St. Helena History

 

 

I don't know where this is from but here it is. It starts on page 35 so there is a good possibility that there  are some missing pages. As for the writing, it is written as I found it.  I believe (by the footnotes) that it was written in 1957 which is 53 years ago. I might have acquired it during High School since I wrote a English paper on St. Helena at that time.  I am forwarding this because I think it is interesting.                  


….......ten-acre farms, according to an official company map.   A town site was also laid out, covering 28.125 acres. It was sectioned into sixteen blocks labeled “A” to “P”. Block “A” was reserved for the Carolina Trucking Development Company and a portion of Block “D” for a church. Six streets were given Italian names. Three were for North Italian cities of Milan, Verona, and Rovigo. One for Giuseppe Gribaldi, the Nineteenth Century Italian patriot and General. Two others were labeled Sebastian and Villanova.62
St. Helena was named in honor of the Queen of Italy.  The colony was founded in September, 1905, by seven North Italian men. There were also two South Italians at the beginning, but they did not remain. The seven Italians were peasants from the Province of Venetia near the city of Rovigo.
One of the agents representing the Carolina Trucking Development Company who chose the settlers was a lawyer named Ernesto Valentini. He made three trips to Rovigo before completing the selections. He found from records that no serious crime had been committed in the peasants' home district for more than four-hundred years.
The peasants had little money. They arrived in debt for their fare from New York and owed money in Italy. On their arrival in St. Helena, they were lodged in several small houses built for them by the company. They were immediately employed in clearing their ten-acre plots of ground at a weekly salary paid by the company.
Within a few months, the former Venetian farmers had transformed the woods into productive farms.  Potatoes, beans, peas, tomatoes, lettuce, and strawberries were gathered the first harvest season. 63
According to Father Joachim Dunn, present priest of St. Joseph Catholic Church in St. Helena, who obtained his information from church records, the settlers were Cajatan Perseghin, his wife and two children; Perseghin( first name not given); Domenico Bertazza; Gerviazo Trevisn; Ginezio Berto; Domenico Laghitto Berto; and G. Garbo. Father Dunn was not sure of the correct spelling of the names because the records were greatly faded, making the handwriting on them difficult to read. Others to come later during 1906 were L. Borin  and family, C. Marcomin, E. Rossi, V. Farnesiera, A. Leoda, Ettore Tammasia and family and Ferro (no first name shown).
The Reverend Joseph A. Gallagher was Catholic priest in 1906.64

Hugh Overstreet, of whom the Italians were”very fond” was superintendent of the colony, reported a group of New York Italian visitors.  The “life and spirit” of the colony was a Major Van C. Lucas. 65
The road to Wilmington was but two wagon tracks in the mud. It was a good half-day journey on wagon and team to Burgaw during the rainy season. The safest,surest, and quickest method of transportation was the railroad, well patronized at that time. 66
More Italian settlers arrived in March, 1907. Some were related to colonists already established. The new colonists were V. Perseghin, G. Farnesiera, Gregoria Mallonti and family, and another member of the Rossi and Berto family.
In 1908 a small frame church was built by the three Perseghin brothers and several Wilmington carpenters. 67
The new church accommodated two-hundred people, making it no longer necessary to use private homes for services. The building was white-washed on the inside and tarred on the outside. The Bishop of Belmont Abbey, Most Reverend Leo Haid, O.S.B., the Extension Society, and the MacRae estate donated funds to build it. The church was under the patronage of St. Joseph, and under the charge of Father Umberto Donati.68
A new contingent of Italians arrived in 1908. They were Farsienio Valentino, Bruno Tamburin, Angelo Latano and wife, Antonio Chiradello and family, Carlo Bonincontri and family, Luigi Bonincontri and family, Antionio Componmicci, Antionio Garrillo  and family. 69
Many of the newer colonists were employed one-half of their time working for the company, ditching, fencing, and building roads. The women and children spent all their time preparing land for the first crops. The men gave half their time doing the heavy, rough work. 70
Contracts between the company and  colonists provided that profits from sale of products grown on the farms be divided into two parts--- one going to the colonist for his support and use, the other to the company in payment for the land and house. In  this way it was expected that each family could own its land in several years.
To check progress at St. Helena, a group of New Yorkers interested in Italian immigration to America visited the colony June 5, 1908. In the group were De Palma Castiglione, Director of the Labor Bureau for Italians in New York, and Ernesto Valentini, the lawyer who first recruited settlers from Italy.
The group reported that they were greeted at the colonists' homes with

open-heart-ed cordiality and cheer by the mothers and wives, all surrounded by beautiful
healthy children of both sexes, all rosy checked and happy, recalling the sad contrast the   thousands of children of our countrymen, all pale and thin, living crowded in awful rooms of
the tenements, very death holes in the Italian quarters of New York City, where thousands of
consumptives die yearly. 71

A large co-operative store called the Co-operative Italiana di Consumo was built in 1908. It was formed by the colonists to sell everything they might need at cost price. 72
A brass band of fifteen pieces was organized. It played on holidays, feast days, and welcoming for newcomers to the colony. During presentations the band played alternately the favorite airs of Italy and America. 73
In an address before the North Carolina Society of New York December 7, 1908, Hugh MacRae reported sixty-six farms had been sold. About three-hundred people made up the population of the colony.  Two-hundred-and-fifty acres of land were under cultivation, and two-hundred acres of additional land had been cleared ready for the plow.  One acres of strawberries had been planted, forty acres of cotton, fifteen in corn, fifteen in potatoes, and eighty in miscellaneous vegetables.
MacRae further stated that the colony experimental work had been done at great expense, and the usual mistakes had been made which might be excepted in pioneer work. 74
Among obstacles encountered were the opposition of Southern people to Italian immigration because of prejudice existing towards Italians caused by the “so-called black hand”, difficulty of obtaining laws for admission of immigrants, and drainage of land.75
The three Perseghin brothers, original settlers of the colony, welcomed their father and family on arrival at the colony in 1909. Others joining the settlement the same year were Martino Martenello, John Canavessio and family, Gregori Piereno, Bonchetto, Leonard Grandegiacamo, and Diminico Leimone. 76
Father Donati, the colony priest who came from the grape and olive raising family, was one of the first to experiment with grape growing but he was called away to another church before the experiment reached the advanced stage. Later, grape growing became a prominent pursuit in St. Helena. 77
On July 7, 1911, Father C. Kneusels arrived to take up duties as the first resident pastor of the Catholic Church, then known as St. Helena Mission.  Virgillo Perseghin greeted him, saying there was no home for Kneusels and that he would have to sleep in the church on an old iron bedstead with only a mattress.
The following month, however, the company loaned Kneusels a small house and three acres on Farm 34 to raise a garden.
Father Kneusels immediately interested himself in the education of the children. They were instructed in the Community Hall opposite the railroad station. He used his home for adult instruction in evenings.
After teaching two years in this manner, he appealed to the Supervisor of Public Schools in Burgaw for a teacher to help. A young girl was appointed who made a daily trip from Burgaw to St. Helena on Bicycle. The arrangement was not practical because the children failed to make progress due to the fact they knew little English. This in turn, reversed the situation, and Father Kneusels was invited to teach in the Burgaw Public School, a position he held for a year.
Father Kneusels was responsible for laying out a new cemetary. The first person buried in it was 77 year old Santa Trevizana.
In 1913 the Carolina Trucking Development Company changed the color of many of the colony homes from red to white with green window shades. Some of the Italians had painted the houses red in sympathy with the Garibaldi movement in Italy where soldiers wore red shirts.78
The typical cost of a farm in 1913 was $1300. This included “8 ½ acres cultivated all drained, special type house, 3 rooms, small barn, one-acre vineyard, 60 fruit trees”79
More and more land was devoted to grape culture, from which wine was made and marketed through Italian Wine Merchants in New York. But the North Carolina Legislative enacted a prohibition law which blocked further effort along this line. Because of this, many Italians became discouraged and began moving away. 80By 1914, all but one Italian family had sold their farm and left. World War I was underway and high wages in Northern industrial centers attracted many. The lone remaining family was that of Domenico Leimone.81
Replacing the Italians was a new group speaking several languages. It was wartime and many Europeans sought refuge. In the spring of 1915, twelve families, numbering about seventy-five persons, from Belgium moved onto the farms. The Belgians, who were not farmers, tired to adjust themselves to rural life, but failed. All left the colony the same year except one family.----A.H. Fleuren's.
Eight Hungarian families succeeded the Belgians, arriving in 1916.82
Bishop Leo Haid bought ten acres of land for the Catholic Church in 1916. The priest's house was built on the land at a cost of $2,000.83
Twelve Slovak and six Serbian families joined the diverse ethnic congregation in 1918. The same year twelve more families, mainly Ukrainians, Austrian-Galicians, and Russians, came. 84
A lot on which to build a catholic school was bought December 21, 1918 for $125. Father Kneusels and Mr. Eugene Mottes began making concrete blocks, which were to be used in the construction of the building, on July 22, 1920. The structure was to cost $10,0000. Father Kneusels figured 18,000 blocks eight by sixteen inches in size would be needed. 85
Father Kneusels never realized the fulfillment of his dream. On one of his many trips to the North, he was taken seriously ill and died on July 31, 1924. He is buried in St. Helena. A headstone given by the knights of Columbus, Wilmington Chapter , denotes his place of rest.
The school was not officially opened until September 30, 1924. The Franciscan Fathers, Order Minor Conventuals, and the Third Order Franciscan Sisters whose Mother-house is located in Syracuse, New York, directed the school.
An average of fifty children per year sought their education through the Catholic school.
In 1932, the Russian element of the colony under the leadership of Father John G. Baruch built a brick church facing the railroad. Father Baruch is still priest of the Russian Orthodox Church.86
Other priests serving at the Roman Catholic church since Father Kneusels' death were Fathers John Murneane, M. Imhoff, Roland Gross, Joel Arnold, Mallachy White, and Daniel Lutz.  Father Joachim Dunn is the present priest. He served at a new, handsome church erected in 1952 near Highway 117.87
The soil of St. Helena has been tilled by immigrants of ten European backgrounds---Italian, Polish, Hungarian, Ukrainian, Belgian, Danish, Slovak, Serbian, German, and English.  All did not come to the colony directly from Europe. Many previously lived in northern areas of the United States, working in coal mines, factories, or on farms.
Among those who at one time acquired farms at St. Helena but do not live there now because of death, failure to occupy the land, or removal are listed below.  The date after some names shows what year the farms were acquired. Identification of nationalities as far as possible, was done by John Leimone and John N. Fedoronko. The Leimone family is the colony's senior family.
John Bertalli, 1916, Italian; John Vargo1929 Hurngarian, son living at Wrightsboro, North Carolina; Charles Kasell, 1921 Hungarian; Theodore Bweachok, 1929; Frank S. Chap, 1914; Agostam Domoszlay, 1920; Joseph Honecak, 1920; John Bertello 1912, Italian; John Canavesio 1911, Italian:Nat Perseghin, 1917, Italian; Michael and John Szedlak, 1917;Joseph Gytvai, Hungarian; G. Peiereno, 1910 Italian; Ms. K.L. Hertenberger, 1916; Alex Kowal, 1925, Russian; John Soltisik, 1920 Hungarian; Simeon Opoka, 1924, Polish; Frank Koos, 1919, Hungarian; Henrik Rondum, 1925 Danish; Michael Wayda, 1925, Polish; Stephen Zacharkow, 1924, Ukrainian; John Kovack, 1920, Polish; Asafat Keklac, 1927, Polish; Domonkos, 1928; Coement Zacharkow, Ukrainian; Nikolai Zuravio, 1925, Russian; Nich Trkua, 1932; Charles Dudic 1925, Ukrainian;M. Dudic, 1924, Ukrainian; Anthony Nester 1924; C.j. Carter 1909; A. Boratynsky, 1925, Polish; Peter Stanczak, 1925, Polish; P.
Feciuch 1926; Stephen Kroughta, 1929;N. Reshetor, 1924; D.C. Scott, 1920; W.E. George, 1920; and V. De Lenardo, 1908, Italian. 88
Only one family of the original Italian settlement live today in St. Helena. It is the family of Domenico Leimone. Others living there now came mainly during the 1915-1925 decade. Most are engaged in truck farming. A few live in the community, but rent out their land and work elsewhere.
St. Helena is no longer known as a colony or settlement distinct from other communities. It is an integrated part of Pender County's large trucking region. The railroad station and post office are no longer at St. Helena. Speed of modern trucks and automobiles has put it only a few minutes' distance from Burgaw.
Homes in the area, while not pretentious, are warm and functional. Few bear earmarks of European style except for basements which most native rural homes in Eastern North Carolina do not have. The Catholic and Russian Orthodox Churches are about the only physical marks that set the community apart. The Baptist church predominates the rural setting in North Carolina.  The Catholic school still stands but its operation has been discontinued. The children in the Community now attend the Catholic school at Castle Hayne or Burgaw public school. Congregation point of the community has shifted from the original town site along the railroad to Highway 117, where several gasoline stations and a cafe are located. 89
St. Helena farmers are among the most prosperous of the county. Because of modern machinery, many have increased their acreage many fold. To do so, they have gone outside the St. Helena area and brought land.
Farming remains the principle occupational pursuit. Lettuce, strawberries, cabbage, snap beans, squash, cucumbers, and various greens are the chief money crops. The growing season, which begins early in spring and lasts to October enables two crops to be raised.90
The heterogeneous group of nationalities has integrated into a seemingly homogenous group. Marriages between the various nationalities have been extensive.
One of the most successful settlers is Michael Boryk. He came with his Polish father, Andrew, to St. Helena in 1925. Michael was thirteen years old at the time. He had to quit school to work on the ten-acre farm. At present he grows more vegetables than any other grower in the county, planting some five-hundred acres in various vegetables each year. He has fifty acres of strawberries, probably the largest strawberry tract in the state. The tract was once a depleted field, which Boryk built up with lime an proper drainage. Boryk operates his well mechanized farm with eleven tractors, two passenger buses, three automobiles and five trucks. He has entered the produce buying and selling business, working under the name of “Pender Fruit Company”. His cucumbers are sold under the trade name of “Mike's Brand”. Boryk was the first to wax cucumbers in Pender county. He credits much of his success to his Polish wife, the former Anna
Gmytruk of the Castle Hayne Colony. She is active in all phases of the business, but generally supervises harvesting operations while Boryk occupies himself with the all important selling activities. Boryk can do everything from building a house, repairing tractors, to marketing over the telephone.  He has been instrumental in forming a strawberry selling co-operative which selected members hope will increase quality of berries leaving the section and thereby command higher prices. Boryk's father died in 1940.
Domenico Leimone, who was the oldest settler in the colony died in 1956. He came from the rural village of Chiesannova in Italy. He started on a ten-acre plot in 1912. He once raised grapes at St. Helena, but when a prohibition law was enacted, he switched completely to dairying and truck farming. His wife, four sons, and one daughter still live in the community. The family altogether owns some four hundred acres of land, fourteen tractors, three silos, two dairies, and seven trucks. The oldest son, Angelo, operates the family dairy with a herd of forty Holsteins. Justo runs another dairy of forty-nine animals. Two other sons, John and Mario, truck farm, each growing about twenty-five acres of lettuce. John serves as president of the local vegetable selling co-operative--- The United Truck Growers Association. The daughter Mary, who is married, continues as a resident of St. Helena. 92
Another successful St. Helenian is James A. (Jim) Pecora who came from Italy om 1921. He joined the colony in 1924 and introduced the growing of several new vegetables in the area. Among his introductions were Chinese cabbage, chicory, fiva beans (similar to Lima beans), butternut squash (resembling cooked sweet potatoes)  and Calabria broccoli. Pecora came from a vegetable growing region in Italy near Cozensa in the southern district of Calabria. Pecora farms seventy acres of land in St. Helena and 220 acres nearby. He raises lettuce, beans, squash, wheat, and soybeans by operating four tractors. He has a few beef cattle to clean up grass around low places on the farm.
Pecora married Herminia Gytvai, daughter of a Hungarian who settled in St. Helena.  Her job is supervising the laborers. She remembers her father, John Gytvai, as the first to grow lettuce in St. Helena.  After arriving in America from Hungary, her father first worked at Dante, Virginia, as a coal miner.  He became sick and doctors advised more fresh air. An advertisement in an Hungarian newspaper describing St. Helena caught his attention. He moved to the colony in February 1917. He died in 1926. His wife and five of twelve children still live in the community. The five are Herminia, Bill, Julia, Bessie, and Helen. 93
John Fedoronko came from the Polish village of Sanok to the United States at the age of fifteen in 1904. He first worked in factories making automobile tires and railroad cars n Pittsburgh. He heard about the colony through his cousin, who was an agent at the time for the Carolina Trucking Development Company. Fedoronko first bought ten acres. Two months later he got ten more acres, followed by another ten acres in 1931. In 1933 he brought 282 acres, much of it woodland. Fedoronko labored hard, practiced thrift, and made a habit of paying cash for all purchases. He was not afraid to take a “risk on big scale growing”, which contributed much to his monetary success. Produce sold well during the depression which also helped. Fedoronko had eight children, three of which were sent to college. One son attended the North Carolina state College and now works as an agricultural insecticide expert in Wallace, North Carolina.  Fedoronko
raises lettuce, cucumbers, beans, squash, and beets, operating four tractors and three trucks. His first wife died. A second wife, Helen, is a Czechoslovakian whom he met while vacationing in Miami. Both are members of the Russian Orthodox Church.94
Adrian Fleuren, the only one of the fourteen Belgians arriving in 1914
who stayed at St, Helena, died in 1951. His son, Anthony, remains in Pender County and operates a dairy at nearby Penderlea.95
John Spisak was a native of the farming village of Trebiov in southern Czechoslovakia. He migrated to America in 1904, worked in Pennsylvania as a coal miner; Newark, New Jersey, as a boiler shop laborer; Washington State as a lumberjack; and Leigh, Montana, as a coal miner.  He came to St. Helena in 1918, attracted by a calendar sent by Agent John Nemaph advertising the colony. Carolina's warmer climate appealed to Spisak. He paid $140 for a twenty-acre farm and house. He started a dairy with one cow, eventually increasing it to twelve. Milk was sold in Wilmington. He also raised lettuce. In 1930, using money saved from milk and lettuce profits, Spisak built an eight room brick house with running water, electric lights and a two car garage. Spisak and his wife have four children. Helen attends Business school in Charlotte. Mary F. is a captain in the Army Nurse Corp. In service for fifteen years, she served as a flight
nurse and has seen much of the world. John is in the printing business in Cleveland, Ohio, and George remains at home working on the farm. The Spisak family has 125 acres today, on which truck crops and small grains are raised. There are two tractors, two trucks, and one car. “Money is in the bank” and there is adequate insurance.

Others now living at St. Helena are A.M. Marianovsky, Ukrainian; Mrs. M. Gomore, and son, Hungarian; Ilia Ivanovic and son; Simeon Opoka, owns a farm but lives in New York; John and Julia Kravechi, operate a gas station; three sons of Andrew Tokoly, deceased; window of Melethy Hubriak, Russian, deceased; wife and son of Wasyl Naumuk, Russian, deceased; Wasyl Nakoneczny, Russian, has a son who is a mechanical engineer; Michael Hulak; Elia and Powell DeBaylo; Joseph Horvath; son of Gregory Horsky, Russian deceased; wife and son of Stephen Mezerak, deceased; I. Bakan, Russian; Elia Evanovich, Serbian; wife and son of Justyra Mandrik, deceased; wife of B. Dupelevich, Ukrainian, deceased; Wasye Nakaneczny, Ukrainian; Peter Krockmalny, Ukrainian, deceased; John Banaadyga, Polish; wife of Andrew Smith, deceased; son of L. Zandigiocomo, Italian, deceased; Robert Katalinic, Slavic; Joseph Meszes, Hungarian;and Peter Katalinic, Slavic. Names and
their spellings came from records of land sales at St. Helena, kept in the office of Hugh Morton, Wilmington, North Carolina, grandson of Hugh MacRae. 97


Footnotes
62)    Official Map
63)    News story
64)    Church records at Saint Joseph Catholic Church, St. Helena, North Carolina
65)    New story, Bollettino dela sera , New Yourk, June 10, 1909
66)    Feature story, The wilmington Star, March 28, 1948
67)    Church records
68)    Feature story
69)    Church records
70)    Hugh MacRae, “Bringing Immigrants to the south”, New York, New York, December 7, 1908
71)    News story, Ballettino dela sera, New York, New York, June 10, 1909
72)    News story, The Morning Star, Wilmington, North Carolina, February 6, 1908
73)    Hugh MacRae
74)    Hugh MacRae
75)    News story, Ballettino dela sera, New York, New York, June 10, 1909
76)    Church Records
77)    News story, The Evening Sun, New York, New York, July 14, 1909
78)    Church records
79)    Hugh MacRae, “Farm Colonies near Wilmington, NC (paper from MacRae's private files)
80)    Church Records
81)    Hugh MacRae
82)    Feature story, The Wilmington Star, March 28, 1948
83)    Church Records
84)    Feature story
85)    Church records
86)    Feature story, The Wilmington Star, March 28, 1948
87)    Church records
88)    Records of land sales at St. Helena, filed in office of Hugh Morton, Wilmington, NC
89)    Observation by the author, May 1957
90)    Interview with Joe Honeycutt, Pender County farm agent, Burgaw, North Carolina, March 1957
91)    Interview with Michael Boryk, Burgaw, NC April 1957
92)    Interview with John Leimone, St. Helena, November 1956
93)    Interview with Jim Pecora, St. Helena, April 1957
94)    Interview with John Fedoronko, St. Helena, April, 1957
95)    Interview with Anthony Flewren, Penderlea, North Carolina, January 1957
96)    Interview with John Spisak, St. Helena, November 1956
97)    Interview with John Leimone and John Fedoronko, who provided information concerning nationalities and present status of residents, St. Helena, April 1957

 

 

 

 

Past Times: Hugh McRae recruited immigrants to seed farming colonies

MacRae recruited Italian farming families for his St. Helena colony.

Hugh MacRae, a developer and industrialist of the early 20th century, presided over many enterprises in southeastern North Carolina. One of the most interesting was his development of six rural “colonies” in Pender, New Hanover and Columbus counties for experimenting with agricultural practices. The colonies, some of which have familiar names, were settled by immigrant farmers. Italians settled in St. Helena, Hollanders in Castle Hayne and Van Eden, Greeks in Marathon, Poles in Artesia, and Germans and Hungarians in New Berlin, later renamed Delco.

In 1939, writer Gladys Best Tripp explained how MacRae took on the project to change farming practices in the Southeast, and the obstacles he faced. He originally recruited farmers from the Midwest, but they were discouraged by the locals who thought agricultural development around Wilmington was destined to fail, so they took the next train back west, all at MacRae’s expense.

But this complete defeat only fueled MacRae’s interest, and he was determined to make a success of the undertaking. There is always a cause for failure, he thought, and usually a remedy can be found. He recognized the fact that the danger of pessimistic views expressed by people, who with the best of intentions were doubtful of new methods, would always stand in the way. So he decided to get people who could not converse in English with the possible pessimists.

The Carolina Trucking Development Company was established to develop eastern North Carolina farm lands by intensive farming and demonstrate the section’s agricultural advantages for early spring vegetables and small fruits for northern markets. Immediately the company sent a representative to Italy to carefully select and bring back 30 families. They formed the settlement of about 2,000 acres 22 miles north of Wilmington in pine woods, which was named St. Helena for the Italian queen.

The Italians began to farm immediately and were very successful with the methods they had brought from the mother country. They cleared the forest. The wood was purchased by the Power Company in Wilmington, owned by Mr. MacRae, and the ashes from the burning of this wood sent back to St. Helena to build up the land’s fertility.

They planted small vineyards and gradually drifted into large grape cultivations. The wine they made was sold mainly through wine merchants in New York until the prohibition was passed. Believing that their business was ruined, the colonists left their farms to accept high wages offered by industries during the World War. And thus the Italian settlement gave up farming.

Another settlement had failed but Mr. MacRae saw only that another element was lacking. From Europe again and from some industrial centers of the United States he secured desirable families of Hollanders, Poles and Hungarians. Most of these were gathered into a settlement named Castle Hayne for the colonial owner of the plantation

Hugh MacRae, a developer and industrialist of the early 20th century, presided over many enterprises in southeastern North Carolina. One of the most interesting was his development of six rural “colonies” in Pender, New Hanover and Columbus counties for experimenting with agricultural practices. The colonies, some of which have familiar names, were settled by immigrant farmers. Italians settled in St. Helena, Hollanders in Castle Hayne and Van Eden, Greeks in Marathon, Poles in Artesia, and Germans and Hungarians in New Berlin, later renamed Delco.
In 1939, writer Gladys Best Tripp explained how MacRae took on the project to change farming practices in the Southeast, and the obstacles he faced. He originally recruited farmers from the Midwest, but they were discouraged by the locals who thought agricultural development around Wilmington was destined to fail, so they took the next train back west, all at MacRae’s expense.
But this complete defeat only fueled MacRae’s interest, and he was determined to make a success of the undertaking. There is always a cause for failure, he thought, and usually a remedy can be found. He recognized the fact that the danger of pessimistic views expressed by people, who with the best of intentions were doubtful of new methods, would always stand in the way. So he decided to get people who could not converse in English with the possible pessimists.
The Carolina Trucking Development Company was established to develop eastern North Carolina farm lands by intensive farming and demonstrate the section’s agricultural advantages for early spring vegetables and small fruits for northern markets. Immediately the company sent a representative to Italy to carefully select and bring back 30 families. They formed the settlement of about 2,000 acres 22 miles north of Wilmington in pine woods, which was named St. Helena for the Italian queen.
The Italians began to farm immediately and were very successful with the methods they had brought from the mother country. They cleared the forest. The wood was purchased by the Power Company in Wilmington, owned by Mr. MacRae, and the ashes from the burning of this wood sent back to St. Helena to build up the land’s fertility.
They planted small vineyards and gradually drifted into large grape cultivations. The wine they made was sold mainly through wine merchants in New York until the prohibition was passed. Believing that their business was ruined, the colonists left their farms to accept high wages offered by industries during the World War. And thus the Italian settlement gave up farming.
Another settlement had failed but Mr. MacRae saw only that another element was lacking. From Europe again and from some industrial centers of the United States he secured desirable families of Hollanders, Poles and Hungarians. Most of these were gathered into a settlement named Castle Hayne for the colonial owner of the plantation …
The different nationalities cooperated with each other, and the members of the community learned from the experience of the others.
The N&O July 16,1939
In 1996, Associated Press writer Elizabeth Tennyson visited St. Helena, where descendants of some of the original families still lived.
Saint Helena began as one of six immigrant colonies established by Wilmington developer Hugh MacRae. He lured Italian farmers to Saint Helena with promises of 10 acres and a three-room home for $240, payable over three years.
The first immigrants arrived in 1906 and cleared the wooded land for vineyards. But Prohibition put an end to their wine-making venture and by 1914 all but one Italian family, the Leimones, had moved away.
Rose Leimone still lives in the town her late husband's family helped found. …
When the other Italian immigrants moved, MacRae sent brochures, calendars and real estate agents advertising the community to recent immigrants living in other states.
“When my parents was in Montana, they got a calendar from the MacRae Co.,” said George Spisak, whose lilting speech reflects his Slovakian origins.
Spisak’s father, who was working in a coal mine at the time, was captivated by the calendar’s photo of a family harvesting enormous strawberries. In 1918, he and his wife bought a 20-acre plot without ever visiting the town. …
Those who remember the town before World War II paint pictures of Saint Helena as a vivid community with a rich ethnic fabric.
“We all got along,” said Spisak, whose neighbors were Hungarian. “My mother could speak Slovak and Hungarian, and I could understand Polish.”

The different nationalities cooperated with each other, and the members of the community learned from the experience of the others.

 




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Last Updated on Monday, 18 May 2015 17:16