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Who are the Kenans?

Si Cantwell

The name certainly pops up a lot around town: Kenan Auditorium at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, the Kenan Fountain at Fifth Avenue and Market Street, Chapel Hill-based Kenan Transport Co., which has a facility on U.S. 421 North. Carolina fans might attend a football game at Kenan Stadium at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The Kenan family came to Wilmington in the 1730s, and eventually established a presence in Duplin County, then considered the northern part of New Hanover County.

According to a family history, some settled in the Grove Settlement, which became Kenansville, Duplin County’s seat.

One of Kenansville’s main attractions is the museum known as Liberty Hall. The house, open for tours, dates back to the 1830s when Owen R. Kenan rebuilt it after a fire. You can find out more about the Kenans here.

The Kenans, prominent landowners, became even wealthier at the turn of the last century. That’s when Owen’s granddaughter, Mary Lily Kenan, married Henry Flagler, an industrialist who built much of Florida’s real estate and railroads.

Her brother, William Rand Kenan Jr., was a chemist whose work with a professor at UNC-Chapel Hill on processing calcium carbide led to the founding of Union Carbide Corp.

He gave much of the money to build Kenan Stadium, home of the Tar Heels since 1927. He had graduated from UNC in 1894.

Kenan married Alice Pomroy of Lockport, N.Y., and lived there most of his life. He died in 1965.

In 1996, Walter E. Campbell wrote a biography of William Rand Kenan called “Across Fortune’s Tracks.” It was published by UNC Press, Chapel Hill.

Frank H. Kenan started Kenan Oil Co. and Kenan Transport Co. His son, Owen, later took over the oil business while his father ran the transport company.

Frank Kenan graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1935, was closely linked to the school for the rest of his life. He continued his family’s tradition of monetary donations to the school by providing $10 million for the Kenan-Flagler Business School in 1991. He died in Durham in 1996.

Other Kenans have continued the tradition of supporting causes including higher education.

Today, Thomas Kenan III, a Durham native, lives in Chapel Hill. He is the former chairman of the board of Kenan Transport and is an active supporter of the UNC School of the Arts in Winston-Salem. The Thomas S. Kenan Institute for the Arts at UNCSA is named after him.

User-contributed question by:
Kathy Kaiser

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7 Responses to “ Who are the Kenans?”

  1. On May 15, 2011 at 4:48 pm RON MAYS wrote:

    Good story, Henry Flagler also was a partner in Standard Oil.. todays Exxon and was the brains behind Standard.. He was one of Americas most gifted minds..

  2. On July 1, 2013 at 7:54 am Walter Taylor wrote:

    I would like to read an autobiography or biography of Frank Hawkins Kenan. Does it exist?

  3. On July 1, 2013 at 2:32 pm Si Cantwell wrote:

    I don’t know about biographies of Mr. Kenan, but his papers are in the library at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. Here’s a page listing what’s available to people who visit that library:

  4. On August 5, 2013 at 10:18 pm Kenan J. Kern wrote:

    The Meaning of Honor, a book on the life of Frank Hawkins Kenan was published in Chapel Hill, NC in 1994. It is probably out of print but can be found on various Internet book searches.

  5. On April 24, 2015 at 1:16 am Robert C Peuriofy wrote:

    William Rand Kenan, Jr.

    Am searching for the burial spot of William Rand Kenan. He lived in New York State, but spent 60 years in the Ponce DeLeon Hotel in St. Augustine, florida. Was instrumental in the founding of Flagler College from the buildings of the hotel.
    Is he buried in New York, Florida, or North Carolina.

    Thanks for any advice you can give.

    Robert C. Peurifoy

  6. On September 25, 2016 at 12:32 am james wrote:

    How do you not talk about the slaves they owned and the impact they had on the history. Look like you are filtering history to fit the image you are trying to portray. You need to take ownership of your history. Another thing I wouldn’t step foot in any location that have their name on it.

  7. On March 7, 2017 at 10:23 pm Memory wrote:

    James. Get over it. We all have to.

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