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Convict Labor Constructed Swannanoa Tunnel

This Day in North Carolina History - Wed, 03/15/2017 - 01:00

On March 11, 1879, the Western North Carolina Railroad’s Swannanoa Tunnel opened. The tunnel opened the mountain region to growth and freed it from its relative state of isolation.

Authorized by the General Assembly in 1855, construction of the tunnel was spurred by a drought in 1845. The drought resulted in a total crop failure on mountain farms. Pack trains and loaded wagons were unable to provide frontier families with enough food to carry them through to the next crop.

By the beginning of the Civil War, all but 70 miles of the route into Asheville was complete. During Reconstruction, the state secured $4 million in bonds for the completion of the project, but construction was delayed after key players embezzled some of the funds. It did not resume until 1877.

The General Assembly approved the use of 500 convicts as laborers, and 125 men lost their lives in the course of the work. Though the tunnel was cut through in March 1879, it wasn’t until October 1880 that the tracks were clear and the first train from Salisbury reached Asheville.

Visit: The N.C. Transportation Museum in Spencer tells the story of our state’s transportation history with a special focus on rail.

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts, nature and culture, visit DNCR online. To receive these updates automatically each day, make sure you subscribe by email using the box on the right, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

End of Story for CSS Neuse

This Day in North Carolina History - Wed, 03/15/2017 - 01:00

On March 11, 1865, the Confederate ironclad CSS Neuse was scuttled in the Neuse River, just downstream from Kinston, to prevent its capture by advancing Union forces. Following the Battle of Wyse Fork, fought the three days earlier, Gen. Braxton Bragg ordered the gunboat’s commander, Capt. Joseph Price, to use his vessel to hold off Union Gen. Jacob D. Cox’s force while the Confederate Army evacuated the town and retreated west toward Goldsboro. The ship was then to be destroyed.

The CSS Neuse had been partially constructed at what is now Seven Springs, starting in October 1862. It was floated downriver to Kinston in the summer of 1863, where it was outfitted with armor plating, engines and guns. The project was delayed numerous times, but the Neuse was launched in April 1864 and commanded to steam downriver to assist in an attempt to recapture Union-occupied New Bern.

Unfortunately, the ship ran aground and never made it downriver again until being called into action in March 1865. Following Gen. Bragg’s orders, once the evacuation of Kinston was complete, the crew of the Neuse set fire to the ship and left it to sink. By March 13, the crew was in Halifax awaiting their next assignment.

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The Swannanoa Tunnel Opens

This Day in North Carolina History - Wed, 03/15/2017 - 01:00

On March 11, 1879, the Western North Carolina Railroad’s Swannanoa Tunnel opened. The tunnel opened the region to growth and freed it from its previous state of isolation.

Authorized by the General Assembly in 1855, construction of the tunnel was spurred by a drought in 1845. The drought resulted in a total crop failure on mountain farms, and pack trains and loaded wagons were unable to provide frontier families with enough food to carry them through to the next crop.

By the beginning of the Civil War, all but 70 miles of the route into Asheville was complete. During Reconstruction, the state secured $4 million in bonds for the completion of the project, but construction was delayed after key players embezzled some of the funds. It did not resume until 1877.

The General Assembly approved the use of 500 convicts as laborers, and 125 men lost their lives in the course of the work. Though the tunnel was holed through in March 1879, it wasn’t until October 1880 that the tracks were clear and the first train from Salisbury entered Asheville.

Check out the N.C. Transportation Museum in Spencer for more awesome pieces of history from our transportation past.

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day, subscribe by email using the box on the right and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.

Birthday for N.C. A&T State University

This Day in North Carolina History - Wed, 03/15/2017 - 01:00

On March 9, 1891, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University was founded as a land grant institution for African Americans. The school, originally named the Agricultural and Mechanical College, was established as a result of the Second Morrill Act, enacted by Congress in 1890, which mandated separate colleges for the “colored race.” 

Initially, the college shared space with Shaw University, but eventually moved to its permanent home in Greensboro with the assistance of Dewitt Clinton Benbow, a Guilford County businessman and philanthropist, and Charles H. Moore, an African American educator and businessman.

In 1915, the state legislature changed the name to Agricultural and Technical College. In 1967, the college became a university and took its current name, and in 1972, N.C. A&T became a constituent institution of the University of North Carolina system.

Today, N.C. A&T has more than 10,000 students and awards degrees in bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral programs with a strong emphasis on engineering, science and technology. It awards more degrees in engineering to African Americans than any other university in the country and is the second-largest producer of minority agricultural graduates nationwide.

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Speaker Ban Law Challenged At UNC-Chapel Hill

This Day in North Carolina History - Wed, 03/15/2017 - 01:00

On March 9, 1966, Herbert Aptheker attempted to speak to students near the Confederate monument at UNC-Chapel Hill.  The campus police chief escorted him a short distance away to a spot technically off-campus.  There, Aptheker, a historian and member of the Communist Party, spoke to 2,000 students from the sidewalk outside the rock wall that separates the campus from Franklin Street.

The speech came almost three years after the state legislature passed on June 26, 1963, “An Act to Regulate Visiting Speakers at State Supported Colleges and Universities,” otherwise known as the Speaker Ban law.  The action came just weeks after students joined others in Raleigh to advocate civil rights.  The Speaker Ban forbade from speaking at a state school any known Communist, anyone who advocated overthrow of the government, or anyone who exercised Fifth Amendment rights when questioned on related topics. Passage of the law came with very little debate on the last day of the legislative term.

Administrators, faculty and students loudly protested the infringement of First Amendment rights but it was not until 1968 that the law was declared unconstitutional.

In October 2011 a marker commemorating the actions of students to challenge the Speaker Ban law was dedicated on the spot where Aptheker’s speech took place.

For more, check out “William Friday and the North Carolina Speaker Ban Crisis, 1963-1968,” in the North Carolina Historical Review from N.C. Historical Publications.

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day, subscribe by email using the box on the right and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.

The Dougherty Brothers and Appalachian State University

This Day in North Carolina History - Wed, 03/15/2017 - 01:00

On March 9, 1903, the General Assembly granted brothers B.B. and D.D. (short for Blanchard Barnard and Dauphin Disco, respectively) Dougherty a charter for the Appalachian Training School for Teachers.

The school had its roots in the Doughertys’ Watauga Academy, which they established in 1899 to train public school teachers for jobs in western North Carolina. With both brothers at the helm, B. B. Dougherty was considered head of school, while D. D., was the principal.

D. D. served as the budding school’s business manager and head trustee until June 1929 when he died of a heart attack on the first day of registration. The original library on the campus is named in his honor.

B. B. remained president of the college until retirement in 1955, and he died two years later at age 87. During his nearly 60 years of service to the school, the Appalachian had grown from a small teaching college with a single two-year degree program to a regional center for higher education with four-year bachelor’s program and a graduate school.

Twelve years after B. B.’s retirement, the state legislature changed the school’s name to Appalachian State University. The campus has been a part of the UNC system since 1972.

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day, make sure you subscribe by email using the box on the right, and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.

“Babe” Ruth Gets His Nickname in Fayetteville

This Day in North Carolina History - Fri, 03/10/2017 - 00:00

On March 7, 1914George Herman Ruth Jr. hit his first home run as a professional baseball player and gained the nickname “Babe” in Fayetteville.

Ruth began playing baseball in his native Baltimore. At age 19, Jack Dunn, manager of the Baltimore Orioles, recognized his talent and signed him to his first professional contract. A few weeks later, the team headed to Fayetteville en route to Florida for spring training.

While in Fayetteville, the players learned that Dunn had legally adopted Ruth to keep him with the Orioles. That, combined with Ruth’s playing on the elevators at the Lafayette Hotel, resulted in the older players teasing him as “Dunn’s baby,” later shortened to “Baby” and “Babe.”

In the last inning of the exhibition game at the Cape Fear Fair Ground, Ruth hit a long home run. He described it saying, “I hit it as I hit all the others, by taking a good gander at the pitch as it came up to the plate, twisting my body into a backswing and then hitting it as hard I as I could swing.” Ruth later commented, “I got to some bigger places than Fayetteville after that, but darn few as exciting.”

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day, subscribe by email using the box on the right and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.

The Historical Commission and “History for All the People”

This Day in North Carolina History - Fri, 03/10/2017 - 00:00

 On March 7, 1903, the General Assembly established the North Carolina Historical Commission.

First based in the northeast corner of the Capitol’s second floor, the Commission’s most important obligation was to collect, edit, and publish documents to make the records, both public and private, available to the citizens and to assure their preservation.

R. D. W. Connor, who later became the first Archivist of the United States, was the commissioner’s first secretary. His successor in 1934 was populist historian Christopher Crittenden who held the reins until 1968 and who promoted “History for All the People” as the commission’s goal.

In 1943, the agency’s name was changed to the Department of Archives and History, better describing its function, importance and permanence. In 1955, the legislature transferred most state historic sites to the agency.

In 1968, the department’s administration, the state archives, and the Museum of History, moved into a new building at 109 East Jones Street.  With the reorganization of state government in 1971, the agency became part of the new Department of Cultural Resources.

Today, the Office of Archives and History is an agency of N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, and includes diverse programs, museums, and sites that promote the state’s long history.

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Croatan Normal School, Forerunner of UNC-Pembroke

This Day in North Carolina History - Fri, 03/10/2017 - 00:00

 On March 7, 1887, the General Assembly passed legislation allowing for the construction of a secondary school for the Robeson County Indians then called the Croatan and now known as the Lumbee.

First known as the Croatan Normal School, the institution’s main goal was to train Indians to become school teachers.

In 1909, the campus moved to its present location. As the curriculum expanded and 4 year degrees were offered, the school changed its name to the Pembroke State College for Indians.  The campus officially became part of the University of North Carolina on July 1, 1972, as a result of consolidation leading to the creation of a sixteen-campus system. The name change to University of North Carolina at Pembroke became official in 1996.

In 1972 a campaign to save “Old Main,” the white-pillared centerpiece of the campus, drew national press coverage. The building, a symbol of Indian education and social progress, was restored in 1979. Once primarily an all-Indian school, associated with the Lumbee tribe, the university today serves a multi-racial student body.

In 2005 the General Assembly passed a law that recognized UNC-Pembroke as “North Carolina’s Historically American Indian University.”

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Nabs for a Nickel, No More

This Day in North Carolina History - Fri, 03/10/2017 - 00:00

On March 6, 1970, Lance Crackers produced the last of its trademark five-cent items.

The company was formed in Charlotte in 1913, largely by accident, when food broker Phillip L. Lance got stuck with 500 pounds of Virginia peanuts that he couldn’t use. Instead of simply returning them to the farmer, Lance roasted the nuts and sold them in small bags for a nickel.

Inspired by his initial success, Lance soon moved his business out of his home and into a factory on Charlotte’s College Street, where he both roasted peanuts and made peanut butter. His wife, Mary, and daughters are credited with first spreading peanut butter between two crackers around 1915.

Lance began making its own crackers in 1938, though candy was actually the company’s primary product through World War II. Lance vending machines first appeared in 1954, and the company went public in 1961. Through this entire time all of the company’s individually-packaged products were sold for five cents.

Though the price of many its products changed in 1970, the company continued to be successful, expanding into grocery stores in 1982 and acquiring several competitors. In 2010, Lance merged with Synder’s of Hanover to become the second largest salty snack maker in the United States.

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts, nature and culture, visit DNCR online. To receive these updates automatically each day, make sure you subscribe by email using the box on the right, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

 

A Look Back at Streakers

This Day in North Carolina History - Fri, 03/10/2017 - 00:00

On March 5, 1974, at the end of “Streak Week,” students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill loosely organized the American Streaker Society. Under a banner proclaiming “Home of the World Champion Streakers,” about 900 naked students ran across campus through a crowd of 6,000 onlookers, accompanied by the University pep band.

Western Carolina University laid claim to the first major streak of the short-lived fad, making North Carolina the streaking epicenter of the nation. All of the major universities in the state and many of the smaller universities and colleges had streaking events on their campuses. Authorities reacted in many different ways to the campus craze, from amused tolerance to arrests and threats of expulsion.

A North Carolina state senator said that he was mulling over the efficacy of introducing a Streaker Ban Bill. It was unnecessary, though, since the phenomenon faded almost as suddenly as it had appeared.

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day, subscribe by email using the box on the right and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.

Surgeon, Governor Nathaniel Alexander of Charlotte

This Day in North Carolina History - Fri, 03/10/2017 - 00:00

On March 5, 1756, Nathaniel Alexander, physician, congressman and governor, was born in what is now Mecklenburg County.

While not much is known about his early life, Alexander graduated in 1776 from the school that is now Princeton University. He earned a degree in medicine and was commissioned as a surgeon in the North Carolina Continental Line in 1778, serving for the duration of the war.

In addition to practicing medicine, Alexander was a Mason and was active in establishing a lodge in Charlotte. He entered politics in 1797 when he was elected to the state House of Commons, representing Mecklenburg County. He served in both houses of the General Assembly and was elected to Congress in 1803, but resigned in 1805 when he was elected governor of North Carolina.

Called a “scholar and a true patriot,” Alexander as governor attempted to settle the lingering border dispute with Georgia and was an early advocate of education and internal improvements.

He lost the gubernatorial election in 1807 and died less than a year later in March 1808. He was buried in the First Presbyterian Church Cemetery in Charlotte.

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William Byrd II and the 1728 NC/VA Survey

This Day in North Carolina History - Fri, 03/10/2017 - 00:00

On March 5, 1728, delegates from North Carolina and Virginia met to survey the border between the two colonies.

Virginia and Carolina’s early settlers intermingled in the early colonial period, as colonists trickled south in search of good land to grow crops and establish homesteads. Explorer John Lawson began surveying a boundary between Carolina and Virginia, but was unable to complete the task.

The border remained vague until 1728, when the survey, led by Virginian William Byrd II of Westover, was conducted. The group defined the line from the coast to about 240 miles inland in what is now Stokes County. The survey was completed in 1749 when Thomas Jefferson’s father, Peter, began in Stokes County and finished the line in what is now Ashe County. The borders were often disputed and additional surveys were called to settle claims.

Generally speaking, surveyor’s reports are mundane, but Byrd penned a journal of the expedition with exceptional literary merit.  It was widely published in two forms, candidly chronicling the people and places on both sides of the line. Both versions of Byrd’s account are entertaining, and offer a rare and humorous glimpse into life and travel in colonial America.

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“Muley Bob” Doughton of Ways and Means

This Day in North Carolina History - Fri, 03/10/2017 - 00:00

On March 4, 1911, Congressman Robert Lee Doughton launched a 42-year career in the United States House of Representatives. He served 21 successive terms in Congress before voluntarily retiring in 1953, just short of his 90th birthday.

Born in Alleghany County in 1863, he was named for the Confederate general under whom his father served. A farmer by trade, Doughton began a career in public service with his appointment to the state Board of Agriculture in 1903. He then served in the state Senate in 1908 and 1909, before being elected to Congress in 1910.

In Congress, Doughton was appointed to the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. He would eventually work his way up to chair the committee and went on to hold that post for 18 years, longer than any other member. Often called “Muley Bob,” since he was famous for his stubbornness, Doughton was an expert on tax policy. He also took great pride in his role in the preparation and passage of the Social Security Act of 1935, and he was instrumental in the creation of the Blue Ridge Parkway, the ground for which was broken in his home county in 1935.

Doughton died in 1954 in his home in Laurel Springs.

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Elizabeth Keckley, From Hillsborough to the White House

This Day in North Carolina History - Fri, 03/10/2017 - 00:00

On March 4, 1861, successful African American dressmaker Elizabeth Keckley met soon-to-be First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln for the first time at the Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C.

It was the day of Abraham Lincoln’s inauguration, and Mary was too busy with plans for the festivities to talk with Keckley, who was recommended by a friend. After a brief meeting at the White House the next day, Mary hired Keckley.

The two women quickly developed a close friendship, and Keckley even assisted the President with his clothes and hair before public appearances.

In 1868, Keckley published her memoir, Behind the Scenes: Or 30 Years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House. Though Keckley claimed she wrote the book to help support the widowed Lincoln financially, its publication created a rift between the two women that would never be healed.

The entire book has been digitized by UNC-Chapel Hill is available online for free.

Born a slave in Virginia around 1820, Keckley came to Hillsborough with her master’s son in 1835. After 37 years in slavery she purchased her freedom and that of her son George in 1855, and left an abusive husband in 1860 to move to Washington where she started her dressmaking business.

Keckley died in Washington, D.C. in 1907.

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For more about North Carolina’s history, arts, nature and culture, visit DNCR online. To receive these updates automatically each day, make sure you subscribe by email using the box on the right, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Lafayette Visits the Town Named in His Honor

This Day in North Carolina History - Fri, 03/10/2017 - 00:00

On March 4, 1825, the Marquis de Lafayette visted Fayetteville, a town named for him in 1783. staying at home of Duncan McRae, on site of present courthouse.

Lafayette was a close confidant of George Washington and one of the great heroes of the Revolutionary War. He returned to the United States at the age of 68 on a celebratory tour, and although he originally planned to only visit New England and the mid-Atlantic, he extended his trip to the southern states as well, including North Carolina. While in North Carolina, Lafayette was hosted by his namesake town, Fayetteville, for one night. He stayed at home of Duncan McRae, on the site of the present day Cumberland County Courthouse.

Before arriving in Fayetteville, Lafayette stayed at the Indian Queen Inn in Murfreesboro, visited at the Rocky Mount home of Henry Donaldson and attended a banquet at the Eagle Tavern in Halifax. He also traveled to Raleigh where he visited the Governor Hutchins Burton and William Polk, a veteran of the Revolutionary War.

Fayetteville, incorporated in 1783, was one of the first towns in the newly independent United States named for the Marquis de Lafayette. Read more about Lafayette’s visit on NCpedia.

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day, subscribe by email using the box on the right and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.