Hurricane Hazel: “Nothing left but piling”

Photo by Charles Farrell. Courtesy, State Archives of North Carolina

Photo by Charles Farrell. Courtesy, State Archives of North Carolina

Today– the conclusion to my special series ‘`The Shrimp Capital of the World’– Charles Farrell’s Photographs of Southport, N.C., 1938″

Charles Farrell’s photographs chronicled Southport’s shrimp industry in its heyday, but those days did not last forever. In fact, they came to an end suddenly, on the 15th of October 1954.

On that autumn day, hurricane Hazel hit Southport and washed away everything that we can see in Charles Farrell’s photographs—the shrimp houses, the docks, the trawlers, the boatyards, all of it.

With 150 mile an hour winds, Hazel was the only Category 4 hurricane to hit the North Carolina coast in the 20th century.  The storm killed 600 people from Haiti to Canada, including 19 here in North Carolina.

Nearly every building on the Brunswick County beaches was destroyed—352 of the 357 buildings at Long Beach.

Years ago I interviewed a woman named Leila Pigott about Hazel and Southport’s shrimp industry. Her husband Dallas was in the shrimp business, and they lived just across the street from the shrimp houses and the Yacht Basin where many of the trawlers were tied up.

She and her family barely escaped with their lives.

Mrs. Pigott recalled what she saw when the winds finally settled down and the floodwaters receded.

“Finally, by 3 o’clock it was perfectly calm. The neighbors next door came over here. We got together and we started walking and stopping at each house. We cried every time we saw each other. 

“On the waterfront there was not a single building left. Seventeen shrimp houses were lost. There was nothing left but piling. There were boats lost and houses were smashed, but we were still alive.”


Thank yous

Many, many thanks to all the people who so graciously took the time to share their knowledge of Southport’s shrimp industry with me.

Photo by Charles Farrell. Courtesy, State Archives of North Carolina

Photo by Charles Farrell. Courtesy, State Archives of North Carolina

Special thanks to Ben Day, Gordon Day, Marian Evans, Capt. Eugene Gore, Lewis Hardee, Jr., Charles “Pete” Joyner, Jimmy Moore, May White Moore, Leila Pigott, Ed Pond and John “Tookie” Potter.

I’d also like to thank Donnie Joyner, who organizes Southport’s wonderful Black History Celebration every year, and Lori Sanderlin, the valiant leader of the N.C. Maritime Museum at Southport, for all their help with my research. I could not have done this series without their support.

I’m also very grateful to Kim Andersen and Vann Evans at the State Archives of North Carolina for guiding me so capably through Farrell’s photographs. 

In part 2 of this series, the quote from K. B. Keziah of the Southport Pilot comes from a file in the Farrell Family Papers at the Greensboro Historical Museum in Greensboro, N.C.

Finally, I’m also very appreciative of two scholars whose work was indispensable to me. First, Dr. William Still, former director of ECU’s Maritime Studies Program, wrote a landmark article on Southport’s shrimp industry called “A Nickel a Bucket: A History of North Carolina’s Shrimping Industry.” That article appeared in The American Neptune, a leading maritime history journal, in 1987.

Second, I also benefited greatly from Derald Pacetti, Jr.’s research on Fernandina Beach’s shrimp industry. His history masters thesis– “Shrimping at Fernandina, Florida, before 1920: Industry Development, Fisheries Regulation, Maritime Maturation”— was completed at Penn State in 1980. 


Next time– “P.S.– Shrimping comes to Davis Shore”

4 thoughts on “Hurricane Hazel: “Nothing left but piling”

  1. Greatly enjoyed the series. Thank you. Hazel was something else. I was on a Norfolk-based destroyer headed home from a Caribbean cruise. We were a hundred miles past the Azores when we had to turn around and head for Punta del Gada where we stayed for two days. The captain’s gig had been smashed to pieces and swept overboard, two ammunition lockers welded to the deck had gone overboard along with several depth charges that had rolled around on the fantail for a while before breaking loose and going over. Many waves had broken over the top of the ship and I, for one, thought we might not make it. Unforgettable experience for a 24-year-old from Wisconsin.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Thank you so much for this series! Many members of my mother’s side of the family were watermen for several generations working primarily on the Pamlico. Your stories and Charles Farrell’s photographs gave me another view into what their lives were like. Hard work and low pay are often what a waterman can expect. In 1961, when I was 14, I worked one summer running a trot line for crabs. My grandfather towed my uncles and me in our boats out to the sound well before sunrise. We would run our lines until about noon and he would tow us back to sell out catch and bait the lines for the next day. Crabs brought average of five cents per pound that summer. With inexperience and my little boat, a 100 pounds was a very good day. After paying for gas and bait, I would make just over $4! Although I didn’t make a lot of money that summer, it was one of the best experiences of my life.

    Liked by 1 person

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