Interview with Kenneth Sprunt, April 20, 2004 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database
Interviewee: Sprunt, Kenneth Interviewer: Parnell, Jerry / Mims, LuAnn Date of Interview: 4/20/2004 Series: Southeast North Carolina (SENC) Length 60 minutes
Interviewer: Good morning, the day is April the 20th 2004. We're in the Helen Hagen Rare Book Room special collections Randall Library at UNCW. With us is Mr. Kenneth Sprunt, and I'm Jerry Parnell, and with me is LuAnn Mims. And we're doing this interview for our Southeast North Carolina notable Oral History Project. And we'll start off, Mr. Sprunt, with you stating your name, address and your birth date and a little bit of personal background.
Sprunt: Well my name is Kenneth Ferguson [Ph?] Sprunt. I was born in October 2nd 1920, in uh.. Wilmington, North Carolina, and I think the James Wilmington Memorial Hospital. My family lived at that time at uh.... 410 South Front Street. Uh...they uhm...I had a mother and a father, I had two older brothers who-- both of them are half brothers. One- one was my father's son, and one was my mother's son. Uh...I was succeeded by two brothers, two older brothers, Samuel Nash Sprunt and Lawrence Grace Sprunt. Uh...let me see, what else you want to know?
Interviewer: Any sisters?
Sprunt: No sisters.
Sprunt: We decided early not to have them.
Interviewer: Okay. What's your family's background? Your father was?
Sprunt: Well my father was James Lawrence Sprunt, son of James Sprunt, uh.. who was uhm.. a cotton merchant. Uh.. his history goes far-- way far back. His- his father, Alexander Sprunt, and his brother James Dowsel [Ph?] Sprunt were born in Scotland. They went to Barbados back in 18-- early 1800s. And invested what little money they had in land. And sometime around 1830, I don't know about that dates, I'm told the uh.. British government freed the slaves all over the world. And they had invested what little money they had in land. And the former slaves disappeared into the forest, and they were gone absolutely-- they were basically wiped out as far as monies (audio glitch) went. So they inquired of some successful people as to where two young (audio glitch) men could make a living. And he said "The best place I know of is Boston, Massachusetts." So they boarded a packet [ph?] aimed for Boston, Massachusetts from the Barbados. And they sailed and the packet broke down off Cape Fear, North Carolina. And they put in the down in the book as "whipped". And uh.. I uh.. I think that uh.. that uh.. Alexander might have gone back to Scotland. But, anyway, James Sprunt, my great, great-uncle, that's James Menzies [ph?] brother, was hired by a family as- as a tutor, he was a uh.. Presbyterian minister and- and well educated and so forth. Any way, the present James Sprunt College is uh.. there up state, is named for him. He wrote his brother uh.. Alexander, to come back to Wilmington, which they did. Which he did. Uh.. and he and his brother, correction, he and his son, James, uh.. formed, to make a long story short, a cotton business. It was-- that- there were a lot of problems during the Civil War. My grandfather was a purser on a blockade runner...(word missing).
Interviewer: And this is James?
Sprunt: James Sprunt. Yeah. And uh.... anyway, they- they- their business became successful uh.. and that was located in Wilmington. Uhm.. and uh.. my grandfather, James Sprunt, became a very noted-- illustrious man, and uh.. and was well thought about in uhm.. recognized by the University of North Carolina and so forth. And uh.. wrote books uh.. notable are the Chronicles of the Lower Cape Fear. And one called Derelicts, which was a story about blockade runners that he knew were uh.. a lot of them were wrecked off North Carolina shores. Uh.. anyway, he was successful and he was succeeded in business by uh.. his son, my father, James Lawrence Sprunt. Uh.. also, he gave half the business to his brother Will, William Sprunt. Uh.. so all the Sprunt family was busy- busy in the cotton business. Uh.. and uhm.. they formed the- the uh.. Cotton Compress in the west and so forth down on the river. Uh.. my father and mother, my mother was Annette Gray Nash Sprunt, she'd married a man named Ruffin [ph?] who'd died. And uh.. later married my father in about 1918 I think. And uh.. I was a uh.. son born in 1920. So. And they were very wonderful people, my mother and father. Well educated, and quite a lady, and uh.. an elegant kind of a person. Uh.. very lucky to have had them as parents. As were my brothers lucky to have them as parents. Uh.. what else you want?
Interviewer: Growing up on Front Street, this was kind of an upper class neighborhood would you say?
Sprunt: I would say it was one of the- one of the (inaudible).
Interviewer: What was that like growing up in Wilmington?
Sprunt: Well, uh.. first we moved and uh.. we went- and- and uh.. 410 South Front and then my grandfather died in 1924. And he lived in 400 South Front which was the Governor Dudley Mansion, they call it now. And uhm.. it was plenty __________ living there. And uh.. we had plenty of room and plenty of backyard. Uh.. and he had a lower-- what we call a lower garden. It was a- a uh.. just a uh.. developed piece of property with a (not sure). And uhm... it was uh.. it was awful out front, and uh.. when I went to school, they taught us at school, and uh.. on Friday, my father would come home with a whole lot of newspapers, and they had a whole lot of funny papers in there, lots of comics. And all this rough crowd who'd been playing football or baseball or something in the back yard, would all come in and spread all over the floor and they'd look at the funny papers. That was fun. And uh.. anyway uh.. he uh.. my grandfather had a- had a-- my grandfather died in 1924, and I just do remember him, but not very well. And uh.. he had a- a wonderful launch on the end of the wharf uh.. and it was docked down there, and we'd all go play on that, not supposed to, against the rules and so forth, but we would sneak in there, and play Captain and so forth. So that was also fun in my day. 'Cause I- I played football with a whole lot of rough necks on Dry Pond, which was about two blocks to the south. Well then. And they were nice guys. Oh, that was how we kind of grew up then. My father contracted tuberculosis back in uh.. oh, about 1930 I reckon. '31 or 2. And so they wanted to get rid of me, I was a nuisance then. They sent me off to Woodberry Forest School in Virginia. Where I lasted three years. And the headmaster-- and by the way, back in those days, there was no uh.. seventh grade. And we went from-- to the sixth grade, and then we jumped to freshman in high school. Any way, I went through the sixth grade, and they sent me off uh.. to this, to Woodberry Forest where my class mates were one year older and one year smarter then I was. Maybe many years smarter but one year older. Any way, I lasted three years, and then the headmaster, Mr. Jay Carter Walker [ph?] called my father on the phone and said "Mr. Sprunt," he says "This is a waste of the school's time and a waste of your money to keep that boy here." So I was pulled out of Woodberry. And they had no idea what they were going to do with me, but uh.. the uhm... sister of a cousin-in-law was a secretary to a lady who built a school in-- near Hartford, Connecticut. And they said "Well, lets send him to Dolly's school, they'll take anybody." So I went up to _____________?_____________ Old Farms [ph?] school in Connecticut where we uh.. I was the only southern boy there. And we fought the "Civil War" every day. Finally won, by the way. And uh.. anyway, I graduated from Old Farms and uh.. it was a- an interesting school. And then I went to Carolina, here at North Carolina Chapel Hill.
Interviewer: Before you get there, when your father contracted TB?
Sprunt: He was sent up to Saranac Lake, New York. That's where- where they had a uh.. a uh.. a hospital on uh.. a place to get cured. Uh.. somewhere in isolation, you see.
Interviewer: Did your family stay in the Dudley Mansion?
Sprunt: Yeah. Yeah, that's right. Mother- mother stayed there, and...
Interviewer: Who helped to raise all these kids?
Sprunt: Oh, the Lord I reckon.
Interviewer: Did you all have any live in help or anything?
Sprunt: Oh yeah, we had- we had plenty of help in those days. You hired a cook, and a butler, and a chauffeur, and a maid, and a laundry woman, and gardener and so forth and (inaudible). Of course, they didn't get paid much in those days, you know. My father would get, it think, $20-- $10 paid on uh.. on every Friday, he'd pay the (inaudible) out of that. Pitiful- pitiful wages. But any way, he was very popular, and uh.. everybody liked him, and they seemed to get along. I remember the servants very well. I mean, I was very- very close to them you see. We had a personal nurse you might say that graced us. And she was a wonderful black woman.
Interviewer: What was that like?
Sprunt: Uh.. (coughs) it was- it was uh.. we had discipline, of course I was a victim of discipline many times. But uh.. she kept us straight and- and uh.. and the woman happened to be just about my mother's best friend, because they was very close. And uh.. Lizzy Pfifer was born up in uh.. in Clarkton, North Carolina. Uh.. and uh.. she married a man down at Wilmington here uh.. and uh.. they uh.. she would come to work every day and uh.. and was there seven day a week. And we had a place on Wrightsville Beach, so she'd move down there with us in the- in the summer time, you see, it was just a cottage, and so forth. But uh.. life was- was uh.. for me, just a bowl of cherries in those days because I had everything I wanted, you know. I had a whole lot more then I deserved. But never the less (clears throat) and that was true of my brothers as well. Uh.. and uh.. but uh.. and we had good friends nearby uh.. Wilmington was a uhm.. small place, but a very socially mighty place, and uh.. we were active in various church and social events and things like that.
Interviewer: Were your friends from Dry Pond?
Sprunt: Well they were- they were school mates, you see.
Interviewer: School mates, okay.
Sprunt: Charleston [ph?] School, I went there a few years. And uh.. we'd have them-- after school, we'd go play football the back yard, 'cause I had big back yard you see. And uh.. and all of us uh.. interested in uh.. we were a pretty rough crowd actually.
Interviewer: What was Wilmington like? Downtown Wilmington like?
Sprunt: Nothing like it is now. Absolutely it was - it was quiet. A lot of people just walked to work. I mean, they didn't have too far, maybe ten blocks they'd walk. But uh.. automobiles were not- not scarce, there were plenty of them and uh.. and there was a street car track right down the front uh.. on Front Street, all the way down you know. But uh.. it was uh.. a quiet town, and of course, uh.. its uh.. biggest industry was the Atlantic Coastline Railroad Company which stayed there for several years. All my childhood, it wasn't till after the war that it moved down to Jacksonville and combined with the uh.. other railroad. But uh.. it was a highly social town as far as that went. And uh.. we enjoyed things, and uh.. most transportation was by train. Uh.. and uh.. there was no airplanes, and there's no-- the roads were primitive. I remember that uh.. in the summer times sometimes they would take us up to Blowing Rock for the summer. Boys weren't supposed to stay on the beach all summer, it's supposed to be good for you. So they took us out to uh.. to the Blowing Rock. And uhm.. I remember going up there, and my brother Sam always got sick in the automobile about half way up there. That wasn't very pleasant for us. (laughs) That was his privilege. So uh.. anyway uh.. it was uh.. nice easy life. Of course, I was blessed with- with too much worldly goods, you might say, so I was given everything in the world and I didn't earn anything. So uh.. I uh.. guess it's sort of hard to uh.. to explain. I managed to live and get here today 83 years old.
Interviewer: Well let's jump to Carolina for me. After Woodberry Park, you went to the University of North Carolina.
Sprunt: North Carolina for three years, and uh.. the war came along and interrupted my- my college career and uh.. and I went in the service.
Interviewer: And what were you studying?
Sprunt: I studied botany.
Interviewer: Botany. Okay.
Sprunt: We had some property, you know, down on the Cape Fear River, owned a plantation. And uh.. it was interesting to me, and uh.. even though I should have gone to NC State to- to study horticulture and uh.. forestry and things like that, I uh.. I wanted to go I guess to Carolina because my brothers had been there and so forth. But uh.. I got along pretty good up there. And uh.. we uh.. but then this war came along, but I didn't go back to school after the war.
Interviewer: What did you do during the war?
Sprunt: I- I was in the US Coast Guard. And I was just uh.. went directly from- from Wilmington to North of Virginia, and I was enlisted uhm.. became a Boatswain Second Class, and it's interesting service uh.. I was stationed on sail boats that worked off shore in the anti-submarine warfare. The idea being we could sail along with not making anything- any noise, any engine noise, with a sound gear, just a nondirectional- but, just a round- a round sound gear that we dump overboard. And we could hear any- any noise within uh.. five or six miles of the uh.. of the thing. And we would then call in uh.. to Norfolk. We- we off-- you know where Norfolk is, we were fairly 50 to 60-70 miles you see, and uh.. and report what we heard. And we heard some submarines out there, and I don't think we ever had any part in sinking one.
Interviewer: How large were these sail boats?
Sprunt: The one I was on was 45 feet long, had a crew of six I think it was. And uh.. we-- the first trip ever, we had to go sail down to off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, which we did. And while we were there, we had a hurricane. It blew the mast because we didn't have a bunch of forewarning in those days. So we brought it down there, luckily I had as a skipper, a Chief Boatswain, young fellow, who was a- a New England man, and excellent sailor. And he showed us how to change the sails to storm sails uh.. to strap them in tight. And "heave to". That means you just want to stay in one place, and you worked up in the wind, and you fell off. And you worked up in the wind, and fell off, you never changed. And we never did move more then just a mile or two from-- in about two or three days, from where we were. And uh.. not that we could do anything at that time, but it was a remarkable feat. And I do remember when the storm was over and passed we didn't know real- really where we were. And we started sailing west because we knew that land was back in west somewhere. And the first thing I saw was this tower sticking way up in the air, stone tower. And I said "I know what that is. That's where the Wright brothers (laughing) had their flight at Kitty Hawk." And I said "Then now- now just turn right and we'll get to Norfolk sometime".
Interviewer: And how long were you in the Coast Guard?
Sprunt: I was in there three years.
Interviewer: Three years.
Sprunt: Then I went back. We- we-- after the sail boat, we uh.. I think we had two years of sail boats, and the I went uh.. on uh.. motorboat for patrolling uh.. in that- that area around Norfolk.
Interviewer: After the war, what did you do?
Sprunt: (coughs) I wanted to go back to school, but my father said "You've got enough education, you get out and go to work." So I was sent down the Orton plantation and uh.. worked down there as a hand and later on as a manger. Uh.. which we uh.. did, it was- it was uh.. open commercially to the public, we had a nursery. And we had the gardens to-- for people to go see. So I was down there, and I remember one spring about three or four, several years later, my brother Lawrence, my youngest brother, Lawrence, who'd been uh.. in business with a man named John Calucci [ph?], good friend of mine, selling uh.. plywood in warehouses and so forth. And uh.. he said (inaudible) said "Kenny, you're wasting your time down at the orchard." He said "You ain't making anything. And we're about to get a deal together and go on the west coast and buy a plywood mill." So I said "All right, I'll- I'll take a look." And we're at the height of the season in spring. I had to leave, and we flew out to the west coast. And uh.. met with some fellows, and- and the deal they had all cooked up, it was gone, but they had another deal. So we went in the plywood business, and I was in the plywood business for several years. And uh.. out there, as I s- I- I lived here and traveled as a salesman. And John Calucci and my brother Lawrence and I formed our own company. And we uh.. worked as s- sales agents you might say, for this uhm.. wood manufacturing plant. Which grew to several manufacturing plants over the years. And that was it. And then uh.. let me see, that lasted for a while. We finally sold out luckily before the plywood business went uh.. downhill. And uh.. make a long story short, I ended up in the oil business at Wilmington (inaudible).
Interviewer: And how long were you at Orton' s working as the manager?
Sprunt: I guess about seven, eight years, something like that.
Interviewer: Seven, eight years. You said you had a public nursery as well?
Sprunt: It was- it was a- it was a plant nursery, we raised plants. Camellias, azaleas, different kind of plants for sale, you see. We had uh.. sold plants right on place there and some wholesale.
Interviewer: Now Orton is still in the family isn't it?
Sprunt: It's in the family, that's correct, yeah.
Sprunt: My brother's the proprietor right now uh.. (inaudible) uh.. but sold out to him and gave it to him but. And uh.. we thought it'd be best for just one family to own it, rather then a whole bunch of families fighting over it.
Interviewer: You say you were in the oil business, what did you do in the oil business?
Sprunt: Well, let me see. My then son-in-law came to me one day, his mother and-- his grandmother was in the oil business and she was losing money to-- and he was too I think. He says "You can buy the assets of my grandmother's business for basically the cost." And well-- and so, uh.. my eldest son, Kenny, my son-in-law needed work, so I said "Okay, I'll buy it and uh.. and give it to you all." Which I did. And uh.. they sort of started running it down. Friend of mine who had a pretty good sized oil business here, Springer Colton [ph?] Oil Company it was called, came to me said "You really want to get in the oil business?" And I said "Well, not really." But anyway, I did. So anyway, he made me a proposition and so I bought him out. And we combined the two, and by that time, I just gave them some stock in the c- company, took over the old stock. And it's still going pretty strong down there. It's combined with two or three other businesses. And uh.. we- we supplied coal heating oil, and lubricating oil to uh.. the state and to the ships and things. Also gasoline. Petroleum products (inaudible).
Interviewer: And you also have some convenience stores.
Sprunt: That's right, yeah, that's right. Convenience stores, which are four or five of those. Five or six of them.
Interviewer: Are they all in Wilmington area?
Sprunt: In Wilmington, close by, yeah. Have pretty high standards and-- for the personnel and for the (drumming sound) way the places are run. Picked them out pretty good. People tell us that anyway.
Interviewer: Now you say you gave it to your son-in-law, did you manage too...
Sprunt: I- I brought this business, which was a small, little bitty business, and gave it to them. My daughter and her husband, my son-in-law, and my son. And it was hardly enough to keep them busy, but it-- they- they was pretty good. And then this other friend came to me and said "You really want to get in the oil business?" I said "Not really, but okay, what you got?" So we combined that and I brought this into it, and I just gave them stock in the new company, you see, which uh.. they- they're part owners of the new comp- of the present company that was gosh, about 20 years ago I guess. So uhm.. I'm- I'm getting so old now, I don't have much to do, luckily I've got a wonderful manager who takes care of things and runs it uh.. properly.
Interviewer: I read somewhere that you had worked at the Oakdale Cemetery.
Sprunt: I was the president of- of the uhm.. cemetery for about three or four years. And I am still very much interested. I'm not on the board anymore, but uh.. yeah, I- I do, I check on the board from time to time. And they're very nice about accommodating me as far as information goes. So uhm.. I was uhm.. most interested in the uh.. interested primarily because I figured my knowledge of uh.. trees, woods, and things would help benefit and I think it has. But uh.. we uh.. added to- added to it uh.. and done some planting and some tree removal where they were dangerous and that sort of thing. 'Cause uh.. of people wandering in there, and storm-- tree- trees blow down and some people want to get rid of those trees that are hazardous, you might say, without disturbing the general uhm.. nature of the cemetery the beauty of it. But uh.. I was never (inaudible). I still stay in touch with them.
Interviewer: And you also were involved in the Azalea Festival?
Sprunt: Well it started out as the first treasurer of the Azalea Festival. And uh.. we had some wonderful people that worked on it, and uh.. Henry Ville [Ph?] of course, the late Henry Ville, he just died the other day, was a good friend, and he uh.. was very, very uh.. active with-- at uh.. there was uh..
Interviewer: How did you get involved?
Sprunt: Uh.. because of Orton Plantation really. And uh.. we uh.... (inaudible). Most everybody was interested in it. And uh.. we had a group of people who uh.. (inaudible) Hugh (Morton?) was living here then, and Hugh (Morton?) was a well-known North Carolinian and a good friend of mine. And uh.. he was the first president of it, and he really started it off right. So uh.. we-- and I tell you one little story, I was (inaudible) you uh.. would like to hear. During the festival Orton would for- for several had a luncheon for all the dignitaries and the queens and the courts that they played then (?). And we had a big barbecue thing down there, in the middle of the day. And (laughing) uh.. they s- sometimes the garden visitors, the paying visitors, would, they'd get mixed up in crowds, you know. And uh.. one man was heard when he was walking away from the party, saying to his wife, he's says "That's the most remarkable thing, I don't see how they do it. You pay $3 to get in and see the-- one of the pretty places in the world." You come in and they say "Have a drink." (laughing) So you have a drink, and you say uh.. "Would you like to meet the governor?" And say this is governor so and so, you know. And he says "I don't see how they do it at all." (laughing)
Interviewer: How long where you treasurer for it?
Sprunt: I don't know, three or four years it was something like that.
Interviewer: Three or four years.
Sprunt: Yeah, yeah. (inaudible) I finally got tired of that, and tired of-- I guess I was tired of it. But anyway, I gave it to somebody else.
Interviewer: Are you still involved with it at all?
Sprunt: Not really, no. Uh.. no we don't have the party anymore. We uh.. mother and father enjoyed the party and uh.. well they were living of course at the time. But uh.. it was a-- it was one of many features you might say. Then I think the move down to (inaudible) out of town there.
Interviewer: What other organizations that you've been involved in like that?
Sprunt: Well I was on the board of Alderman's of Wrightsville Beach for one term. I don't know uh.. that was uh.. when you were (inaudible). Mike Brown had been the- the mayor, and he says, to me he says "Look here, it's time for you to get on this board." So he had-- we- we-- I was elected on to it and so forth. And uh.. that's really about my only elected city office you might say I've had. We tried to- to preserve the various restrictions that uh.. keep Wrightsville Beach a pleasant place. We didn't want it to be a big Myrtle Beach, you might say, uh.. sort of thing. Too commercial, we want to remain just private. But uh.. local interest was (inaudible). City council is uh.. trying to do down there now, motorboating licensing with city council. But uh.. now I think we've got the majority are going-- trying to keep it conservative and uh.. and uh.. private, you might say.
Interviewer: You've been going to Wrightsville Beach since you were a little boy.
Sprunt: Since- since before I was born. I went swimming with my brother and told him I went swimming with my mother that summer before I was born.
Interviewer: You've seen some changes out there.
Sprunt: I certainly have, yeah. Much anything else in the way of architecture and the way of values, my lord mercy. I had my little cottage a uh.. appraised and everything not long ago, and the appraiser said, and he said uh.. said "You know, whoever buys your property is gonna tear your house down and build a big house there." 'Cause I've only got a small relative- relatively small house. And they're building on these uh.. pretty good sized lots. About 40 feet or something.
Interviewer: Yeah. Can't get too tall. What about in Wilmington, what kind of changes...?
Sprunt: Well, just the population increased, people have realized, especially Northerners, uh.. that uh.. this has a, as my father would say, a salubrious (interviewer coughs) climate. And it (interviewer coughs) has beaches near by, and the river and that sort of thing. And it's a wonderful place to live. And so they've come down, and they've increased the numbers, uh.. which means uh.. a lot of people down here now that weren't here then. And of course, we see it today particularly the last two or three years in the way of traffic. Traffic has become uh.. almost impossible. I know why- when I tried to get out here, uh.. first thing you know, I'm in a traffic jam (inaudible). That's the main change. Of course, the facilities are- are here too. Uh.. everybody has automobiles and so forth. That's why I'm in the gasoline business. So.
Interviewer: You love to see that.
Sprunt: That's right. To a certain degree.
Sprunt: But uh.. it's just a lot of people living here en- enjoy it, and some of the nicest people I've ever know come from up north, and uh.. are living here now. Uh.. and uh.. my buddies of course. We're getting fewer and farer and uh.. fewer and fewer every day, all the time.
Interviewer: I wanted to ask you a couple of questions that you may not know, or maybe you've just been told about. My interest is on health services of this area, and I know that one of the Sprunt cottages down at Wrightsville Beach was an early place for the baby's hospital. What do you know about that?
Sprunt: (sighs) ... There was a street car track that went up and down what's called Lumina Avenue. There was a building, a rather large building on the east side of that uh.. that street car rail- railroad track. My father brought it some time uh.. after 1900 I think. There'd been a bad storm and it was uh.. the area was pretty much w- washed around and scarred up. So to protect the house, he had it moved across the railroad tracks, and uh.. put on the what we call the Sound side. Uh.. that's were we grew up. My grandfather's house was sort of catty corner too, and on the ocean side, and uh.. as I say, he died in 1924. It was rented, uh.. the- the uh.. the cottage was rented out 'til we moved over there in 1927, 8. Anyway, getting back to the cottage that my father bought, it had been a- a uhm.. a hospital. And I can't remember the name, I think it was something like Star of the Sea, or something like that. That- that was the name of it. And I'll never forget living there as a little boy, and we still had uh.. because there was no air conditioned, we had grooved doors, and they had numbers on 'em like you go, you know. And uh.... and- and it re- remained that way until- 'til we uh.. 'til my grandfather died, we rented in about 1930. Uh.. we took over my grandfather's house and moved over there, and rented out this former hospital to two spinster school teachers. Uh.. Miss Emma Jordan from Wilmington, and Miss Le Rouche (?) from Hershey, Pennsylvania, they were friends. And they ran it as a boarding house. Luckily, they had nice people there and they had a nice uh.. dining room, and my father and mother, only when their servants were off, they went over there and had meals, you know, and that sort of a thing. And they were nice neighbors. Uh.. also, then they added on another wing, because it wasn't quite big enough to take care of the people that it was required to make it successful. Uh.. sometime later uh.. after they died, uh.. my brothers moved in the houses and so forth. Uh.. actually the additions were connected to- to uh.. to the building, and each section was cut out to make two cottages, (inaudible). And uh.. they lived there for a while. Anyway, uh.. when it was finally sold, and they-- we sold the cottages and luckily two elderly friends from uh.. one from-- both born in Wilmington. One who lives in Norfolk, one who lives in Richmond, Virginia, bought the cottages, so we have a little party right there you might say, right uh.. all summer long when these uh.. these friends and thier families all (inaudible), they're all (inaudible) my age. But uh.. that was a-- the interesting thing that I don't think there was ever a picture of me, and I may be wrong, but then- but it was on the other side of the track, you know. Might have been. It was a- it was a uh.. it was a hospital.
Interviewer: That's interesting. I also know that the Sprunt family gave money for a wing to be built at James Walker Hospital.
Sprunt: It was not really a wing, it was a separate building, I think, called the uhm.. Mar- Marion Sprunt Institute, or the Late Marion Sprunt wing I guess it was, of- of the hospital. It was barely a dormitory, I think, for the nurses. I think that's what it was. And that was pulled down here a good many years ago, you know, when they did the uh.. when they uh.. when they built the present hospital, didn't need it. It was uh.. probably pretty shabby by that time.
Interviewer: Who was Marion?
Sprunt: Uh.. Marion was my- my ... my aunt who died in childhood. She was young. There were two-- I had two aunts, both of who died young. And I think she died of scarlet fever, something like that.
Interviewer: I had read that, and I was kind of interested and wanted to pick your brain about that a little bit. You were talking about some of the changes in Wilmington, and what I wanted you to do was the picture that you brought us before, if you could kind of just tell us a little bit about that picture.
Sprunt: I uh.. of course this the Cape Fear River. And these are the-- they- the- the compresses. They would receive cotton from the farms and from the uh.. from the uh.. cotton mills. Uhm.. they were (background sound) great big, twice as big as this table. And they had a press and they squeeze it on down to half size, and even smaller. And they could put that many more bales of cotton on a ship. And then it went, of course, on to the river (inaudible). There was a ship right there probably off uh.. on loading some cotton bales, you see, to go abroad. And at one time Alexander (background noise) Sprunt and Sons was the largest uh.. exporter of cotton in the country, I'm told. But uh.. anyway, also-- they also had a- a warehousing, they were warehousing things, but this was the main- main building, and these- these uh... stacks were when they had the steam- the steam uh.... plants which would- would c- work the co- them compressors, you see. And I think when they- when they compress it, presumably (interviewer sneezes) steam would- would pop off there. But I remember going in as a little boy and seeing them and they would uh.. hustle all these big cotton bales by uh.. by the uh.. by the steamer doors, and the men who worked there. And then to pay them off every time they'd load-- take uh.. bale of cotton down to the ship, they'd give them a token. A little aluminum token of some sort. And at the end of the day, they could take those tokens, you see, and- and uh.. and cash them in for cash, you see, that would pay them off.
Interviewer: What is that building next to it? Do you know what that is? Was this part of the compressor?
Interviewer: This big one.
Sprunt: That was more of a warehouse I think.
Interviewer: To store the cotton in?
Sprunt: To store the cotton in, and any- and- and other merchandise that belonged to other people, you see.
Sprunt: Just commercially.
Interviewer: Did the Sprunt's raise cotton at all?
Sprunt: No, no, they weren't-- pretty good merchant, they would go buy...
Sprunt: Men have to buy the cotton from them and- and take cotton gins, and they would bring it on in, I guess. They had to sample it all. It was all different, they had to know what they were doing, take the cotton and uh.. and do like this, you know, and so forth. See how long it was, or short it was. And that's-- so (inaudible) something like that.
Interviewer: So he brought from local cotton farmers?
Sprunt: Well, you know, it was, I mean, they were within reason, I mean...
Sprunt: ... it was maybe a few hundred miles. And they had to- they had uh.. (inaudible) Had a certain about of cotton business in this country, but this was for abroad, for- for a shipment abroad.
Interviewer: This early 1900s, when did the company go out of business?
Sprunt: Uh.. it lasted until about the war. I guess World War II. And uh.. then it uh.. just sort of ceased to exist here, and they were-- actually Alexander Sprunt & Son had three offices, one here, one in Memphis, Tennessee, and one in Houston, Texas. They lasted a little bit longer.
Interviewer: Did the family have an interest in a textile mill at all? I knew there was an early textile mill in Wilmington, Bell Well?
Sprunt: I don't- I don't know that they did. I don't-- I- I never heard that.
Interviewer: How about Delgado?
Sprunt: No, that was owned by other people.
Interviewer: Don't know whether they were part of that?
Sprunt: No, they didn't. Uh.. they- they- there was-- I think Mr Holmes Davis owned that at one time.
Interviewer: You had mentioned that you had a nurse, but you didn't tell us the name of your nurse growing up.
Sprunt: That was Lizzy Pfifer. P, F, I, F, E, R.
Sprunt: And uh.. she was a model person. And she married a man named Jones. My father was sort of disgusted when she got married, but uh.. I understood why. (laughs).
Interviewer: And what was the name of your plywood company that you owned at one time?
Sprunt: Well the company was uhm.. Carolina Pacific Plywood. And the local office here was Carolina Pacific Sales. All we did was- was-- that was a west coast plywood plant, and we were salesmen over here, you see. We would travel round the country uh.. all over the country really, looking for the customers. Sometimes we made money, and sometimes we didn't.
Interviewer: The Aladdin Company that was located here for awhile with that prefab kind of housing, did you have any thing to sell with that?
Interviewer: Didn't know whether you connected with them?
Sprunt: (inaudible) I don't think so. I remember the name.
Interviewer: 'Cause I think they packaged up houses and shipped them out.
Sprunt: Prefab, yeah.
Interviewer: Right. Don't know whether plywood came into that play or not.
Sprunt: No. May have sold some to them, I don't know.
Interviewer: Were you involved any other businesses?
Sprunt: Not really, no. (inaudible) My sum total career, you might say.
Interviewer: You said you don't have a lot of memories of your grandfather, but with his writing of chronicles of the Cape Fear, I'm sure there's been family stories passed about him, what can you tell us about the man?
Sprunt: Well, uh.... during the war, the Civil War of course, he was a purser, or a blockade runner. He uhm.... he was captured towards the end of the war, survived, and uh.... he uh.. came here uh.. with his father and started Alexander Sprunt and Sons. Uh.. and it was proved to be successful. With a lot of hard work, and none of the uh.. good uh.. employees. It was located down there on Front and Walnut Street, there's a main office up-- just one block up from there. Uh.. and uh.... he was a- a writer. He was self educated. He did _______?_______ to- to (whistling sound) educate him on the Oxford ___?____, you might say. Uh.. the man- the man uh.. married a woman from uh.. from up around Burgaw I think, or something like that. Anyway, but that's- that's where he got his education, his formal education. And uh.. turned out to be successful because he wrote uh.. nothing but books uh.. as I mentioned earlier. But uh.. he was well respected and made money, gave an awful lot of it away, which is very nice, to charitable places. And uh.. they still refer to the- the uh.. organ at- in the First Presbyterian Church was something he gave, you might say. Uh.. and uh.... but uh.. as I say, I can vaguely remember him as a three or four year old, you know. But uh.. he was a wonderful old man. Married a elegant woman, Murchison. And uh.. who had an interesting past as a child. My grandmother, she died before-- well before I was born. But I'll tell you a couple of stories about her. Luola Murchison lived up at- at uhm.. near Fairburn, North Carolina, at a town called Manchester, out in the country. And uh.... during the war, she was entrusted with the key to the sort of underground vault where they kept food, be cool down there. And when they needed some food, they would have to unlock the big uh.. door and go down there. Anyway, her mother said to her "Luola, I want to go to the lockup, where's the key?" And when she went to find the key, it wasn't there. This is a story my father told me. And she said-- didn't know whe- where in the world it was. And summer time, and her big back yard was just sand and just white sand and this thing. And she went out there and she knelt down in prayer. And while she was praying, she was- she was bare foot, as you know. And prayed and prayed and prayed, and her little toes were working in the sand, and all of a sudden, she felt something hard and cold. And she reached down and there was the key. And that's the story my father told me, so I have to believe it, I think it's true, yes. Another- another story about her. In those days, and uh.. one- one of the old sayings was blue jays go to hell on Friday. And she's walking in the ________?____________ woods there and all of a sudden she heard this terrible commotion of birds and "Squawk, squawk, squawk, squawk, squawk, squawk, squawk." Terrible thing. She did, she walked in closer and sure enough it was a bunch of blue jays all over a bush, about so high, so it must have been 20 or 30 of them squawking and squa- squaring at each other, you know, like that. You know what? It was Friday.
Sprunt: That's another story ___?___.
Interviewer: What about your father? What do you recall about him? I mean, his name comes up in Wilmington history all the time as well.
Sprunt: My father was educated at Princeton University, class of 1910. Made a lot of good friends up there, which we would see when they'd come and visit occasionally, you know. And uh.. he uh.. came on back down, went into World War I, uh.. on the-- got a commission on the battleship Delaware. It-- and uh.. and worked over in the North Sea. And uh.. he got ... he got along fine. Uh.. and I have to go back a little bit and tell you another story. My great grandfather, this grandfather, Murchison, was a Colonel in the civil war and was captured at the Battle of Fredericksburg, and imprisoned in- in uh.. in uh.. in Johnson's Island in Lake Eerie. During that time, he wrote his northern friends, and said "Look, I'm starving here. We're- we're all of us are starving." He said "Can you please send us some food?" Which they sent packages of food. So original care packages (inaudible). Anyway, and they sent food to him, and uh.. therefore he survived with the people in his little cubicle down there, he was imprisoned. Going back to my father on the battleship Delaware, he was a lieutenant. And all of sudden one day, the captain of the ship called Mr-- for Lieutenant Sprunt. So my father had to go down to uh.. the captain's quarters there and see what he wanted. And the captain said "Lieutenant Sprunt, now you are the grandson of Colonel Kenneth Murchison?" "Yes Sir, I am." He said "Well, your grandfather saved my father's life at Johnson's Island in Lake Eerie during the Civil War. If it hadn't been for those food packages that he got, my grandfather, or my father would have died," as many other would. And he said "If you ever get into trouble 'round here, you let me know." So my father said "I had a scrape one time and uh.. that old buzzard did come to my rescue, but he never would tell us what it was." That's the kind of story-- those family stories, you know.
Interviewer: Those are great, because they're memories that help project what their character was like. I appreciate you sharing that with us. So you're named after Kenneth Murchison.
Sprunt: I was, yeah. After my great grandfather (inaudible) yeah.
Interviewer: Well you've seen a lot of changes in Wilmington.
Sprunt: I certainly have. I certainly have, yeah.
Interviewer: But you've managed to stay in that transition phase.
Sprunt: Well I've managed to stay there, and I'm not-- I'm getting older every day, and I feel it.
Interviewer: What kind of legacy do you think you're leaving for you children in this area?
Sprunt: I guess only the Lord knows that really. I hope I leave something good for them. My uh.. my two children are married several times, and the last in my son's case, the last one stuck, and it's a wonderful, beautiful, elegant girl he got. He had uh.. two children by his first wife. One of whom died uh.. and uh.. was unfortunate for them, it was a little boy. And that little girl lives on the west coast. My daughter didn't have any children when she was married, and uh.. she adopted with- with her late husband. I mean, her last husband. Uh.. two children, a boy and a girl, and they are fine and (inaudible). She has to take care of them, she's divorced now from him. So uh.. she takes care of them as best she can, and we send the little boy off to school, and he's doing fine. The little girl goes to Cape Fear Academy, she's doing all right there.
Interviewer: Let me go back for a minute and just make sure I understand the names. Your great grandfather was Alexander Sprunt.
Sprunt: That's correct, yes.
Interviewer: And his brother was James...
Sprunt: Menzies Sprunt.
Interviewer: Menzies Sprunt.
Sprunt: For whom the college is named.
Interviewer: Right, okay.
Sprunt: Because he was-- he uh.. was very helpful to the farm crowd up there. (inaudible)
Interviewer: Alexander had how many sons?
Sprunt: Uh.. my grandfather James Will Sprunt, Alexander Sprunt, who was a uh.. a minister. I think that's all, but I could be wrong.
Interviewer: Okay, who's Sam?
Sprunt: Sam- Sam was-- Sam was my brother, named for Samuel Simpson Nash, from Tarboro, North Carolina.
Interviewer: He was your brother.
Sprunt: Brother, that's right. Older brother. And uh.. he was my-- that was my grandfather on my mother's side of course.
Interviewer: And James Menzies Sprunt, did he have any children?
Sprunt: I don't know.
Interviewer: Okay. At the very first you mention James Dalzell Sprunt.
Sprunt: James Dalzell Sprunt. Uh.. he was the son of Will Sprunt.
Interviewer: He was Will Sprunt's son.
Sprunt: That's right. Will. Uncle Will had uh.. had three or four sons. Had uh.. he had uhm.. Will Sprunt was a Doctor in Winston Salem. Alex Sprunt, who was a uhm.. (inaudible) in the cotton business. Uh.. Dalzell Sprunt, or James Dalzell Sprunt, was in the cotton business in the family. Uh.. and uhm.. Dudley, I think, Dudley Sprunt was a doctor.
Interviewer: And Dalzell had a daughter named Jane.
Sprunt: Yeah. Jane and Alice. Had a daughter named Alice and a daughter named Jane.
Interviewer: Right, that's correct ______?______.
Sprunt: That's right.
Interviewer: Anything you want to say?
Sprunt: I've talked long enough I think.
Interviewer: No, very into it (?). You can keep going.
Sprunt: Well just a little none-descript uh... stories, but that's all I know, you know? Any way, I've enjoyed being with you, and uh.. relating some of my uh.. little bit- bit of history.
Interviewer: Thank you, we appreciate it. Thank you. I'm going to turn it off then.
#### End of Tape 7 ####