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Long Route to Roanoke River Lighthouse

The lighthouse in 1916. Image from
North Carolina Historic Sites.

On February 6, 1832, Elizabeth City congressman William Shepard petitioned the House of Representatives for a light station to help guide sailors to safety by the mouth of the Roanoke River.

Two years later, Congress appropriated $10,000 for a lightship to operate on the Albemarle Sound. The ship operated through the Civil War, but was replaced by a screw-pile lighthouse that operated on whale oil in 1867. That structure, in turn, was damaged by fire and ice in the 1880s.

A larger lighthouse, the one that currently stands, was authorized in 1886 and finished by 1887. It was fitted with a Fresnel lens and continued to operate until 1941, when it was decommissioned by the Coast Guard.

The 1886 Roanoke River Lighthouse changed hands twice in the 1950s, sold for $10 each time. Edenton businessman Emmett Wiggins moved the structure to land he owned in the Chowan County town in 1955, and he lived in the building until his death.

In 2007, the Edenton Historical Commission purchased the lighthouse and restored it in cooperation with the state of North Carolina. The restored lighthouse opened to the public as part of Historic Edenton State Historic Site in 2012.

Visit: The lighthouse is open every day of the week just steps from downtown Edenton.

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For more about North Carolina’s history, arts, nature and culture, visit DNCR 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.

Dunn Favorite Son, General William C. Lee

Lee receives an honorary degree from N.C. State University in 1945.
Image from NCSU Libraries.

On February 5, 1944, William Carey Lee, the “Father of the Airborne,” suffered a heart attack that ended his military career.

Born in Dunn in 1895, Lee volunteered for the United States Army during World War I. After the war, he remained in the army and, in 1939, was assigned to the Chief of the Army’s office in Washington, D.C. There he became part of a maverick group of army officers advocating for the development of an airborne army infantry force.

The Army authorized the development of a test platoon of paratroopers, and placed Lee in charge. When the Amy raised two airborne divisions, Lee received command of the 101st. He oversaw its development and training and was instrumental in getting airborne and glider operations going at Camp Mackall and Laurinburg-Maxton Army Air Base.

The inclusion of the airborne divisions in the Normandy Invasion in June 1944 was a direct result of Lee’s work. Nevertheless, he was unable to participate due to the heart attack. However, the members of the 101st Division, the Screaming Eagles, were ordered to yell the name “Bill Lee” as they departed their transports over France in the early morning hours of D-Day.

Lee died in 1948, and is buried in Dunn.

Other related resources:

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts, nature and culture, visit DNCR 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.

Tar Heel New Dealer, Annie O’Berry

O’Berry (back row, far right) with other members of the 1925 executive board
of the North Carolina Federation of Women’s Clubs. Image from
UNC-Chapel Hill Public Libraries.

On February 4, 1944, Annie Land O’Berry, administrator of the North Carolina Emergency Relief Administration, or NCERA, and president of the Rural Rehabilitation Corporation, died while undergoing treatment for an illness.

Born in Edgecombe County in 1885, O’Berry lived on her family’s farm until she was sent to live with her sister in Littleton after her parents’ deaths.

After graduating first in her class from what is now William Peace University in Raleigh, O’Berry went to live with her brother in Kinston. Active in civic organizations and the North Carolina Federation of Women’s Clubs, she demonstrated leadership that garnered the attention of Governor Angus McLean, who appointed her to the Commission to Study County Government and the North Carolina Historical Commission.

In 1930, O’Berry was named vice-chair of the state executive committee of the Democratic Party.

In 1933, O’Berry was tapped to serve as head of the NCERA. She was one of the few women to administer a state emergency relief agency. As head of NCERA, she helped provide relief to many citizens through direct aid and employment.

She remained in charge of the off-shoot Rural Rehabilitation Corporation, which provided loans to farmers, until her death.

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts, nature and culture, visit DNCR 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.

Steamboat “Mountain Lily” Plied the French Broad

The Mountain Lilly, abandoned in the French Broad River, circa 1880-1885, near Hendersonville. Image from UNC-Asheville.

The Mountain Lilly, abandoned in the French Broad River, circa 1880-1885, near Hendersonville. Image from UNC-Asheville.

On February 3, 1881, entrepreneurs chartered the French Broad Steamboat Company, with the objective of ferrying passengers and freight along the river from Asheville to Horse Shoe to Brevard.

Six months later, they christened the frame, 90-foot-long, two-deck excursion boat the Mountain Lily. Like its eastern North Carolina counterpart, the CSS Neuse, the Mountain Lily met its fate not far from where it was constructed after a few years.

Many at the time and since have regarded the venture as folly. The French Broad is a low-volume river that can barely float low draft vessels in any season. In the years before the launch, federal funds had permitted the removal of debris and stumps, which helped make the project more viable.

On August 2, a champagne bottle was broken on the prow of the steamboat, gleaming white with green trim and sporting two staterooms each with a capacity of 100. Supporting the vessel were two 12-horsepower motors. The crowd and brass band enjoyed a barbecue. The captain rang the ship’s bell in celebration.

The dream was to be short-lived. Four years later the ship ran aground and was abandoned. Salvagers used the lumber to construct Riverside Baptist Church in Horse Shoe where they installed the bell. The two engines were re-purposed to serve local sawmills.

Visit: The N.C. Maritime Museums in Beaufort, Hatteras and Southport, and the N.C. Transportation Museum in Spencer all tell the story of water-based transportation across North Carolina.

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts, nature and culture, visit DNCR 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.

Illinois Soldiers Overrun Thomas’s Legion, 1864

“Cherokees of the Thomas Legion” by Andy Thomas

On February 2, 1864, Union Maj. Francis M. Davidson and the 14th Illinois Cavalry engaged in a skirmish with Thomas’s Legion, a Confederate company of Cherokees led by Col. William Holland Thomas, on Deep Creek near Quallatown in Haywood County.

Accounts differ as to what exactly occurred that morning, but Union forces apparently surprised the Confederates and overran them. On the Union side, two men were killed and another six were wounded, while Thomas most likely lost 10 killed and 32 captured.

Eighteen Confederate Cherokees were taken prisoner. The captives were imprisoned in Knoxville, then Union control, where all of the Cherokees took the oath of allegiance to the United States in early March. The event was a turning point in Cherokee allegiance to the Confederacy.

The affair at Deep Creek undermined Thomas’s recruiting efforts among the Cherokees. The event coincided with internal conflicts, skyrocketing food prices due to inflation, a harsh winter and an increase in starvation among Indian families.

Thomas attempted to assuage the food shortages by purchasing grain from South Carolina, but the raids into western North Carolina, such as that at Deep Creek, led to the desertion of the Eastern Band from the Confederate cause.

Other related resources:

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts, nature and culture, visit DNCR 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.

Streetcars Debut in “The Land of the Sky,” 1889

Asheville's first streetcar makes its 1889 debut. Image from the North Carolina Collection of the Pack Memorial Library.

Asheville’s first streetcar makes its 1889 debut. Image from the
North Carolina Collection of the Pack Memorial Library.

On February 1, 1889, the first streetcar in North Carolina made its debut in Asheville. The first line extended from Pack Square down Biltmore Avenue and Southside Avenue, and then was routed west of present-day McDowell Street to a train depot.

The system’s roots can be traced to the previous year, when the city authorized a charter for an electric railway that would include lines from Pack Square to various sections of the city. E.D. Davidson, who had designed a Canadian horsecar railway, agreed to build the system in collaboration with Frank Sprague, who engineered the streetcar system in Richmond.

After the initial launch, a number of railway companies organized and built streetcar lines to emerging neighborhoods and outlying areas, including the Sulphur Springs resort and Biltmore Village. By 1907, Asheville led the state in streetcar traffic, carrying 3 million passengers annually, compared to Charlotte and Wilmington with 2 million each.

By 1915, the streetcar railway reached its peak, operating 43 cars on 18 miles of track, including one to the newly opened Grove Park Inn and the surrounding upscale neighborhood.

The system ceased operation in 1934 when it was supplanted by buses.

Visit: The N.C. Transportation Museum in Spencer features a variety of exhibits on North Carolina rail history.

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts, nature and culture, visit DNCR 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.

The Wreck of the Metropolis, 1878

A sketch of the sinking of the Metropolis.

On January 31, 1878, the vessel Metropolis struck the shoals 100 yards from the beach at Currituck, halfway between two lifesaving stations.

Built in 1861 and originally called the Stars and Stripes, the ship was outfitted for naval service in September 1862 and saw action during the Battle of Roanoke Island later that year. The ship was refitted for freight and passenger service but eventually fell into disrepair, rendering it inadequate for the lengthy trips.

Nonetheless a Philadelphia company chartered the Metropolis to transport workmen and supplies to Brazil to build a railroad January 1878. By the time the ship reached the Chesapeake Bay, the cargo was shifting dangerously, causing seams in the hull to leak.

On January 31 at 6:45 a.m., the ship hit the shoals. Alarms were sounded and heroic efforts mounted but to no avail. Of the 245 passengers aboard, 85 died in the wreck.

The wreck of the Metropolis—combined with that of the USS Huron two months earlier— captured the attention of Congress and prompted it to authorize construction of new life-saving stations.

Other related resources:

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts, nature and culture, visit DNCR 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.

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