Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Vanished New Bern, No. 4

a series of views of lost area buildings

By John B. Green III

House at 411 Hancock Street

Sometimes very interesting houses go unnoticed and unappreciated until it is too late to save them.  This small 1½ story house, formerly located at 411 Hancock Street, dated to at least 1898 when it appeared on the Sanborn Map Company's insurance map of that year.  Altered and deteriorated, the house was demolished in the 1980s.  This c.1890s photograph shows the house in its prime.  To the left is the still extant house at 409 Hancock Street.  To the right rear is the original Centenary Methodist Church which faced New Street.

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Weeping Arch

By John B. Green III

The Weeping Arch, from Die Berner Woche, November 11, 1939.
The large triple-arched gateway to Cedar Grove Cemetery has long accumulated rain water in its soft mortar joints which eventually seeps through to fall as drops of water from the arches.  This seepage has been regular enough over the years to allow calcium deposits much like tiny stalactites to accumulate on the undersides of the arches.  The seepage has also allowed legends to attach to the gateway as tenaciously as the calcium deposits.

The Weeping Arch, from Emma H. Powell, New Bern, North Carolina, 1905.
The essential legend, which dates from the second half of the 19th century, is that the "Weeping Arch" cries tears of mourning for the dead interred within the cemetery.  This legend was later modified to include the cautionary element that any person struck by one of the Weeping Arch's tears would be the next person carried through the gateway in a hearse.

Cemetery wall and Weeping Arch, photo c. 1895.
Cedar Grove Cemetery had its beginning in 1799 in the cemetery established by Christ Episcopal Church as an extension of their overcrowded churchyard.  This cemetery was deeded to the City of New Bern in 1853.  The city began a program of improvements which included enlarging the burial ground and giving it the romantic name "Cedar Grove."  Chief among the improvements was the building of a "shell rock" wall around the graveyard between 1854 and 1856.  The centerpiece of this wall was the monumental arched gateway which would become known as the Weeping Arch.

The gateway may always have wept "tears."  In 1862, six years after the arch's completion,  occupying Union soldier Hiram Alonso Worden noted in his diary "drops of water continually dropping" from the arch.  For the rest of the 19th Century nearly every article or publication which mentioned Cedar Grove Cemetery described the Weeping Arch and its tears for the dead.  Sometime in the 20th Century the legend took its more sinister turn with the tears dealing out death to whomever they struck.  Generations of daredevils raced between the falling drops or pushed others beneath them.  Occasionally, especially during dry spells, a little stagecraft might be employed.  It is said that on the day before a large tour group was due to visit the cemetery, the fire department would be called out to thoroughly soak the triple arches, thus ensuring an ample supply of tears.

All this lachrymose activity may have come to a halt, though.  Recent repairs to the Weeping Arch included capping the top of the arch and repointing some of the mortar joints.  This has resulted in a distinct drying of the arch's tears.  Whatever shall we do?  Wait!  What's that siren I hear approaching from the distance? 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Vanished New Bern, No. 3

a series of views of lost area buildings

By John B. Green III

The John R. Donnell House and Office

John R. Donnell House and Office, 712 Craven Street, photo c. 1965.
The John R. Donnell House was perhaps New Bern's finest residence of the Federal Period.   Constructed for Judge Donnell between 1816 and 1819, the house and adjacent law office displayed the handiwork of Asa King, New Bern's premier builder of that time.  The house was quadrupled in size by a three-story apartment building addition to the rear in the 1920s and throughout much of the 20th century was known as the Hughes Apartments.  A spectacular fire on January 24, 1970 destroyed the apartment house addition and damaged the original house.  The Donnell house was stripped of its fine architectural details and demolished following the fire.  Some of the interior woodwork was taken to Mobile, Alabama and used in the construction of a new home, while the front portico and other elements were taken to Charlotte.  The Donnell law office was moved intact to nearby Trent Woods.   After many years of storage, the Donnell House portico was returned to New Bern in April 1985 and is now displayed in the New Bern Academy Museum.

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Three Bears

or how King William I, King William II, and Prince Albert came to grace the front of City Hall

By John B. Green III

Before New Bern was blanketed by fifty fiberglass bears during its tricentennial year of 2010, and before New Bern High School acquired its concrete Bruno the Bear mascot in 1957, New Bern could boast of three snarling, black-painted copper bears arrayed across the front of its city hall.  The story of how these bears became architectural ornaments and of how the bear became the symbol of the City of New Bern follows.

Bear above east entrance, second City Hall, photo from Die Berner Woche, 28 Oct 1939.
New Bern was founded in 1710 by Christoph von Graffenreid, a native of Berne, Switzerland, as a settlement for refugees from the German Palatinate as well as a smaller number of Swiss citizens.  He named the town which centered the colony after Berne, Switzerland.  When Berne celebrated its 700th anniversary in 1891, the mayor of New Bern traveled to Switzerland to represent the city.  The mutual good feeling engendered by this visit to Berne resulted in New Bern adopting the armorial bearings and colors of Berne in 1894 and the city of Berne presenting a handsome silk banner in 1896 which prominently featured a bear, the symbol of the ancient city.  The banner was framed and proudly displayed above the mayor's desk in the city hall on Craven Street.  The snarling Swiss bear soon became the popular symbol of New Bern.

The Craven Street city hall was remodeled in 1914 and at that time it was decided to give New Bern's symbol a more three dimensional representation.  Accordingly, three copper bear figures, modeled on the bear on the Swiss banner, were ordered through the S.B. Parker Company of New Bern, from a firm in New York.

Old City Hall with bears installed at second floor level, from a c. 1920 postcard.
Shortly after being installed on the façade of the city hall in the spring of 1914, the bears were dubbed King William the First, King William the Second, and Prince Albert, in honor of Mayor William Ellis, Alderman William B. Blades, and Alderman Albert H. Bangert, all of whom had promoted the acquisition of the figures.

In 1934 the U.S. Court House and Post Office at the corner of Pollock and Craven streets was replaced by the new Federal Building constructed at 415 Middle Street.  By 1935 the old court house had been acquired by the city of New Bern and refurbished as its new city hall.  The three bears were removed from the façade of the Craven Street city hall and two were installed above the entrances of the new city offices.

Second City Hall, with bears above south and east entrances, photo from Die Berner Woche, 28 Oct 1939.
The third bear was installed high in the pediment of the central fire station on Broad Street.

City fire station showing bear in pediment, photo from Die Berner Woche, 28 Oct 1939.
The Three Bears remain in those locations today, but some confusion now exists as to which bear is which!  A 1960 newspaper article states that King William I and King William II grace the entrances to City Hall while the bear at the fire station is Prince Albert.  A 1974 article and later articles claim that the fire house bear is King William I, while King William the II guards the Pollock Street entrance of City Hall and Prince Albert defends the Craven Street doorway.  As the Three Bears greatly resemble one another and as all three declined to be interviewed for this article, we may never know the truth.

Bear in pediment of city fire station, photo from Die Berner Woche, 28 Oct 1939.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Vanished New Bern, No. 2

a series of views of lost area buildings

By John B. Green III

The Bank Of New Bern

Photo, ca. 1930, of the Bank of New Bern, 200 block Craven Street, west side.
The Bank of New Bern was chartered by the state legislature in 1804 and by about 1818 had erected this handsome office on Craven Street.  The bank was liquidated in 1835 and the building was later occupied by the Merchants Bank of New Bern.  The structure became a private residence following the Civil War and continued as such until it was demolished in 1924.  Although replaced by an auto dealership (which was itself later demolished) parts of the Bank of New Bern live on.  One handsome mantel was salvaged and incorporated into a home in the Green Springs area near New Bern.  The elaborate pedimented front doorway, as well as other architectural details, were taken to Raleigh and likewise used in the construction of a new home.  The site of the Bank of New Bern is now occupied by a municipal parking lot.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Lions and tigers and ... raccoons?

By John B. Green III

It existed for not quite five months at the beginning of the Great Depression and it never contained much more than forty animals, but from November 1929 until it was disbanded in March 1930, New Bern could boast of having its own city zoo.  There are no known photographs of the zoo or its inhabitants, but its history can be traced through fourteen brief newspaper articles in the Morning New Bernian.  Running from November 6, 1929 to March 22, 1930, the articles detail the creation, growth, and eventual abandonment of the project due to lack of city funds.

The zoo was begun by Carter Tisdale, New Bern Superintendent of Streets, on vacant property acquired by the town following the Great Fire of 1922.  Located on the west side of George Street "near the old Stewart sanatorium property" [the 800 block of George Street, near the old George Street Recreation Center] the zoo initially consisted of a fenced area approximately 150 by 300 feet. The first newspaper article stated that Tisdale had already acquired and caged a coyote and a deer and was constructing cages for "squirrels and monkeys."

Tisdale got the idea for a city zoo from a similar facility begun in Goldsboro, North Carolina by their superintendent of streets.  Purely a voluntary effort on his part, Tisdale used his personal funds and sought donations of money and animals from local citizens.  Aside from cages and pens for the various animals, Tisdale planned to have playground equipment and a wading pool for children installed by summer.

By the time the third New Bernian article appeared on December 17th, Tisdale had constructed "a number of houses, huts and cages" for the collection of animals which now consisted of "two deer, two prairie dogs, two goats, four squirrels, a hawk, two coons [raccoons], a fox, a possum, two Canada white geese, a wild goose, [and] two white Pekin ducks."  A week later, on Christmas Day, the newspaper reported that "some little goats, a wild cat, two foxes and another coon" had been added and that the gift of "a bear has been promised."  The New Bernian reported on New Year's Eve that many visitors, including numerous children, had enjoyed the zoo during the previous week.

The news was not always as happy.  The New Year's Day edition of the New Bernian reported that on the previous Saturday night the zoo's three raccoons had been stolen and killed.  "Their hides were traced locally, however, and Mr. Tisdale thinks he has evidence against the guilty party. Officers are searching for the man, suspected of stealing the coons, skinning them and selling the hides."  Other bad news came in the form of criticism of the zoo as a waste of city tax money.  Zoo keeper Tisdale responded February 7, 1930 "that the city has not spent a single cent on the zoo and that it has not cost the taxpayers a cent."
Animals continued to be added through February 1930 including a "rare South American monkey" and a parrot.  The zoo was still receiving visitors through the middle of March including boy and girl scout troops and on one banner day 197 people viewed the animals.  Unfortunately, the expense of maintaining the zoo was beginning to exceed the personal resources of Carter Tisdale.  On March 4, he appeared before the city Board of Alderman and requested that the city take over the care and feeding of the animals which he estimated would cost $20 to $25 a week.  He stated that he had spent $1,023.50 of his own money on the zoo but could no longer afford to do so.  The aldermen instructed the Parks Committee to investigate the matter and agreed to pay for the animal feed until they reported their findings.

The zoo is not mentioned again in the Board of Aldermen minutes but the above headline from the March 18, 1930 New Bernian tells the tale.  The Aldermen had shied away from taking on the expense of the zoo and had, instead, sold the animals and equipment to the Goldsboro zoo.

By March 22, the animals were gone and the site was being cleared and prepared for a practice field for the town's junior high school baseball players.  Although the short-lived City Zoo had enjoyed much popular support and visitation had remained high, it could not survive the deepening financial crisis that would soon be known as the Great Depression.

Vanished New Bern, No. 1

beginning a series of images of lost area buildings

By John B. Green III

The Eleanor Marshall House

Photo, ca. 1960, Eleanor Marshall House, NE corner Pollock and Fleet streets.
The structure known in its later years as the Eleanor Marshall House was an early-19th century two-and-one half story house with exterior-end chimneys and double front porches or "piazzas."  It stood on the northeast corner of Pollock and Fleet streets and was the long-time home of New Bern school teacher and principal Miss Eleanor E. Marshall (1884-1949). The site is now occupied by the 1960s-era parsonage of St. Mary's Free Will Baptist Church.