Friday, May 24, 2019

Support Your Local Library - Rent a Row Boat!

Or how a determined group of ladies purchased a disused yacht club and turned it into a library

Silver Cross Retreat, home of the King's Daughters Library,
photo attributed to Edward Gerock, c.1895.

By John B. Green III

This week's "treasure" from the Kellenberger Room is a photograph and the third item relating to the history of the library which we have examined in recent weeks.  The photograph is of a large boathouse which had been constructed over the Neuse River at the foot of Broad Street in 1891 for the New Bern Yacht Club.  Four years later the fortunes of the yacht club had declined and, in a most unlikely turn of events, the club sold the building along with five row boats to the New Bern branch of the King's Daughters, a Christian philanthropic organization.  New Bern's "Whatsoever" circle of the King's Daughters had been formed in 1890 and counted among its many laudable goals the creation of a public library for the town.  By 1895 the local King's Daughters felt the need of a permanent meeting place as well as a home for their growing library.  On July 29, 1895 they acquired the New Bern Yacht Club building and soon thereafter renamed it The Silver Cross Retreat as a reference to the national emblem of their order.

The building was put into good repair as were the five rowboats which had come as part of the purchase.  The second floor was used for meetings of the King's Daughters and as the home for the library.  Building and boats could be rented for special events with the proceeds supporting the library.  The Retreat became a popular spot for waterfront musicales in the evenings and the library grew in size and use.  When first formed in 1890 the library had been open to all members of the community but by 1896, under the operation of the "Mission Ten" circle, it was felt necessary to convert it to a subscription library in order to more adequately cover the operating expenses.

After four years of successful operation The Silver Cross Retreat suffered a blow from which neither  it nor the King's Daughters Library could survive.  The wind and storm surge of the unnamed hurricane which struck New Bern and coastal North Carolina October 30 through 31, 1899 heavily damaged the Retreat.  The wharf leading to the building as well as the platform around the Retreat were washed away.  The building was left battered and isolated on its pilings out in the river.  Soon thereafter the King's Daughters decided to relocate their headquarters and library and the Retreat was offered for sale.  Eventually the King's Daughters found the operation of a library beyond their means and a distraction from their charitable work in the community.  By 1902 they had donated their collection of books to the newly formed New Bern Circulating Library which would eventually become the New Bern-Craven County Public Library of today.

Silver Cross Retreat, home of the King's Daughters Library,
engraving based on a photograph by Edward Gerock, c.1895,
from The Silver Cross (New Berne Edition), 1895. 
Image courtesy Tryon Palace, New Bern, N.C.

This brings us back to our featured photograph.  Owned by Mrs. G. Tull Richardson of Bellair Plantation, the photo was copied on December 6, 1983 by John B. Green III (your blogger) and Peter B. Sandbeck for the New Bern-Craven County Photographic Archive.  Some thirty years later the Kellenberger Room was able to acquire the photograph at the sale of the contents of Bellair.  There has always been a question about the photo - Does it represent the boat house during its ownership by the New Bern Yacht Club or the King's Daughters?  This is of some importance if we want to describe it as representing our library's first home, however short-lived.  In examining the image for inclusion in this post a symbol or device could be seen in the gable end of the boathouse although it was indistinct.  The symbol's identity became clear when the above engraving was examined.  Based on a photograph by New Bern photographer Edward Gerock, the engraving appears in the "New Berne" edition of The Silver Cross, the national newspaper of the King's Daughters.  This edition was published by the local King's Daughters in the fall of 1895 as a fund-raising effort for the newly purchased Silver Cross Retreat.  In the gable end of the building in the engraving can be clearly seen a large Maltese cross, the symbol of the King's Daughters national organization and the origin of the Retreat's name.  The photograph does show the building when it housed the King's Daughters Library!  Two copies of this special edition can be found today in the collections of Tryon Palace Historic Sites and Gardens which provided the scan of the engraving for this post.