Today, February 19th, is a special day in North Carolina history. On this day ninety-seven years ago, Hugh MacRae Morton was born in Wilmington.
Jack Hilliard recently asked a number of people if they knew who Hugh Morton was. Each one answered yes and each described him in different terms. Among the answers:
- “The man up at Grandfather Mountain.”
- “He started the Azalea Festival in Wilmington didn’t he?”
- “Had something to do with the Battleship North Carolina.”
- “Wasn’t he instrumental in getting the Linn Cove Viaduct built?”
- “I remember seeing him at the Highland Games up in the mountains.”
- “He was always taking pictures at the Carolina games.”
All of those answers are correct and there are dozens more correct answers that describe this North Carolina treasure.
Hugh Morton was one of the most well known advocates for North Carolina in the history of our state. He was determined to make a difference in the growth and development of the Tar Heel state. According to his biographical profile on the Grandfather Mountain web site, he was president or chairman of the Blue Ridge Parkway Association, the Travel Council of North Carolina, the Southern Highlands Attractions Association, the North Carolina Botanical Garden Foundation, and the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame. That list could go on.
Following Morton’s return from World War II, he served as the first president of the North Carolina Azalea Festival in Wilmington in 1948. In 1961, he led the charge to bring the battleship USS North Carolina home. He took on the federal government when they wanted to build a highway high up on Grandfather Mountain. The Linn Cove Viaduct around the mountain was the compromise. He was a fixture with his camera at the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games and Carolina football and basketball games for more than sixty years.
Hugh Morton served for more than ten years as a member of the North Carolina Board of Conservation and Development under Governors W. Kerr Scott, William B. Umstead, and Luther H. Hodges. Morton’s influence in his native state can never be properly measured because he often worked behind the scenes and never wanted any credit.
On this day, the day Hugh Morton would have turned 97 years old, we encourage readers of A View to Hugh to check out his photographic legacy as a world-class photographer. There are more than 7,500 images online and an estimated 250,000 items in the Hugh Morton collection of photographs and films in the North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, part of UNC’s Wilson Special Collections Library.