holdup near Adair, Iowa set the stage for all train robberies that followed, remaining an indelible piece of American history.  In a famous scene recreated for the silver screen in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), Paul Newman and Robert Redford, as the titular leads, blow up the baggage car of the Union Pacific Overland Flyer.

Although outlaws are often thought of as living only in the 19th century, some of the most famous train robberies actually occurred in the 20th century.  In fact, the actual destruction of the Flyer’s car mentioned above occurred a mere 6 months before the turn of the century.  In 1963, a 15-man gang in England made off with £2.6 million (equivalent to $65.3 million today), in what was dubbed the Great Train Robbery.

And outlaws were still robbing trains in the United States well into the 20th century too.  The newspaper clipping seen here details the larceny of an Atlantic Coast Line rail car in December 1911, well after the Wild Bunch had seared itself into legend.  The Atlantic Coast Line Rail Road, or ACLRR for short, made Wilmington its home from 1900-1960.  During its early years, the majority of the line’s freight was seasonal farm products.  Most passengers travelling the line came from the Northeast and Midwest to destinations in Florida.  At its height, the railroad maintained over 5100 miles of track.  In 1960, the railroad’s new headquarters building opened in Jacksonville, FL.  The move was short-lived as ACLRR merged with Seaboard Air Line Railroad in 1967.

Although the robbers in the case of the 1911 event seen here got away, the locomotive that they had targeted was largely carrying mail rather than valuables.  It is also interesting to note that the posse sent out after the bandits was likely on horseback, just like a posse that one might think of when imagining the Old West.

January 2019 From the Collection: Road Trip!

Deciding where Interstate 40 would end was no small feat.  Between 1969 and 1978, a large debate among residents of eastern North Carolina took place as to which municipality, Morehead City or Wilmington, would serve as the eastern terminus for the interstate highway that would stretch across the width of the United States.  Ultimately, the North Carolina Department of Transportation approved a route between Raleigh and Wilmington.  The route did come with a stipulation; that is, that the new freeway had to run parallel to US Highway 117.  This was in contrast to suggestions that US Highway 421 be upgraded to handle increased traffic.  In 1986, I-40 was extended east to Exit 420 in the Port City.  In a ribbon-cutting ceremony on 29 June 1990, Governor James G. Martin opened Interstate 40 between Raleigh and Wilmington allowing I-40 to be connected with the rest of North Carolina and the rest of the United States. 

Shortly after opening the new highway, the sign seen here was erected near mile marker # 418 stating the distance to the western terminus at Barstow, CA some 2,554 miles away.  The completion of I-40 to Wilmington made I-40 the third longest interstate in the United States behind I-90 (3,085 miles) and I-80 (2,906 miles).  In comparison, the longest highway in the world is the Pan-American Highway, covering over 19,000 miles from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska at the tip of North America to Ushuaia, Argentina at the tip of South America.

The sign’s high visibility proved to be its downfall.  The sign was stolen four times, each time replaced by the NCDOT.  After being stolen for a fifth time, an exasperated NCDOT stated in November 2009 that the Wilmington icon would not be replaced.  A similar sign in Barstow, CA noting the distance to Wilmington has also dealt with issues of theft and replacement.

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