Family Traditions

BY Anne Russell PhD

My grandfather Edward Wootten reminisced as he guided his 1942 Nash across the Bradley Creek bridge and turned right onto Shell Road. My grandmothers fully loaded picnic basket teetered next to me on the back seat. We passed the entrance to Airlie Gardens where gatekeeper Minnie Evans sold her fanciful drawings to visitors for a pittance. “This was Uncle Richard Bradleys place ” my grandfather said. “Called Edgehill.”

Our journey continued beneath the shade of ancient live oaks. We rounded the sweeping curve and the vista suddenly opened onto the Intracoastal Waterway. The Nash bumped over the drawbridge to Harbor Island. “Cousin Norwood Giles sailing yacht Pirate met a sad end here in the Great Storm of 1899 ” said my grandfather. “Likely whats left is still on the bottom of Wrightsville Sound.”

As we crossed over Banks Channel through the open car window I could see the tall water tower adjacent to our destination the Carolina Yacht Club (CYC). “The Yacht Club was the first structure on Wrightsville Beach ” said my grandfather. “Founded in 1853. Uncle Richard was the first commodore. Oh he loved to sail ocean and sound.” The Nash pulled into the parking lot marked by a sign stating “Members Only.” We lugged beach bags and a picnic basket up the boardwalk to a rambling shingled structure ringed with porches. “Station Four on the trolley line ” my grandfather said.

Through my grandfathers lore I came to learn the history of one of the most unique social organizations in America and how it contributed to the evolution of a strip of sand called the Hammocks into the incorporated community known as Wrightsville Beach.

CYC co-founders Richard Bradley III Talcott Burr Daniel Baker Parker Quince T.M. Gardner John Reston and Richard J. Jones were related by blood or marriage. Their day jobs were in law banking publishing commerce and public service but their shared love was competing in ocean races and the CYC provided shelter from sudden storms.

From these seven men in April 1853 the Carolina Yacht Club has grown to 1 700 voting members many of whom carry the original bloodlines unto the sixth generation. It is a place above all else of history tradition and family.Y

The Civil War put a chill on merry parties attended by early CYC members. Yachts were commandeered by the military and when the war was over Richard Bradleys Hiawatha and Princess George Harriss Undine Daniel Bakers Flying Cloud W.A. Wrights Twilight and the Giles yacht Eleanor were among the missing.

But two decades after the wars end 130 names were listed on the club register. In 1888 the club acquired the property it had formerly leased from Wilmington Sea Coast Railroad and plans were made to upgrade the structure. Two new yachts were ordered.

Wrightsville Beach developed into a summer community on either side of the Carolina Yacht Club. In 1892 cottages were owned by the Waddell Harriss Strange Northrop Hall Heyer Fishblate McLaurin Hicks Bear Pearsall Emerson Parsley Bridgers Murchison and Latimer families. Beach access from Harbor Island was by train and footbridge.

The original club building has gone through several transformations keeping the same location and architectural style. After the Great Storm of 1899 the CYC was redesigned by architect Charles McMillen who had designed Wilmingtons Masonic Temple with a second story commodious porches and wings. In 1902 the first trolley car stopped at the club and a bowling alley was added to the CYC in 1905. The Great Fire of 1934 destroyed 103 structures on the north end of the beach but spared the Carolina Yacht Club and brought in new members who had lost their summer homes.

World War II caused significant change in the ordinary life of Wrightsville Beach and the CYC. Military uniforms appeared in club dressing rooms when members were home on leave. Regattas were diminished and “war stamps” were presented as prizes in boat races. Blackouts brought quiet to club porches for out beyond the ocean breakers lurked German submarines. Sticky dark brown oil residue marred the beach and stained bare feet. Stateside CYC members guarded the waters. Everett Huggins Billy Sutton George Clark Bob Williams Buddy Corbett Lem Doss and Albert Perry joined the horse patrol. Coast Guard Auxiliary motorboats anchored in the inlets to prevent ingress and egress without a boat pass. Orders were to carry a signal pistol shoot and “run like hell” if a problem arose.

When WWII came to an end the CYC returned to normal until the Korean Conflict again put military uniforms in the locker rooms. Teenage dances resumed with the shag very much in evidence and a card game called canasta drew fans. But a hundred years after the founding of the Carolina Yacht Club in 1954 Hurricane Hazel precipitated its second rebuilding.

In the early morning of October 15 Wrightsville Beach was evacuated and seawater several feet deep covered the island. When the storm had passed 89 cottages were destroyed and 200 more were badly damaged. The CYC was demolished along with its fleet of boats.

On November 18 the 600 club members held their annual meeting at an alternate site the New Hanover County courthouse and approved a reconstruction plan. The mens and womens dorms had to be sacrificed because of building code requirements. A member assessment was set to finance a bank loan which caused the resignations of 50 members but opened the rolls to 50 new members and the club entered its second century of existence.

In July 1966 the CYC sponsored an initial ocean race of cruising sailboats and in 1967 the Wrightsville Beach Ocean Racing Association was formed. An Olympic Circle was created with buoys which used the ends of Johnnie Mercers and Crystal fishing piers as markers the first racing course of its kind in the United States. In 1972 the CYC was selected as the site of the world championship of the U. S. Fireball Association. (Fireballs are popular high-performance two-person sailing dinghies built for speed ease of sailing and pure fun.)

The club purchased the old Wrightsville Beach Town Hall in 1987 which allowed extra room for parking. Improvements in the 1980s and 1990s included an elevator from the first-floor ballroom to the second floor to accommodate members and guests who had trouble navigating stairs and a soundside boat hoist was installed.

Over the years the wood boardwalk was replaced with a concrete sidewalk and landscaping became more manicured. Today a professional manager assistant manager and fleet of high school and college students serve the needs of this social organization which has grown so exponentially that even the adult children of members have difficulty attaining membership.

When openings do occur new members are nominated by existing members and voted in by the entire membership. Thus the CYC functions as an extended family reflected in its physical structure activities and the “Rules” that allow so many people to graciously share such a small space.

Printed in the CYC members handbook an evolution of charter by-laws and rules first issued June 21 1873 and displayed appropriately as reminders the Rules have a reason for being. The White Line running the length of the porch allows those in wet bathing suits to have access to the Mens and Womens dressing rooms keeping rocking chairs dry for occupants. The kitchen and dining porch are off-limits to bare feet to avoid cuts from an occasional broken glass or dinner plate. The upstairs social room and bar are Adults Only according to the law for serving alcoholic beverages and to offer respite from the energies of children. Parking requires a CYC sticker displayed on the windshield because beach parking is at a premium and the lot is hard-pressed to accommodate members vehicles. The oceanfront main building is supplemented sound-side by several boat-launching ramps docks and piers and a spacious vintage sound-view cottage next door to the CYC is available for rental to members.

The Carolina Yacht Club is designed to meet the needs of all ages. A game room attracts young people; a grill offers sandwiches salads and beverages; a nursery provides cribs; a ballroom is utilized for dances and wedding receptions; clothing and miscellaneous items may be purchased at the club store; two lost-found bins safeguard misplaced possessions; surfboard lockers are arranged beneath the porch; a childrens sheltered play area is equipped with slides and swings; dishes cooking utensils large see-through refrigerators gas stoves lockers and ice are available in the kitchen; hot showers allow members to wash off sand and sea after swimming.

To perpetuate the sailing tradition which is the CYCs founding principle a sailing program offers lessons to young people and a regular race schedule to hone skills. Regattas bring competition against other yacht clubs. As the second oldest yacht club in America still on its original site unlike the New York Yacht Club Charleston Yacht Club and San Francisco Yacht Club the CYC is sited on both ocean and sound. The atmosphere is not formal but casual and recreational. The ladies bridge luncheon is on Thursdays childrens bingo on Tuesdays. There are a fishing regatta club dance oyster roast fish fry pig picking shrimperoo and chili supper.

Eight club officers are elected annually including the commodore who functions as the club president. In the context of the customs of the larger culture until the latter part of the 20th century all voting members were male. Progressing with the times the club began admitting females to membership among them Laura Harriss Head a fourth-generation member whose great-grandfather was Dr. William White Harriss and whose grandfather was legendary George Nehemiah Harriss. Laura married CYC member Billy Head related to the Bradley family and their children Will and Laura are fifth-generation CYCers.

Fourth-generation Molly Leete also joined as soon as women were admitted following her father grandfather and great-grandfather William Anders Cumming who was on the list of 29 key-carrying members along with Richard Bradley W.L. and H.B. Jewett G.L. Dudley Clayton and Norwood Giles R.H. Grant G.D. Parsley H.G. Latimer and W.A. Wright Jr. Mollys children John and Elizabeth carry on the tradition.

In 1974 Charlotte Sprunt Murchison became the first female elected to the CYC board of governors and in 1992 Allene Keith won a seat. In 2002 Leigh Murray daughter of Commodore Roy Hobbs served as the first female commodore and at this Octobers annual meeting Elizabeth Dooley was elected commodore for the 2008-09 season.

The wait list is very very long because the CYC facilities can only accommodate a finite number of people boats and cars. Although the initiation fee has also increased substantially annual dues are still quite modest. Membership in this unique attractive comfortable club is not about net worth but much more about bloodlines. One may be born or marry into the Carolina Yacht Club but one does not simply buy in.

In recent years an informal group has evolved that gathers one night a week to watch the sunset from the upper deck and gravitate to the kitchen to prepare a communal potluck shared on the dining porch as the moon rises over the ocean. Named the Secret Sailing Society (tongue in cheek) by gregarious Emily Bridgman its participants few of whom actually sail include members of all ages most related somewhere on the CYC family tree. Any club member who wishes to bring a dish homemade or “store-bought ” may draw up a chair.

Third-generation CYCer Jim Hickmon was lifeguard at the CYC from 1952 through 1954 when Hurricane Hazel made her rude visit. Former Wrightsville Beach Mayor Bob Sawyers son John Sawyer served as CYC commodore and Johns daughter Ellyn is a member along with her cousin Lucy and uncle Tom Sawyer. Dorothy Harriss Weathersbees grandfather was Andrew Howell Harriss and her son Sandy carries on the CYC tradition.

Bruce Deschamps son of Marshall Deschamps has a son David Deschamps who is a third-generation CYC member. Mary Virginia Swains grandfather George Thomas Swain joined when the family cottage was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1934.

Ashley Greer McCormacks grandfather was member Gardner Davis Greer her father Robert G. Greer. Member Matthew Gaylords grandfather was Dr. William Phillips. William Eugene Edwards son Bill and grandchildren Gade and Kim are members.

Among fourth-generation families are Stone Hicks Beery-Woodbury-Doxey Hughes Hardin Lynch Harriss and Symmes. Fifth-generation member Agnes Beanes ancestor was Dr. Thomas Henry Wright who sailed the yacht Rob Roy. Cousins Leslie Clapp Louise Walston Susan Wetherill and Taylor Humphreys are also fifth-generation members going back to John London Dudley.

Sixth- and seventh-generation members include Jean Scott Bellamy and Margaret Scott Freeman whose lineage goes back to founding member John Reston; James E. Moore Jr.; the son and daughter of member Frank Symmes whose family also goes all the way back to founder John Reston; the children of Harry Stovall III whose great-uncle Buddy Corbett was commodore in 1922; and the Tillery family with Wade Hampton Tillery IIIs grandfather serving as commodore during the CYCs centennial in 1953 with a lineage back to founder Parker Quince who married Jane Hill. Another Parker Quince descendant is David Cantwell son of Bob Cantwell. Amoret Bradley Sprunt Phillips is a direct descendant of the Richard Bradley family her father being James Laurence Sprunt Jr. Other Bradley family members are former commodore Rob McEachern and Margaret Head Hummel.

In 2008 a century and a half after the founding of the Carolina Yacht Club many members share a family resemblance that has persisted over the generations. Past commodore Michael Brown married Jane Fox whose mother Kates grandmother was the first woman to spend the night at the CYC having sailed over and been stranded by a storm. Janes great-grandfather used to crew for Michaels grandfather in sailing races and Jane and Michaels children are their own fourth cousins as well as being their fathers third cousins twice removed.

John Haywood Hardin II whose great-grandfather grandfathers father and uncles were members best expresses the way CYCers feel about the Club. “Its a communal place … The windows are open we feel a strong breeze or ceiling fan the floors are pine and there is a comfortable rocking chair on the back porch at sunset. I like hearing the ping-ping-ping of a rope against a sailboat mast smelling the popcorn maker while waiting for my drink. I like seeing generations of families together on the beach. The Yacht Club is a repository of the way life used to be. Its a time capsule. I hope it will be that way for my daughter when she has her own children and continues the CYC legacy of my family.”

Six decades have passed since I rode with my grandfather Ed Wootten down Airlie Road and across the drawbridge to the wonders of the Carolina Yacht Club. Now as I drive east on Airlie I find myself passing on CYC lore to my own grandchildren behind me in their booster seats my grandmothers venerable picnic basket between them.