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What is the history of Hickory Hall Plantation?

Ben Steelman
Hickory Hall

Hickory Hall as it looked in 2008. (StarNews file photo)

One of the oldest buildings in Brunswick County, Hickory Hall sits off S.R. 1163 on the Calabash River near the town of Calabash, behind the Calabash Thrift Store. Several ghost stories are associated with it.

The house was built by planter Joseph Green as a seven-room house with two large chimneys; during substantial restoration work in 2007, a brick bearing the date “1817” was found on one of the chimneys, indicating that was the year of construction.

Legend has it that the house and plantation took their names from a huge hickory stump that stood in the middle of the house. The story goes that carpenters had simply built around it rather than removing it. Supposedly, early inhabitants had used the stump as a dining room table. However, Calabash mayor Anthony Clemmons, the local historian, visited the house during restoration and found no trace of the stump.

The house is considered a textbook example of early North Carolina architecture, built of hand-hewn cypress and pine using blacksmith nails and pegs. Two large wings and a few additional rooms were added to the original building later in the 1800s.

By 1840, Hickory Hall was owned by Dr. Lorenzo Frink (1812-1889), a prominent local physician. His father, Samuel Frink, had owned the plantation where the Pearl golf course is presently located. The Frink family turned Pea Landing (the original name for Calabash) into a thriving coastal trading center.

In “The Legends of Brunswick County,” J.C. Judah reported that Frink performed “unsavory” experimental surgery on slaves in the house. In a 2007 column in the StarNews, Susie Carson wrote that visitors had found chains in the house’s attic many years ago.

Frink moved to Southport in the 1860s, where he built the house on Bay Street that bears his name. He died in Southport and was buried at Oakdale Cemetery in Wilmington. Local genealogists say that one of the doctor’s great-grandchildren was Joseph Cotten (1905-1994), the Virginia-born movie actor who starred in “Citizen Kane,” “The Third Man” and “Portrait of Jennie.”

Hickory Hall passed into the hands of the Smith family by 1880. In a complex land deal, Samuel Hemingway Thomas bought the house and 1,000 acres of land in 1888 (for $1 an acre) from J.H. Gore of Pireway, who had bought the property not much earlier from T.K. Thomas, the brother of Samuel Hemingway Thomas. (It was all in the family; Gore was T.K. Thomas’s father-in-law.)

For much of the 1900s, the house was owned by the Simmons family. Robert Simmons, who grew up at Hickory Hall, told Judah that ghostly footsteps were often heard on the stairs, and that doors sometimes opened and closed (or even slammed) on their own. Locals believe that some of the Frink slaves still haunt the dwelling.

According to Clemmons, the house is presently owned by C. Heide Trask Jr. of Wilmington. Much of the former plantation land surrounding it has been incorporated into the Hickory Landing subdivision developed by TND Partners LLC of Durham.

User-contributed question by:
mike maness

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4 Responses to “ What is the history of Hickory Hall Plantation?”

  1. On October 6, 2011 at 10:22 pm David Greenough wrote:

    The Hickory Hall Plantation was where my grandmother was born and raised with 4 other siblings. The hickory stump in the dining room did exist and it was where the locals would go to play cards and other games. Eventually the stump began to rot and the floor was replaced, And as far as the ghost stories we heard quite a few about that whole plantation. Not just in the house the Old Well is where she and everyone had the scare of a lifetime. Also you can check into the Ernest Hemmingway connection to the property. As well as all the famous Sea Captains who lived at this property too. Lots of history at this location if you just look into it.

  2. On October 7, 2011 at 3:03 pm Patti wrote:

    Samuel Frink was my grandmother’s father. I’m glad to know this bit of history that I had never heard before.

  3. On October 7, 2011 at 3:41 pm herman thomas wrote:

    I have lived around this area for 78yrs. My folks have been here for over 250yrs. My grandfather claimed the house was actually alot larger than what you see today. It had at least 7 fireplaces and was suppose to house Col. Tavington of the feared Dragoons during the Revolutionary War. The Plantation in the late 1700s covered around 25000 acres. It also had a slave population of 120 to 130. The only one larger was owned by Benjamin Smith. That house is a piece of history that really should be investigated further. The brick that was dated 1817 was the second addition that was added. The true build date is around 1750 ish.

  4. On February 22, 2015 at 2:17 am Diane Kelly wrote:

    Would like to know were did they get the slaves from that were name Frinks. Please! trying to trace family history, around 1800.

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