Rambles about Town: The Neuse River
[From: The Daily Journal, November 5, 1882]
We were talking last during our walk at the “swimming trees,” on the Neuse shore. Under them and around them thousands assembled during the days of the Union Fair, held where is now the truck farm of W. Dunn, Esq., to witness the boat races on the Neuse. This was just previous to the late war, and no place, as we have heretofore described it, could have been selected better adapted for the trial of the speed of horses or boats. The land was level for a track, and the river in front of it one and a half miles in width. Some of your readers at least will recollect the successful running there of Mr. William Foy’s very fine bred and beautiful horse, Woodpecker, a horse for any speed or distance, and the little running horse of the writer of this Isaac Bryan. No horse of more gameness and fleetness for size than Isaac ever looked through a bridle, and there was no scare in him. Neither guns, drums, flags, horns, crowds, could startle him, and if allowed to do so he would follow a brass band like a boy. He lived up to within a year or two ago, and when he died so venerable in age, was decently buried. His hoofs were preserved for tobacco boxes.
The Annie Latham was the victor in the boat races, a very fast clinker, the property of Capt. A.C. Latham. Then sharpies were unknown to our people. We propose hereafter to say much more of this Fair, and trust our citizens may revive the old Association. There is no point in North Carolina with more advantages than Newbern for a successful Fair. Let us again have the Fair. It would be of much profit to our merchants, great benefit to our farmers, and amusement and instruction for all our people in this and the country around us.
On this shore, too, have been thousands of soldiers, first Confederate and then Federal troops. Just above these trees, on a memorable morning, while it was still dark, Capt. Taylor Wood, of the Confederate Navy, stealthily came out of Bachelor Creek with his crew in boats, Capt. David Sermonds being his pilot, and attacked, captured, fired and blew up a Federal gunboat, which shook the town from centre to circumference and created such consternation among troops and inhabitants that time can never efface it from the memory of those who were then home.
We are now standing on the site of the old Clark house, at Core Point Ferry. The brick from the chimneys are still scattered about there, for in fact we have been on the spot in the last few days. In reaching it we passed up the old Neuse road and by where once were turpentine and rosin oil distilleries, tan-yards and saw-mills. They were situated on what was called the “string of woods,” a strip of the original growth standing on the margin of the river until swept away by the war. At this season the maples and ash would there be glowing with purple and gold. The myrtle, too, loved this shore, and the red berries would be peeping through the bright green foliage of the holly, while the darker green pines were there, ever waving their tops and sighing in the gentlest winds. We like the autumn; we like the rustling of the leaves; we like to see the autumnal sky with its hazy atmosphere; we like to see—
In golden mist
Yes, we like to see the rich and gaudy colors that decorate the withering, dying foliage. The notes of the lark and the redbreast too call up the past and reminds me of buried happiness—of life when full of joy without a fear. The weather at this season seems to throw an elusive charm over everything. Our boyish days rise up before us and we find melancholy pleasure in the imaginary hunt with old associates, so many now gone and so few now among us. Many a time, with dog and gun, we have coursed the fields around us—then in the spring of life, and it seems but yesterday. Now summer so soon has come and gone and winter is nearly reached. “The last smile of autumn lingering o’er the yellow woods” is directly before us. Thus how soon, how very soon, the brightness of noonday will be followed by darkness.
Indeed, when I stand here and look back on the revolutions and changes that the world has undergone since Tryon and his lovely wife, and perhaps the still lovelier Esther Wake, and others of his household and court stood here; since George Washington stood here; since Whitefield, too, after knocking the dust from his shoes on his departure from Bath, stood here; since scores and tens of scores of other men, eminent if not so famous in the country, stood on this ground—we are lost in wonder that man can ever be cheerful amid the ruin around him—amid the havoc constantly committee among his own acquaintances and those nearest to his own heart in every fleeting year.
“Here onward swept thy waves
The Neuse is in front of us, unchanged, rolling on into the sea. On the shore yet can be found fragments of Indian pottery and stone arrow heads. The avenue from Tryon’s palace extended to this place; the Neuse road continued on, crossing Smith’s Creek a short distance beyond the ferry, where there is at present a small bridge, then up and through the lands now called the Hines plantation and coming in the Washington road about where the same is crossed by the railroad. This for many years was the public road to Washington, and running along the margin of the river for some distance was called the Neuse road. When the change was made and the public road turned from the Red Hill, four miles from Newbern, the old name Neuse followed it. Let us say again here, the original name New should be given back to Neuse street. The name of the river is no more applicable to it, as has been heretofore shown, than it is to a dozen other streets, and it cannot be repeated too often that it is best to follow the footprints of our fathers, unless we can subserve, by stepping out of them, some interest of ourselves and those coming after us. Commence changing streets and the changes will be unending as it may suit the whims of the different boards of councilmen. We repeat once more, and with proper respect to those in authority, restore the guide-board of our fathers with New street written unmistakably upon it. The achievements of many of the eminent citizens who resided there have made a splendid page in history, not alone in the history of Newbern but also in the history of North Carolina and in the history of our country. Put up their old sign board and inscribe their names in gold upon it.
In the olden time what a delightful drive. Starting from the north front of the Palace the broad avenue was direct to Core Point Ferry. It ran then mostly through the woods. The length of it was more than a mile. The Neuse road crossed it and the drive down it on the banks of the river in summer, shaded both with cypress and cedar, made it delightful and interesting. The land and water scape were beautiful. On reaching the town the road terminated at the Newbern race course. Thus, that could be followed back to the avenue, or the drive continued around Neuse Front street and Trent Front street to the south front of the Palace—entire distance about three miles. We have no such roads now as they were, and hence carriages disappeared when there were no roads to ride upon except those either knee deep with sand or mud. Not in America, we are safe in saying, was there a town with the wealth and inhabitants of Newbern that could not boast of more carriages for some years before the late war. With the broad and beautiful sheet of water, too, near every man’s door, pleasure boats were unknown. Such boats were as scarce as the carriages. But our fathers were passionately fond of dancing and in politics were always enthusiastic and excited. The political lines were as strictly drawn as were the circles of different families, and the members of the two parties, Federalist and Republican, would take up the quarrel of each other as quickly as if one of their own kind had been attacked. The fact is brother was often arrayed against brother and father against son. Thus blood ran hot and malignant and bitter feelings frequently existed between our most intelligent and influential citizens and there was as much difference in Newbern at one time, between what was called a heated contest and the heated contest of this day, as there would be between the sham fight of militia soldiers and a pitched battle by regular troops.
As we are still looking at the Neuse obliquely across the water from us was the Core Point Ferry on the north side of the river, or Sheriff Williams’ Ferry. As before stated, it is now Pettipher’s. Williams was buried in a vault where Mr. Arthur Gaskins lives, which was also the property of Williams. He had high social popularity and frequently gave at his house both dinner and dancing parties.
The month of January, 1780, was intensely cold, and the night of the 28th of that month the coldest ever experienced in this town. The Neuse was so strongly frozen from shore to shore that Sheriff Williams, to commemorate the unheard of occurrence, gave a “grand ball” to our citizens and they passed over to his house and back next day on the ice. Mr. Stephen B. Forbes, the father of the venerable and Reverend Edward M. Forbes, now of Beaufort, that night commenced his long journey in life. He was born in a house near where is now Giffin’s Free School, then on the Palace Avenue. The writer of this heard him say a number of times before his death—he died in 1860—that members of his family had often told him that the dancing and music seemed so near to his father’s house that it could not be believed it was so distant and imagined it was in some of the houses near it. There were then residences on the Avenue and though all traces of them are, by time, obliterated. We know also, that the residences of eminent persons in Newbern have shared similar fates.
Not again was the Neuse crossed on the ice by any person until the winter of 1857, when a Capt. Day and Mr. John Jones of this town crossed from the wharf of Mr. A.T. Jerkins to the opposite shore on the ice and returned from whence they started.
Turning to the west from the yard of the old Clark residence, at Core Point, is the Federal Cemetery. Near to the place before the war, was a beautiful grove of oaks, lifting high their crests above the cedars around them, and were similar to the woodland through which was carried the Palace Avenue when first surveyed. Now walking down where the Avenue was we pass through cultivated fields and truck farms. Reaching a cedar stump in front of Griffins on George street, the old Avenue, we will stop and give its history.
F.W. Rawle commenced on the 6th of July, 1832, the survey of the first Railroad in North Carolina at this tree. The brigade, as it was then called, consisted of F.W. Rawle, Chief Engineer, Messrs. Brazier, McIlvaine, Blair, J.C. Burgwyn, and eight hands. Knowing this to be the tree where Rawle’s survey commenced, the writer of this happened to have in his power to have the survey of the Atlantic and N.C. Railroad also commenced there. The marks of both the surveying parties were on the tree. One was on the south side of it. Rawle run the life first to Beaufort and the other W. Beverhout Thompson, Chief Engineer, was on the north side of it; he run his line first to Kinston. Rawle’s report was accidentally burned in Raleigh before it was printed and thus lost, or it was so said, and during the survey and construction of the Atlantic and N.C. Road it could not be found. Col. Thompson was a cultivated gentleman, and though in his day his skill as an Engineer was underrated, yet no work either in the river or on land has stood the test of time and wear and tear better than his in North Carolina. Col. J.B. Yates when examining the A. & N.C. Railroad as an expert, said it was certainly located and constructed under the eye of an engineer. We are also told under this tree the little girls assembled to intercept Washington when riding on the Palace Avenue during his visit to Newbern. There were then the Forbes and other houses near it, thus the tree was for years protected and until on a luckless day a few years ago, an order from the town authorities allowed the proprietor of wooden factory to cut it down for buckets. Another of the foot prints of our fathers obliterated. Go on and cover them all up, what will Newbern be without these reminiscences of the past and without paint?
When we again resume the walk we will speak of the Palace, the story now would make this too long. D.