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What was Gander Hall?

Ben Steelman

One of the few active plantations on the east bank of the Cape Fear River south of Wilmington, Gander Hall once stood almost directly across the river from Orton Plantation, in the vicinity of modern-day Carolina Beach. The 1939 WPA Guide to North Carolina put it two-tenths of a mile west of U.S. 421, about 15 miles south of Wilmington.

Supposedly, the name came from a joke. By 1830, the plantation belonged to Capt. James McIlhenny. At the time, there was a big market for goose feathers (for quill pens and the like) and McIlhenny decided to cash in by buying a huge flock of geese. Unfortunately, he counted his eggs before they hatched — and when no eggs were forthcoming, McIlhenny was embarrassed to discover that he had bought only ganders.

The plantation seems to have been developed by Ronald McDugall, who in 1799 put the 300-acre property up for sale. His advertisement in the Wilmington Gazette promised “a Dwelling-House, a Well of good water, a valuable Fishery,” some 200 acres of cleared land suitable for rice growing and an open range suitable for cattle and hogs.

During the Civil War, the Gander Hall landing was used as a transfer point for Confederate troops being disembarked from steamers. During the 1880s and 1890s, African-American Methodists used the Gander Hall property for annual camp meetings, riding steamers down from Wilmington to the wharf. These events seem to have drawn thousands of participants.

In 1883 and 1884, the firm of Ross and Lara obtained coquina rock from a “Keystone Quarry” on the Gander Hill property, for use in the closing of Corncake Inlet and the larger New Inlet project. At its height, the quarrying may have employed as many as “100 good quarry hands.”

By 1896, the plantation house had vanished, and according to historian James Sprunt, only “a fine grove of old oaks” marked the former location of Gander Hall. By that time, the New Hanover Transit Co. had its Cape Fear River dock on the old Gander Hall property, where tourists disembarked to take a small railway to the budding new resort of Carolina Beach.

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