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Interview with James Prevatte, April 25, 1995 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with James Prevatte, April 25, 1995
April 25, 1995
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee: Prevatte, James Interviewer: Date of Interview: 4/25/1995 Series: Southeast North Carolina (SENC) Length 55 minutes

Interviewer: Mr. Prevatte was born and reared in Robeson County, North Carolina. Received his higher education at Wake Forest University. And the first question, Mr. Prevatte, when were you licensed to practice law?

Prevatte: 1936. August 1936.

Interviewer: Where were you living then?

Prevatte: At that time?

Interviewer: Yes, Sir.

Prevatte: I was living in Robeson County on a large farm between Lumberton and Red Springs.

Interviewer: And when did you come to live in Southport?

Prevatte: 1939.

Interviewer: What got you here? What was the attraction of coming to Southport?

Prevatte: Well, it was a combination of factors. At the time, I was living with a very limited practice in Raeford. Found the inadequacy of the practice there at that time and began looking for a place to go. Raeford is one of the finest places in the world to live, but they just did not need lawyers. So I talked with some friends of mine that ultimately led--because a series of circumstances led to three deaths that were very untimely--to come down here.

Interviewer: So I understand you live in one of Southport's historic houses. Tell us where it's located and a little bit of something about it.

Prevatte: It's 313 East Bay Street. It is on the waterfront and it was built by one of the earlier settlers here. It was burned up at least, if not in whole, in part, and he rebuilt. And we have that house now.

Interviewer: What is the plaque on the house? You have one of the historic plaques.

Prevatte: I do not have one. I had ordered one, but we have not at this time received it.

Interviewer: Well, I'll see if we can get the powers to be to get that for you, if it's hanging fire somewhere.

Prevatte: You got to ask Susan.

Interviewer: I'm in the historical society too, so--

Prevatte: I asked her to get these. She knew how. I did not. And I asked her to get one.

Interviewer: Peter Wyckoff is the man now for that, so I'll talk to him and make sure he can do something about that.

Prevatte: He's doing some work for us in the office, and so it'll be easy to get up with you.

Interviewer: Sure. That's right. Hobbies: She says, "What are your hobbies?"

Prevatte: My hobbies are, historically speaking, honey, fishing and golfing. I say historically speaking, because when you reach the age that I presently carry, you're limited now almost to your lesser of the things, and that is: reading.

Interviewer: May I ask how old you are now?

Prevatte: Close to 84. Closer to 84 than 83.

Interviewer: My father used to always say he never minded birthdays because you have to consider the alternative. So tell us something about what Southport was like when you moved here in 1939.

Prevatte: Well, when I came here, it had a population of I think around 18 thousand. I said it wrong--8 hundred, somewhere in that close bracket. Practically all the people lived within the town, because there was plenty of room to take care of that population. Since then, it has literally exploded.

Interviewer: It's probably twice that now.

Prevatte: Yes, or possibly more.

Interviewer: Possibly more, yeah. Well, was that a better size than what we have now?

Prevatte: Beg your pardon?

Interviewer: Do you think that was a better number?

Prevatte: No, I do not think it was better. At that time, Southport was one of the secrets of the state. That is, that people had not found it, and they could not and did not appreciate the potential here. And it was a place, shall I say, in the raw, waiting for more than that. And the streets had very little improvement. Dogs had priority in the streets over the human--over the motion traffic. You stopped rather than ran over a dog, or drove around. If the dog was lying down in the street, you drove around the dog. You could get away with a lot of things, but it was "love me, love my dog," and that was the way, the nature of the people. I did not--it was a family; so much so that up until a few years ago, you didn't need to lock your home or secure any of the possessions that you had. In fact, our house we could not lock. We did not have the locking facilities on it until less than 10 years ago. Wasn't any need in it. No one was--

Interviewer: Not even a lock in the door.

Prevatte: No. Wasn't any need in locking. No one would bother it. People had their boats tied up at docks along the waterfront, and they'd leave their fishing gear in the boats, and no one would bother it. And if they did, it was easy to find out who it was because with that limited number of people, there was a town that could always talk. Of the type of town. Another was the fact that there was trees on the streets. Some streets, the trees were so close together that you couldn't pass another vehicle. Well, the people loved their trees, and they saw no reason to destroy the trees. They were not going--people were not going anywhere, so to speak, so why couldn't they wait in passing, and drive accordingly? The pavement on several of the streets was singular, and we had our own electrical system here and it pumped--the generators were out close to a hospital. We pumped our own water from the deep wells. The stores were limited in their inventories. Lots of people, for instance, had bought their basic things here, typical of a fishing village, but when they wanted, for instance, a suit of clothes, you'd go to Wilmington and buy that. And when a woman wanted a dress or a skirt, she'd go to Wilmington to buy that. And many of the finer elements of groceries, hardware supplies and things of such nature, they would go to Wilmington and buy those.

Interviewer: They still do.

Prevatte: Yes, to a large measure. The road we now refer to as 211, between here and supply, a greater part of it was the pavement was singular. You meet a car, you'd slow down, and you'd put two wheels off, and the other one would put two wheels off and pass, and go on. And no one complained about it. It was a way of life. One of the more famous home speaking writers of the past, Carl Goerch, who for many years was the publisher and editor of State magazine, once said--was quoted as having said--that he went to his doctor and he was with an ailment, and doctor said, "You're going to have to quit, and stop work. But after a few years, hopefully, if you do that, you'll be able to go back to real active activities." "Well," he said, "That gives me an excuse to go to the place that I've always wanted to go and settle down, take it easy." And the doctor said, "Where?" And he said, "Southport." And he said, "Well, if you're going to Southport, about a year should take care of the ailment." Another illustration of the attitude of our people. I had a little dog that I used for hunting quail, and I was very fond of the dog. The dog I'm sure had equal admiration for me. And on one occasion, a neighbor and I decided we would buy an electric lawnmower. Back in those days, no one had a motor lawn mower. And we'd heard about these electric ones, so we bought one. And I was mowing the grass out in the front yard, and in some way the dog got out without my knowledge closer to it than I thought and movement of the mower, and the mower clipped off the end of the dog's tail. So the dog became hysterical, and ran off howling and all of that. Finally we were able to get her hemmed up out on a dock, right close to the house. So went out and picked her up. I took her in my arms, and carried her to the local doctor--medical doctor. And he used a bit of, shall I say, profane introductory, and he said, "I'm not a so-and-so dog doctor. I'm for human beings." I said, "Yes, but you love dogs. What can you do for the dog?" He said, "Carry her on out to the hospital. I'll be there in a minute or two." And sure enough, he met me at the hospital. This sounds strange that a situation as this would happen, even here today. And he said, "Come on in." We went in the side door, and he carried me into the emergency room in the hospital with the dog, and he worked on that dog's tail. And he said, "It will not grow back. Animal nature of the dog, she will gnaw it off, and so it will heal." And sure enough, she did. But the point I make is, can you imagine calling either of the doctors here and saying something similar to that, and then a hospital manager permitting you to carry a dog into the emergency room on the emergency table, and there work on the dog?

Interviewer: Did they sew his tail back on?

Prevatte: Well, yes, and put splints on it. But the dog tore them off, in the nature of licking and trying to heal it itself. It was just about three inches or four inches on the end, and it healed over. She was just as good a hunting dog as ever afterward.

Interviewer: With a short tail.

Prevatte: But a short tail. But that is but an illustration. During the war, of course everything was rationed, and I had been rejected by the Navy, and the Army took me up to Fort Bragg. I had already been rejected by the Army, but then they were really scraping--this was World War II--scraping to get everything they could. And they took us up to (inaudible) and called us out a bit. And the town was very limited in food, of general sorts, and we would get beef once a week. The truck would come in, and you had a certain amount that you were allotted per family, number of people that were in the family. But some people had a way of getting around it or something, so the whole families around here tied themselves together. They would come running over, for instance, to our house, how it was a community chain of contacts. And a lady would stick her head in the door and holler to my wife and said, "The meat truck is in." So wife and that lady would head out immediately down to the store that had the butcher shop-- I said the butcher shop-- and get their allotment or quota of meat, and that's all you could get. And that was true generally of other places. But the point I'm making is, one neighbor to another, wanted to see that each of them were able to get his or her part. And it was that way generally in everything we had in town. We had one major service station here then. It was operated by a man the name of Gus McNeill [ph?], long since died. Well, he would get three crates of Coca-Cola each week, was his allotment of Cokes. And he told me when he was placed on the allotment that that was not enough to sell. It wouldn't go around. So what he was doing was letting three people have that allotment, and each week for me to come by at a certain time of day, and he would give me one of those crates of Coca-Cola, and I was on his list, so to speak. And that is but another illustration of the way people lived, one toward the other. And that was fair like that. You don't need locks on your door. You go out of town, your neighbors would come in your house and check it from time to time to see if everything was in order, the electric appliances were operating, and such things as that. It was just a great big family.

Interviewer: We still have some of that, but not like it was.

Prevatte: No, not that way.

Interviewer: Susie's other questions here about your law practice that the county seat of course was still here in Southport when you came here. What was the difference in terms of what was here when the county was here, and what is gone when it went to Bolivia?

Prevatte: It was called the county seat of the county, where the courtship, all the courts were held here. We had the--they're called district court now--we called it Recorder's Court, and it met once a week on Monday. I served as judge for a while, and I often finished my court session within an hour or less. Certainly less than two hours. Two hours was an unusually long period to have the court.

Interviewer: Was this is what is the City Hall today, upstairs?

Prevatte: Yes, that was upstairs. Then you appealed from that to Superior Court, and there that was usually what they called a mixed session. By that, the first part of the week would try the criminal cases that could not be disposed of in the district court or Recorder's Court, we called it then, either because of the gravity of the case or an appeal from Recorder's Court to Superior Court. You see, we did not have jurors in the district court, or Recorder's Court then. So we had about three or four sessions of mixed court a year. We had about two sessions that were confined largely to trying civil cases involved in goods in property matters, and criminal court in the mixed sessions. There we tried crimes of all nature and then you finished those in the mixed session, then same judge, the same jury, would take up what civil cases involved in property or rights afterward.

Interviewer: How many practicing attorneys were there in the county in those days?

Prevatte: At one time there were two. We were down--it depends on what you say practicing attorney. There were two active practicing attorneys. Let's say that. One of them, and that was Senator Frank, he was in the military, and during most of the time, his duty was in the custom house in Wilmington. So he wasn't able to appear in court here quite often. And Senator Frank and I were the two active lawyers in the practice. Then there was another by the name of Joe Ruhr, and he was the prosecuting--he did not encourage a real active practice, so he brought in--he was used largely to prosecute cases in the Recorder's Court, and the rest of the time he'd sit around and enjoy life. And if something wanted him to write a deed, why he'd do that. He would not look up or research title work, things of such nature, but he'd talk to people, he'd counsel with them, and we used him several times as our local representative in Raleigh in the legislature. Well, that pretty well explains the law practice. We had quite a number of magistrates scattered around all over the county, and they called themselves then Justice of the Peace.

Interviewer: But they were not trained lawyers.

Prevatte: No, no. They were not trained lawyers, and they were--if you wanted one to be heard, he would hear the case for you. Usually he'd put you off till night, because he was usually busy with his personal activities in the course of the day. We had some interesting experiences with some of them, naturally, because they were not accustomed to the dignity and the refinement, supposedly identified with a court system. Someone got after him one time about his punctuation in writing deeds. He'd go out, make a survey for a person. Then he would write the deed, and for about half or a third of what lawyers did, and he'd get away with that, and he did not have any education so he'd put all--he was very scarce in his punctuation. So someone got after him one time, and he said, "Well, I'll take care of that." So he took his old piece of a typewriter. He put the thing back in that, and the instrument back in, and he put all the different punctuation marks that he had ever known or heard of--he listed them there one after another, and he said, "Now you put them wherever you want them." We had some good ones. We had some interesting ones. But they would-- now, when I first came here, two lawyers had moved away from here immediately before I came. Another had died. A very active lawyer, a very capable lawyer had died about two weeks maybe before I came here, and his death was ultimately the motivating factor in my coming. Another, when I came, came here a few days, suggested that it would be a good idea so far as he's concerned, for the two of us to go in together, because he could not continue an active practice. He'd had a serious heart problem. So he was very active, and it was an active group among the three or four before I came. Well, with one of them moved away, one of them died, this one, about whom I spoke, Mr. Taylor, had a good practice, and he suggested that we go together. I did. I was glad to, because it gave me an identity with the county that I would not have otherwise head. As a matter of fact, I was the first lawyer that ever came here that was able to survive it and stay, and the others came awhile; they either stormed out or were run out, one of the two. That, and that our judge was always a layman from out in the county, that tried the cases, and most of the time their basic judgment was accurate, but their sentences were, shall I say, lacking in their objectivity. And it was an interesting background. County was quite evenly split between the Republicans and the Democrats, and we had a judge elected as judge of the county court by one vote, so they nicknamed him "One Vote Johnny," and that was his lot.

Interviewer: Partners--well, you mentioned the one there. Did you specialize in any field of the law? I gather when you first came, it was all very general, but--

Prevatte: You'd smile, shall I say, smile from ear to ear at a chance to get to do something. And you had to be prepared to do whatever that came along. If it was an adoption, you did it. If it was to appear in court, you did so. To write a deed, you did. Separation agreement, you did so. Divorce followed. Then there was another side of the practice that Mr. Frank and I enjoyed a great deal. By that I mean it was lucrative for us. There were a lot of people with boats. And all of the year, this was not unusual at all--75 to 100 shrimp boats operating out through the year. And all of the boats had to have papers, and the papers in fact were similar to a deed, and it was registered in the customs house over in Wilmington. Well, he had to learn how to write boat papers, and then to see that the person got a clear title on the boat. And that is a practice that--I haven't written any boat papers in years and years, because they moved the boat registration from Southport to--I believe now it's either Charleston or Norfolk, one of the two, if they do not register them in Wilmington. And then there was a lot of land title work, and that is still an active part of the practice here. But when I came, the paper companies were trying to move in here and obtain enough of the practice here with the title work, writing of the deeds, and the public generally was involved in the buying of lands. And after a while, the practice began to take on and more or less channel itself into elements of practice where you tried to limit your practice, as it is today. But then, if you had to go down to the lower courts of the county to appear before a magistrate on a case for a client, there was no complaint. You were glad to have the opportunity to serve the client. And so we did. I appeared one time before a magistrate and--if I get in details like this too much, tell me.

Interviewer: No, that's great. That's what we want.

Prevatte: I appeared--there was a lawyer from Whiteville that represented the other side. And so I went in, and I spoke to the magistrate, and he spoke to me in his usually friendly manner. I told him we had an eviction case. "Well," he said, "what is the nature of it?" And I told him, and the lawyer from Whiteville was there. And I said, "Now, the law under which we're trying this case is so-and-so." And he said, "That is the case for tonight?" I said, "Yes, Sir." "Well", he said, "I'll give you judgment. You hand me the papers so I can sign." I said, "Judge, let's not do it that way." The lawyer from Whiteville began to scramble. I said, "Let's not do it that way. They're entitled to tell their side of it. And we'll tell our side, and then let them tell their side, and then you decide which of the sides that you thought should have the judgment." "Very well, let's go ahead." So I had my people testify, man and his wife, and then this other lawyer had his client to testify. They testified. And when they finished, he said, "Well, Mr. Prevatte, I'll give you judgment. You hand me the judgment and I'll sign it." Well, the point of it was that it was, as far as the other lawyer was concerned, it was, as we say, an exercise in futility. He was lost before he'd got to Southport. And that is the way several of them were. I had one representing three, four people from here before a magistrate out down--or justice of the peace--down in Supply area. He was busy that day, and he stopped and he said, "Well, we'll go out here under my tobacco barn shelter where I'm curing this tobacco barn of tobacco, and I can look out for my tobacco curing and hear your case." And so we went out, and on the benches under the tobacco barn shelter, he held court, decided his case accordingly there under those circumstances. Well, you say that is unusual, but it's an evidence of immaturity in growth of the county at the time.

Interviewer: Well, you took the case to the judge. The judge didn't come to you. So yeah, that's right.

Prevatte: Either way.

Interviewer: Well, let's see what else she has here. Oh, one thing she doesn't have on here is tell us something about your family before we get too far. Tell us about your wife, and when you got married, and children.

Prevatte: I have a wife and one daughter, and--

Interviewer: What is your wife's name?

Prevatte: My wife's name is Amaretta, and her father was clerk of Superior Court here in the county until he retired. And we have a daughter. She married a young man she met in college, and they live in Monroe. And they both graduated from college. Neither of them pursued their major at the college. They took off in their application in the practical angles of life in the direction that was lines of least resistance, and they're still living in Monroe. The son has gotten into the--the grandson has gotten into the computer business, selling software, and the daughter is a senior in college this year. And that just about sets it up. He--the son-in-law--worked for about 15 years with UCB Bank, and they had transferred him to Monroe, and he was talked out of the banking business into the savings and loan business, and was manager of one of the savings and loan there in Monroe. And he did not realize at the time that when he went from the bank to the savings and loan that he was being used to bail the savings and loan out. The roof caved in, and the Resolution Trust moved in, took the savings and loan over, and someway they hit it off with him, so that they talked him into going with them, and he now works with the--and has for the past several years--worked with the Resolution Trust over several states, with headquarters in Atlanta, and he works out at a district office in Greensborough and one in Richmond. And he works over about six states, I believe it is, wherever they send him from time to time, in the course of the liquidation of the savings and loan. The daughter decided that living at home by herself was not for her, in spite of her love for her dogs. And so her major in college was social service, and now she is-- for some time has been--in charge of working with the socially--and I guess that would be as far as you'd go--socially disturbed young people, and trying to help them to readjust. My wife spends her time--she loves music. She has been the director, not the director, the organist in our church for I guess approximately 10 or 15--about 15 years. And then she has another identity with the church.

Interviewer: What church is this, just for the record?

Prevatte: Beg your pardon?

Interviewer: What is the church, for the record.

Prevatte: The Baptist church.

Interviewer: In Southport?

Prevatte: Yes, right here, one block away. So for her release of her emotions and so forth, she enjoys playing bridge, and that just about covers it.

Interviewer: What of you? I gather you're not full-time practicing still.

Prevatte: Yes. I have not been active in practice now for years. A person my age should not be practicing law.

Interviewer: Well, what do you do with yourself then?

Prevatte: Well, I have an office--still have an office in the building, and I'm in the firm, and on the stationery, I'm listed as off-council, which means I'm there, they're paying me to be there, and if they need me, I'll be available. If I'm not needed, why, so be it. So I come down, quite a bit later in the morning than they, and in the afternoon, and one little lady kind of told the story that we face in law practice from time to time. Recently she came in and she asked for me, and the receptionist said, "He's not in, but his nephew is here." She said, "I don't want to see him. I want to see the elder. He was my grandfather's lawyer, my great-grandfather's lawyer, my father's lawyer, and if he was good enough for the three of them, I think he's good enough for me, and you give me an appointment when he'll be in, and I'll come back." So she went home.

Interviewer: That's good.

Prevatte: The nature of the animal.

Interviewer: Who are your partners now? You mentioned your nephew.

Prevatte: Yes, my nephew, James R., and Kenneth Campbell. Glenn Peterson was, but he decided to go on his own, and he went to Leland. He came from the Leland area, and we opened an office there. He ran that for a while, and then he decided he'd go his own, and we, in a very friendly manner, said, "You pursue your course then, and we will go ahead and." So it left the three of us here.

Interviewer: You told us a wonderful story the other day about the Army, when you were rejected by the Army. Tell us that one again, so we can get it on the tape. You said that you were drafted into the Army, and what they put on the paper.

Prevatte: Oh, yes. I told you they picked up all the scabs and the scales and sent them up there as a final resort. The local doctor said when he was signing the paper for us to go that there wasn't any need in my going, because they would turn me down. I had ulcerated stomach since 1935--still have it. The doctors said I would always have it, and they said theoretically it can be healed, but it will come right back on you. And that's another story about that piece. They said that I couldn't relax enough to free myself from such. But we went up to Fort Bragg, and when we went through the preliminary part, they lined us up in the examining room, and a man immediately in front of me was named Reggie Gunner. Very interesting local character. And he didn't have any teeth. He didn't even have any false teeth. The man doing the examining looked at him. He said, "You have any teeth?" "No." "I don't see any." He said, "I don't have any." He said, "Do you have false teeth?" "No." "Why?" "I don't need them." And he said, "You mean, you can bite without them, chew food without them?" He said, "Yes." He said, "Open your mouth." He opened his mouth. He put his finger in the man's mouth, and he said, "Now close it." This old fellow, Reggie, closed his mouth. This is not a lie. This is the truth. And he said, "Close your mouth." He closed it, and that doctor hollered. He realized the old fellow had more power in those gums than he realized. So he went on through then, and got up to the last person he examined, and he said, "Well . . ." Had scars all over his stomach, here, there and everything. Said, "Why are they there?" He said, "I've been operated on." "For what?" He said, "Ulcers, and this and that and the other." So he said, "What do you eat?" "Anything I can get." So he said, "I'm going to pass you." He said, "Raise your hand." And he raised the hand, and he went through the oath procedure. He said, "Now you put it down. You're in the Army." He said, "Well, thank God." And so I came around behind him, and he looked at me and he said, "Well, we're going to send you to the hospital." So they sent me over to the hospital, and I went in. They took my clothes away from me, gave me a pair of pajamas-- Army issues, hospital issued pajamas--put me in a bed. And stayed there until time to eat. Then they had me go to the dining room.

So I went to the dining room, ate food that we had, came back, got in--had been in bed there for quite a while. And after a while--see, I did not have any of my medication, the stomach rebelled against that food. And I lost it, partially on the bed, and on the floor, trying to get to the bathroom. Then came back; they put me in the bed, and put me on a liquid diet, kept me there a week to build me up so they could send me home. And the doctor--I was sent then to another doctor, in the course of--that doctor looked me over, said, "It shows here on your papers that you were ulcerative." I said, "Yes. Since 1935." "Well," he said, "I don't see any ulcer in your stomach." "Well," I said, "that's good news to me. I'm glad to know it's well, because since 1935, I've been trying to get rid of it." And said, "Well, I don't see any sign of it. Who said you had an ulcer?" I said, "Dr. (inaudible) we were at Fort Bragg, head of the internal medicine department here in the hospital." "Got any information from him? Letters, director?" I said, "No." "Why?" I said, "I figured that you would want your own, and if I brought something, I would be trying to lead you or mislead you or what not. So I did not bring them." And he said, "Well, I don't see anything wrong with your stomach. I'm going to pass you." I said, "All right, Sir. That suits me fine." So I went right back to the hospital and got over there, the doctor, said, "What happened?" I told him. He said, "That doctor doesn't what he's doing." He said, "I can't even discharge you, and here he's saying that. I can't discharge you. I got to build you up so we can discharge you." So finally he said, "I'm keeping you." And he gave me a week, and he said, "I think now you can make it home." So I went down to the--

(Tape Change)

Prevatte: . . . he give me a week then he said, "I think now you can make it home." So I went down to the place where they checked over the papers. One doctor turned to the other one, he said, "Do you have papers?" He says from--one doctor says, "There's nothing wrong with this man, physically fit in every way," and here's another says that, "He is ulcered and all of that. What are we going to do?" He said, "Well, obviously the man has an ulcer on the opposite-- on the back side of his intestine and it doesn't show in an x-ray." He said, "Turn him down." And he put a stamp on it and the stamp said, "Physically, mentally and morally unfit." Rejected.

Interviewer: Morally unfit, huh?

Prevatte: Actually, the stamp, it was a single stamp and they didn't bother to strike out any--mentally and morally, they just hit it with that big stamp, "Physically, mentally and morally unfit."

Interviewer: And 50 years later you're trying to recover from that so that's all right. Keep your morals up. The one other thing that Susie has on here is that you were instrumental in helping the Baptist State Convention acquire Fort Caswell. Could you tell us a little bit about that?

Prevatte: It's rather involved. Back immediately after the war the government deactivated Fort Caswell and then they declared it surplus. The Baptist State Convention of North Carolina had been renting some barracks over on the back side of behind Fort Fisher and that area generally on the point that comes down from Wilmington. And a man by the name of--I was trying to get the name--brothers in Wilmington, I believe their names were Orrell, O-R-R-E-L-L, I believe is correct. They had been renting those barracks to the Baptist State Convention to use for summer training and recreation for people within the Convention. They'd come down to the seashore. We had a place up in the mountains Ridgegrass that we went and this place was the seashore. Well they were anxiously--Orrells were anxious to sell that property to the Baptist State Convention and had made several overtures in that direction. It came down through the channels that that was going on and the Convention was thinking seriously of doing that, of getting that property. Well, it was a hot bed for mosquitoes, it was back on the back side of the peninsula on the Cape Fear River side and it was not any place of comfort or where people could really enjoy the purpose for which they had come. And it was a local person, minister, my pastor found out about the property over there, the Orrells were pushing--I believe it was the Orrells, they were pushing that--and that Caswell had been declared surplus and was available. And so he came and talked with me, the two of us talked it over and we decided that Baptists were about to get really caught on something that they didn't want and wasn't practical. So we knew-- the two of us knew Dr. Huggins was then General Secretary of the Convention and we contacted him. And he was gracious enough to come down and look. And he was--he said, "This is unbelievable that we could get this as against the other." But he was not committed on the part over in New Hanover County. But some of the others within the then hierarchy of the Convention were very much committed over there. It was more convenient to a lot of them, they could go into town, Wilmington in just a matter of a few minutes so to speak and they--and the roads were better, more accessible, telephone service was much better. Our telephone directory, it didn't have but what, two pages in it.

Interviewer: Oh, good grief.

Prevatte: And with a local operator. And the result of it was that, "Hey, and so let's see what we can do about this thing. We just can't say no." Well at that time, Dr. Huggins was a power in the Convention. By that I mean that he had led the Convention out of deep trouble, financial troubles and problems that it had experienced in the past and he was a shining light so to speak among our people for the success that he had had in that situation. And he took on power that a lot of people would like to have and many people would refuse to have because of the magnitude of it. And he said, "I'm going to place a bid on it." So he did of approximately $80,000, ridiculous so to speak. But when the government decides they're going to turn something loose, they fail to look at the real values, they look at the idea that they've disposed of something that's costing them money to maintain. Anyway the next thing I knew, there were some that were less than happy that Dr. Huggins had his way and he sent three of them down to see me without any warning. He said, "We got up and we bought that property." I said, "You haven't." I remember, I was working over in the Courthouse that afternoon and I came back to my office about time to quit in the afternoon and there they sat, there was a bench in front of the office there and there they sat, the three of them. I knew one was Willie and the other--one would listen to reason, but he was basically opposed to it. The third one was violently opposed to it. So he said, "Dr. Huggins told us to come down here to see you and tell you to buy that-- to follow through with that and let's buy it. And do it in a hurry because we have reason to believe that another bid will be placed on it and possibly we will lose it." Conceivably we would and indeed we have had it gotten out. So I went to work on it, worked at that time I had a key to the Officer's Courthouse, relative to checking the records, I had a key to the Clerk in the Court's office and key to the Register of Deeds office. So I went to work, worked day and night on it and put it together, gave a recommendation that the title was clear and to buy it. So they took my recommendation in that respect and bought it and we own it. And today we could probably sell it for--well I know that an offer has been made 10, 12 million and it would go even much higher than that. That is the general background on it. And much equipment went with it including the-- you know there's not any water there on Fort Caswell, the water is salty. And they get their water down on what is now the golf course, Oak Island Golf Course, they have deep wells there. They had excellent water. The Army put those wells down and then they by pipes large and adequate to take care of the Fort, pump the water with big diesel engines they have on the confines where the wells were located and ran the water on up there to Fort Caswell and that was the way they were--the water that they was getting there at Fort Caswell. It's been a delightful and a large, our work in the Convention, it's been a wonderful thing for . . .

Interviewer: It's a wonderful place.

Prevatte: . . .for the denomination, I . . .

Interviewer: Well it's a wonderful place in that it's been saved. It still looks like a historic place, you know, it has not been changed by the Baptists.

Prevatte: No. The old forts, there were one or two of those old forts that had to be taken out because they had deteriorated so badly that they were hazardous. People couldn't go in them and if people could not go in them then you had something there that it's like the old saying goes, curiosity killed the cat.

Interviewer: Right.

Prevatte: And they dared not let people go in them. We had a man there said he could find water and so they contacted me from Raleigh, fix up the contract, so I fixed up a contract with him. He said he'd get the water. So he went over there and he pumped and he pumped and he pumped at different places. And finally-- a man from Wilmington-- I'm not calling his name, let's let his soul rest in peace. And after a while he said, "I got all the water you need. I've had to put down three or four different places," but he said, "I got all the water we need." And we were quite surprised and pleased that he could get the water, indeed get the water that he said he could that the engineers in the past had said it could not be had. So we were making plans for it. And one member, key member of his crew came in one day to the then manager of the project for the Convention and he said, "I have a heavy soul. I am burdened with a problem that I must share with you." He said, "These wells that we have dug, we have drilled here are not honest." He said, "I went to church yesterday and the minister's sermon convinced me that I was a party to this and that I had done burdened myself and here I am now." And so our manager said, "Well, in what way is the situation not true?" He said what he did, he took his pipes, when he put them down and started off at about two feet or three feet below ground level and on down to a certain depth until he reached the salt area, he'd drill holes in the pipe all around. The result was that he was getting surface water. And as it seeped down surface water and those pipes are indeed pumping water and it's not salty, but it's all surface water."

Interviewer: It's rain water, yeah.

Prevatte: And so the manager didn't even take time to call Raleigh, he called me and said, "What are we going to do?" I said, "You lock the gates and do not let the man in and under no circumstances let him in and tell him, notify him immediately that he's forbidden to come on the premises." But before he did that, I said, "Before you do that, pull one of those pipes and see if this man is really on the level." He pulled one of the pipes, jacked it up, dug it out of the ground and it surely enough, all the way around the pipe that you went down and down and down were holes of large enough size for the surface water to run into the pipe and then pump would pump it up. But he did not go-- he got down, he determined where the salt was, the salt intrusion was and he would not let the pipe go below into that area. And I notified the men that we were cancelling the contract and we were not permitting him to come back on the premises any more. If he wanted any details why, he could have--either he or his lawyers could come down to see me and I'd be glad to talk with him. I've never seen the man, never heard of him since then. He spent--our result was that on his gamble he almost was successful. Had he been successful, he would have gotten us for several thousand dollars and the thousands of people that go over there every year, multiple thousands, 10 or 12 thousand a year, they would have been subjected to that water. That's one of the little side stories that goes a long way.

Interviewer: That's pretty terrible to steal from the church, that's pretty low. That's a dreadful thing to do.

Prevatte: One more little one and then I'll listen to you. But one day I was notified to come up to Raleigh to Baptist (inaudible) headquarters. And I went up and Dr. Huggins said-- it might not have been Dr. Huggins, he may have retired. Anyways, the Chief Executive Officer said, "We have made--been the beneficiaries of a most unusual financial blessing and I need to talk with you about it." I said, "All right. Here I am." He said, "Come up," and he wanted to talk to me immediately. "Here I am. What?" He said, a lady by the name of Hatch, H-A-T-C-H, born and reared in Duplin County a short distance out from the town of Kenansville had died as a resident of the city Richmond, Virginia. It seems that she had moved away from Duplin County many years before and settled in Richmond. Obviously a family of means and could afford such. She had never married. And she had an estate of worth between $300,000 and $400,000. She went to her attorney sometime before she died and she said, she wanted this done, that done and the other. And then the lawyer, this is what the lawyer said. And he said, "All right, what about the residuary, that is the bulk of the property, not given up to this point?" She said, "I want to give it to the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina." "Well why to them, you're Episcopalian and your family, your whole family is Episcopalian and why to the Baptists of down there? And he said her answer was that she had determined in her lifetime in watching the pulse beat of the Christian movement that the Baptist Church came nearer being the pulse beat of what she determined the epitome of Christianity of any of the other dominant denominations and on that conclusion she wanted it to go to the Baptist State Convention with no strings attached. And he said, "Jimmy, we're talking about over $300,000." So I said, "Well, let's call a meeting of the rest of the Executive Committee." And I don't know whether you're a Baptist or not, but being Baptist in between the Convention sessions the General Board runs the--is the (inaudible) operator of the Convention, it carries out the decisions of the Convention and then implements other things that come along that need to be done. And out of that approximately 100 people maybe or a little less there is an Executive Committee. At that time there were about 15 on it, on the Executive Committee. And for all practical purposes they run the Baptist denomination. They make the recommendation to the General Board. Well the General Board doesn't have time to go into the details on the study and has to take their recommendation and they have no objection to it because they knew that when they selected those men on the Executive Committee, they knew what they were doing and they thought that those people were the ones best suited in their opinion to carry on the work of the Convention. So they would adopt what the Executive Committee says. And then the General Board would report to the Convention as the acts of the General Board, but for all practical purposes it was a step system like I indicated. So he called a meeting of the Executive Committee and discussed it with them. And of course they decided to accept it.

But then came the question of what would be the--what in good faith in good stewards we could do with the money. So it was decided that Caswell--the auditorium in Caswell had burned. That's another story that I'm not going to take off in now. I know what--I was in involved in that either directly or indirectly, but that's not important to what we're talking about. But it had burned, there was no adequate meeting place. So we decided to build an auditorium. And there was no place in Brunswick County where 1,000, 1,200 people could meet and it would serve a multiple purpose. And it has been used most practically down through the years. Now we have the Odell Williamson Auditorium supplied but for many, many years and Hatch was it. Well, we decided on that and then the question was, we had to show some respect to her because what she had done was no little thing. So a select group from the Executive Committee was chosen to go to Kenansville, look up the site of where Miss Hatch had been buried and see the conditions there. In the meantime I did some checking on the records trying to find where the cemetery in fact was. And I went, did that and we met and went out two, three miles maybe from town and there was the cemetery, saw timber of 15, 18 or even more, maybe two feet in diameter growing within the cemetery, had a fence of sorts on it. So we decided that we would recommend that that cemetery be cleaned up thoroughly, all the growth out of it, put a high rise fence around it of substantial material that would stand up and that we had some help on determining the approximate amount that should be set aside of that fund to maintain that cemetery in perpetuity and that was done and made a beautiful place there. And to this day, we take care of the remains of Miss Hatch and we enjoy the hospitality and the religious and spiritual outreach of the Convention of building over there and many of the civic organizations around here have used it from time to time. North Carolina Symphony's met over there, had performances, that's but an illustration of the use of it, that could not have been otherwise had it not been for the generosity of that lady who we did not know.

Interviewer: The Lord moves in mysterious ways because the old one had burned down and at the time you needed it, she came through for you, so that's wonderful. You've talked for a long time now and I think what we'd like to do at this point is just let you give us a little conclusion, what's it been like to live in Southport for 50 some years?

Prevatte: What?

Interviewer: What's it been like to live in Southport?

Prevatte: What is it like to live here?

Interviewer: Yeah, for you. Was it a good move to come down here from?

Prevatte: I have enjoyed the privilege of coming to Brunswick and being a part of it. One of our more famous writers of yesteryears said you can't go home. For a short period of time about 40 years ago, I thought I would test that saying on his part and see if you could go home. And I went back to Robeson, my brother and I still own the farm. Now it's about 700 or 800 acres, something like that, reduced it down, its size. And I went up and stayed about a year and I found that it was no longer home. The people that I had known in high school and in college and in business and professional world by and large were dead or had moved away. The general atmosphere of Robeson had changed from that that I knew when I left there as a mere lad of 16 years old to go to college and I said, Southport is home to me and this is where I was born and reared, but it is no longer home to me. So I came back to be buried in Southport. It is a place that on first blush you would say, "What do you see there? What do you want? What is there about it that anyone would be so attracted or what is the objectivity of it?" And then you'd come in, come down and get involved in it and become a part of it and you find a broad perspective of souls united together in one objective. Mary Strickland came up a while, just a few--before we began and she, bless her soul, she hugged my neck and I hugged her neck. Souls in unity and love and fellowship living and working together and that atmosphere to me has more depth of meaning than that which I left and still own, I could go if I wanted to now back to it. But were I to do so I would be losing the satisfying facet of living that makes you feel when you go to bed at night that there is a peace and (inaudible) identity setting it apart from anyplace that I have seen and I have known. We had a summer place in Highlands, one of the most delightful places in the world, but every time we would go up there to our home and play golf on one of the finest golf courses in the world as members of the club we would come into the house and we'd get in a hurry before we would realize it, we'd come back to Southport.

Interviewer: That's a good thing to stop on. I don't think you could top that. We thank you sir for coming in.

Prevatte: Good to be with you.

Interviewer: Yes, sir.

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