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Who are the Camerons?

Si Cantwell

Partners Henry MacMillan and Bruce Cameron grew their business MacMillan & Cameron Co. as Wilmingtonians fell in love with their automobiles. The firm became wholesalers and was one of the first companies to build and operate a chain of filling stations. Constructed in 1939, this master station was located at Third and Chestnut streets. From the New Hanover County Public Library postcard collection.

The Cameron family has played an important role in shaping the political, business and cultural life of New Hanover County.

Two generations of Camerons were mayors of Wilmington. The Camerons developed Figure Eight Island.

The Cameron School of Business at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington is named for them, as is Rachel Trask Cameron Hall at Cape Fear Academy.

Longtime supporters of St. John’s Museum, the family created its successor, the Louise Wells Cameron Museum of Art. It is named after the wife of Bruce Cameron Jr.

In July 2009 the family, which owns the museum property, has given the city easements to its land for the Cross-City Trail.

George Cameron sailed into Wilmington in 1798 as master of the Cecero, a brig that carried passengers and freight. He returned in 1800 and bought a lot bounded by South Front Street, Castle Street, Church Street and the Cape Fear River.

The ship owner may have been born in Scotland. He lived in Virginia and Washington, N.C., before moving to the Port City.

In the early 1800s he went into business with his brother-in-law, John Barclay, selling imported goods such as rope, wrapping paper and paints.

By 1815 he owned 600 acres in New Hanover County, the beginning of a Cameron legacy of land development.

George died in 1823.

The youngest son of George and Esther Eastwood Cameron was James Cameron, was born in 1807. He was a shipbuilder and then a farmer in Brunswick and Anson counties. His wife was Julia Barclay Cameron.

James died in 1864.

Daniel Dixon Cameron was born in Wilmington to James and Julia in 1861. A merchant and Wilmington alderman, he was a founding member of the firm MacMillan and Cameron.

Bruce B. Cameron, born in 1890, shocked the city when, as mayor, he died in 1944 after a brief illness. He had started MacMillan and Cameron in 1920 with Henry J. MacMillan. The company had an oil distributorship, car dealership, service station and other interests. He was also the local leader of N.C. Shipbuilding Co. during World War II.

He helped start the area’s first radio station, WMFD, in 1930.

Among his five children were Dan Cameron and Bruce Cameron Jr., two of the most influential citizens of Wilmington in recent years.

Both brothers graduated from Virginia Military Institute and served in World War II.

Dan Cameron served as mayor from 1955 to 1957.

He pleaded with local railroad baron Champ Davis not to move the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad to Jacksonville, Fla.

Davis heard him out, then answered, “That decision has already been made, young man.”

“It was the most traumatic event of my career,” Dan Cameron told the StarNews in 2001.

Dan Cameron helped form Wilmington Industrial Development, also known as the Committee of 100, and played a key role in recruiting Corning and other companies to Wilmington. At one time there was talk of renaming Shipyard Boulevard after him, but he discouraged the idea.

In 1954, WECT went on the air as Wilmington’s first television station. The Camerons started it with Richard Dunlea. Dan Cameron was president of the company for decades. In 1987, the Camerons sold their interest in the station.

Dan Cameron, a great supporter of the Community Boys and Girls Club and other causes, died in 2005.

The family has long supported New Hanover Regional Medical Center and many other local causes.

In 1955, the year after Hurricane Hazel, Bruce Cameron Jr. bought land on a sand spit just north of Wrightsville Beach. A decade later, he began developing Figure Eight Island with his brother Dan, Raiford Trask and Richard Wetherill.

In 1992, the City Council became embroiled in a lawsuit with the Camerons over construction of the South 17th Street and Independence Boulevard extensions. The council settled, paying the Camerons $1.4 million and granting them street accesses to the thoroughfare.

Bruce Cameron Jr. led the fundraising effort to build the museum named for his wife, a longtime volunteer at St. John’s Museum before her death in 1997. The 40,000-square-foot facility opened in 2002.

Today, Dan’s son Bill and Bruce’s son-in-law Scott Sullivan run Cameron Management, which continues to be a key player in local development.

UPDATE: Bruce Cameron Jr. died on April 3, 2013. Here is his obituary.


What is the Cameron Art Museum?

Is there really an abandoned barn the woods off Independence Boulevard near the Cameron Art Museum?

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2 Responses to “ Who are the Camerons?”

  1. On November 19, 2009 at 10:21 am Robert Trask wrote:

    Did you know that we were first cousins with the Camerons and still are.

  2. On November 30, 2009 at 12:12 pm Amanda Davis wrote:

    YEAH!!!! I like the fact that Cameron fought to keep jobs in Wilmington (Railroads). In an economy like today’s, our community must challenge the corporate foundations to “come here” and “stay here”. It is refreshing to know that our industry leaders also have a History of both Supporting Our Troops and Supporting the Arts. But, most importantly the Camerons have a history of supporting the children of our community (Community Boys and Girls Club). It is leaders like the Camerons we should listen to on the tough social issues like transportation and healthcare. They have a history of caring both this community’s employment and its people.

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