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What was Dry Pond?

Ben Steelman

Dry Pond was a mostly working-class, mostly white neighborhood in Wilmington, just south of the modern downtown. Once upon a time, according to local historian Henry Bacon McKoy, “Dry Ponder was a fighting word.” Hall’s Tropicana Restaurant, 421 Castle St., Wilmington [Map this], the descendant of the landmark Hall’s Drug Store, still recalls the days when the pharmacy was “the Capitol of Dry Pond.”

The neighborhood goes way back, although its boundaries seem to have shifted with time. In the 1860s, according to McKoy, Dry Pond was south of Ann Street and west of Third Street. Lewis Philip Hall, who grew up in the 1910s, defined “Dry Pond” as anywhere south of Castle.

Where was the original dry pond? Nobody seems to agree. McKoy said there were dried-up ponds at Sixth and Castle and at Second and Ann. Hall thought the dry pond was a big depression between Wooster and Dawson streets in the vicinity of Second Street, which was eventually filled in by construction of the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge. Several period clippings refer to “boiling springs” around the foot of Dawson Street. On Oct. 2, 1900, Dr. C.T. Harper, Wilmington’s superintendent of health, urged that the spring near Dawson and Second streets be declared unsanitary, noting that “sooner or later, there will be a source of danger” to the number of people who apparently were using it as a water supply.

Dry Ponders — at least boys growing up in Dry Pond — “were known to be rough and tough on any boy from the center of the city that trespassed on their territory,” according to Hall in his “Land of the Golden River.” (A similar rivalry seems to have existed between boys from Delgado and those from Winter Park.) McKoy referred to face-offs, in the 1800s, between Dry Ponders and “Gallows Hillers,” a reference to the reputed “Gallows Hill” that used to be on Market Street.

In 1902, James M. Hall resigned his position as staff pharmacist at James Walker Memorial Hospital and bought the former W.H. Green & Co. drug store, located in a wood frame building at the northeast corner of Fifth and Castle. (Hall would move the business across the street to a brick building at its present location.) Hall — who was briefly joined in the business by his brother Percy — worked hard to appeal to the neighborhood. In 1907, he advertised a special “Dry Pond Phosphate,” a fountain beverage that sold for a dime. (Most regular sodas went for between 5 and 7 cents.) In 1909, his ads touted the power of Hall’s Dry Pond Bug Exterminator.

Hall — who was almost always addressed as “Dr. Hall” — was well liked in the community, and served from 1930 to 1952 as a New Hanover County Commissioner. His son, J.M. “Mike” Hall Jr., who joined the family drug business after World War II service, was also a County Commissioner, from 1954 to 1974. After briefly closing, Hall’s Drugs reopened in 1982, primarily as a cafe.

For a number of years in the 1930s, the elder Hall presented a trophy to the winner of the annual Dry Pond vs. Brooklyn football game, which seems to have been held a week or two before Christmas. As the questioner noted, neighborhood baseball games — often taking on challengers from Delgado or elsewhere in the city — were a big deal as well.

Local tour guide and ranconteur Bob Jenkins and the late Dr. Robert M. Fales, both boasted of their backgrounds as former Dry Ponders.

This article appeared in the StarNews on 10/14/09

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One Response to “ What was Dry Pond?”

  1. On February 13, 2011 at 8:37 am alton davis wrote:

    Tileston School was the college of Dry pond .It sat and still is in the center of Dry Pond .Thats what we were told in the mid to late 50’s.

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