Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Smoldering ruins: The once grand Carolina Beach Hotel (part II)

Carolina Beach Hotel
Carolina Beach Hotel pictured here from the May 30, 1926, edition of the Wilmington Morning Star. (Courtesy of Federal Point Historic Preservation Society)

CAROLINA BEACH— On May 26, 1927, just before opening for the summer season, the Carolina Beach Hotel, with all its furnishings and 755 lots, were sold to John R. Baker of Winston Salem, North Carolina. The sale represented most of the holdings of the Carolina Beach Corporation, which had built the hotel and owned the lots. The sale resulted in a change of management and may have been the reason the formal opening was delayed until June 18.

Read more: New and luxurious: The once grand Carolina Beach Hotel (part I)

CB Hotel II
A newspaper clipping regarding the incident from September 14, 1927. (Courtesy: Federal Point Historic Preservation Society)

Surprisingly, on July 25, 1927 John R. Baker sold the hotel and lots to Sam Jackson of Mecklenburg County, who sold it again to Highway Park West Inc. of Greensboro, North Carolina. Three sales in two months may have been an indication that the “Roaring Twenties” economy was riding high in a bubble that was to break with the October 1929 stock market crash, resulting in the Great Depression. Economics aside, the new owners from Greensboro announced on July 28 that they planned to operate the hotel year round and were making plans to do so.

Less than six weeks later, on Sept. 13, 1927, the Carolina Beach Hotel lay in smoldering ruins, the result of a fire that burned it to the ground.

Miraculously rescued from the burning hotel were two of the owners, H.T. Ireland and J.L. Byrd, both of Greensboro. The rescue was assisted by a nearby resident, W.W. Lewis, who was awakened about 2:30 in the morning by gun shots and cries for help.

Mr. Lewis said Ireland and Byrd were in their night clothes, had on no shoes and jumped from the 14 foot high porch roof. The pair were the only ones in the hotel. Earlier they had been taking inventory of the property with plans of reopening the hotel for the first winter season. The next day attorneys for Ireland began an investigation of possible arson. Also on the scene investigating were Stacy W. Wade, North Carolina Fire Insurance Commissioner, and his deputy Captain W.A. Scott.

On November 18, 1927 H.T. Ireland and J.L. Byrd were arrested in Greensboro after a New Hanover County Grand Jury returned true bills of indictments against them for house burning in connection with the fire at the Carolina Beach Hotel.  They each posted a bond of $5,000 and were to appear in Superior Court, New Hanover County in January, 1928.  Captain W.A. Scott of the NC Fire Insurance Commission and an inspector from the National Board of Fire Underwriters had conducted a thorough investigation of the fire resulting in the grand jury’s action and the men’s subsequent arrests.

Coming next month, Part III.

-Content provided by Elaine Henson, President, Federal Point Historic Preservation Society

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