I have friends who once lived on Pine Valley’s Jeb Stuart Drive. All the streets in one section of the 50-year-old neighborhood are named for confederate generals, including Robert E. Lee, who commanded the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia.
One homeowner in Pine Valley is trying to change the name of Robert E. Lee Drive to something more palatable to her. A Star News feature quotes her as purchasing the house in spite of objecting to the street name. That’s just odd.
I am thankful the county commissioners have said they have no interest in bowing to a request to change the name of Hugh MacRae Park. While I welcome change, changing a name to sanitize social consciousness is never a good idea.
The city fathers did not name the park to honor the man, Hugh MacRae, although he did many good things in his lifetime. The park’s name came with the land donation in 1913.
MacRae’s story has very dark threads running through it.
His white supremacy ideals were very common among the South’s white families at the time that he lived (1865-1951), mine included. But that doesn’t change the history of Hugh MacRae’s enormous contribution to the tri-county area. As a developer, his hand shaped many neighborhoods in New Hanover and surrounding counties. He brought the trolley and extended electricity. He immigrated Europeans to settle farming colonies.
For me, the key fact is MacRae developed the section of Wilmington around the park, including Long Leaf Hills, and then donated the land where the park sits. He ponied up the land for a park; it can bear his name. For that one reason alone, I say, leave the name be. If not, be bold enough to give the land back to the family.
Grandfather of Hugh Morton, MacRae developed Linville, North Carolina, and parts of Grandfather Mountain, Sugar Mountain and Flattop Mountain in Avery County. He built one of America’s very first golf courses in Linville in 1889, and built roads and even a stagecoach line to bring visitors to his resort town.
His history reads like an off-the-chart game of Monopoly: MacRae took over his father’s cotton mill in 1892 after returning to Wilmington where he continued to develop. In 1902, he founded Hugh MacRae & Co., which at one time owned 70,000 acres on which to sculpt new neighborhoods.
In 1900, Hugh MacRae & Co. merged with electricity and rail as MacRae became head of the Wilmington Gas Light Co. which also had a business interest in an electric trolley. A merger with the Wilmington Street Railway Co. and the Seacoast Railway, created the Consolidated Railway and Power Co. He next acquired the Rockingham Power Co., which used hydroelectric power on the Pee Dee River.
Six model farm communities were settled with European immigrants between 1905 and 1909, including Castle Hayne, St. Helena and Delco.
Consolidated Railway and Power became the Tidewater (or Tide Water) Power Co. in 1907. Tidewater Power merged in 1952 with Carolina Power & Light, which became Progress Energy, which merged with Duke Energy in July 2012.
MacRae’s trolley lines helped develop Carolina Place, Carolina Heights and Sunset Park. He extended the trolley line to Wrightsville Beach to transport people from downtown Wilmington to the palace of light he built, Lumina Pavilion. He developed the Oceanic Hotel.
MacRae was also one of the major co-conspirators in the Race Riot of 1898, and a member of the Secret Nine. He helped author the White Declaration of Independence as one of the Committee of 25, a group of white business leaders that plotted and overthrew Wilmington’s Republican-led mixed-race city government.
But the despicable and tragic events of 1898 are a part of history, as are all that followed down through the generations. Changing the name of a park changes nothing.
Racism is adopted or rejected at an early age from overhearing parents’ conversations.
The history of Hugh MacRae should be used as a lesson to all who pass through the park’s gates. Parents should discuss with children who MacRae was: the good, the bad and the ugly. What a life lesson on loving thy neighbor and that all people are created equal in the eyes of the Creator.
Skeletons lie in many well-meaning white Southern family trees, creating a paradox.
Grandson Hugh MacRae II , born Nov. 20, 1924, is the head of the present-day Oleander Co., formerly Hugh MacRae & Co. A U.S. Army Air Force veteran who served in World War II, MacRae II developed the city’s first shopping mall, Hanover Center, in 1956. He was active in community reconciliation efforts during the 100-year anniversary of the 1898 Race Riots and contributed to the creation of the 1898 Memorial.
He among us without sin, cast the first stone.
Rather than be eradicated off the face of the earth, street names — and those of parks, government buildings, universities, monuments and statues — should be used to illustrate history in lessons that will change the way successive generations view their neighbors.