The Dram Tree is, or was, a bent, somewhat scraggly cypress tree, covered with Spanish moss, that stood several yards out in the Cape Fear River, at a marshy patch on the east bank, near the present location of the State Port and the Sunset Park neighborhood.
The tree was a landmark to mariners from colonial times. Passing it meant that an incoming vessel had successfully passed the dangerous Frying Pan Shoals at the mouth of the Cape Fear. According to tradition, ships paused near the Dram Tree, and sailors were allowed a dram of rum, grog (watered-down rum) or some other potent potable, either to celebrate a safe passage coming on or to toast to a safe return while sailing out. As state Rep. George L. Morton put it in 1909, the Dram Tree “umpired loving cup conviviality and good fellowship on the Lower Cape Fear.”
The Dram Tree was destroyed sometime in the 1940s by dredging of the Cape Fear in connection with activity at the N.C. Shipbuilding Co., located approximately where the State Port is today.
In 1988, the City of Wilmington opened Dram Tree Park in its memory, on the riverfront, just north of the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge near the intersection of Castle and Front streets, Wilmington [Map this]. A young cypress was planted as a replica near the park’s boat ramp.
Date posted: March 4, 2009