Railroad & Religion on Rhett Street

Railroad & Religion on Rhett Street (HM3O4)

Location: Southport, NC 28461 Brunswick County
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Country: United States of America
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N 33° 55.249', W 78° 0.951'

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Between the Civil War and the construction of the Panama Canal in 1904, local residents and investors desperately sought to surpass Wilmington by building a rail link to the Appalachian coal fields. Smithville would become the first refueling stop between the canal and northern ports. In 1890, a huge coal dock was built at the foot of Rhett Street as a part of that dream. Anticipating becoming the main port, Smithville had its name changed to Southport, the "Port of the South."

Roughly 15 rail companies failed before the Wilmington, Brunswick & Southern (WB&S) succeeded in 1911. By then, technology had changed and ships had begun to burn oil and not coal, causing some investors to lose fortunes. But Southport finally had its railroad, running down Rhett Street to the river.

"Willing, But Slow."On November 23, 1911, a huge celebration marked the train's arrival, with bands, speeches, boat races and picnics. The trip from Wilmington took 2 hours and 36 minutes. The first depot was at Nash and Rhett but it was moved one block south to Moore Street, on the west side of Rhett Street. Although the WB&S was nicknamed "Willing, But Slow" by locals, passenger service continued until 1931 and freight service until 1938. The passenger station burned in 1940, never to be rebuilt.

A Pioneering Church.Two blocks north of the railroad station is the site confirmed to be that of the oldest church serving Southport's African American community. St. James A.M.E.Z.'s congregation bought land for its first house of worship in 1866, on the northeast corner of Rhett and East West Street, with Rev. Abram Smith as pastor.

No description of that building exists, but it was temporary, because in 1871, church member Lem Freeman obtained the wooden structure that had been the foundation of the old federal Quarantine Station. That wood foundation served as the church building until 1958, when it was destroyed by Hurricane Helene. By May 1961 the cornerstone for the present church was laid.

Approximately one mile northeast of here, on Jabbertown Road, is Brown's Chapel A.M.E.Z. Church, which was established more than a century ago.

"The Railroad's Come to Town"

On old Rhett Street each one you meet
Just shakes hands all around,
For don't you see, they say with glee,
The railroad's come to town.

From far Supply to Calabash,
See how they cover ground.
They've come to help us celebrate,
The railroad's come to town.

Good farmer Pyke, just from the "pole,"
Who often used to frown,
Now wears a vast substantial smile,
The railroad's come to town.

Bring out your flags, let's all hurrah!
And do the thing up brown,
It's been coming forty years,
By jinks, it's got to town!

—By Miss Kate Stuart, as published in the Southport Herald, and Wilmington Dispatch on the opening of passenger rail service to Southport.
HM NumberHM3O4
Marker ConditionNo reports yet
Date Added Wednesday, October 1st, 2014 at 1:55am PDT -07:00
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Locationbig map
UTM (WGS84 Datum)17S E 775882 N 3757387
Decimal Degrees33.92081667, -78.01585000
Degrees and Decimal MinutesN 33° 55.249', W 78° 0.951'
Degrees, Minutes and Seconds33° 55' 14.94" N, 78° 0' 57.06" W
Driving DirectionsGoogle Maps
Area Code(s)910
Closest Postal AddressAt or near 109-199 N Rhett St, Southport NC 28461, US
Alternative Maps Google Maps, MapQuest, Bing Maps, Yahoo Maps, MSR Maps, OpenCycleMap, MyTopo Maps, OpenStreetMap

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