Mount Olive was born 150 years ago

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EARLY HISTORY

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article first appeared in the Mount Olive Tribune on Sept. 7, 1979, in an edition commemorating Wayne County’s 200th anniversary. Except for a few grammatical changes and changes to account for the difference in time between publications, the article is reprinted as it first appeared.

During the Civil War, Mount Olive was but a small railway station on the historic Wilmington and Weldon Railroad, later known as the Seaboard Coast Line. The railroad movement in North Carolina was first stressed in 1827 when President Joseph Caldwell of the University of North Carolina wrote a series of newspaper articles, which were published in 1828 as a book, “The Numbers of Carlton,” in which he discussed the superiority of railroads over canals and turnpikes, and advocated the state government take the lead in building railroads.

The Experimental Railroad in Raleigh was built by private capital in 1832-1833, to move stone from the quarry to Union Square where the capital building was then being erected. The railroad, only one and a quarter miles in length, convinced many influential people that rail travel would help get North Carolina out of her economic depression.

The Wilmington and Raleigh Railroad Company was charted in 1834 with a million and a half dollars in capital and was largely a Wilmington enterprise. The destination at Raleigh was soon changed to Weldon and the name changed to the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad Company. Gov. Edward B. Dudley of Wilmington was president of the company and the small, but progressive, station depot that was established on Feb. 3, 1860, 5 miles north of present-day Mount Olive was named in his honor.

The U.S. Post Office Department established a post office at Dudley on Jan. 13, 1840, with John W. S. West as postmaster. This first Dudley was located on the east side of the railroad just south of where Everettsville was located and is said to have taken its name from Dudley Lewis, a prominent local figure. Soon after it was established, this post office was renamed Everettsville, which continued until Dec. 6, 1866 when it was closed. Later, the second and present Dudley was established and named for Gov. Dudley.

Dudley, Everettsville

The Dudley station served the little village of Everettsville, which was 6 miles south of Goldsboro and 4 miles north of present-day Dudley, as well as the rich plantations southwest of Goldsboro. Everettsville boasted two churches, a good school, a masonic lodge and more than a dozen homes belonging to some of the wealthiest citizens of Wayne County. It was said to be the most aristocratic community in the county until it broke up after the Civil War. The town was established by wealthy planters to escape the low marshy ground that bordered the river and many creeks and swamps around it. There were great losses to floods, malaria and typhoid fever, and doctors had urged residents to seek higher ground. The Everett lands were higher, more arid and the soil was sandy, and so the Everetts established a small town on their land and it took the name of Everettsville.

The names of the village of Everettsville’s families read like an early history of the county with the Everett, McKinne, Becton, Collier, Carraway, Slocumb, West, Hollowell and Hooks families among the most prominent. Most of the other prominent county families were related to these and there has remained a great respect for the village though it disappeared around 150 years ago.

In 1863 David McKinne, a descendant of the famous old Col. William McKinne of Wayne County was the station agent at Dudley with a salary of $180, annually. When this salary is contrasted to the $120 earned by the agent at Mount Olive Station, you get the idea that Dudley was economically more important in 1863.

Railroad purchases right-of-way

On March 25, 1835, the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad Company purchased a right-of-way through Wayne County. The owners of the land were paid one dollar for their consent. The only two men listed in the action of 1835, who lived in the Mount Olive area, were Samuel Flowers and Ezekiel Slocumb.

Samuel Flowers lived on an extensive plantation called “Poplar Hill” on Thunder Swamp. He was a veteran of the War of 1812 and a magistrate.

Ezekiel Slocumb was a soldier in the Revolution and lived with his wife, Mary Hooks Slocumb, on a large plantation northeast of Mount Olive.

Mary Hooks Slocumb was a sister of Charles Hooks and mother of Jesse Slocumb, both of whom served in the United States Congress from North Carolina.

The deed to the right-of-way makes it clear that those subscribing felt that the railroad would enrich the area economically. The fact that they deeded their land for a token reinforces this.

On March 20, 1838, the county records show that in consideration of the sum of $19, Adam Winn deeded the railroad a right-of-way through his lands.

In November 1837 and again in February 1838, the president and directors of the railroad had appealed to the Wayne County Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions to force Winn to sell them a right-of-way. At that point, the railroad was getting near the county line. Winn sold in 1838. It is believed that Winn’s land lies along present day Center Street.

The 1838 deed to the railroad stated that the adjoining lands to the north belonged to Basil Kornegay, a rich Duplin County planter, member of the state House of Commons of 1814, and brother-in-law of William Rufus King, vice president under President Franklin Pearce. The adjoining land of Winn’s was owned by Charles Winn, who was a member of his family.

With Winn’s lands on the south and Flowers’ and Slocumb’s on the north, the railroad had a clear right-of-way to Dudley. The railroad track begins at Wilmington, curves at Faison and then runs in an almost direct line to Weldon. When it was finished in 1840, with 161 miles of track, it was the longest railroad in the world.

Mount Olive granted a post office

On July 1, 1853, the village of Mount Olive was granted a post office. Dr. Gideon Monroe Roberts was appointed [its] first postmaster. The village was just beginning.

Dr. Roberts and his family probably lived in the village and were likely among its very first residents, but there is no actual known record of its extent.

In the 1850’s, the village grew steadily. William F. Pollock, Lemuel W. Kornegay, Murdock Finlayson, Lippman Aaron and Dana Gootsell were merchants in the area. Gootsell was a Connecticut Yankee [sic] who is said to have left the south in 1861. The 1860 census shows the Gootsell also owned a turpentine still which employed two workers, who were paid $28.75 per month. The still produced 6,000 barrels of crude turpentine and 700 barrels of spirits of turpentine and 2,500 barrels of rosin. He was not in Mount Olive in 1870.

Charles and Levi Winn were both blacksmiths, a vital service in a community which moved almost entirely on hoof. Adam Greenfield, Samuel Parker, George Simmons, Henry Coleman, Edward Griffin and Branson Merritt were coopers. A cooper is a man who makes and repairs barrels. Eastern North Carolina had long been famous for its tar and pitch, commonly called “naval stores.”

Turpentine was a major industry in lower Wayne. By 1860 there were five turpentine distillers producing over 20,000 barrels of crude turpentine, 2,400 barrels of spirits of turpentine and 11,000 barrels of rosin. These manufacturers were: Rhodes and Manly, Dawson T. Durham, Dana Gootsell, Murdock Finlayson and A. H. Humphrey.

Barrels were in great demand.

The 1850 census shows Daniel Howell and John Waters were carpenters and they no doubt built many of the early homes and shops in the village. William Vernon was a farmer-surveyor and with so many large plantations in the area and the brisk buying and selling of land, he was no doubt a busy man. He was also a Baptist preacher, storekeeper and teacher — a man of many talents. He owned a small plantation north of the village near the village of Milton, which was located on the railroad a mile north of present-day Mount Olive. He was married to Elizabeth Peele, who family had long lived in the area and were originally Quakers.

Lower Wayne noted for brandies, ciders

Mount Olive could also boast its own distiller in Micajah Patterson. Lower Wayne was noted for its brandies, ciders and liquors. Few indeed are plantation inventories from the colonial period to the turn of the 19th century that did not list punch bowls, stills, cider presses and casks of brandy. Spirits were a part of the life of most citizens, including ministers. A. J. Finlayson, a prominent Methodist preacher in Goldsboro, was previously the owner of a tavern.

George D. Pearsall was an engineer on the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad and drove one of those fine trains that ran the line and were named the “Express,” “President,” “Director,” “Wilmington,” “Governor Bragg,” “Farmer,” “Merchant,” “Polk,” “Guilford” and “Brunswick.” These names of trains were surely as well known in the village as names of citizens.

Conductors on the railroad in the 1850’s and 1860’s were: E. D. Browning, Joe Howell, John Ivey, Bob Lee, Bill Smith, Dick Fulghum and Archy Aldermen. In an economy in which the railroad was so vital, these men were well known and a part of every community the railroad served.

Oliver Summerlin was a carriage, buggy and wagon maker and repairer, and he had a shop on the southeast corner of Center and John streets, near the Home Security Insurance Company office [in 1979], the old CP&L office.

It would not be an accurate picture of the village to include only the merchants and tradesmen. Beyond the village lay the small farms and plantations, which produced the crops and goods that kept the village going. These families were the first to move into the village after the Civil War, when they began to see the advantages of urban life. Some of the early merchants came from these landed families and Mount Olive families today are generally made up of their descendants.

To the east of Mount Olive were the plantations of the Loftins, Williamses, Cobbs, Peeles, Robertses and Kornegays. James F. Kornegay lived at “Red Hill” where the camellia gardens of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Holmes Jr. [were located in 1979].

To the west of the village was “Vernon” plantation built by Anna Maria Ward in 1838, joining an older house that she built with her first husband Gen. Edward Ward, an officer in the War of 1812. The earlier house, now [long] destroyed, had been built in 1820. After Anna Maria’s death in 1859 her heir sold the plantation to her nephew, Joseph Rhodes Hatch, whose family lived there until 1884.

Near “Vernon” was the Daniel Kornegay home built about 1810, called “Mulberry.” Daniel left his home tract to his son, George L. Kornegay, who sold it in 1845 to James R. Parker, whose grandson was its owner in 1979.

Samuel Flowers lived at Poplar Hill plantation between Vernon and Mulberry. All of these plantations near Thunder Swamp consisted of more than 1,000 acres apiece. It appears that the farming interests west of Mount Olive were more dependent on the village for supplies than those in the other directions. The explanation may be that the plantations to the east could also trade at White Hall on the Neuse River.

White Hall is known as Seven Springs today.

Faison’s Depot, formerly Wrightsville, drew trade from plantations to the south of Mount Olive; and Waynesborough and Goldsborough drew trade from the plantations south of the Neuse.

The town of Waynesborough was the county seat from 1787 to 1850, when it was moved to the new town of Goldsborough. There were active businesses and good merchantile establishments at both Waynesborough and Goldsborough, and none in the rest of the county could really compare to them. Mount Olive did not get its full blown economic development until near the turn of the 20th century.

The Winns and other great families

The Winn family is one of the most interesting in the area. In 1836, Ginny Winn purchased 100 acres of land from Ezekiel Norris in the lower part of Wayne. This is the first land transaction by Winns in Wayne County, though John Kornegay of Duplin County deeded Adam Winn, also of Duplin, land on the northeast “precoson” (swamp) on Sept. 18, 1834. This land ran into Wayne County at one point near present-day Mount Olive.

In the 1850 census the Winn family is listed as “mulatto,” but in the 1860 census there were listed as “black.” The Winn family members were free blacks from Duplin County, who had received their freedom prior to 1834. The Artis Simmons and Greenfield families of Mount Olive were also free blacks, according to the 1860 census.

Adam Winn was himself a slave owner, for in April 1849 he borrowed money from Benjamin Oliver of Duplin and put up three slaves, Bethana, Martha and Oliver, as security along with 133 acres of land.

The Winns did business with the most prominent and respected white families and through the years have generally been considered the most outstanding family of their race in the area. They have produced farmers, school teachers and tradesmen and have been leaders in the black community of Mount Olive.

Adam Winn, who was also one of the first magistrates of Mount Olive, had sons, William, Charles and Levi. Charles and Levi were blacksmiths, the first to be located in the village of Mount Olive. Levi Winn owned land west of the railroad, which was later purchased by Dr. Roberts and transferred in 1854 to William W. Loftin and Dr. Benjamin Franklin Cobb. William and Charles Winn also owned land in the Mount Olive area.

Dr. Gideon Monroe Roberts was the first physician in Mount Olive. He was also the first postmaster. He was born and reared in the Indian Springs section of Wayne and in about 1851 married Margaret Ann Oliver, a daughter of Benjamin Oliver of Duplin County. On July 1, 1853 he was appointed postmaster at Mount Olive.

He owned land, which he purchased from the Winns, where the town’s central business district now stands. The location of his first home is not known, but in 1859 his father-in-law deeded 40 acres of land on the east side of the railroad to Margaret Roberts and they are believed to have built the house called “The Elms” in which Clyde Williams lived in 1979. The date of this house is fixed sometime around 1860. Few people had as great an impact on the development of Mount Olive in its climb from village to town as did Dr. Roberts.

It was Roberts who probably interested his father-in-law, Benjamin Oliver, in the town for as early as 1853 Oliver was buying land in the area and in January 1854, Roberts sold 4 acres of land in the village to Oliver, Joel Loftin, Daniel Kornegay, David C. Maxwell and A. H. Humphrey. This appears to have been a business venture, though none of these men had a store in the village in the 1860 census. Humphrey was a merchant in Goldsboro in the 1850s. Dr. Roberts, like most of the other able-bodied men in the village and area, joined the Confederate Army.

In 1863, he sold his home in Mount Olive to Willis Cherry, who is also believed to have built the oldest part of the house once owned by Mrs. C. W. Oliver and known as “The Oaks.” Cherry died in 1870 and Dr. Roberts moved back to town and bought his old home from Narcissa Cherry Johnson, Willis Cherry’s daughter.

George and Narcissa Cherry Johnson lived at “The Oaks.” It was George Johnson who sold The Oaks to James F. Oliver in 1875, after the death of his wife, Narcissa. James F. Oliver is the first man of his family to live in Mount Olive. His father, Benjamin Oliver, always lived in Duplin County.

In 1878, Dr. and Mrs. Roberts decided to move to Dade City, Florida, where they hoped the health of their son, Jesse, would improve. They sold their home to Miss Elizabeth T. Flowers, a granddaughter of Samuel Flowers. The year he moved to Florida, Dr. Roberts purchased land near Thunder Swamp from Robert Bryan Flowers and his brothers and sisters, Jacob Flowers, Elizabeth Flowers and Sarah Flowers Bridgers. Though he left the area, he kept an economic tie with it for a number of years.

Pollock locates here

Soon after Dr. Roberts appeared in the village, William F. Pollock, a 40-year-old Canadian of Scottish ancestry, and his brother, David, 30 years old, came to Mount Olive. Pollock was a merchant and the 1860 census shows that he had married and he and his wife, Susan A. Maxwell of Duplin County had a son, George, who was three years old. David Pollock was a clerk in his brother’s store.

William Pollock was the first agent for the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad at Mount Olive beginning in 1857, with an annual salary of $100. He remained in this position until Lemuel W. Kornegay became the agent at Mount Olive Station in 1861. Pollock had one of the greatest influences on the growing village. He was one of the incorporators of the town in 1870 and it was he who laid out and planted the large oak trees along the street that bears his name.

Pollock Street is the widest street in the old town because it was said William F. Pollock envisioned a trolley line on the street. If so, he was doubtless a man of large vision. He is credited for laying out Maplewood Cemetery. The date on his headstone shows that he was one of the first to be buried there. His descendants have been prominent citizens of the town.

Kornegay and the fathers of Mount Olive

Lemuel W. Kornegay was born in 1831 and came from a family that had long been closely connected with the affairs of Eastern North Carolina. In 1858, he married 18-year-old Nancy Parker Loftin. The year before his marriage he had set himself up in business in the village of Mount Olive, after purchasing a tract of land from Dr. Roberts.

In 1858, he built his bride a home in the middle of the block bounded by Chestnut, John and College streets, and was the finest house built in the village at that time. Later it was made to face the corner of Chestnut and John streets and had an avenue of trees, interspersed with Yucca plants, that led to the house from the Chestnut and John streets corner. The grounds were enclosed by a picket fence.

By 1860, Kornegay was a most enterprising merchant and the 1870 census shows that his real estate was worth $6,000 and his personal property valued at $3,000, which may have included his stock in trade.

James C. Cotton and Thomas Oats clerked in the store and they boarded in his home. The Kornegays had no children and on his deathbed, in 1875, Kornegay requested his wife, Nannie, to be buried beside him when she died. Though she later married Dr. Samuel Bryce Flowers, a grandson of Samuel Flowers and himself a widower, and with Dr. Flowers had four children, she was true to her promise to her first husband, and in 1902 when she died she was buried by Kornegay. Flowers was buried nearby, beside his first wife, Elizabeth Oliver Flowers. The house that Kornegay built for his bride in 1858 stood as a local landmark until 1971.

Because of the railroad, the station was established, and a post office followed. Through the efforts of Dr. Roberts, William F. Pollock and Lemuel W. Kornegay, a small nucleus of a village developed, stores established and houses built. These were truly the fathers of Mount Olive.

‘Aaron’s Ark’

About 1852, Lippman Aaron, a Jewish immigrant who had been born in Germany, began a store in Mount Olive which was called “Aaron’s Ark.” Aaron lived in the village of Warsaw and was married to Margaret Swinson of Duplin County. The handsome house he built in Warsaw is still standing. Aaron and his sons ran the store from their Duplin County home and traveled each day to the store on the train.

The store became a thriving business and after the Civil War, several of the Aaron children moved to Mount Olive and their descendants have been prominently associated with the town ever since. The Ark may possibly have been one of the earliest stores in the village, but few records remain to confirm this.

The large store building was the scene of many festival social occasions in the village. David John Aaron, a son of Lippman Aaron, was a member of the North Carolina Senate at the turn of the century and he built the earliest part of the house owned by Mrs. Lippman Aaron Long in 1979 on East Main Street.

Mount Olive’s most exciting time in history’s limelight came after the Civil War had begun. In 1862, New Bern fell to federal forces under General Foster. One of the main coastal cities in federal hands was a serious blow to the Confederacy. Most of the able-bodied men in the area enlisted in the Confederate Army.

Dr. Roberts was a surgeon with the army, as was Dr. Flowers, though he was at first with an Arkansas regiment, having settled in Camden, Arkansas in 1860 near his father who had moved there before 1850. Many area men were in the 20th North Carolina Regiment, which was formed at Franklin Military Institute near Faison. Others joined companies formed in Wayne, Duplin, Sampson and Lenoir counties.

Mount Olive was on the main supply route to the troops in Virginia and trains were passing daily. The merchants in the village must have been quite busy, and the news of the war would have doubtless been the main topic of conversation.

By 1862, the village consisted of several large homes: the Dr. Roberts house, later called “The Elms;” the Willis Cherry house, known as “The Oaks;” the Lemuel Kornegay house, later the Dr. Samuel Flowers house; and a number of smaller dwellings; a few stores and shops; a frame school building; and a railway depot.

The village was not laid out in the grid form it has today, but buildings were built at random and on the roads that led into the village. It was a sleepy, small village when the Civil War broke out.

The village in the Civil War

The spring that the Civil War began, Mount Olive, with so many native Dogwood and Judas trees, was surely as beautiful as it remains today during this season.

The railroad station was the center of the village and nearby must have been the railroad warehouse and possibly a wooden structure or two, one housing the post office, and the other a store. Dr. Roberts may likely have practiced medicine in the same building where he kept the post office.

The merchants built their stores on the main roads leading to the depot, and in that way caught the trade as it was coming to and from the station. There was little order, just a building here and there.

“Aaron’s Ark,” a store, was located on the east side of the railroad and is said to have been a large two-story wooden structure, unpainted (as probably were most of the buildings in the village).

There was a large central room in Aaron’s Ark with a balcony around the second floor. Here saddles, bridles and harnesses were hung. Often great social occasions were held there, when the balcony was cleared and hung with green garlands, using the mail floor for dancing. There was always a village ball in the autumn when the harvest came in.

Lemuel W. Kornegay’s store was on the west side of the railroad near his home. Kornegay’s, Pollock’s and Aaron’s Ark were the largest mercantile establishments and had a wide range of merchandise. These stores were said to have been built on log pilings and raised a few feet from the ground. They were probably simple rectangular wooden structures of one-story with a shed porch across the front, where merchandise was displayed. The name of the store was probably painted across the top of the porch, as most simple stores of the period.

Early schoolhouse and other homes

The schoolhouse was a building located on the east side of South Center street, directly across from where the firm of J. B. Flowers and Sons was located until the 1970’s. There was a small pond of water in front of the schoolhouse where students surely gathered at recess.

The most imposing residence near the village was the home of Lemuel Kornegay, which sat west of the railroad in a large grove of trees, a long avenue leading from the road to the house. It was located on the road to Thunder Swamp, and the grounds were completely enclosed in a picket fence.

In 1979, the Dr. Roberts house still stood on East James street, but originally had a pedimented double porch similar to that on the Kornegay house, except that the trim was much heavier.

The early homes of the village were more like plantation houses than town houses. There were few services that the village could offer. Homes had to be as self-sustaining as they could be. The house built by Willis Cherry, known as “The Oaks,” was originally a much simpler house of two stories, which faced the railroad. The Oliver family enlarged the house considerably and made an entrance on East James Street after they purchased the property in 1875.

There were smaller dwellings scattered about with kitchens, privies, wells and sheds in the yards. They were often of square log construction, simple in design and probably unpainted.

A picturesque quality

As simple and crude as it may sound now, there was certainly a picturesque quality about the village, set among huge oak, elm, sweet gum, dogwood, judas and pine trees. Honeysuckle must have grown on the rail fences and jonquils and roses are said to have filled the gardens of the larger homes, if not some of the smaller ones.

There were no churches in Mount Olive until after the Civil War, though services were held at the church in the village of Milton a couple of miles north of Mount Olive and at the Thunder Swamp Meeting House.

Mount Olive was an active village with a number of tradesmen and merchants and there must have been a good deal of activity during the war. The natural beauty of the area, handsome trees, wildflowers, broad, rich fields and the dark swamps and creeks surely made the area most attractive for settlers.

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