Saturday, March 17, 2012

James Mebane Cape Fear River Report for 1829

Of James Mebane, Esq., concerning the Works on the Cape Fear River, for the year 1829.
To the President and Directors of the Board
For Internal Improvements in North
     As Superintendent of the public works on the Cape Fear River during this year, it has become my duty to give you some account of the progress made in that work.  I would in the first place remark that the difficulties we have had to contend with, have been greater than we had anticipated.  The first and not the least of these, I would mention, was that of obtaining and keeping in the service good hands.  Having learned by the experience of last year, that it was very difficult to have employed, at all times, a sufficient force of good able hands, by hiring them monthly, and that it was very difficult to keep white hands under proper discipline, I made an effort to hire negro men by the year; and for that purpose got agents to attend the negro hirings in most of the counties near the works; but had the mortification to learn, that guardians and owners would not hire their hands to work in the water, and was then compelled to hire such hands, and for such periods of time, as I could, but in no instance for less than one month.  Hence it happened that we had many very indifferent hands, and their time would often expire and they leave us by the time they would become much skilled in their work; and if they could learn that we considered them as good hands, and the work was pressing, they would demand an increase of pay, or leave us.  Another serious obstacle to the progress of our work, was high freshets in the river, which prevented the hands from working for many whole days, and some weeks, during the spring and summer months.  This was accompanied by sickness, which prevailed among the hands at one time, to an alarming degree; so much so, that several of them forsook the works.  We lost two by sickness, and had the misfortune to have one drowned.
     But notwithstanding these difficulties, I trust it is not going too far to say, that very important improvements have been made during this year on the Cape Fear river between Fayetteville and Haywood.  Indeed we have a tolerable good navigation the whole distance between these two places, which is probably by water near sixty miles.  For although much remains to be done before the navigation is as good as it can and ought to be made for boating, but especially for rafting; yet all those places in the river, which have formerly been viewed as the worst, or so bad that they could not be rendered navigable, are completed, and can now be safely passed in boats either down or up stream.  And what remains to be improved, are very many places, which although not near as bad or difficult to improve as those which have been completed, will yet require a great deal of work.  It is doubtless very well known to your honorable Board, that the lands on and near the Cape Fear river and its branches, are covered with an immense quantity of the most valuable timber, and that for many years great quantities, both in plank and scantling, as well as in tun {??} timber, from near and below Averasborough, have been rafted to Wilmington.  Very few have ever attempted to descend the whole of Smylie’s Falls on rafts; and of the few that have made the attempt, all have done so at the risqué of their lives, and frequently with the loss of their rafts.  I have not heard that any have ever attempted to descend Buckhorn Falls on rafts.  Hence it has so happened, that those people who live below these Falls, have enjoyed the advantage of sending their lumber to Wilmington by water, such as reside above them, have been entirely cut off from this market.  There is no obstruction to the passage of rafts down any part of the Cape Fear in time of high water, but what is called Smylie’s and Buckhorn Falls.  These obstructions are numerous large points of rocks, which project above the water at its common height, in some instances six or eight feet, but gradually less.  They appear in different places for some two or three miles in Smylie’s Falls, and probably for  one fourth or one half a mile in Buckhorn Falls.  Rafting in Cape Fear is never attempted above Fayetteville but in time of high waters and all that is necessary to give the rafts a safe passage over these Falls will be to blast off the tops of these rocks level with common winter water, in a proper direction, so as to form a clear passage of something more than one hundred feet in width.  Some of the raftsmen say that the sluice should be so wide that a raft, when the foremost end happens to strike a rock, should have sufficient space to wheel quite round, for they cannot be stopped in these rapids; and if in wheeling the other end should also strike a rock, the raft must be destroyed or broken, and the lives of the hands endangered.--  It has been found on examination, that these projecting rocks are generally surrounded by deep water, so that after they are shattered by a proper use of gunpowder, they can, by means of iron crowbars, be easily thrown into the water, where they will be entirely out of the way.  This work can be done when the weather is too cold and the water too deep to work in the boat sluices, and when the hands could not be otherwise well employed.—On this account many of the projecting rocks in Smylie’s Falls have  been blasted off during the past season.  And it would seem, that for this reason, as well as for the great importance of the work, a raft as well as a boat navigation should be made on this river.  But it is believed, that although the balance of the funds now on hand may be sufficient to complete the boat navigation to Haywood, it will not be equal to the expense of making a raft navigation also.  Whilst speaking of what remains to be done on this river, I hope it will not be considered as going beyond my province, if I solicit the attention of the Board to the branches of the Cape Fear above Haywood.
     It seems to be admitted generally, that the Cape Fear is one of the most important rivers of our State, and has justly, heretofore, obtained the first attention of our Legislature; and that although much money hath been wasted by unskillful and badly directed measures yet that, at this time, it is in a progressive state of improvement, which promises, at no distant day, to realize the hopes of the friends of Internal Improvement in our State; and to make it what it seems by nature to have been intended for, the great thoroughfare, through which all the produce of the middle, and many of the western counties of this State will be conveyed to the Atlantic.  From Wilmington to Fayetteville, we have an excellent navigation for vessels properly constructed, and from Fayetteville to Haywood, enough has been done to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt to those who will take the trouble to inform themselves properly, that, as good a descending, and not very inferior ascending navigation will soon be had for the kind of boats suited to such rivers.—Above Haywood we have the Deep and Haw rivers, and New Hope creek; all of which are capable of being made navigable for many miles.  The Deep river, in its course, approaches the Yadkin and affords, probably, the most convenient route through which to turn the products of the country bordering on that stream to a market within the State.  The Haw river is a rocky stream, but will, at no great expense, afford a pretty good sluice navigation for many miles.  The New Hope creek is a deep flat stream, with very little fall, with no obstructions to the passage of boats for a great part of the year, but logs which have either fallen or been thrown into it, and a few mill dams, and can easily be made navigable to a spot within nine miles of Hillsborough.
     One powerful inducement to improve this stream, is the immense quantity of excellent timber which grows on and near its banks, especially of white and red oak of the best quality for staves.  The people living on and near this stream, encouraged by the certain prospect of good navigation from Haywood to Fayetteville, have lately held several public meetings, with a view, in some way, to effect its improvement; but it is doubtful whether they will be able to complete so large and important a public work without the aid of the Legislature and the Board of Internal Improvements.  It is well known to your Board that these streams are all included within the charger of the Cape Fear Navigation Company; and it is equally well known that that company has not the improvement of the river under its control, and that its funds are by no means equal to its completion.  Would it not, then, be best that it should be called upon to surrender these branches of the river either to the State, or such other companies as the General Assembly may incorporate for their improvement? Or that instead of dividing the tolls collected on the river among the Stockholders, they apply them to the improvement of the several branches thereof, under the direction of your Board?  But before this can be cone, the General Assembly must consent that the dividends accruing to the State from stocks held in this company, and now appropriated to the Literary Fund, may be applied to his subject also.
--But I must leave this subject to those who have entrusted to them the power of providing the ways and means of promoting the internal improvement of the State, and proceed to give you a more particular account of the work done on the river this year.
     On the 17th day of January, Mr. Keen, the overseer of this work, arrived at Buckhorn Falls, with his family, and about the 21st commenced building cabins for the hands, and a smoke house to preserve his provisions.  By the last of January, we had about twenty-five hands, and the number fluctuated from twenty to near forty; but we usually had about thirty.  As soon as the necessary houses were built, they began to get timber for the locks, and to excavate the lock pits and basins.  The following is an account of the work of different kinds:  Excavated 3 lock pits, 98 feet long and twenty-five feet wide; the upper one 4 feet deep; the middle one 8 feet deep; and the lower one 8 feet deep likewise.  Nearly all this excavating, as well as that of the basins, was done in a very close, compact white flint gravel, which nothing but a sharp pointed pick would penetrate.  Some part of the middle lock, and 4 feet of the lower one, for the whole length, had to be blasted through very hard rock.  From the lower lock to the river on Buckhorn creek, blasted 3 feet deep, 13 feet wide, and twenty-five feet long.  Excavated 2 basins; the one extending from the upper end of the lower lock to the lower end of the middle one, is 32 by 28 yards.  The upper basin, at the entrance of the upper lock, is 34 by 25 yards.  Thirty-six feet on one side of this basin, and cross the old canal, is secured by a stone wall of solid masonry thirty-six feet long, well puddle in front.  Likewise made an embankment on the upper side of the locks, level with the bank of the canal, which extends towards the river 60 yards, and up the canal forty yards, protecting the locks from any freshet that may overflow the low grounds between the canal and the river.  The canal was nearly full of drift wood, which with the great quantity of mud and gavel that had washed into it for the fifteen years that have passed since it was dug, was cleared out for 700 yards, and several hard rocks, that had been left when this canal was first made, were blasted, and with many loose rocks, taken out.  Built three locks 98 feet long, ten feet wide and ten feet high, having about four feet left each, so as to overcome a fall of 15 feet, all the posts, plates and gate frames of the locks are of good lightwood, and all the plank of the best heart pine, without sap, well kiln dried, and nailed on with twenty penny nails.  Besides this, there has been a considerable quantity of work done at [at – repeated]  Buckhorn Falls, in repairing the dams across the Buckhorn creek, the many sluices that make into the river, and the dam that extends across the river, to one end of which was added 30 feet.  Since the locks were completed covered boats have passed through them both up and down, and they promise to answer the purpose for which they were intended very well.
     After the locks were completed, the hands were removed to Smylie’s Falls, near Averasboro, where they had in the first place, to erect a house for Mr. Keen’s family, a smoke house and kitchen; and then, whenever the water was low enough, they were engaged in blasting rocks, and making sluice dams, &c.
     The following is an account of the work done on that part of the falls called Stewart’s Stand, or Hodge’s Falls:
     Built one towing wall of stone, 252 feet long, 4 feet high, 6 feet wide at the bottom and 4 at top, laid in rough masonry.
     One wing dam on the left hand, 36 feet long; one on the right hand, 52 feet long; two left hand do, one 194 fee long, and the other 50 feet do.  Blasted and cut out a channel 200 yards, 50 of which was done last year.  Blasted down, at the same place, three large ledges, and some points of rocks for raft navigation.  One of these ledges was eight feet high, 50 feet long and 20 feet wide.
     At the place called Harralson’s Landing—Built one towing wall of stone, 342 feet long, six feet wide at bottom and four at top, laid on rough masonry; one side wall, averaging three feet wide and three feet high, 605 feet long, built of the same materials, and in the same manner; blasted a channel through hard stone, 300 feet long and 12 feet wide, averaging two feet deep; cut and quarried through a soft rock and gravel, 300 feet long, averaging two feet deep and 12 feet wide; blasted down one ledge, 60 feet long 30 feet wide and 3 feet high, for rafts.  One day’s work with 27 hands, blasting and removing large stones and pulling up fish stands and dams.
     At Shaw’s Falls—Built one towing wall, 204 feet long, 6 feet wide at bottom and 4 as top, and five feet high; one side wall, 50 feet long; cut out a channel in soft rock, 15 feet wide, 204 feet long, averaging two feet deep; blasted down 3 large ledges and some points of rocks for raft navigation.  Having now completed the last very bad place in Smylie’s Falls, the hands were removed to a fall near Norrington’s mill, where they made 1 set wing dams, 6 set hand dams, 100 feet long; eight hand dams, 40 feet long; one side dam, 42 feet long; one do. 164 feet long; one check dam, 155 feet long; one ledge about 3 feet long and 10 feet wide.   Blasted through the Harmon rock ledge, 12 feet wide, 12 inches deep and 15 feet long; and removed some gravel, logs and promiscuous rocks, by blasting, for one half mile.
     Soon after the work at Norrington’s mill was completed, it became necessary to dismiss the hands, for this year, on account of the sicknessof Mr. Keen, the overseer.
     I have now, gentlemen, given you a general description of the work done on the Cape Fear this year, although many small pieces of work are omitted.  The amount of expenditure, including about five hundred dollars expended the last year, and for which vouchers had not been obtained previous to my settlement with the Board in November, 1828, is $4,759.45, exclusive of one or two small sums for which I have not had it in my power to procure vouchers, and which, when obtained, will be very inconsiderable.  I flatter myself that the work done has been both well planned and executed, and that it is in a great degree proportionate to the expense.  For whatever success may have attended the labors of this year, we are much indebted to the practical knowledge, persevering industry and integrity of Mr. Keen, the overseer.  All the boats and canoes belonging to the Company, are secured in the basin, at the entrance of the locks; and the tools, tents, iron, steel, gun-powder and provisions, on hand when the hands were dismissed, are carefully put away in a secure house at Buckhorn Falls, and will be ready for use whenever the works may be resumed.
     I remain, gentlemen, most respectfully, your obedient servant,
                   JAMES MEBANE, Superintendent.

[North Carolina Journal – Fayetteville, NC – January 6, 1830]

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The Haunted Courthouse

The Haunted Courthouse
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Cape Fear River

Cape Fear River
Looking west toward the Hilton

Ship coming into Port of Wilmington

Ship coming into Port of Wilmington

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