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What is Summer Hill?

Ben Steelman

A small neighborhood just south of Greenfield Lake, along Carolina Beach Road just east of Sunset Park, Summer Hill began as a Wilmington suburb in the 1910s.

The name comes from Summer Hill Plantation, an antebellum property that once encompassed both Summer Hill and Sunset Park. Owned by Margaret Dudley McIlhenny (daughter of Gov. Edward B. Dudley) and her husband, Thomas C. McIlhenny, Summer Hill grew pine trees for the naval stores industry (tar, pitch and turpentine). As a community, its name popped up in Wilmington newspapers soon after the Civil War. Sixteen-year-old Isaac Hicks, was reported to have died suddenly in 1874 “at what is known as Summer Hill.”

On Dec. 20, 1916, L.L. Hanby deeded “a large tract of land facing on the Fort Fisher Highway,” known as “the Summer Hill tract,” to the Southeastern Realty Co., which had developed the Winoca Terrace neighborhood under its president, Thomas H. Wright. From the start, it developed separately from Sunset Park, which was launched in 1912 by the Fidelty Trust and Development Co.

Lots were on sale in Summer Hill by early 1917; the most commonly quoted price in early newspaper listings was “$100 and other considerations,” although some lots went for as little as $50. From the start, developers seem to have aimed to the market of homebuyers “of moderate circumstances.” A May 26, 1918, story in the Wilmington Morning Star reported that “A.J. Hanby will shortly put a new development on the market, which is to be known as Summer Hill Park.” Selling points for this new development included graded streets, “granolithic” sidewalks and proximity to Greenfield Lake.

A 1924 newspaper ad boated that “1,400 will buy [a] good three-room, practically new, wellt-built cottage at Summer Hill, on [street]car line.”

One of Summer Hill’s early characters was J. Thomas Williams, familiarly known as “J. Tom,” who died shortly before Christmas 1939 at the age of 58. His Morning Star obituary praised Williams as “the Father Flanagan of Summer Hill,” for taking charge of delinquent boys and helping turn them around. Local courts would refer young troublemakers to Williams, who kept as many as 20 boys at a time under his wing. Neighbors credited him with keeping truancy rates low in the community.

Oddly enough, Sunset Park Elementary School, 613 Alabama Ave., Wilmington [Map this], was built in 1954 on the Summer Hill side of Carolina Beach Road.

User-contributed question by:
Brian Stubbs

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