No one disputes the success of the 30-year transformation of Downtown New Bern from a run-down blighted mess, to the vibrant tourist attraction it has become.
One thing that made the transformation so successful is that it restored 19th and early 20th century buildings to their original glory.
Now, armed with a new redevelopment agency and a roadmap called the Greater Five Points Transformation Plan, the City of New Bern turns its attention to a collection of historically black neighborhoods collectively called “Greater Duffyfield.”
(Note: I put “Greater Duffyfield” in quotes, because historically, they were different neighborhoods, not the least of which is Dryborough. “Greater Duffyfield” was coined by City Hall as a way to group these neighborhoods together for planning and management purposes, although some would say there were more nefarious reasons.)
If you gather any number of people in a room and ask them to envision what “Greater Duffyfield” should look like 30 years from now, the number of answers will probably be close to the number of people in the room.
UNC-TV has been holding a series of community sessions in New Bern this week, including one at Riverfront Convention Center about New Bern’s future. Three stellar panels of New Bern leaders spoke during the five-hour session. By the end, they said almost nothing about the future.
So I thought I’d throw out one idea.
Instead of bulldozing “Greater Duffyfield” and replacing it with condominiums and strip malls, please, please, please respect its distinctive cultural heritage the way New Bern’s Main Street program respected downtown’s distinctive history.
The neighborhoods have already been added to New Bern’s overarching historic district, and for good reason.
West Street, for example, is chock full of historic sites from the days of segregation including a hospital, a school, a library, and the former home of none other than Grover C. Fields.
Dryborough, one of New Bern’s earliest subdivisions, was eventually to become a significant place in New Bern’s African American culture.
African American neighborhoods south of Queen Street were supplanted by first neglect and segregation, and than gentrification. They migrated north of Queen Street, which became the racial dividing line in Old New Bern. (Riverside, which used the railroad as its dividing line, remained a white-only neighborhood and likes to refer to itself as New Bern’s first suburb.)
As neighborhoods north of Queen Street became populated by African Americans, city planners and public works did what they usually did in the segregated South. Streets were narrow and it was a long time before they became paved. There were no sidewalks, curbs, or gutters. Street lights were rare. Much of the area was subject to flooding and remains so to this very day.
But these neighborhoods were self-supporting. They included a hospital, a nursing home, shopping districts, lawyers and doctors offices, a hotel, and a library. It even had its own fire department.
When segregation became illegal in the 1960s, African Americans could shop at places like J.C. Penny and Belk, and dine at previously all-white restaurants, at the expense of mom-and-pop businesses in the Five Points area and along Main Street in Duffyfield. When they called the fire department, white firefighters would respond. When they went to the hospital, they could go to the same hospital as white people. And they went to school at the same schools as white children.
Those African-American-owned businesses and institutions became the victims of unintended consequences and many went out of business. But their empty shells remain scattered throughout the neighborhoods.
While most of the streets today are paved, there remains a distinctive flavor to the neighborhoods that can be preserved and elevated.
I propose that efforts be made to preserve those houses and buildings that are worth preserving. For those beyond repair, replacements be subject to design standards so that they retain the distinctive nature of the neighborhoods.
I propose that the city identify neighborhood commercial zones such as Main Street and at Five Points, with redevelopment funding targeting the revitalization of these areas to highlight New Bern’s rich, vibrant, and significant African American history.
Great cities like New York and San Francisco have sections that celebrate different ethnicities. Look at Chinatown, Little Italy, Harlem, and so on. “Greater Duffyfield” could be one such neighborhood, one that celebrates history and culture rather than replacing it with townhouses and strip malls.
Many people aren’t aware of the important role that New Bern played in African American history. Following its fall to Union forces during the Civil War, it became a center of freedom for emancipated and escaped slaves.
New Bern needs to tell the world about this, and preserving its African American neighborhoods is one way to do it.
This 1820s map of New Bern shows the Downtown, Lawson Creek (Long Wharf) left of Downtown, and Dryborough above Downtown.
Riverside, Ghent, or DeGraffenreid Park — which holds title as New Bern’s first subdivision?
None of them, actually. That title goes to Long Wharf, followed by Dryborough:
New Bern–1710. The historic downtown section.
Lawson Creek (Long Wharf )–1797. Between Tryon Palace, First Street, Pollock Street and Lawson Creek.
Dryborough–1806. North of Queen Street.
Riverside–1894. East of Dryborough.
Ghent–1912. West of First Street.
DeGraffenreid Park–1926. North of Ghent.
Lawson Creek has long since lost its identity as a distinct neighborhood, but Dryborough continues to this day and, along with Downtown, Riverside, Ghent, and DeGraffenreid, is listed in the National Register of Historic Places as an area of historical significance.
Still, Dryborough often gets short-shrifted when New Bern’s history is told. Case in point: The New Bern Historical Society’s Lunch & Learn topic coming up on Sept. 12 is titled, “Riverside: New Bern’s First Suburb.”
Without a doubt, Riverside has an interesting history, but being called “New Bern’s first Suburb” is not rightly part of the narrative.
According to “A History of New Bern and Craven County,” “the area north of Queen Street had been acquired from the Pollock family by William Dry, a wealthy resident of the Cape Fear, who bequeathed it to his daughter and son-in-law, Sarah Dry Smith and Benjamin Smith.
“Smith, governor of the state in 1810-1811, subdivided the acreage into streets and lots; in 1806, the General Assembly approved his plan for the town of Drysborough.
Now a historic neighborhood of New Bern, Dryborough’s enduring legacy is as the social and cultural center of African American life in New Bern even after the Great Fire of 1922, which greatly impacted the people and area both economically and culturally.
According to the National Register of Historic Places Program, Historic Dryborough community is a strongly African American neighborhood that originated in the early 19th century and grew in population during the late-19th and early-20th centuries. Initially it was home to both blacks and whites, but the proportion of black residents increased gradually, so that Dryborough and the area around it became an important center of African American civic life in New Bern. (Full description here).
The New Bern Historical Society is pleased to offer a second presentation of Tales of Espionage in Civil War Craven County featuring historian and author Eddie Ellis, on Aug. 16 at 6:30 p.m. in the Cullman Performance Hall at the North Carolina History Center. Tickets are $10 and are available at 252-638-8558 or www.NewBernHistorical.com/tickets.
In eastern North Carolina during the Civil War, Union occupiers existed alongside Southern civilians. Military leaders struggled to capture territory, railroads, waterways. One of the most sought-after commodities was information. Ellis explains, “The Burnside-created enclave of coastal forts strung from New Bern to Fort Macon was the focus of intense intelligence gathering and clandestine shenanigans from 1862 till the end of the struggle between North and South. Spies are, by their very nature, nameless. Fresh analysis of the war’s voluminous records, however, now allows us to name names. This program will reveal previously unknown tales of the dark network of Southern secret agents, both men and women, who operated here.”
While the Aug. 15 Lunch & Learn presentation on this exciting program sold out early, there are still tickets available for on Thursday, Aug. 16.
Edward Barnes Ellis, Jr. has worked as a journalist, a lobbyist and a laborer. A native of Craven County, Eddie is the descendant of a family that recorded the first land deed in North Carolina. Among his ancestors are settlers at Jamestown, Va., and veterans of the American Revolution and the War Between the States. He’s been hooked on history since elementary school.
For most of his career, he was engaged in the newspaper business as a reporter, photographer, columnist, editor and publisher. Eddie is the founder of the Havelock News and the former publisher of Cherry Point’s Windsock. He was chosen to be the official historian of the City of Havelock in 1984.
Eddie has written three histories based on his years of personal research. His 2005 book In This Small Place: Amazing Tales of the First 300 Years of Havelock and Craven County, North
Carolina, is the first volume of history ever written about the Havelock-Cherry Point area. His second book, New Bern History 101, a compelling portrait of the city of his birth, received the 2010 Book Award of the North Carolina Society of Historians. His third, a photo book entitled Historic Images of Havelock & Cherry Point, offers more than 170 rare images and detailed descriptions of the community collected over four decades.
This Historical Society presentation, in partnership with Tryon Palace, will be at 6:30 pm on Thursday, August 16 at the Cullman Performance Hall at the North Carolina History Center. Tickets are $10 and are available by calling the New Bern Historical Society at 252-638-8558 or can be ordered at www.NewBernHistorical.org/tickets.
The mission of the New Bern Historical Society is to celebrate and promote New Bern and its heritage through events and education. Offices are located in the historic Attmore-Oliver House at 511 Broad Street in New Bern. For more information, call 252-638-8558 or go www.NewBernHistorical.org or www.facebook.com/NewBernHistoricalSociety.
The New Bern Historical Society is looking for a few good ghosts.
Whether you are a spirited novice or have lots of ghostly experience, the Historical Society wants you to portray the historic characters in this year’s Ghostwalk.
Ghostwalk brings to life noted personalities from New Bern’s past right in the very locations they may have been seen. There’s no need to worry though, all the apparitions in these stories are from the pages of history, not from science fiction. Each year a new and different batch of spirits appear. Auditions will be Thursday, Aug. 2, at 6:00 p.m. at the Attmore-Oliver House at 511 Broad St. in New Bern.
Mickey Miller, executive director, is looking for volunteers, both men and women, ages 18 and up to play the phantom roles. “We’d like folks who are interested in this fun and exciting event, and who can give the time for the event’s three days. No experience is necessary. No preparation is necessary. Some might say, no pulse is necessary.”
Participants will be asked to read from scripts. Those selected will perform at one of 13 ghost sites including Cedar Grove Cemetery. Ghostwalk will take place the evenings of Oct. 25-27.
If you are interested in participating in one of New Bern’s premier events as one of the ghostly specters from the past, call or email the New Bern Historical Society office at 252-638-8558, email@example.com.
Corner of Middle and South Front streets. Captain Ratty’s in 2017.
Audiences filled the auditorium quickly for Curator Jim Hodges’ “New Bern Then and Now” presentation, so much so that the New Bern Historical Society decided to do another encore.
Aug. 8 will bring another opportunity to see and hear this popular lecture filled with photos and images from New Bern’s history.
Hodges explains many of the “Used to Be’s” in New Bern. Captain Ratty’s used to be Duffy’s Drug Store, Morgan’s used to be True Tread Tires, First Citizens Bank sits where used to be the Hotel Queen Anne.
Corner of Middle and South Front streets. Central News in 1971.
This popular speaker will reveal the past and current status of more than 30 New Bern landmarks in an encore presentation on Aug. 8 at 6:30 p.m. at the Cullman Performance Hall at the North Carolina History Center at no charge. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. Once again, early arrival is recommended!
Hodges has scoured the New Bern Historical Society collection to share with you these wonderful images from our past. In some cases, the buildings have been carefully renovated and saved in their original condition. In others they have been saved and re-purposed, while sometimes they are simply lost. In any case, you will be fascinated by these historic images.
Corner of Middle and South Front streets. Duffy’s Drug Store circa 1920.
Hodges was reared in New Bern, matriculated to UNC-Chapel Hill, earning an undergraduate degree in chemistry and a post graduate dental degree. After satisfying a military commitment and enjoying several years of international travel, Jim returned to New Bern and practiced dentistry until his retirement in 2012.
His current life chapter involves his passion for New Bern and its rich history as a member of the Historical Society and the Tryon Palace Foundation Board of Directors. As the volunteer Curator of the New Bern Historical Society he spends his days maintaining, conserving and finding ways to share the collection.
Board President Joe Hunt said, “Whether you are a New Bern native or a transplant from elsewhere, you will be fascinated by these images. We are grateful to our friends at Tryon Palace for facilitating this presentation at the Cullman.”
This program is sponsored by the New Bern Historical Society in partnership with Tryon Palace. The Historical Society’s mission is to celebrate and promote New Bern and its heritage through events and education. Offices are located in the historic Attmore-Oliver House at 511 Broad St. in New Bern. For more information, call 252-638-8558 or go www.NewBernHistorical.org or www.facebook.com/NewBernHistoricalSociety.
For soldiers wounded in battle in the Civil War, the outcome was often grim. For soldiers wounded in World War II, the outcome was far different.
Renowned historian Ed Bearss was with the 3rd Marine Raider Battalion in the invasion of Guadalcanal and the Russell Islands, and the 1st Marine Division in New Britain. In 1944, Bearss was severely wounded by Japanese machine gun fire and spent 26 months recovering in various hospitals.
In his 12th annual visit to New Bern, Bearss will discuss medical conditions over the years and the possible outcome if he had suffered his extensive injuries during the Civil War. See him at Cullman Performance Hall at the North Carolina History Center at 2 p.m. on Sunday, July 22. This presentation was originally scheduled in January but was re-scheduled due to weather.
This is the 12th in a series of annual visits for Bearss, who was instrumental in the preservation of New Bern’s Civil War battlefield. One of the leading historians and experts on the Civil War, Bearss was recently presented a Lifetime Achievement Award by the American Battlefield Trust and was also the first inductee into its Battlefield Preservation Hall of Fame.
Ed Bearss during his World War II service in the Marines.
Jim Lighthizer, President of the American Battlefield Trust, said, “From his dynamic and detail-rich tours to his recovery of the lost U.S.S. Cairo gunboat, Ed’s phenomenal memory and tenacious curiosity have made him a powerhouse of knowledge and discovery.”
Bearss served as Chief Historian of the National Park Service from 1981 to 1994 and is now Chief Historian Emeritus. A sought-after speaker and PBS commentator, he is also a prolific author known for his work on the American Civil War and World War II eras, and a popular tour guide of historic battlefields world-wide.
Considered “An American Treasure” by the Smithsonian Institution, his books are definitive works on the period.
There is no charge and reservations are not necessary for this presentation. Early arrival is recommended. There will be a recption in Mattocks Hall following the presentation.
This lecture is presented by the New Bern Civil War Round Table and the New Bern Historical Society in partnership with Tryon Palace. For more information, call the New Bern Historical Society at 252-638-8558 or at newbernhistorical.org.