History Marks the Spot

2016-6

By Dan Camacho • Photography by Allison Potter H I S T O R Y M A R K S T H E S P O T Learn about the Cape Fe a r r e g ion’ s pa s t through markers of different sizes and shapes They are planted along the highways and byways of New Hanover County, attached to ancient houses and struc-tures, placed along the Riverwalk downtown, and strategically located at intersections frequented by pedestrians. In a few words or several sentences, they bear testimony to the unique history of the Cape Fear region: George Washington slept here. Whistler’s Mother was born there. Woodrow Wilson lived over yonder. Slaves fleeing via the Underground Railroad boarded boats nearby. They are in plain sight, yet easily overlooked. But for those who pay attention, historical markers of different sizes, shapes and purposes help tell the story of the area’s significant and compelling past. H I G H W A Y M A R K E R S Anyone who has traveled the highways and byways of the state has surely noticed the silver-and-black aluminum cast shields atop poles that are part of the North Carolina Highway Historical Marker program. Often referred to as “history on a stick,” they offer short nuggets of local significance. There are some 1,500 of them located along North Carolina’s highways, and 68 in New Hanover County. Of course, most of the history didn’t occur on the shoulders of today’s roads. These markers typically refer to nearby locations. For instance, a marker on the northeast corner of Market and Third streets points to the location of the “Old Courthouse” that “stood two blocks west,” literally in the middle of the intersection of Market and Front streets. This marker notes that stamp master William Houston was forced to resign there in 1765. In one of the United States’ first rebellions against the British (preceding the Boston Tea Party by eight years), the citizens of Wilmington were enraged by the passage of the Stamp Act, which taxed most forms of paper. A mob marched to the stamp master’s inn and forced him to the courthouse. Having been unexpectedly named to the position, and not really wanting it, Houston readily resigned. Afterward, the crowd reportedly hoisted him upon a chair and paraded him around the courthouse in “wild celebration,” presumably beneath where the traffic lights hang today. While 21 of these markers are located downtown along Third and Market streets, 47 are located elsewhere in New Hanover County. The most recent was placed in October 2015 on Wrightsville Beach’s Waynick Boulevard across from Bridgers Street. It is titled “Pioneer East Coast Surfing” and celebrates the early effort of Burke Haywood Bridgers to bring surfing to the region. He and others experimented with early surfboards by fashioning them from local Juniper trees. In 2012, National Geographic named Wrightsville Beach as one of its top 20 surfing towns in the world. A couple of miles away from the surfing marker is another of particular significance to the Wrightsville Beach area: the Babies Hospital highway sign. The marker commemo-rates the pediatric hospital opened in 1920 by Dr. J. Buren Sidbury. The facility was built within view of the Intracoastal Waterway, based on the belief of the curative powers of sea breezes. The hospital was closed in 1978 and the building was demolished in 2003, so the marker is all that remains to remind people of the pioneering and beloved institution. 36 WBM june 2016


2016-6
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