A family of farmers, businessmen and civic leaders, the Trask family left its mark on New Hanover County for more than a century and a half. Pioneers in the lettuce and truck farming industry, they later switched to growing subdivisions and shopping centers on their land — and, in the process left their name on a number of local landmarks.
The patriarch of the clan, Daniel Webster “Web” Trask (1847-1930) was born into a relatively poor farming family in the Masonboro Sound area of New Hanover County. He served in the Masonboro Militia, a Home Guard unit, in the latter days of the Civil War and made his start growing cabbages and collards on Prospect Hall farm, which he inherited from his mother.
A compulsive reader of farm magazines, Web Trask had the idea to cover his beds — first with boards and later with cheesecloth — to protect his plantings, so he could get his produce to market two or three weeks earlier than anyone else’s. By 1890, his crop was so big, he shipped his surplus north on the Atlantic Coast Line railroad and began to cultivate buyers in New York and elsewhere.
The Trask produce business would really take off, however, under Web’s son George W. Trask (1876-1963). A hard worker, the younger Trask started off around 1897 with a small farm, Blythe Savannah, in the Winter Park community. (His chidren later joked that it was neither blythe or a savannah.)
In 1902, however, with money borrowed from his father, George Trask bought a farm in the Wrightsboro community, close to the Atlantic Coast Line tracks, from his uncle Christian H. Heide (who suffered from tuberculosis and wanted to move to the North Carolina mountains for his health).
Within two years, George W. Trask had paid off his father, and by 1907, he could afford to have Wilmington architect Henry Bonitz build a spacious farmhouse for his family — later known in family lore as “The Big House.” Carefully investing his profits, he steadily bought more land, until the family tracts amounted to thousands of acres. Bringing in his sons as partners, he founded George W. Trask & Sons to handle the northern export business. By the time of his death, his obituary in the Morning Star hailed him as “the first commercial planter of field green lettuce on the Eastern seaboard.”
In his spare time, George W. Trask served as a New Hanover County Commissioner from 1918 to 1950. He and his wife, Emma Gertrude McEachern Bornemann Trask, had 11 children and left 32 grandchildren and 23 great-grandchildren.
Among George Trask’s children was C. Heide Trask (1902-1957), who followed his father into the family business and worked intensively on refrigerating produce. C. Heide Trask was chairman of New Hanover County’s Selective Service (draft) board, 1940-1955, and was chairman of the board of James Walker Memorial Hospital. At the time of his death, he was a member of the State Highway Commission. One of his major accomplishments was pushing through the drawbridge over the Intracoastal Waterway to Wrightsville Beach, which was named in his honor when it opened in 1958.
Trask High School in Pender County is also named for C. Heide Trask; the Trask family donated land for the school’s campus.
Another of George W. Trask’s sons was Raiford Graham Trask (1916-1993), who ended up leading the family in new directions. He developed a number of Wilmington subdivisions on former Trask farmland, including College Acres, Long Leaf Acres and Kings Grant, and he was co-developer of Figure Eight Island and the Duck Haven Golf Club. He also built several shopping centers.
Like others in his family, Raiford Trask entered politics. He served on the Wrightsville Beach Town Council and was mayor of Wrightsville Beach, a New Hanover County Commissioner (1952-1956) and a trustee of Wilmington College for 10 years. He donated much of the land for the present campus of the University of North Carolina Wilmington (and sold much of the rest to the college at bargain rates). Trask Coliseum on the UNCW is named in his honor. In 1973, Raiford Trask donated large tracts of land to the New Hanover County school system. Trask Middle School is named for his mother.
Many members of the Trask family are buried at Wilmington’s Oakdale Cemetery. The family monument is decorated with carvings of cornstalks and lettuce heads, sources of much of the family’s prosperity.
“The Trask Family — 1986″ by George Graham Trask provides much genealogical data, and “The Carolina Trasks” by Frederick Graham Trask offers family history and stories. Both books are available for study in the local history room of the New Hanover County Public Library, 201 Chestnut St., Wilmington [Map this].
Date posted: June 3, 2009
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Linda Rooks Richardson