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Hiwassee Dam, Five Years in the Making

Hiwassee Dam and powerhouse

Hiwassee Dam and powerhouse. Image from
the Library of Congress.

On May 21, 1940, the Hiwassee Dam in Cherokee County generated power for the first time. The dam was built by the Tennessee Valley Authority and was one of the largest construction projects in the state at that time.

The Tennessee Valley Authority was one facet of the sprawling New Deal plan created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The goal of the TVA was to bring electricity, economic development and flood control to the Southern Appalachian region and, to achieve those aims, it recommend building dams and reservoirs along the Tennessee River and its main tributaries. The Hiwassee and the Fontana Dams were the two built in western North Carolina as part of that effort.

Work on the Hiwassee project began in July 1936, and it took a crew of 1,600 men nearly four years to complete. The building of the dam and reservoir led to the creation of Hiwassee Lake which is still used today for recreation.

At the time of construction the overspill dam was the nation’s tallest at 307 feet. The final cost of construction came in at $16.8 million, which would be about $282 million if built today.

Check out Works Projects in North Carolina, 1933-1941, an online exhibit from the State Archives, for more on New Deal projects in the Tar Heel State.

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day, subscribe by email using the box on the right and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

Secession Vote and Realigned Allegiance

A letter book copy of North Carolina's Ordinance of Secession. See the full document online from the State Archives.

A letter book copy of North Carolina’s
Ordinance of Secession. See the full document
online from the State Archives.

On May 20, 1861, North Carolina delegates unanimously voted to approve an Ordinance of Secession from the United States.  Only three months earlier, in February 1861, North Carolinians by popular vote refused to call a convention to consider a Secession Ordinance. The vote in May made North Carolina’s action the last legislative vote to secede.

Between February and May 1861 much happened that shaped the delegates’ decision. After South Carolina passed a Secession Ordinance in December 1860, one attempt after another to stem the Secession Crisis failed. North Carolinians adopted a “watch and wait” attitude after the election of President Abraham Lincoln.

The April 12 bombardment of Fort Sumter by the budding Confederate government prompted Lincoln to call for troops to put down the rebellion. Deeming such a call an illegal use of Federal power, Governor John Ellis replied that Lincoln would get no aid North Carolina.

Ellis called for a convention. The delegates debated the wording of the resolution but not the outcome. Divided sentiments expressed earlier were not voiced and the vote to pass the resolution became unanimous. Shortly thereafter the state aligned with the Confederacy.

Other related resources:

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Corbitt, Major Manufacturer of Trucks, Based in Henderson

Early school buses manufactured by the Corbitt Truck Company
in Henderson. Image from the State Archives.

On May 16, 1961, Richard Corbitt, a well-known truck builder, died.

Corbitt began his business as a tobacco merchant in the 1890s before creating the Corbitt Buggy Company in 1899. Initially building horse drawn buggies to haul agricultural products, Corbitt’s company began to produce passenger cars and trucks, and later buses and military vehicles.

The company adopted assembly line production and that, combined with successful marketing efforts, transformed the small Henderson operation into the leader in North Carolina’s auto industry. Though the Corbitt Company made the state’s first commercially produced automobile, a motorized buggy, in 1907, the most successful products it offered were trucks. It built the first of those in 1909.

Trucks continued to be the bestselling vehicles produced by Corbitt, thanks in large part to sizable contracts with the state Highway Department and U.S. military. The company is also notable for furnishing the state’s first motorized school bus, which it delivered to the Pamlico County school system, in 1917.

Corbitt’s cars and trucks sold well in the South but the company was unable to keep pace with the mass-production operations in Detroit. When Corbitt retired in 1952, the company lost its momentum and ceased production soon after.

Do you have a Corbitt vehicle in your possession or know someone who does? Contact us if you do. The N.C. Transportation Museum is looking to acquire one for its collection.

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For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day, make sure you subscribe by email using the box on the right, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Blockade Runner John N. Maffitt

Maffitt in 1863. Image from the
N.C. Museum of History.

On May 15, 1886, John Newland Maffitt, captain of Confederate blockade runners, died.

Born at sea in 1819, Maffitt split his formative years between northern schools and his uncle’s home near Fayetteville. At age 13, Maffitt was commissioned as a midshipman in the United States Navy and spent 15 years with the U. S. Coast Survey, experience that proved invaluable during his time as a blockade runner.

Following the bombardment of Fort Sumter in April 1861, Maffitt resigned his commission in the Navy and received a commission as lieutenant in the Confederate States Navy. After a two month stint in command of blockade running operations out of Nassau, Maffitt assumed command of the CSS Florida and was promoted to the rank of commander. At the helm of the Florida, Maffitt shifted his attention to raiding merchant vessels during an eight-month cruise, capturing 23 ships.

Maffitt is credited with making the Confederacy’s last run of the blockade, which took place after Gen. Robert E. Lee’s surrender. Obeying final orders from the Confederate government, Maffitt delivered the Owl to agents in England, where he remained until 1868.

With his career at sea largely over, Maffitt retired to a farm near Wrightsville Beach.

Visit: The N.C. Maritime Museum at Southport interprets the history of the blockade runners that operated in the lower Cape Fear region.

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day, subscribe by email using the box on the right and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

It’s a Shell of a Building

On May 13, 1976, the iconic Shell Service Station on East Sprague Street in Winston-Salem was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Built by R.H. Burton in 1930, the station was one of eight constructed around Winston-Salem that year in an effort by the Shell Company and its local affiliate, Quality Oil, to boost marketing in North Carolina. The Sprague Street station is the only one of the eight still in existence.

The building’s design was modeled on the logo of Royal Dutch Shell Oil at the time, and the structure was built by first boxing in the interior office and then adding a wire frame in a shell shape around it. Concrete was then poured on the wire like stucco, giving the building its distinct shape. The station reflects the literalism of advertising of the era, and it is a great example of the Pop architecture that became popular around the time.

After the structure was used as a lawn mower repair shop and had fallen into disrepair, Preservation North Carolina raised funds to bring the landmark back to its original condition in the late 1970s.

Other related resources:

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Modern-Day St. Mary’s School True to Its Nineteenth Century Roots

The Main Building, Smedes Hall, on the campus of Saint Mary’s School,
circa 1910. Image from the State Archives.

On May 12, 1842, the first classes got underway at Saint Mary’s School in Raleigh.

Established through the vision and fundraising efforts of Episcopalian minister Aldert Smedes and his wife Sarah, the school for women was converted from a similar institution for young men, built in 1831. Smedes and his wife greeted the new students at the door, and from then on the couple acted more like family than faculty to the students.

Smedes personally interviewed each student for admission, and though most students came from prosperous families throughout North and South Carolina, Smedes would grant scholarships to girls whose families were unable to provide tuition.  He understood that the education of young women, as well as the confidence and skills it confers, was essential for coming generations.

The chapel at St. Mary’s School, circa 1910.
Image from the State Archives.

The school offered a junior college program until 1997, but shuttered that program to focus on high school and college preparatory classes, which it continues to offer this day.

The school’s entire 23-acre campus is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and its iconic Gothic Revival style campus chapel, designed by architect Richard Upjohn in 1857, continues to be a Raleigh landmark to this day.

Other related resources:

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day, subscribe by email using the box on the right and follow us on Facebook,Twitter and Pinterest.

Worth Bagley of Raleigh, Casualty of the Spanish-American War

Bagley-Funeral

Worth Bagley’s 1898 funeral at the State Capitol.
Image from the N.C. Museum of History.

On May 11, 1898, in battle at Cárdenas, Cuba, Ensign Worth Bagley became the first naval officer and first North Carolinian killed in the Spanish-American War.

The sinking of the USS Maine in February 1898 led the United States to declare war against Spain. North Carolina met President William McKinley’s call for troops by establishing three regiments.

An 1898 portrait of Bagley. Image from the N.C. Museum of History.

An 1898 portrait of Bagley. Image from
the N.C. Museum of History.

Born in Raleigh in April 1874, Worth Bagley graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1895. He achieved the rank of ensign in July 1897, and, in November, was appointed inspector of the new torpedo boat Winslow. When she was commissioned the following month, Bagley became her executive officer. In April 1898, the Winslow was mobilized, with the fleet it was a part of, for operations in Cuban waters.

On the morning of May 11, the ship went with two others to force open the entrance to the harbor of Cárdenas. The Winslow was fired upon by a Spanish gunboat and a battle ensued. The ship was disabled and was hauled out of range of the Spanish guns. Just as the engagement ended, Bagley and four sailors were killed by a shell.

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day, subscribe by email using the box on the right and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

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