Highway 17

A couple of weeks ago, I went to spend a few leisurely days with my family at Sunset Beach, NC. The idea, of course, was to get away from it all—little did I realize that when one’s job centers around Hugh Morton, it’s impossible to drive on North Carolina’s highways without being constantly reminded of work! Highway 17 near Wilmington is especially bad. Nearly every road sign I saw reminded me of Morton—Castle Hayne, St. Helena, Holden Beach, Orton Plantation, the State Ports, and of course the USS North Carolina, which we drove right by (twice!) . . .
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The image below shows (I believe) Morton’s wife Julia and a little girl (maybe their daughter Catherine) in a field of daffodils at Castle Haynes (over time, it seems, the “S” has been dropped from the place name). Morton took many a portrait in these highly photogenic flower fields.

Julia and Catherine [?] Morton in daffodil field at Castle Hayne[s], NC, circa early 1960s

The story of Castle Hayne(s) and St. Helena is a fascinating one: Hugh MacRae, Morton’s grandfather, founded these two experimental colonies around the turn of the 20th century, with the goal of attracting European immigrants to introduce their systems of intensive agriculture to the Southeast. In a March 1934 article from The State magazine, MacRae is quoted as saying, “I feel sure that we have got to rebuild our economic structure beginning at the base, which means a reshaping of rural life.”

Hugh MacRae with calf, probably at Invershiel farm in Pender County, NC, circa 1940s

Farm families from countries including Greece, Russia, Italy, Holland, Germany, Poland, and Hungary transplanted themselves to New Hanover and Pender counties to begin new lives, and many proved highly successful. From the March 10, 1934 The State article: “While the cancerous depression was eating the core out of farming financially and otherwise all over the United States, these colonies were teeming with prosperity in comparison.” (Note: anyone interested in learning more about MacRae’s experiment and similar settlements should track down the following article: “A Reconnaissance of Some Cultural-Agricultural Islands in the South,” by Walter M. Kollmorgen, Economic Geography Vol. 17, No. 4, Oct. 1941, pp. 409-430.)
While the Hugh Morton image below is labeled simply “Dutch Girls,” I feel certain it was taken at Castle Hayne, sometime during the 1940s:

“Dutch Girls,” probably at Castle Hayne agricultural settlement, circa 1940s

I’m less certain about the following Morton image, which is one of a batch of negatives I found in an envelope labeled “Estonians.” It shows what I assume is a group of immigrants or visitors from Estonia, taken probably on the Wilmington waterfront during the 1940s. Were these people coming to settle at MacRae’s colonies? I have no idea. (If it helps anyone with identification, a building in the background reads either “Maffitt…” or “Haffitt…”).

“Estonians,” Wilmington, NC waterfront [?], circa 1940s

Later articles from The State (from the 8/11/1945 and 11/16/1957 issues), reinforce the notion that this particular experiment proved beneficial to the region’s economy. I don’t know much about what’s going on in St. Helena and Castle Hayne these days, other than what I learned from a recent article in the Wilmington Star News about the possible closure of the Castle Hayne Horticultural Crops Research Station. Can anyone help bring us up to date?
You see how easy it is to get caught up in just one of the roadside locations along Highway 17. Perhaps I’ll explore others in future posts.

27 thoughts on “Highway 17”

  1. Elizabeth:
    On pages 102 and 103 of Hugh’s 2006 book, “Hugh Morton: North Carolina Photographer,” there is a photograph of daffodils at Castle Hayne with Julia and Catherine. It looks a lot like the one in your post, however, the little girl in the book picture looks to be older. … the caption says 1969.

  2. I think it is Catherine in both photos, Jack, but that because of the different angle, most of her is hidden in the shot above, making her look smaller/younger. Thanks for pointing this out!

  3. The building in the background with the Estonians is likely the Federal Courthouse building on the riverfront in Wilmington.

  4. Elizabeth:
    In the November 18, 1950 issue of “The State” magazine, there is an article called “Dutch Tar Heels” by Carl Goerch. The article celebrates the 25th anniversary of the Dutch Colony at Terra Ceia in the eastern part of Beaufort County. This might relate to Hugh’s “Dutch Girls” photo. The article starts on page 3.
    In the October 1, 1949 issue, there is a reference to the “Estonians who landed at Wilmington a little over a year ago.” The brief reference also mentions Captain John Wortmann, the skipper of the small craft in which the group made the hazardous journey across the Atlantic. This might be the group in Hugh’s picture. The reference is on page 15, bottom left.
    In the October 15, 1949 issue, there is an article by Louis T. Moore about the history of Castle Hayne. This article is on page 4.
    Elizabeth, you were right on point with your comment of May 27th about “The State” magazine being a treasure trove. It is and continues to be under it’s new name, “Our State.” In the current issue, which celebrates the 75th anniversary of the magazine, there is, beginning on page 60, a photo essay by eight remarkable North Carolina photographers…pages 70 and 71 are dedicated to Hugh Morton.

  5. Jack, I’m beginning to think you have the entire run of “The State” committed to memory…thanks for the tips! I have a project planned for a student worker to go through back issues looking for Morton photos. Can you give us an idea of the date range in which his work was most heavily represented in “The/Our State?”

  6. My grandmother and numerous relatives are the origianl Italian settlers of St.Helena, NC. Does anyone have any history or articles relating to the Italian community? Pictures? Or know where to get copies? I co not live in NC. Thank you!

  7. I don’t really have the entire run of “The State” magazine memorized, but the magazine has been a part of my life as long as I can remember, and I have saved many special issues.
    Hugh Morton said on more than one occasion: “What distinguished me as a photographer was that I knew how to take my pictures to the mailbox.” His photographs have appeared in many national magazines like, Life, Look, Collier’s, National Geographic, Time, Newsweek, Holiday, Sports Illustrated, and many, many more. But high on his mailing list was Carl Goerch, the founder and long-time publisher of “The State.” I asked Hugh one time how many pictures he supplied to “The State” as cover shots. He smiled and said, “I supplied more than they used.” There must be at least 100 covers, maybe more. But Hugh not only sent pictures for the magazine cover, like the great USS North Carolina shot on the cover of the July 1, 1968 issue, but he often wrote articles as well, like the one about his friend Norman Cordon in the October 25, 1947 issue, or the letter to Carl Goerch in the December 23, 1950 issue telling about his trip to Washington to photograph the Washington Redskins – Cleveland Browns game in the snow. And of course there were articles in the magazine about Hugh, like the one in the June 18, 1955 issue called “Man Who Runs A Mountain.” It seems any time the magazine needed a picture to support a story about UNC, Wilmington, or Grandfather Mountain, Hugh had one ready. In the May 30, 1953 issue Carl Gorech wrote: “Never before, perhaps, have such a good mountain and such a good photographer happened to fall in with each other.”
    So, Elizabeth, to answer your question, I would say 1946 to 1970 would be a good place to start. However, I must quickly point out, Hugh’s work continues to the current issue…the ’46 to ’70 dates just mark a good time when his work was often featured.

  8. Karen, in the 11/16/1957 issue of “The State” magazine, there’s an article entitled “Report on a Dream.” It has some brief information about Italians at St. Helena, and 2 photos by John Corey, one of “Italian John Leimone looking over his lettuce bed at St. Helena.” You can email me if you want a photocopy.
    There’s also a 1993 thesis written by a UNC religion student that you may be able to get through Interlibrary loan. Hope this helps!

  9. My parents and I went to see the daffoldils bloom every spring, so I could have been different ages in different batches of pictures.

  10. In the 1940’s in the gardens of J.B. Ivey of Charlotte (my great great uncle and founder of Ivey’s department store)there were over 30,000 tulips and other bulbs that bloomed every April. A replica windmill and little girls dressed in Dutch flower girl costumes, complete with wooden clogs, helped complete the scene. Perhaps this photograph is from that era. Many of the Iveys summered in Blowing Rock. In his book, My Memoirs, (1940, The Piedmont Press, Greensboro), Mr. Ivey also mentioned another large tulip garden at Lattimore.

  11. i am on the block castle hayne road i am trying to research my 1940 which was military housing shipped from jacksonville nc. it was buitl 1945 i have the original door of a school which nuns would peek through a whole at the children any history please share would love to hear all

  12. I agree with the poster who notes that the building behind the Estonians greatly resembles the Federal Courthouse in Wilmington on the waterfront – although I haven’t lived in years. (I lived around the corner from it in 1986). Anyway down on the waterfront toward the Pilot House was a boat either captained or named for a man named Moffatt – so I suspect one of Wilmington’s many historians can fill you in.
    I must get back to my real work today but happy to have found this interesting blog – thanks

  13. Hey Elizabeth,
    You have posted some very nice images in your blog article.
    I am founder of Mnemonic Dictionary, http://www.mnemonicdictionary.com where we tag images and relate them to words. So, trying to create a picture dictionary. Please let me know if you have your images in flickr with CC commercial license, would love to link them with words.

  14. Elizabeth,
    I was raised in the community of St. Helena from 1948 – 1966. We often shopped and visited in Wilmington. I remember spring after spring seeing the daffodils blooming in fields in Rocky Point just North of Castle Hayne. I believe a UNC professor may have researched and published a history of the St. Helena community several years ago. It is very interesting. My father William Gyetvai came to America with his parents John and Herminea Gyetvai in 1913. As Hungarians they became a part of this truly multicultural community. They eventually built a home in St. Helena. I think it is a wonderful history. My sister Carol Gyetvai Joyner honored our Grandfather,John Gyetvai and the contributions of this community by placing his name on the memorial at Ellis Island. These were amazing people, my relatives and friends, who were great examples of immigrants that paid their own way through hard work and sacrifice. I have one living aunt who still lives on Main street…Bessie Gyetvai Tokoly. She may still remember a lot of the history. Unfortunately, not many are left.

  15. My husband grew up in Castle Hayne from 1949. I’m trying to research the name Castle Hayne, he said as a boy an old retired teacher by the name Francis Pickett took them by the river and shown them the remains of a castle that was owned by the Haynes as the story goes a storm maybe a tornado came through and destroyed the castle and the family disappeared and so the town became known as Castle Hayne is there any truth to this.

  16. According to William S. Powell’s book, The North Carolina Gazetteer, Castle Hayne was named for Captain Roger Haynes who built a “castle” nearby prior to the Revolutionary War. At some point the railroad dropped the “s” in Haynes and then the post office adopted the change.
    If you haven’t already, you may also want to read the post “Hugh MacRae and Castle Hayne,” (https://blogs.lib.unc.edu/morton/index.php/2008/12/hugh-macrae-and-castle-hayne/) for a bit more about the area’s early 20th century history.

  17. I am looking for photographs and stories circa 1957-58 for Wilmington and Hanover county in North Carolina. Are there any photographers, publications, writers or journalists from that era I could connect? Is there work available on-line? Are they available in any town archives or historical societies?
    Shelly Smith

  18. Ms. Smith:
    The complete finding aid for the Morton collection would detail the images for Wilmington and vicinity. You may examine finding aid at http://library.unc.edu/wilson/ncc/pcoll/inv/P0081/P0081.html.
    A selection of about 8,000 images from the collection can be searched at the online collection website at http://www.lib.unc.edu/dc/morton/. (Of course, not all of these images will be from Wilmington.)
    Wilmington photographs from the remaining NCCPA collections can be found by searching UNC Library’s online catalog (http://search.lib.unc.edu/search.jsp?tab=advanced) using “–photographs” at the end of your search term.
    Locally, the New Hanover County Public Library (http://www.nhclibrary.org/) would be a great place to start.

  19. It has been quite a long time since this was published, however I hope someone might find my question and be able to help. I currently live in St. Helena, in what was once the Leimone’s (one of St. Helena’s founding family’s) Dairy Barn. The front half of the building was converted into a home for one of the family members, Mary Leimone, but she passed away and the property was sold to my current landlord.
    At any rate, I have been searching for pictures of “The Barn” and the property here when it was first built. There are some places on the property where old brick and concrete are buried under dirt, and I think there may have been more buildings here at some point. We also still have the large silo, now a ghost of what it must have originally been, right outside of our front door, and two huge trees in the front yard which I picture in my mind as having been saplings when this place was built, but I honestly have no idea how old the trees or the building are.
    The neighbors next door live in one of the original houses in St. Helena, which there seem to be several pictures of online, but none of them are taken at an angle that shows our place in the background, as they are all centered directly on the house’s porch.
    Any help in finding photographs or information relating to the building would be wonderful!

    1. Hey,
      I have always lived in St. Helena and it was Ms. Ruby who lived in the dairy barn. She was a hoot ( in a good way). If you have any questions, just e-mail me judykayalinic@ gmail.com

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