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Interview with Walter Aldridge, January 11, 1996 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Title:
Interview with Walter Aldridge, January 11, 1996
Date:
January 11, 1996
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee:Aldridge, Walter Series:Southeast North Carolina (SENC) Interviewer: May I ask when you were born.

Aldridge: 1913, November 25.

Interviewer: What were your parents’ names?

Aldridge: My mother’s name was Zulima Woodsides.

Interviewer: Yeah, that’s what I want you to get, her maiden name.

Aldridge: My father’s name was Lee Bell Aldridge.

Interviewer: Was he from Southport?

Aldridge: Yes, he was.

Interviewer: He was born here?

Aldridge: No, he originally…we was born here, but the family originally came from Baltimore.

Interviewer: Do you know about when?

Aldridge: No, I couldn’t tell you.

Interviewer: Well what about your mother? Where did she come from?

Aldridge: She came from the Supply area between Bolivia and Supply.

Interviewer: What type of work did your father do?

Aldridge: He dredged boats.

Interviewer: And what do you remember most about that?

Aldridge: I can remember going to the dredge with him when I was very small and going aboard the dredge. Of course it was amazing to me to see something as large as that was at that time. Mostly I can remember the part of it that back in that time, they only worked in the daylight. They’d come ashore at night. They spent their nights at home. I thought when I was a small child that that certainly was what I was going to want to do the rest of my life.

Interviewer: Oh, of course. What was the name of the dredge?

Aldridge: Well the latter one was the Comstock, but the first one was another dredge that I can’t even tell you the name of because I can’t remember it.

Interviewer: Well would you like to tell us a little bit about the Comstock because that was here for so many years?

Aldridge: The Comstock dredged the lower part of the river and the bora what they call the _____. Weather permitting he worked in the bora when it was necessary and if weather didn't permit, she worked in the river. She would what they call a suction dredge, she carries a load and pumped in right into the hull of the dredge and then carried it to sea to a place designated to dump this stuff.

There was a buoy to show it was all kinds of rubbish and stuff that’s been dredged and put out there, for them not to bother that. And shrimp boats stay away from it because it’s so detrimental and would tear up their nets and things of that nature.

Interviewer: If I remember correctly, the crew on the Comstock consisted mainly of Southport and Brunswick County men, is that right?

Aldridge: That’s right, it had a captain, Captain Lane. Captain Lane was captain as long as I can remember. I do believe though that Charles _____ was captain of that dredge after she left here and went down to Trinidad.

Interviewer: Well tell me a little bit about your mother. Oh, and I need to know where did you live in Southport?

Aldridge: Where I live now, 315 Caswell Avenue right up on a place called Bowery Hill. I own a house now that I was born in. I built a home in ’49, 1949 adjoining that property and I own both of the houses now.

Interviewer: Well what about your mother?

Aldridge: My mother came here in her early teenage life and lived with Captain Tomey and Miss Ada St. George. She was always known after many, many years as Captain Tomey, Miss Woodsides. Her last name was Woodsides. She met my father here and they were married after a couple or three years of going together. I had one sister that was born ahead of me. She was born in 1910, Margaret and then I was born in 1913.

Interviewer: And what are your fondest memories about this house where you were born and grew up?

Aldridge: I guess one of them is that it was always a tight house, it was one that you could stay warm in. So many people complained about their homes back in that day that you couldn’t stay warm.

Second Interviewer: They still do.

Aldridge: This house, I venture to say is as tight if not the tightest house there is in Southport today. You cannot slam a door in it.

Second Interviewer: Built by a ship’s carpenter, wasn’t it?

Aldridge: Probably yeah.

Interviewer: Now is that the one that’s located facing the alley?

Aldridge: Yeah.

Interviewer: I remember it as a very comfortable house.

Aldridge: I’ve had many offers of people trying to buy it, but I don’t want to sell it.

Interviewer: Well I don’t blame you.

Second Interviewer: I don’t blame you, 82 years you’ve owned it.

Aldridge: Well the house is approximately 100 years old now.

Interviewer: Well that’s wonderful, we’ve got send him a plaque for it.

Second Interviewer: Absolutely. We ought to give him one if he’s been there that long.

Interviewer: Alright, let’s look at what the town was like when you were growing up. You mentioned the waterfront, Franklin Square, Tin Pan Alley and Bowery Hill.

Aldridge: Well all of those things, in childhood days, they were places that we played and did a little bit of work when we got large enough to do any of it. My first job I guess that I ever made any money at all in was I was 6-1/2 years old, standing on a fish box, heading shrimp. Southport at that time was the shrimp capital of this country. We only had one plant in Southport that ships shrimp green, that is with the heads off, iced down. All the rest of them came in the canneries. They canned them.

The colored people, they worked at the canneries, prepared the shrimp for cooking and canning them. The white boys in Southport headed the shrimp at Mr. Arnold’s plant green to be shipped fresh. We started when some of them were younger than I was. Some of them before they were six years old were heading shrimp down there.

We grew up there on the waterfront. There was nothing extra about it except you never saw a boy down there that didn't have a boat or had access to use a boat. When we were 10 years old, we’d go anywhere we wanted to around the edges of the river here. We weren’t allowed to cross the river, but we’d go all around the marshes in our boats.

From there we started playing in the garrison which is now on Bay Street. That’s where we played baseball to start with. Then we had young teams around Southport. We started a team up by Mr. Willie Dozier’s store up on the hill, one in the garrison, one in the grove in the park, one at the ice plant. Twelve to 15 year old boys playing baseball. We had a regular league of them. There were five or six teams of us. We played one another I mean every second or third day we’d have a game.

Then they had basketball courts. The first one that we had was an outdoor one, wooden floor, no sides on it, just seats on the sides. No roof or anything. The first gymnasium was built by the Masons of Southport. It adjoined Masonic Hall and went back to the schoolhouse it was then. It was an indoor court, the only one in Brunswick County. We played in that.

Growing up in that stage of life I think is a whole lot more interesting than what a child has an opportunity to do now because they do not have an opportunity to do the things like we did. We thought we had to do them. I can recall very well the first dollar that I ever made in one day in my life. I was just a young kid, maybe 7 years old, something like that, heading shrimp.

You realize now they pay you about $2.00 to head a bucket of shrimp. The shrimp that we headed, we paid a nickel a bucket. So you can see how long you’d work to make a dollar. I can remember I ever made a dollar in one day. From that I kept on going. I guess the next thing that actually happened was in 1931, I was shot in the leg accidentally. I was 17 years old.

I walked on crutches for 16 months. My father died during that time and my mother was left with two children. I was a 17 year old boy and I had to go to work. I was in high school in the senior class the last half of the year. Never did graduate until after I went to work for the city. In later years, I did, but I had to get out and go to work. From that day on there was a problem trying to make a living.

Back in that day you didn't ask a man who much he was going to pay you. If he wanted to offer you a job, you just said yes, I want it.

Interviewer: Well we were in the Depression too.

Aldridge: And I can recall so well the day that I went to work at the ice plant. I would guess that there were 15 or 20 of us sitting on the cedar bench down there. We had two or three college graduates at that time sitting there and couldn’t make a dollar. The man running the ice plant, his name was Carey Reese. He came down and took me aside and asked me if I wanted a job. I didn't ask him what he paid or nothing. I said yes sir. I went to work and I didn't even know how much I was making.

Second Interviewer: Is this the one up there by Leonard Street?

Aldridge: It’s the one up on Leonard Street. I worked there three or four years and then I started…

Interviewer: What were you doing?

Aldridge: Hauling ice all down on the beaches in South Carolina from Myrtle Beach this way. North Myrtle Beach, we worked that beach. All over Brunswick County, they had three trucks running. It’s been just…I did my work at home. I worked away from home while I was living Wilmington for a couple of years working in the shipyard. I worked in Charleston, South Carolina for about a year. The rest of it has been at home.

Second Interviewer: You’ve been real lucky cause an awful lot of people had to leave to get a job.

Aldridge: Yeah.

Interviewer: Didn't you drive some of the fish trucks?

Aldridge: I drove trucks to New York hauling fish and shrimp and mostly produce in the summertime and fish and shrimp in the wintertime. The last truck I drove, I drove hauling up into Virginia up there where Eddie comes from, Hampton, Virginia. That’s the last truck I was driving.

After being shot, I couldn’t stay in a truck as long as some of them. My leg just hurt me so bad. I used to have an accelerator on both feet. I couldn’t hold the accelerator. You didn't have any cruise control back in that day. You held the accelerator and if you couldn’t hold it with that right foot, you had to cross your lets and do it with your left foot. I had to have one put on each side of the truck when I was driving.

When I went to work for the city in 1951 and I stayed with them until the last day of 1975 which was 20 years ago. I retired then.

Second Interviewer: How did you get the name Boobie?

Aldridge: This is something else too. I was in the barber shop down here. There was a character down there that you’d have to know named Mr. Pack Thorpe. He was the barber. If you’ve ever heard the tales about him, if somebody knew him back in that day, they could sit down and tell you I mean a world about it. I was in there. My father carried me down there to get a haircut and he stepped outside talking with two or three of those people out there on the bench in front of the shop.

Mr. Pack, he spoke up and said, “Come on little Boobie, let me cut your hair”. Back then I was big enough I was crawling up on a board. That’s where that came in and that was my father’s nickname so it stuck with me. Where he got it I never did know. He didn't either.

Interviewer: Let’s go back a little bit to when you were in school in Southport. Where did you go to school, what building?

Aldridge: I went to school in Franklin Square where the City Hall was later in there.

Interviewer: Where the art gallery is.

Aldridge: Yeah, where the art gallery is at now.

Interviewer: What did you like best about school?

Aldridge: Nothing I think. If you’re talking about what subjects I liked, I liked mathematics more than any one subject in the world. I could take mathematics and play with it. I just liked it that well, it wasn’t a burden at all. Got up into algebra and geometry and stuff, I could do it.

Interviewer: That’s probably why you ended up as city clerk and auditor.

Aldridge: Yeah, I guess.

Interviewer: You did a good job on that.

Second Interviewer: You were going to tell us about a teacher.

Aldridge: I had a teacher in the fourth grade named Miss Mary Baggett. She come from Lumber Bridge which there are a lot of lumber bridges around Lumberton. The first automobile that the city ever bought for a police car was bought up there from Lumberton through bids. That was in something like 1957-58, along in there. I went up to get that automobile the day that it was supposed to be ready with the mayor of the town, ____ Robinson.

It was going to be two hours before we could get it. So I inquired about Miss Mary Baggett. She taught me in the fourth grade at school. So I found out she was still living. Talking to a mechanic in the automobile place there, they told me where she lived. It was only out six miles. So I took a car and ran out there. I went up to this little four room brick house. It looked like it was a very old house, but it was brick.

I knocked on the door and I could hear somebody say, “Come in”. I went in and Miss Mary was in her late 80’s living by herself. I walked in and she said, “Don’t tell me who you are” and pointing a finger at me. She named two or three different ones of us and finally she named me. She said she knew that she knew me when I walked in the door. She said “I taught you in Southport in the fourth grade”. That’s what she told me.

Second Interviewer: It had been 40 years.

Aldridge: Oh yes, every bit of it or more. I sat there and talked to her. I knew I didn't have too long. She named at least half that class that was in there. She didn't have any notes or anything in her hands, but she just sat there and named them. She never taught but that one year in Southport, but she remembered half that class.

Interviewer: That class must have made an impression.

Aldridge: We were so bad I guess. But she was in her 80’s and I didn't have time or didn't even think about carrying a thing in the world, you know as a little gift for her when I went out there. So I made it my business the next time my wife and I started anywhere in that part of the country, I’d always go by and see her. I went back and I knew that she used to love candy to death.

I carried her a box of stationary and some little cards and two or three little things that we got together for her and a box of candy. She told me that she couldn’t eat the candy, said she would love to eat it, but she couldn’t, but she had a granddaughter or some relation to her, she said it would be there that afternoon and she would certainly see that it don’t go to waste.

But I did get a card from this granddaughter three or four years after that, that she had died. I didn't know anything about it until she wrote me and told me about it. She was well in her 90’s. But she was a lovely person.

Interviewer: I’m sure she was. Who were some of the other teachers that you had?

Aldridge: Miss Rachel who we buried here a couple of weeks ago, she taught me in the second grade. Mac ____ mother-in-law, Miss Swain, she taught me in the first grade. Miss Lois Dozier, third grade, Miss Mary Baggett in the fourth, Miss Norma Willis taught me in the sixth and then again in the eighth.

Third Interviewer: Nothing wrong with your memory.

Aldridge: Miss Mary Lee Hugh taught me in the eighth. They had a split class then.

Interviewer: About how many students were there, were all these classes now held in the Franklin Square building?

Aldridge: No, there wasn’t but four of us in there, four grades.

Interviewer: Then they went over to the new building.

Aldridge: When they opened the new building, I went into the fourth grade.

Interviewer: Was that in 1925?

Aldridge: That’s right. I went in the new building there and there weren’t but three left over there. Now Rachel taught me where the city hall was at.

Interviewer: That’s where I picked up with the three that were over there.

Aldridge: You know it had wings on that building.

Second Interviewer: What happened to the old gym that was attached to the Masonic Building?

Aldridge: They tore it down.

Second Interviewer: So many of them moved around.

Interviewer: Let’s see I was trying to think of something else I wanted to ask you about the school. Do you remember the old swing sets we had? What did they call it?

Aldridge: Oh yes, I know who bought them. The Masons.

Interviewer: Yeah, the Masons have always been in Southport been civic minded and have done a lot for the schools especially.

Aldridge: The Masons paid for the moving of one of those wings of that building, I don’t know which one it was.

Second Interviewer: You’re the right age to remember where they got the string on the bell at school.

Aldridge: You mean about the ropes running over in the trees. Yeah, I did part of it. We ran a rope over top of this thing where the bell was at in the tower, it had louvers in it. We ran ropes over to the trees and gave the policemen a fit trying to find out who was ringing that bell at 10:00 at night. Of course that was 3:00 in the morning now. 10:00 at night, everybody was home in bed but us.

Third Interviewer: Where did they move the wings?

Aldridge: In the 30’s. One of them was over there where the colored school was at on Ward Street. The other one, it was part of the cafeteria when they first put it in the colored school. Those buildings were 24 x 26 or 26 x 28, one or the other, on the inside. They were single story buildings.

Interviewer: It really made the building very attractive I thought in later years.

Aldridge: You remember old man Peterson?

Interviewer: Yes, oh I wanted to ask you about that.

Aldridge: He moved those buildings. You know he turned the church around, the old Baptist church.

Third Interviewer: I wonder why they took those wings off.

Aldridge: I don’t know to tell you the truth. Mayor White had taken them off, but I think, really and truly, I think they were in bad shape because WPA in 1936 rebuilt that building. Did an awful lot of work. There’s a plaque over there on it now.

Interviewer: Is that when they worked on the part 2 to get the azaleas…?

Aldridge: 1936, I hauled that stuff in for the federal government. I was driving that federal government truck and brought that stuff in.

Third Interviewer: Well I wonder why they took the bell tower off of the building.

Interviewer: I’ve often wondered that.

Aldridge: Well they changed the front of the building enough, it was setting over part…the framework of it was setting over part of what would have been a front porch on it.

Interviewer: It looked colonial and we were not a colonial town.

Aldridge: You just got inside the door when you could ring the bells. That’s the reason…

Second Interviewer: It went from there to the community building and now it’s here because they think the bell might be jinxed.

Third Interviewer: Margaret Harper knows where it is.

Second Interviewer: Margaret Harper knows where it is, but she’s not telling because see it was in the new school that burned and then they took it from there and put it in the community building which burned and so they’re not telling where it is now cause they’re afraid that might burn down too.

Interviewer: The old bell that’s in the park now, was that from the fire station?

Aldridge: It’s over at the fire station now. That was a fire bell.

Interviewer: Well I think that would be an interesting thing, to tell us about the fire department if you were in your early adulthood and then about the police department.

Aldridge: Well see they had a little fire station with one model T truck in it. The stall that the fire truck was in and a little workshop that was in the back of it was over in Southport. The office was upstairs over the fire department. Mr. Yasco was the first mayor I can remember.

Interviewer: And the city clerk was up there too.

Aldridge: That’s right. That old model T was…they have pictures of it up there now, ’23. I remember when the city only had one fire truck, had one trash truck and they’d pitchfork the stuff in it, had one dump truck and one pickup truck and that was it.

Interviewer: And Mr. Danford did the trash.

Aldridge: He and Charlie Brown. Joe Spencer did the electric when Uncle Harry died. He worked with Uncle Harry. The first thing I ever did for the city itself, I did it voluntarily, I was 17 years old just before I got shot. In the wintertime, the seagulls here were starving to death. They were all up the streets here. Right here on the corner of Mash Street up here, they wouldn’t trust Mr. Danford to drive that truck into Wilmington. Uncle Harry was in charge of it. He asked me and I’d been driving quite a bit and he asked me if I could drive it. I told him I certainly could.

They made arrangements with this day old bread that the bakeries had you know. Two bakeries were over there and they made arrangements with them. I went over there and got a truckload of bread. I came back right here on the corner of Mash Street, pulled the canvas off the top of it. Two or three fellows got you into that truck and started breaking that bread open and feeding the seagulls. We took the truck right on down to the waterfront feeding them. That’s where we fed them. I made two or three trips and I’m sure somebody else made some of them up there to get that bread.

Interviewer: I think that’s a wonderful part of our history.

Aldridge: That was 1930 because it was a Model A truck and I know it was before I got shot and I got shot January 4 of ’31.

Second Interviewer: Tell us about that. How did you get shot?

Aldridge: Just a short story. Three or four of us boys went down to Dozier’s Bridge it’s called where the sewage disposal plant’s at now. We went down there to help Robert Willing pull a boat up. One of the boys carried a shotgun down there, thought we may see a duck. It’s the 4th of January so there were a lot of ducks around at that time. On the way back, we stopped and built a fire around a pond down there. We were just standing there talking and stuff.

He started to shoot something out in the pond and he put it down and it went off. I was close enough to him that the gun shells went into my leg.

Second Interviewer: Where did it hit you?

Aldridge: Right in my knee, right there. I’ve still got 60 some shot in that leg now that shows on x-rays. The doctor calls it my junk pile.

Interviewer: I wanted you to tell us a little something too about the police department. How many men?

Aldridge: One man. When I went to work for the city in 1951, I was the highest paid man they had and I made $250 a month. And I was the highest paid man they had. They had four full-time engineers for the power plant, two substitutes, one policeman, two people on the electric department, two on the trash department and two on the street department. As I said a few minutes ago, with the trucks, they didn't have enough trucks to do anything with. We had one man in the office and one lady.

The office department was in the worst shape of any of it for lack of having anything to work with. The books were kept with somebody sitting there with a fountain pen and a little notebook.

Interviewer: We didn't have a high crime rate.

Aldridge: Nope. The minute books were in a fire long before I went there. They had a fire one time and lost one of the minute books and all the rest of them from the time Southport had started until then were up there. It’s very, very interesting to go up and read some of that stuff. I used to sit in there in the vault they had back there and read all the time about some of the crimes that were committed and about some of the police work and stuff.

We had no city manager, had six aldermen and a mayor. We had three districts to vote from. Now we have two. One side of the town, split the town. One side of town voted for three aldermen, the other side voted for three aldermen. Very simple. I served as an alderman before I went to work for the city. I was running a store over in Long Beach and pat myself on the shoulder and say they came after me. I didn't come after the job.

The mayor of the town and three aldermen drove over at the store and talked me into taking the job. One man died that was in office, Ed Weeks. Bill Jurgeson, they tried to hire Bill. He wouldn’t leave the county. So they came over there and asked me if I would take it. I did. I took it with the intention of getting off this bad leg I had that I was shot in, getting off of it. Told them I’d stay there one year and I stayed 24-1/2.

Interviewer: They were good years though.

Aldridge: Well I thought so. There’s a lot to running the city. It had no city manager or anything and everything comes through my office. I had one telephone, no radios so you can picture that. Now there must be six or eight telephones and a couple of radios on every desk. Everything is radio controlled. When I left from there, I reckon the furthest behind of anything in the office that they never even put the city on social security.

See social security started in ’39, ’37, ’38, somewhere along in there, this was in ’51. The police department couldn’t go on there with regular employees of the city. They were different. We had two policemen at the time that we did start that in ’52 or ’53. I tried to get it through. One of the policemen voted against it and the other one voted for it. When it happened, what they did, they terminated the one that voted against it. Terminated him for a week, had an election for it. The one that voted for it was there so they put on social security and when they hired him, he had to take it or else he didn't have a job.

Third Interviewer: Now that makes it simple (laughter).

Aldridge: And the city had no insurance, no nothing. When we tried to get hospital insurance, we had a job selling two of the aldermen that we could afford it. We could prove to them in black and white with the figures, you could prove it that we could afford it, but they said we didn't need it, we didn't need it.

Interviewer: Do you remember anything about what the tax base was approximately?

Aldridge: Susie, the valuation was so low until the tax base…it’s lower now than it was then. The valuation was so low, that’s what happened. I can’t recall. When I went there they had 21 checks that had been written and never mailed because there wasn’t money in the bank to cash them. The very first thing I did, I’d been with Uncle Harry.

I drove him over there once or twice to the electric. They had $300 worth of credit, that’s all a month. I went over there to talk to Mr. Charlie Jones, Brendel and myself. He was street superintendent. I told Mr. Jones what I wanted to do. I wanted to put meters on everybody. Only a third of the people had meters on them.

I built a house in ’49 and this was in ’51. I went there, this was probably ’52 or ’53 when I started this. My house had an electric meter, but it didn't have a water meter. I had taken a water meter off of a person and put it at my house. They didn't have a meter then due to the fact that I was working for the city and I couldn’t have them say that I didn't have a meter.

Anyway I made arrangements with Mr. Charlie Jones. I told him what I wanted. I wanted so many a month put on and they’d start paying for themselves after about the third month. So I made arrangements to get so many meters and we made people so mad until they wanted to kill us.

Interviewer: But it had to be done.

Aldridge: We had people that worked for the city that didn't even have a meter on their house, an electric meter. They charged you $1.44 a month for your lights. You paid $2.00 a month for your refrigerator, $2.00 a month for stove and $2.00 for your hot water heater. The lights, you could plug an electric heater in there if your system would carry it. $7.44 was as much as you could get out of a house.

I recall putting meters on a house one time in Southport. I won’t call any names, but put meters on the house. They were paying $7.44 and a $1.44 for the upstairs. It was different. We put all of it on one meter and their very first bill as cheap as electricity was back then was $40 and some odd cents. That woman, I’ve been cursed in my life, but never, I’ve never had anybody curse me like that.

So they were heating the house with electric heaters and everything else, had two hot water heaters, one upstairs, one downstairs. There was an apartment upstairs with a cook stove, refrigerator and a hot water heater.

Interviewer: And the city was generating the electricity.

Aldridge: See we had a generating plant out there. You may be a little interested to know that the government in 1941. They financed the rebuilding of that plant and put a large edge in there for that plant at that time.

Interviewer: Was that because of Fort Caswell?

Aldridge: Fort Caswell and they were going to be repaid for it with the use of electricity at Caswell. That’s the way the city was going to pay them back. Well when they closed Caswell down, they still owed several thousand dollars on that generating plant and the city refused to pay it.

We finally, after I went with the city, we finally, Davis Harry and two or three of us, went to Raleigh and borrowed $7000 from a personal account, Mr. James _____, that’s who it was. Miss Margaret Dozier handled all the paperwork for us. We closed out that bill for $7000 with the government, shouldn’t have paid them that. We should have kept the $7000 and told the government what they could do with it because they were the ones that walked out on it, not us. It was cheaper than going through court or anything like that.

Second Interviewer: Where was the power plant?

Aldridge: Over here at 12th Street, no between 10th and 11th. That brick building there, that was the power plant. At that time we had two wells, both of them were out there. They pumped the water, the engineers that ran the plant pumped the water into a big reservoir that held 125,000 gallons of water.

Then they pumped it over that reservoir down here to the water tank. One of the wells caved in. We put another one in 1957 near the Baptist church. Harry Sellars and myself put that one in and had it done. Then we put another one in close to the old ice plant.

Second Interviewer: Was the ice plant on city land?

Aldridge: No, it was on their property.

Interviewer: Something that just came to my mind after we mentioned the water tank, something that was traumatic to me, but do you remember when the Jones boy fell from the water tank and was killed on the 4th of July?

Aldridge: I was at Willie McKenzie’s store when it happened.

Interviewer: I was sitting on my front porch up there on ____ Street.

Aldridge: Yeah, I remember very well. In fact, I was looking at his tombstone a day or two before Christmas.

Interviewer: Do you remember the year, I can’t remember the year?

Aldridge: Susie, I don’t but it’s down there on the stone.

Third Interviewer: Was he related to Robert Jones?

Interviewer: No.

Aldridge: Johnny Jones, Coast Guard people.

Interviewer: Was Johnny Jones a policeman or something?

Aldridge: No, Johnny Jones was Coast Guard. Johnny and Patty, Patty was a fisherman.

Second Interviewer: The big ice cream fountain that was in Willie McKenzie’s store is still here in town somewhere, but nobody will let on where it is.

Aldridge: I don’t know what became of it.

Second Interviewer: His granddaughter told us that it’s still here, but nobody let on where it is because they’re afraid somebody is going to try to buy it, but it’s still intact. So it’s still around here somewhere.

Interviewer: We loved to go there, didn't we?

Aldridge: Everybody in Southport went then. You can buy most anything, sherbet, anything you wanted there.

Interviewer: At first he made his own.

Aldridge: He chipped his own ice. Yes sir. When I was driving ice truck, I carried many pieces of ice. It had to be clean clear ice for him. You couldn’t carry ice like you carried to the fish houses. Little trick in making ice, you know, you pull the cords on it, pull the water out and put a fresh one in three or four times while you’re making that keg of ice and it’ll be good and clear with that air blowing in it.

Second Interviewer: So that ice plant out there on ______ Street was a private operation.

Aldridge: Oh yeah.

Interviewer: After Carey Reese, did he sell it?

Aldridge: Well Carey didn't own it, see. He was just running it. It was owned by Mr. Wallace Moore’s brother that lived in Ohaskie. Jay Barnes and some other person, they owned it. At times, I hauled ice from Ohaskie, North Carolina to these shrimp boats down here.

Interviewer: Wow, I knew you were involved with that.

Aldridge: That’s a long ways too.

Interviewer: Did they sell to Mr. Sanders?

Aldridge: Yeah, they sold it to him and Mike built another one down just across the bridge, Cherry Grove Beach I guess, built one down there and kept this one. I can remember when there weren’t but two or three refrigerators in Southport.

Interviewer: I know, the rest were iceboxes.

Aldridge: Oh yeah, I sold as many as 30 iceboxes in one summer. Charlie _____ had the first one I ever knew anything about. It had a kerosene burner.

Interviewer: The first one we had was with the flame on top, you know, electric.

Aldridge: Weighed two tons.

Interviewer: It must have and it was a Sears Kenmore.

Aldridge: That ice plant did a tremendous business at one time.

Second Interviewer: Do they still own that land?

Aldridge: Yeah, they own it. I don’t know who owns it now.

Second Interviewer: Cause it’s just sort of a dump.

Aldridge: I see K&M, they may have bought it.

Interviewer: I want to ask you a few personal questions now. Were you married?

Aldridge: Yes, I was married (laughter).

Interviewer: Who did you marry?

Aldridge: I married Pearl Potter.

Interviewer: And where did you meet her?

Aldridge: In Bolivia.

Interviewer: And how?

Aldridge: I carried Warren Swain to Bolivia in my automobile to see a girl one night and I met Pearl up there and from that day on, she and I were inseparable you might say.

Interviewer: That’s true, I remember that. When was that?

Aldridge: I met her in June of 1935 and married her on the last day of June of ’37. We had two children.

Third Interviewer: And she was tiny, tiny.

Interviewer: Yes, she was a wonderful person too.

Aldridge: She weighed 110 pounds when I met her and she never weighed 110 in her life, only she was expecting the two children, she got up to 120 one time. She weighed 95 pounds at the last there.

Interviewer: That was one fine person. Tell us a little about your children and grandchildren.

Aldridge: I could talk all day about them. I have two children. I’ve been fortunate enough that both of them were educated. One of them is a banker. The other one works with Carolina Power and Light Company, was the 81st person they hired. He’s still there today.

Second Interviewer: What are their names?

Aldridge: Lee is the banker and Carey Dixon, Dickie they call him, is at CP&L. He’s ready to retire anytime they want him to. Lee has two children. Dickie doesn’t have any children. Lee has Randy Lee who’s a banker in Atlanta, Georgia. Scott, he’s a river pilot here in Southport. It’s quite a little story behind Scott. When he was five years old, he was walking through the garrison holding onto his daddy’s finger one day.

A ship when by and his daddy was explaining to him that river pilots go out and get on these ships and show them how to carry the ships up the river so they won’t run ashore and all this stuff being the pilot. He told his daddy right then, “That’s what I want to do”. He wasn’t old enough to go to school. When he went to school and you asked him what he wanted to do, he said he was going to be a river pilot and all his life, that’s what he was going to be.

When he went to college, he passed his grades, never made a failing mark in college, but he wasn’t anything outstanding. He got accepted into there as an apprentice. They were taking three and he was one of them. Now he’s serving as an apprentice pilot. In May he’ll go full-time for a full pilot. You have to serve a year as an apprentice. They serve a couple of years in the tower and stuff like that cause you have no assurance when you’re going to get in. You have to wait until there’s an opening anyway. All they do is have them ready.

Interviewer: Now there is a limit as to how many pilots.

Aldridge: Well they’ve been operating on 8 and 10 and they’re operating on 10 right now. I don’t think there’s any statutory rule on it at all, but they never have had over 10 operating at one time.

Interviewer: I think the association itself set the number.

Aldridge: They set the number, they control it.

Second Interviewer: In the old days, they used to race to see who could get out there and get the ship.

Aldridge: I went through a little bit of that one time too, with Max Cook and myself.

Interviewer: Well tell us about it.

Aldridge: Well that’s when they had a competition running against the pilots and Mr. Sam Newton and _____ St. George and they had this boat and Max Cook and myself ran it. We’d carry it offshore there. They’d go to the bar which was 3 or 4 miles offshore and put the pilot on the ships. We’d go up 12-15 miles and catch them up there and that kind of stuff.

Interviewer: Your fees were less than the pilots were.

Aldridge: I don’t know what they charge, all I know is what they paid us, that’s all (laughter). That wasn’t for me, I’ll tell you.

Interviewer: Well before we close this out, I’d like for you to tell us a little bit about your involvement with your church and the community in the past and in the present cause I know you’ve been very active.

Aldridge: Well my involvement with the church first is I was quite at some age before I ever accepted the Lord and I’m proud to say that I have accepted Him and have lived for Him. I think my oldest child was born before I accepted. I knew that I was not a Christian, but I knew that I was not as bad as some of them. I was always one of the types that I wasn’t good enough to be a Christian. I had too many bad habits.

Anyway to make a long story short, after I was married my wife led me to the Lord. I joined a church. In 1945-46, I was appointed a deacon of the Southport Baptist Church. We didn't have a rotation system then. We do now, you serve three years and then you’re off a year. I was elected time after time until I had served better than 20 years. When the church finally decided, they appointed those that had served 16 years or longer as a deacon, an emeritus deacon, lifetime it was called then.

I was the first one they ever had. We’ve had four since then. There’s only two of us living now, emeritus deacons in the church, Ashton Smith and myself. Jimmy Ward and Bob Clevons were the other two. I’ve been with the Baptist church all my life. My parents were Baptists so I followed them. I’ve lived to see that church go through some very rough times and some very good times. And I think right now we’re having some of our better times that we have ever had.

As for the city, I served on the Board of Aldermen after I retired two and a half terms. I served a term before I was every appointed. So I had probably 7-8-9 years with the city. I was in the Lion’s Club. The reason I did that was I guess maybe it was an excuse, maybe I wanted to and didn't know it, but anyway I was up in the office, I was going to be elected to being an officer which was going to take more time.

It got to where we were supposed to be taking an hour for lunch and I was having to take two, two and a half hours to go to a meeting. My work, I had too much work to do. I couldn’t do it. So I just dropped that. Masonry, I went in that in 1944-45. I was master of the lodge in 1950, Masonic Lodge. If I live to tonight and get up there tonight, I get a 50 year pin.

Interviewer: That’s what I wanted you to say. I knew they were honoring the 50 year members tonight.

Aldridge: Well I have over 51 years in and of course they waited until they got a gang of us.

Interviewer: Who else is to be recognized tonight?

Aldridge: I do not know. I have not inquired at all.

Interviewer: Well Jimmy Prevat is.

Aldridge: Well Jimmy’s waited longer than I have.

Interviewer: Did Harold Watson keep up his membership?

Aldridge: I don’t know to tell you the truth.

Interviewer: I think he was at one time. I didn't know if he kept it up.

Aldridge: I quit going to the Masonic Lodge about four years ago just after Pearl died. I had a little bit of a flutter, heart or something, and doctor told me just lay off these stairs so I have laid off the stairs. I’ve been upstairs in this building one time in the last five years. The Baptist church, you go up the stairs and I do that once a year when we have men’s day.

Interviewer: Yeah, we really got the steps over there.

Aldridge: So I came over to the lodge, I mean I still belong to the lodge, but I quit going. I intend to go 10 minutes early and go up half the steps and stand there and rest a while and then go the other half.

Second Interviewer: They need to do what the Masonic Lodge in Raleigh did several years ago, put in one of these seats that you sit on.

Aldridge: Well we discussed that for 2 or 3 people. We have a man that goes up there. He’s the secretary of the lodge, been secretary of the lodge for 15 years or longer. He goes in a wheelchair. You have to carry him up there. We decided to put one of those in, but ours turns 90 degrees and we just couldn’t do it. We could put in an elevator, but it’s got restrictions on the elevators so it’s got that you can’t do that anymore.

We had the staircase given to us. Davis was going to give us one and Colonel Brown down there, the one he had in that house down there, they ought to give us that. They can’t use it.

Interviewer: Well unless you can think of something else that we haven’t covered, either one of you.

Third Interviewer: I’d like to hear his memories of Hurricane Hazel. Those are important memories.

Interviewer: They really are for Southport.

Aldridge: Well Hurricane Hazel as you know was on the 15th of October. When I retired, I said there were two things I was proud of if nothing else. I had never been late a day in my life going to work and that I had never told one of my employees to do anything. I’ve asked them and I still think that is the best thing that anybody can do. I don’t believe that you can get as much work out of any human being by telling them as you can by asking them.

If a person wants to work for you, they’re going to work. If you ask them to do it, they’re going to do it. I was proud of my employees and everything else with it. I was proud of myself. Hurricane Hazel, I went to the office that morning. I knew I couldn’t go in and open the office, I knew that. But I went up there to see what damage was done and if anything had to be taken care of so I went up to do that.

Then I spent the rest of the day down in the waterfront helping everybody else. Both my boys, they were down there helping. I have a picture somewhere of Lee floating across the street on a mattress. There’s a picture somewhere of that, don’t ask me where.

Interviewer: Oh, I’d love to find a copy of that.

Aldridge: There’s a picture of him coming across Bay Street on that mattress. Dan’s store down there, we were down there taking the stuff over there with trucks and cars and everything else that we could. Across over at Matt’s, they were doing the same thing. At the hotel, everybody was trying to get stuff to high ground. Hurricane Hazel, I was with the city of course, the first piece of heavy equipment that the city bought was the Monday or Monday week after Hurricane Hazel, I went to Wilmington, a place up at Leland and bought a motor grader without a dime or the city’s permission.

Matt told me go on and get it and we’ll handle that thing if you can find one. I found one and __ Taylor the guy in charge up in Brunswick County, he sold us one of the better pieces of equipment we ever had and government paid for it through that money we got for the hurricane damage.

We had a hailstorm here on May 16, 1961 on Wednesday. Dollars and cents wise, it did more damage than Hurricane Hazel. There was not an automobile that was set outside. There was not a house in Southport that didn't have damage. I’m speaking about in Southport, I’m not talking about anywhere else.

Interviewer: Every window in the house I was living in came out.

Aldridge: There was hardly a roof in Southport that didn't have to be replaced. We were lucky that we didn't have anybody killed in that thing. We had some statistics down in city hall, a fellow by the name of Whittaker came here and did the study on it. It surprised me that there was more damage than there was in Hurricane Hazel.

Interviewer: What year did you say? I want to look that up.

Aldridge: May 16, 1961.

Second Interviewer: Was your own house damaged in Hazel?

Aldridge: No, my house wasn’t damaged in Hazel. No I had one shingle on the side of my house broke.

Second Interviewer: I remember it was a tight house.

Aldridge: Didn't have any damage at all in it. Did in that hailstorm. I had roof damage. There was a lot that can be told about Hurricane Hazel because it changed the way of living on the water in Southport. That 13 foot, Mary you know what I’m talking about, that water level. The insurance that you can get now and what you have to do before you can get it and all that.

Third Interviewer: One other thing: do you remember when the boat came in from Astonia?

Aldridge: Yeah, you know the Swain’s daughter is going to Astonia to work, she and her husband. You know they went to Russia that time, they’re going to Astonia. There were two of those boats, one of them went into Wilmington, one here.

Interviewer: I didn't know there were two.

Aldridge: The other one was right along with this one. I didn't know much about that one, but this one here, they tied it up at old man Jim Arnold’s and they made this area their home. Some of them have become very good people too, they were nice people. Some of them lived down there, boat builders and stuff like that. They didn't ask for any help if they didn't need it, I’ll tell you that. They were workers.

Second Interviewer: What year was that?

Aldridge: I couldn’t tell you, I really don’t remember.

Interviewer: I’ve got some clippings.

Aldridge: That was before Mary came here, wasn’t it Mary?

Interviewer: Yeah, but she kept clippings and stuff, but I can’t remember either.

Second Interviewer: Well we might not have told you before, but you’ll get a copy of this so you can show it to your family.

Interviewer: And we of the Southport Historical Society and the Southport Maritime Museum certainly appreciate your coming.

Aldridge: Well you’re certainly welcome.

Interviewer: It’s a valuable part of Southport’s history.

Second Interviewer: It sure is and boy I’ll tell you, there’s an awful lot of people we need to get on here. We’re working on it, but we just keep losing some of them.

Interviewer: Next week we’re trying to get Ressie and Gus Swann. Do you have any others you think would be good?

Second Interviewer: Particularly ones that are not in good health.

Aldridge: Susie, I don’t know. Where’s Ethram now?

Interviewer: We’re going to get a chance to go up there and ask him a few questions. He’s at home, but he’s crippled up, can’t come down here. Is there anybody else here you know that was with the CCC Camp? I wanted him to tell about establishing Max Café.

Aldridge: I remember the day the CCC Camp came in here. I was at the ice plant. I was working at the ice plant. They brought them in on a train and they never saw a sand spur and they put them right out in a patch of sand spurs right there crossing that ice plant. Those young men were dying for water. They had water on there, but no ice or nothing and they couldn’t drink it, so hot. They came over to the ice plant and I thought they were going to drink everything they could find. Man, they were dehydrated, they couldn’t get enough.

Interviewer: Now mention, where did they set up the camp?

Aldridge: Where Harold Spencer’s house was at on Leonard Street where the field was at. They had quite a bunch. Those boys were a good bunch. They were fighting a fire one time after they got in here down in the lower part of Brunswick County. They got a hold of four cub bears, little cubs. They put them in a truck and brought them home, built a pen and fed them and took care of them.

They were just as proud of them as they would have been of anything. They took the best care of them, fed them the best food that money could buy and everything else. The game wardens looked into it and they couldn’t keep them. They told them they had to put them in the zoo. I remember what one of the boys told him too. He used a lot of profanity. He said the people at the zoo would never lay a hand on those animals and treat them like they were being treated.

They took a truck and took them and left one morning before daylight and carried them way back and turned them loose in the wild. They came back. The wardens come to confiscate them and there were no bears (laughter). Old Mac was in it, Tex, Johnny Stiller, John Walters, Louis Dixon. There were quite a lot of them.

Interviewer: Mr. Freder was in it.

Aldridge: Oh he was a ranger. I had an uncle that was in that thing too, Alfred Arnold.

Second Interviewer: When you see how good those guys did that came out of that, we sure could use some of them like that again.

Interviewer: Oh I think so too.

Second Interviewer: They did a lot of things that haven’t been done since.

Aldridge: I think it was better than giving them the money.

Interviewer: Oh yes. Mac married a Southport girl and started what we know as Ship’s Chandler now, but it was Max Café and Homer had a plumbing business. I forgot what the others did.

Aldridge: Louis Dixon ran a restaurant, his own.

Interviewer: They just made themselves a very vital part of Southport.

Second Interviewer: Well they learned how to work, that’s the thing.

Aldridge: Well you know the WPA used to pay them 10 cents an hour. One of those was paid 10 cents an hour. I worked with them for a bit. You know it was to keep from giving you something. It wasn’t that the work they were doing…

Second Interviewer: CCC, now they did some good stuff.

Aldridge: Yes, they did.

Interviewer: Well I guess the WPA did a lot of good stuff, didn't they work on the park.

Aldridge: They did that park. I was driving a government truck, paying me $60 a month. Ninety percent of that stuff that was in the park was ____ Morton.

Interviewer: What was the name of the little man that was in charge of the park?

Aldridge: Piccolo Pete. Don’t ask me what his last name cause I don’t think anybody knew, but I believe it was Taylor.

Interviewer: But we had some pretty crab apple trees, loved those plants and nurtured them.

Aldridge: Had paths all through that park with oyster shells. They were crushed. You go through there and you get off of those paths and he’d be coming up from behind a tree and tell you to get back on the path. That was his park! He had a little zoo in there with a few animals. Roy Swain caught a fox squirrel one time between Seaside and North Landing and brought that thing and it would eat out of your hand in a week or so with him. He’d tame anything.

Interviewer: We’ve had some good days in Southport.

Aldridge: I wouldn’t trade them for anyplace in the world. You know they kept telling me all my life, I’ve read some of the history about the most beautiful cities in the world, Paris, Austria, I had an occasion to go three times, and I’ll tell you the honest truth. I’m a poor judge of beautiful cities if that’s the most beautiful city in the world.

Interviewer: You wanted to come back to Southport, didn't you?

Aldridge: I don’t think there’s anyplace as pretty as it is at that waterfront down there, no place. I’ve been to the mountains too and they can have the mountains as far as I’m concerned.

Second Interviewer: I’ve always been interested in all the buildings have been moved around in Southport over the years. How did they actually do that?

Aldridge: They go in there and jack that building up on these big long steel planes and got trails back at the end of them and they hook them to a truck and pull them out of there.

Interviewer: In the earlier days, they put them longs, didn't they?

Aldridge: Yeah, they’d roll them. I moved our of the church on logs.

Second Interviewer: Okay, but you’re talking about a school that was moved.

Aldridge: Well two men would do that. Now don’t misunderstand me. I don’t mean to say two men did it all the time, but two men could do it. When they moved this church over here, remember the old grinding wheel that they used to fasten locks to, you’ve seen pictures of, or a mule or something walking around and around grinding the wheel, sugar cane and stuff. It’s not a thing in the world but a wench. That’s all it is. That’s what they had over here. They had a great big colored fella, they called him Tina.

He weighed about 350 pounds. That wench, he could turn it. He’d turn it and they’d turn it so far and then they’d have to pull it back and do it again. Put blocks in.

Interviewer: Even before that Mr. A. J. Robbins moved the old hospital from Fort Johnston down to the bluff overlooking Cash ____ crab’s factory and that house as big as it is was moved from Fort Johnston down there.

Second Interviewer: How they’d get them up and down hills?

Interviewer: I don’t know.

Aldridge: I don’t know, but they do it. They find someway to get them around.

Interviewer: Ed Swain made an affidavit one time. I was a notary and he helped Mr. Robbins move that. He’d made a sworn statement about how that was done. Somewhere I have a copy of it.

Second Interviewer: Cause nowadays, we have trucks and everything. About 100 years ago, they just had mules.

Interviewer: They moved it down there before 1892. Miss Annie May was born in 1892 and she moved down there when she was 9 years old. It had been through two or three owners before Mr. Byrd got it.

Aldridge: There’s a picture somewhere you may be interested in. You know the four sisters back of the city hall. Miss Mary Crandall, we had a picture of the city hall, just a little Kodak picture. Miss Mary Crandall was maybe 6 or 8 years old playing in that tree and she was about 80 years old when we saw it which would have been 75 years prior to when the picture was taken. Those trees in that picture was just as large as they were then. Now people talk about the age of trees.

Interviewer: There are four of them, aren’t they.

Aldridge: At one time, they said it was the largest stump in North Carolina.

Third Interviewer: Well, that’s just wonderful! Thank you so much.

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