Friday, May 29, 2015

Sails before the wind

Coastal windmills of North Carolina

"The Beach at Beaufort Harbor, North Carolina" from John L. Stoddard, Scenic America, c. 1895.
By John B. Green III

It seems incredible today, but there was once a time when windmills were nearly as common along the coast of North Carolina as they were in Holland.  Used primarily as grist mills to grind corn or wheat into meal or flour, they numbered in the hundreds and could be found wherever unimpeded access to reliable winds existed.  They were the only practical type of mill along the outermost coastal plain and the barrier islands where broad estuaries and low elevations usually precluded the erection of mill-dams and water-powered mills

W.D. Murray mill near Fairfield, Hyde County, postcard ca. 1910.

Documents and photographs indicate that the predominant type of windmill erected in coastal North Carolina was the "post" mill.  In a post mill the entire mill structure housing the machinery rotated around a large, heavily braced central post.  A tail pole extending downward from the mill and terminating in a wheel could be pushed by the miller around a track to change the orientation of the mill to match the prevailing winds.

Map showing windmill sites in coastal North Carolina prior to 1900, from Tucker R. Littleton, "When Windmills Whirled on the Tar Heel Coast," The State, October 1980.

So, how many windmills were there and where were they located?  The late Onslow County historian Tucker R. Littleton documented one hundred and fifty-five windmills existing in coastal North Carolina between 1748 and 1900!  Carteret County led the list with 65 documented windmills with the rest being found from Brunswick County in the south to Currituck County in the north and as far inland as the towns of Washington and New Bern.  And yet, by 1920 the coast's windmills were gone.  By the time Littleton conducted his research in 1979 and 1980 he could find few who remembered the windmills and many who expressed outright disbelief that such mills had ever existed.  What happened?

Windmill near Morehead City, Carteret County, postcard ca. 1910.

The downfall of coastal North Carolina's windmills came about through changing technology.  Beginning in the late 19th century with the introduction of small steam-powered grist mills and continuing into the early 20th century with the arrival of portable gasoline-powered milling equipment, the old wind-powered mills were gradually abandoned. Dismantled or simply left to fall apart, they soon disappeared from the windswept landscape they had dominated for nearly 200 years.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

The 10th of May

Confederate Monument, Cedar Grove Cemetery, New Bern, N.C.
By John B. Green III

In October 1866 a number of New Bern women came together to form the Ladies Memorial Association.  They were the near relatives of deceased Confederate soldiers and their aim was to see to the proper burial of their husbands, fathers, sons, and brothers.  These men lay in hastily dug graves scattered across the city and the countryside.  Some lay abandoned in distant fields and woods hundreds of miles from where they had been born and raised.  By November the ladies had secured a large lot in Cedar Grove Cemetery on which to construct a tomb.  The cornerstone of the structure was laid May 2, 1867.  When completed at the cost of $3,000 this remarkable subterranean brick vault measured approximately sixty feet in length by ten feet in width with the floor of the tomb being approximately twelve feet beneath the surface.  The remains of seventy-one Confederate soldiers were then placed in the tomb.  In subsequent years the Ladies Memorial Association sought to erect a suitable marker above the tomb.  Constructed in stages over ten years the large marble monument topped by a life-sized Confederate soldier was dedicated on May 11, 1885.

Poem composed by Mary Bayard Clarke for Confederate Memorial Day, 1878.
Through the years the Ladies Memorial Association (later the New Bern Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy) made annual pilgrimages to decorate the monument and the graves of Confederate veterans buried in private plots across the cemetery.  The commemorations usually fell on or about May 10th, the anniversary of the death in 1863 of Confederate General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson, and the date chosen by North Carolina and South Carolina as Confederate Memorial Day.  These events consisted of speeches and floral presentations and the reading and singing of poems and songs extolling the "Lost Cause" of the late Confederacy and the bravery and sacrifice of the Southern soldiers and those they left behind.  Attendance sometimes numbered in the hundreds and included veterans, school children, ministers, and public officials.

Confederate Memorial Day remained popular in New Bern and throughout the South well into the 20th century although attendance declined as the veterans and those closest to them passed away.  The last addition to the memorial in Cedar Grove Cemetery occurred on  May 10, 1955 when a large granite and bronze marker was dedicated.  Supplied by the Department of the Army, through the auspices of Congressman Graham A. Barden, the marker listed the Confederate soldiers interred in the tomb beneath the monument.

Dedication of bronze memorial tablet, Cedar Grove Cemetery, 10 May 1955.
Today the public celebration of Confederate Memorial Day is a fading memory in New Bern and elsewhere.  The New Bern Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy ceased to exist more than thirty years ago.  Yet the 10th of May in Cedar Grove Cemetery usually finds a small flag or flower or card placed by some person or persons unknown.  Someone still remembers.

Anonymous tribute left May 10, 1994 following the vandalism of the Confederate tomb.