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Is Hopewell Presbyterian Church on the National Register of Historic Places?

Ben Steelman

Hopewell Presbyterian Church in Burgaw was built in 1800. Photo donated by Gary Trawick of Burgaw, used courtesy of the Pender County Public Library.

Not at present, according to the N.C. State Preservation Office.

(Pender County sites that ARE on the National Register include Gov. Samuel Ashe’s grave in Rocky Point, the Bannerman House northeast of Burgaw, the Beatty-Corbett House in Ivanhoe, the Burgaw Depot, the Pender County Courthouse, the Moores Creek National Military Park, Poplar Grove Plantation in Scotts Hill, Sloop Point, the Assembly Building at Topsail Beach and three of  the surviving concrete observation towers at Topsail Beach left over from the “Operation Bumblebee” missile tests by the U.S. Navy shortly after World War II.)

However, Hopewell Presbyterian Church, at 4682 U.S. 117 north of Burgaw, would seem to be a strong candidate for eventual Register status. The congregation was founded in May 1800 under the auspices of the Orange Presbytery. Its present white frame sanctuary dates from 1825, having been built after the original meeting place, the “Old Schoolhouse,” burned. A Sunday school building and fellowship hall were added in the 20th century.

For more details, see “A Bicentennial History of Hopewell Presbyterian Church” by Mildred S. McIver; copies are available in both the Pender and New Hanover county libraries.

Click here for the a link to the photo of the church from the Pender County Public Library’s digital archive.

The adjoining church cemetery is of considerable interest. It is the final resting place of the church’s most famous member, Hinton James (1776-1847), who went down in history as the first student at the University of North Carolina.

James arrived at the Chapel Hill campus on Feb. 12, 1795 – somewhat tardy, since the university had officially opened its doors on Jan. 15, 1795. The faculty didn’t seem to mind, though, since James was the only member of the student body for the first two weeks of the school year.

As Judge Gary Trawick notes in “Born in Reconstruction,” stories vary as to James’ arrival on campus. He seems to have shown up on foot. Some writers claim he walked the whole 155 miles from his house to Chapel Hill (which might explain why he was nearly a month late). Others say he rode a horse part of the way and walked the rest. Mildred McIver quotes a local who says that James rode his horse, then sold it when he arrived to get the money for his school fees.

By contemporary accounts, James was an outstanding student, helping found the Dialectic Society, the oldest student debating club. He received a bachelor’s degree on July 4, 1798, as one of seven members of UNC’s first graduating class.

James became a civil engineer and for a time was assistant to the state engineer. He was apparently put in charge of channel improvements on the Cape Fear River but resigned in 1807 upon election to the General Assembly. In all, James served three terms in the legislature,  He was also mayor of Wilmington and at the time of his death was Wilmington’s city clerk and treasurer as well as a New Hanover County magistrate.

A residence hall at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and an administrative building at the University of North Carolina Wilmington are both named for Hinton James.

At Hopewell, James  is buried alongside two of his three wives. A state highway historical marker off U.S. 117 north of Burgaw notes the site of his grave.


What does the rooster atop the First Presbyterian Church steeple represent?

Was Masonboro Baptist Church used as a headquarters or hospital during the Civil War?


User-contributed question by:
Stephen Zandy

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