The Happiest Event of the Year

30 Apr


MORTON-April 29th, 1899, CARRIE WARD, aged 7 years, eldest daughter of Geo. L. Morton. Funeral at 4 o’clock tomorrow (Monday) afternoon, from St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church.

[The Morning Star – Sunday, April 30, 1899]

“When Eliza was about 5 ½ years old, her sister, Carrie, age 7 years, died of pneumonia which followed measles. Carrie went to a public school where she was exposed to that disease. After Carries death, Mammy took Carrie’s penny bank containing the pennies Carrie had saved, and bought a gold ring for Eliza with her initials on it, EMW. When Carrie was ill with measles, Eliza stayed with Mrs. Latimer (Carrie died) Mrs. Latimer came in & Eliza said “Carrie died”. No one had told her. “How did you know?” asked Mrs. Latimer. She just knew.

After Carries death, in 1899, Mrs. Stephen H. Morton, Eliza’s grandmother, had several strokes, each leaving her more affected. Mrs. Morton loved to sew but it was difficult for her. She would have Eliza sit beside her to thread needles and pick up her thimble if it dropped. Eliza missed not going outside to play.”

“Eliza was never allowed to attend a public school as her sister, Carrie, had been exposed to measles there.  Eliza attended a very small private school in Wilmington, North Carolina, named Miss Annie Heart and Miss Mary Brown’s Private School. They taught Latin before English. When Eliza went to St. Mary’s Episcopal School in Raleigh, N. C., she had already had 3 years of Latin.”

[Excerpt from Life Story of Eliza Ward Morton: Mrs. Mordicai Levi Woodward, compiled by Mary Alice Woodward Logan]

Closing of School of Misses Hart and Brown.

The closing exercises and presentation of certificates and awarding of honors to the pupils of Misses Hart and Brown took place this week.

The following pupils made above 90 per cent. In scholarship: Edward Ashe, Avon Blue, Mildred McRary Smith.

Certificates of proficiency in scholarship were won by Mary G. Bellamy, 95.4; Maxwell Lippitt, 97.3; Myrtle Vollers, 96.4.

Certificates of excellent conduct were awarded to Edward Ashe, Mary G. Bellamy, Elsa Bluethenthal, Maxwell Lippitt, D. Hart McKoy, Arra Perry, Katherine Vollers, Myrtle Vollers; for scholarship, D. Hart McKoy, 98.7 – not in competition; Elsa Bluethenthal, 98; for conduct, Elsa Bluethenthal; for needlework, Eliza Morton; for writing, Myrtle Vollers; for highest total average of punctuality, scholarship and conduct, D. Hart McKoy, 98.5-not in competition; and Elsa Bluethenthal, 97.7; special prize, Elizabeth Smith.

The Marion medal for “conscientiousness and courtesy” was awarded Mildred McRary Smith.

[The Wilmington Dispatch – June 1, 1905]

— The pupils of Misses Hart and Brown’s school were given a delightful outing yesterday, which consisted of an excursion on the steamer Wilmington and a pic-nic at Old Brunswick.

[The Morning Star – May 16, 1900]

“A real thing to remember was the smell of the engine room on Captain Harper’s boat, the Wilmington, as it hummed and throbbed its way to Southport. A clean hot, steamy, oily smell, that one got as he looked down at the wheels and the smooth running pistons of nickel, of brass, of steel, all so well polished.”

[Excerpt from James Sprunt’s, Tales and Traditions of the Lower Cape Fear, 1661- 1896.]

Wilmington, N. C. – Do You Remember When? by Henry B. McKoy

Excerpts from:

Miss Hart’s and Miss Brown’s School by James H. McKoy
(pp. 161-167 Eastern North Carolina Digital Library, East Carolina University – online)

… The happiest event of the year was the annual school picnic, when students, teachers and friends went down the river on the Steamer Wilmington to spend the day at the ruins of St. Phillip’s Church [Image of church – c.2007] at old Brunswick. “Remember that gang-plank-only two boards wide-remember how scared we were to walk across that ‘deep’ water and over the marshes to shore? Oh! how exciting!” Every child came laden with a basket of food from home, which at lunchtime was spread on white cloths over long wooden benches under the great pines. How the tables used to groan with the good things to eat from homes with additions prepared by our teachers and friends! What a cry of joy rang through the forest that had taken over the old town, when young throats burst with a yell when lunch was called!

… It was with sad hearts we would hear in the distance the warning blow of the Wilmington announcing her approach to the wharf. Then a hasty rush to gather up our things and make the short trek to meet our boat at the river. “Although most of us were pretty well worn out from the long day’s frolic, we hated to think that the long anticipated day was drawing to a close, and it would be another year before it could happen again.” There was not much playing aboard the old river steamer as she ploughed the water of the Cape Fear towards town and the dock at the foot of Market Street where our parents waited to take us home.

Two images from the Lower Cape Fear Historical Society’s Online Image Collection: The Cumming family aboard the steamer Wilmington, in their “Sunday best.”

Excerpts from:

The Steamer Wilmington by James H. McKoy
(pp.  144-151 Eastern North Carolina Digital Library, East Carolina University – online)

DO YOU REMEMBER WHEN the Steamer Wilmington ran to Carolina Beach and Southport? The main contact between Wilmington and Southport as well as Fort Caswell and intermediary settlements used to be chiefly by water route. A daily schedule was maintained for passengers, freight and mail. The names of some of these river steamers come to mind, that operated about a quarter of a century ago. The Southport, the Ella, The Wilmington, all of these belonged to Captain John W. Harper of this city. The Southport was used primarily for freight and for emergency runs when the Wilmington or the Ella were out of service. There was little space for comfort of the passengers aboard the Southport, and she was far from being capable of handling the crowds that came for excursions…

…The pride of the fleet was the Wilmington and was always gleaming white with fresh paint, and with flags flying fore and aft, and a third high on the mast just back of her pilot house. With a great column of black smoke belching from her funnel, her three deck rails lined with excursionists, she was a lovely sight to watch as she pulled away from her wharf just north of the old ferry slip at the foot of Market Street, or when folks would dash to Sunset Hill at the familiar sound of her great whistle, as she passed the foot of Church Street and the old Harper home. Down Nun to Sunset Hill would rush the boys of the neighborhood, to stand on forbidden promontories of the Honnett’s, McQueen’s or Pearsall’s, even daring to creep behind the battlements and turrets of the Sprunt’s to wave to passengers and crew of the boat as she made for her mooring on her daily return trip home at 5:00 P.M…

… It was the “hurricane deck” topside, where it was most thrilling to spend at least a part of the day’s ride. That is if you could stand the belching smoke, ever flowing aft from her stack, and with soot always falling. The life boats were lined on either side of this deck, which were wonderful places to hide when the game was “hide-and-seek”. It was particular fun on this deck on the Moonlight Excursions to dance to the music of the band engaged for the trip, or the piano hoisted there on special occasions…

… Sometimes there would be a stop at the pier of the old town of Brunswick. And picnic parties would be put off, to spend the day and to be picked up again on the return trip. How wonderful it was to be in “Fesser” Catlett’s gang of the Cape Fear Academy boys on their annual school picnic, there to play around and to climb into the windows of old St. Phillip’s Church ruins. To write one’s initials on the brick, to gather around the long wooden tables placed there, and eat the lunch prepared by Mrs. Catlett, Miss Sue and Miss Sarah…

… Many stories have been told of the faithful old boat’s fate, a boat that brought much happiness to Wilmington people and was the only connection with the outside world to the several stops and plantations along the river. Some say that she is now hanging her proud bow in disgrace, being converted into a lowly freighter in Tampa Bay. I do not know what became of the Southport, but I believe that if you stroll along Water Street in the year 1955, you will find between Dock and Orange a dilapidated old boat’s cabin, rotting away with both the piling and the wharf and a big “Keep Out” sign. There I think you will find the last remains of the once proud Ella.

The Wilmington Modifed for Fishing Excursions.

Motor Vessel Pinellas Ad 03111957 St. Petersburg Times

Motor Vessel Pinellas Ad 03111957 St. Petersburg Times

Bay Fishing Pinellas Ad

Bay Fishing Pinellas Ad


On the morning of August 31st, 1906, at eleven o’clock, MRS. MARY C. MORTON, relict of the late S. H. Morton, aged 64 years. Funeral tomorrow at 5 o’clock from the residence, 720 North Fourth street. Interment at Bellevue cemetery. Friends and acquaintances invited to attend.


Mother of Col. Geo. L. Morton Passed Away This Morning.

The friends of Col. Geo. L. Morton will deeply sympathize with him in the loss of his mother, Mrs. Mary C. Morton, whose death occurred at the residence, 720 North Fourth street, this morning at eleven o’clock.

Mrs. Morton had been very ill for some weeks past and her death while not unexpected nevertheless comes as a crushing blow to the son who has watched tenderly at her bedside during her illness. The immediate cause of death was paralysis. Mrs. Morton has been confined to her home for the past seven years and was an invalid for the greater part of the time. Mrs. Morton was the widow of the late Stephen H. Morton, who preceded her to the grave some years ago. Her maiden name was Mary C. Wilder and she leaves to mourn their great loss, one son, Col. Geo. L. Morton, a brother, Mr. Jesse Wilder, of this city, and a little granddaughter, Miss Eliza Morton, twelve years of age.

Mrs. Morton was a devoted member of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church. The funeral services will be held at the residence tomorrow afternoon at 5 o’clock, and in the absence of her pastor, Rev. A. D. McClure, who is absent from the city, will be conducted by Rev. J. S. Crowley, pastor of Immanuel Presbyterian Church. The interment will be made in Bellevue cemetery.

[Wilmington Dispatch, 31 Aug 1906]

NOTES:  About 1871, Stephen H. Morton, of Onslow County, brought his wife, Mary, and son, George Lee, to Wilmington.  His brother-in-law, Jesse Wilder, had started a successful turpentine distilling business, after the War, and had strongly urged S.H. to make haste is coming to Wilmington as there was money to be made.  They purchased a copper turpentine still from the company of Bailey & Hart.

I do not know the reason(s), but about 1880, Jesse Wilder and his wife, Fanny, moved to Brunswick, Georgia and he once again started a turpentine distilling business, which also became very profitable.  S. H. Morton continued to run the original business in Wilmington, partnering with B. Frank Hall (of Hall & Pearsall) for a time.  The partnership of Morton & Hall was dissolved amicably, and after S. H. Morton died in May of 1886, the business passed to his son, George L.  The company then became the Geo. L. Morton Company.  The turpentine stills were located on one corner of Nutt and Brunswick Streets.  The warehouses and wharves of Hall & Pearsall (including the “Water-Land” Depot) took up the rest of that corner, down to the waterfront, across from Point Peter.

In just a few years, Jesse Wilder had become a successful businessman and Brunswick town alderman, but then his wife Fanny died, while visiting family in Wilmington in June, 1882.  She is buried in the cemetery of Mt. Lebanon Chapel at Airlie Gardens.  Jesse sold his business and moved back to Wilmington, NC and went to work as manager in the Geo. L. Morton Company (the business which he had originally started). Jesse Wilder continued in the business until his death in 1914.

A few months after his father’s death, in September of 1886, the Wilmington Star reported that Geo. L. Morton had been seen upon the Cape Fear in his new steam vessel, the Vertner.  This was a small pleasure craft.  The Wilmington papers also reported that the Vertner was to lead the procession in the Marine Parade of the 24th of July, 1888. The vessels were ordered from smallest to largest, with the Queen of St. Johns bringing up the rear.  A couple of years later, Geo. L. sold the Vertner to some businessmen, who wanted to run her on the Catawba river.

NOTE:Alderman Geo. L. Morton has sold his pretty little steam yacht Vertner. She is to be used on the Catawba river, between Mountain Island, Tuckasegee and Mt. Holly.” [The Daily Review, Wilmington, NC – June 5, 1889]

Steam Pleasure Craft Near Wilmington, NC

[ The Lower Cape Fear Historical Society’s Online Images includes this image of a “steam pleasure craft“.  I suppose it is for pleasure since the canopy has a “fringe on top”. ]

Geo. L. Morton was Wilmington Postmaster, shortly after the “Old Stone” Post Office was completed.  His second daughter, Eliza, was born.  He was appointed Postmaster, and his wife died, of pneumonia, shortly after giving birth, all in the space of about two weeks.  A rather bleak set of occurrences.

Geo. L. chose to keep his two young daughters, but remarried only after his mother’s death.  He became connected with the Galena-Signal Oil Company and at the time of his death, in October, 1930, he was a company vice-president, living well with his family in Atlanta, Georgia.

The Morton and Wilder families are buried in Bellevue Cemetery in Wilmington, NC.  If you visit them there, you may have to brush the sand off of some of the markers, as it (the sand) sometimes fills the chiseled details and makes the markers appear smooth.

NOTES:  As a researcher, one of the revelations, that I am most proud of, is recognizing the significance of the photo entitled “Waterfront, Cape Fear River – Wilmington – Foot of Grace Street” from the Louis T. Moore Collection.  There are over a thousand images in the Moore Collection and I have looked at each, that was placed online, at least a couple of times.  I think I had looked at the above photo at least twice and had just made a mental note that whatever vessel was shown must have had a deck high above the water.  About the third time, as I was looking through the collection, a moment of insight revealed itself.  This photo was taken from the deck of the steamer, “City of Wilmington.”  That was the real significance of the photo.  Not that it was just a good photo of the Wilmington waterfront, of the time, but that the photo was taken aboard the well-known boat.  *And there were all the clues:  the ship’s search light (which was supposed to have been on the steamer City of Fayetteville), the ship’s bell, the railing around the top deck, the guy wire and shadow of the smokestack.  Just compare some other labelled photos of the Wilmington and the familiar pieces present themselves.

The Cape Fear River Steamers

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Posted by on April 30, 2009 in The Boats


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