Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Colonial Revival

or how a business man and an architect "overhauled" an 18th century house

By John B. Green III

Coor-Bishop House, 200 block New Street, detail from a ca. 1900 photograph. New Bern-Craven County Public Library
To most observers the structure known today as the Coor-Bishop House appears to be an early 20th century example of the Colonial Revival movement in American architecture.  Few realize that it is in fact a colonial structure dating from the late 1770s.  The house visible today is the result of the 1906-1907 remodeling of a much older structure.

Coor-Bishop House, detail from a ca. 1900 photograph, showing the gable end of the house facing the Neuse River. New Bern-Craven County Public Library
The house is believed to have been constructed by New Bern merchant James Coor in the late 1770s.  As originally built, the house was a large two-story center-hall plan residence, two rooms deep, with a gable roof and two interior chimneys.  It was constructed on the northwest corner of East Front and New streets and faced New.  Coor sold the house to Thomas Emory in 1778.  In 1806 it became the town home of George Pollock, one of the wealthiest planters in the state.  It was here in 1819 that Pollock entertained President James Monroe and Secretary of War John C. Calhoun during their visit to New Bern.  By the late 19th century the house was the property of the Manly family who sold it to New Bern merchant E.K. Bishop in 1900.

E.K. Bishop, from Carraway, Crown of Life, 1940.
Edward K. Bishop (1860-1951) was a successful commission merchant and dedicated churchman and philanthropist.  After acquiring the Manly property Bishop hired New Bern's prolific architect Herbert Woodley Simpson to design plans for remodeling the old home and W.E. Brock to supervise the construction.  The result was a near complete rebuilding of the house, inside and out, between 1906 and 1907.  As the New Bern Daily Journal remarked on May 1, 1907, the original house had been "overhauled to such an extent that the identity is essentially lost."  Not only was the appearance of the house changed but it was also reoriented on its lot by being moved back several feet and turned ninety degrees to face East Front Street and the Neuse River.

Herbert Woodley Simpson (1870-1945), New Bern architect.

Coor-Bishop House, first floor plan by Herbert Woodley Simpson.
The only significant portion of the original house remaining after this drastic remodeling was the fine mahogany-trimmed stair, a near duplicate of the stair in the John Wright Stanly House. 

Coor-Bishop House as remodeled 1906-1907. New Bern Historical Society
While the Coor-Bishop House today is a fine example of the Colonial Revival style, and while it is good that the 18th-century stair was saved, we are left wondering what the rest of the original interior was like and what happened to it.  A clue to its disposition may lie in an advertisement which began running in the Daily Journal the month the reconstruction was completed.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Underwriter rises from the deep

or how the remains of a Union gunboat were retrieved from a watery grave!

By John B. Green III

Detail of J.O. Davidson, Confederates Burning the Gunboat Underwriter, from The American Heritage Century Collection of Civil War Art, 1974.
The U.S.S. Underwriter, Union Navy gunboat, began life as a side-wheel commercial steamer constructed in Brooklyn, New York in 1852.  Purchased by the U.S. Navy, like many other civilian craft in the early days of the Civil War, she was converted to a gunboat for blockade duty in August 1861.  The ship saw extensive action along the coast and in the sound regions of North Carolina, participating in the attack on New Bern, March 14, 1862.  She would be engaged in various duties in and around New Bern through early 1864.

The U.S.S. Underwriter fell victim to a daring Confederate commando raid, part of a larger attempt to retake New Bern from the occupying Union forces.  In the early morning hours of February 2, 1864, the Confederate commandos led by Commander John Taylor Wood approached the ship in longboats and, after a brief fight, overpowered the Underwriter's crew and seized the ship.  The Confederate plan was to get the ship underway and use her guns to assist the larger land assault on New Bern.  It was soon discovered that the ship's boiler fires were banked and that it would take too long to get up steam.  At the same time Union shore batteries had detected the Confederate efforts to make away with the Underwriter and had begun to fire upon the vessel and her southern captors.  Commander Wood ordered the ship to be set afire and, taking his Union prisoners with him, abandoned the vessel.  The fires and eventual explosion of the Underwriter's magazine sent the gunboat to the bottom of the Neuse River.  Much of the vessel was salvaged during and after the war but a large debris field remained along the river's muddy bottom.

In 1986 the debris field was discovered by recreational divers in the Neuse River just off the Maola Milk plant property.  The largest identifiable piece of the Underwriter was a damaged and slightly charred naval gun carriage.  The divers alerted the state underwater archaeologists at Fort Fisher, North Carolina and plans were soon laid to explore the site and retrieve the gun carriage.  After conservation, the gun carriage would become a major addition to the Civil War room of the New Bern Academy Museum.  After recovering hundreds of smaller artifacts from the site, the recovery of the gun carriage was set for June 26, 1987.  On that day a large air bag was attached to the gun carriage and inflated, lifting the heavy object from the river bottom.  The air bag with the gun carriage slung beneath it was towed down the Neuse, around Union Point, and up the Trent to Barbour Boat Works.  The shipyard's crane lifted the Underwriter's gun carriage and placed it on a trailer for transport to the conservation facility at Fort Fisher.  After many months of stabilization, the gun carriage was returned to New Bern and placed in the New Bern Academy Museum.

The following photographs of the recovery of the Underwriter gun carriage were taken by the author on June 26, 1987.

The gun carriage, still underwater beneath the air bag, arrives at Barbour Boat Works.

Slings holding the gun carriage are attached to the cable of the shipyard crane.

The gun carriage breaks the water for the first time in 123 years.

The gun carriage is swung away from the water . . .

. . . and carefully lowered onto the waiting trailer.

The gun carriage parked at Tryon Palace before beginning its journey to Fort Fisher.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Gray Ghost

Confederate veteran Charles Frederick Hargett of New Bern, NC., ca. 1925.
By John B. Green III

The collections of the Kellenberger Room contain relatively few photographs of people compared with the hundreds of images of buildings and street scenes.  But there are a few including the above image of local Confederate veteran Charles Frederick Hargett.  Hargett was born in New Bern in 1841 and was twenty years old when the Civil War began.  Enlisting on June 3, 1861 in the Elm City Rifles (a local volunteer unit later designated as Company K, 2nd Regiment, North Carolina State Troops) he served throughout the war, surrendering at Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia in April 1865.  He was wounded four times during the course of his service - in the neck, arm, leg, and side - but lived to return to his life in New Bern.   In later years Hargett was a member of New Bern Camp No. 1162, United Confederate Veterans, serving as color-bearer.  Charles Frederick Hargett died on February 4, 1928 at the age of 87.  He was buried the next day in Cedar Grove Cemetery in his war-time uniform.  Fellow veterans served as pall bearers and honor guard.

Detail of above image showing Confederate veteran's badge and ribbon.

Veterans ribbon, New Bern Camp No. 1162, U.C.V. similar to that seen above.

Monday, March 2, 2015

How Firm a Foundation

Cornerstones in New Bern

By John B. Green III

Cornerstone laying ceremony, New Bern Scottish Rite Temple, 1948. Photo courtesy New Bern Scottish Rite.
Many prominent buildings have cornerstones - decorative and inscribed stones giving the name of the building or organization erecting the building, the date, and other pertinent information.  Many are hollow in order to receive and preserve a container of mementos for posterity.  And, almost always, a public ceremony is held to properly lay the cornerstone.

Cornerstone, New Bern Scottish Rite Temple, 1948.
These buildings include courthouses and city halls, schools, churches, and the quarters of fraternal organizations.  A quick survey of New Bern's downtown historic district reveals ten cornerstones dating from 1801 to 1948.  Of these ten stones, eight are placed at or near the northeast corner of the building.  This raises an interesting point.  Why are the majority of cornerstones in New Bern and many other places laid in the northeast corner?  For the probable answer we need to examine the history of a group long associated with the ceremonial laying of cornerstones - the Freemasons. [cue ominous music!]

Freemasonry traditionally traces its origin to the master stonemasons involved in the building of King Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem.  In the Masonic tradition, the corner stone of the temple was laid in the northeast corner - the corner which first received the rays of the rising sun.  The receiving of light or enlightenment is an important concept in Freemasonry and by ancient tradition the cornerstones of Masonic buildings are always laid in the northeast corner.  Freemasonry developed special ceremonies for the laying of cornerstones and as their membership often included the most prominent members of the community they were called upon to lay the cornerstones for non-Masonic buildings as well.  The Masons' preference for the northeast corner, combined with its biblical connotations, may have led others to adopt the northeast corner as the proper place for a cornerstone.

While the earliest known Masonic cornerstone laying in New Bern was for St. John's Lodge No. 3's new building begun in 1801, the next earliest known is for First Presbyterian Church.  The Newbern Sentinel for June 12, 1819 reported on the "interesting ceremony of laying the foundation CORNER-STONE of the first Presbyterian Meeting-House in Newbern."  Following  religious services by the Rev. J. Nicholson Campbell, "the corner-stone was then deposited by the master masons present."

Obverse (top) and reverse of engraved silver plate placed with other relics in the cornerstone of St. John's Lodge No. 3, 1801.

While the original cornerstone for the Presbyterian church was laid in the southeast corner (and is no longer visible) the following New Bern buildings have or had their cornerstones at their northeast corners: St. John's Lodge No. 3 (1801), Craven County Courthouse (1883), Second Newbern Academy (1884), Centenary Methodist Church (1904), New Bern Elk's Temple (1908), St. Cyprian's Episcopal Church (1910), U.S. Courthouse and Post Office (1933), and the New Bern Scottish Rite Temple (1948).  Of these cornerstones, five are known to have been laid by Freemasons: St. John's Lodge, Craven County Courthouse, Second Newbern Academy, St. Cyprian's Episcopal Church, and the New Bern Scottish Rite Temple.  Thus, by the early 20th century the northeast corner seems to have been firmly established in New Bern as the proper location for a cornerstone and on many occasions the Freemasons were called upon to conduct the cornerstone laying ceremonies.

Cornerstone, Second Newbern Academy Building, 1884.
We'll close with an excerpt from the New Bern Daily Journal for June 18, 1884 detailing the laying of the cornerstone of the Second Newbern Academy building.