A prolific Wilmington historian releases her next title Monday, July 7. “Maritime Wilmington,” by Beverly Tetterton, published by Arcadia, follows the template of the imprint’s familiar Images of America series. With almost 120 pages dedicated to illustrations, Tetterton first maps then follows the history of the Cape Fear River. Told in photographs and in-depth captions, the chronology unfolds with both broad brush strokes and textural details.
Tetterton, now retired as a career librarian in New Hanover County’s North Carolina Room, has published volumes of books about Wilmington’s lost architectural legacy and launched, with co-author Dan Camacho, a walking tour e-book of some of the city’s most noteworthy sites. The maritime history book may be perceived as something of a departure.
“Once I really delved into the history of houses — houses are built and added onto, and part of them may burn, and then they’re rebuilt, or they take another building around the corner and put it on the back of it, or take the front off and the street’s made — there’s very few houses that are totally and completely intact. Vessels are the same way, reincarnated over and over again; sometimes they’re rebuilt from the paddlewheel. For me that’s the relationship. I think buildings are beautiful and ships are beautiful, they just have this long life.”
With the City of Wilmington approaching the conclusion of its expansive Riverwalk project, Tetterton thought the time was right to launch a book about the river for residents and visitors.
“I don’t think they can imagine what the river looked like historically … not all that long ago,” she said.
Tetterton explained during a June 27 phone interview that she has a great love of vessels.
“Everybody thinks I just love houses and buildings,” she said. “I’ve lived downtown since 1981 and I think I’ve visited every ship that’s visited Wilmington.”
One of the book’s strongest images in the early chapters is a 1915 photograph of The Wilmington, an excursion steamer that carried up to 2,000 day trippers downriver to Southport.
“When I first started working at the library, there were people around that told me about being on The Wilmington. I think when Capt. Marshburn bought The Henrietta and brought it into Wilmington, I just think people thought it was a smashingly beautiful boat but I think there was this whole romantic, long history that they liked, too,” she said.
Personally she loves the image of Amy Hotz’s family making barrels, and images of turpentine. Also acquainted with dock hands who worked the river their entire lives and railroad workers who remember the freighters coming into port, Tetterton says her newest book is also a salute to the City of Wilmington for investing in the infrastructure to complete the Riverwalk between the Cape Fear Memorial and the Isabel Holmes bridges.
She considers the Cape Fear River the city’s main street and as the former chair of the committee that decorated the Wilmington Convention Center, Tetterton was deeply attached to the library’s stock of archival images that mirror the city’s history in its waters. The response to the black-and-white enlargements placed throughout the center’s corridors near windows framing waterfront viewpoints has been overwhelmingly popular, she said.
“Riverfest was basically started just to get people to go back downtown and enjoy the river,” she added. “I like the historical photos but I like bringing it up to modern day, too.”
When she developed the chapter that spans the World War II years, she purposely chose images that showcased women.
“The WACs and the WAVEs, that was kind of fun to give women a little bit of extra press,” Tetterton said. “I really enjoyed learning about how women served in the Marines and the Army and Navy.”
Other favorite photographs include late 1950s images of the Navy’s mothball fleet anchored up the Brunswick River. The scene is reminiscent of one from Tetterton’s childhood years. She grew up near the James River in Virginia, a hub of maritime culture, shipbuilding and a mothballed fleet. From her family’s Piankitank River house in Gloucester to her girlhood home in Williamsburg, Tetterton’s affinity for old homes and buildings, ships and boats, comes into focus with the shared common denominator, the river.
Tetteron will sign copies of her book, “Maritime Wilmington,” at the Bellamy Mansion Museum of History and Design Arts, Monday, July 21, 6:30 p.m.