At Home in Poplar Grove

Story and Photo by Lois Carol Wheatley.

She appeared at the door of the manor house wearing a big red hoop skirt, her hair drawn back into a tidy bun. "Welcome to Poplar Grove," she said. "I'm Henrietta Foy and I grew up in this house. So I'd like to welcome you to my family's home."

This practice of first-person narrative tours probably originated in Williamsburg and has now migrated south. It seems to give the tour a spirit of dress-up and make-believe that any former child can appreciate. So let's play along.

Henrietta told us that PoplarGrove Plantation came into her family in the year 1795, when her grandfather, James Foy, Jr., purchased it for 1,000 pounds sterling, or about $1,500. It included 628 acres and a manor house, the acreage running from present-day Highway 17 down to the Intracoastal Waterway at Figure Eight Island and included a portion of Figure Eight Island on the far side of what was known only as the sound. Her grandfather continued to buy acreage until by 1820 he had over 3,000 acres.

The original manor house was located on the sound and the plantation transported its goods by boat. "Our cash crop was peanuts, where we made most of our money, and we did sell produce. It took about 12 ½ hours to get our barge into Wilmington."

Henrietta was born in that house on the sound in 1844 and it burned to the ground in 1849. In 1850 her parents, Joseph Mumford Foy and Maryann Simmons Foy, built at this location close to the road, which was then a wooden plank road.

"It ran all the way from Boston to Charleston and they called it the King's Highway. Wilmingtonthey called it the New Bern-Wilmington Plank Road." It required constant maintenance, and the highway crew charged a toll. "It was a ten-cent toll to take the road from here to Wilmington and we were more than happy to pay that because it cut about eight hours off our transport time."

Her father dabbled in architecture and he modified plans he ordered through a catalog to create what is called a Modified Greek Revival Style house. With perfect symmetry, it has two rooms in the front of the house and two rooms in the back of the house, two windows on every outside wall of each room, and a fireplace in every room. A shotgun hallway runs from front to back, and that layout is the same on all three levels.

"The trim my father put up was also Greek Revival. It looks like flattened Grecian columns with bullseye corner blocks."

The entire plantation was a marvel of self sufficiency, and all building materials were harvested from the grounds with the exception of the windows and the tin on the roof. Henrietta's father selected each longleaf pine and processed it in his own sawmill. Clay deposits provided the raw material for the bricks for the fireplace, foundation and outbuildings. The walls, crown moldings and medallions for the chandelier were all made out of plaster. "We made plaster by grinding up oyster shells and horse hair."

The medallions were both decorative and functional. "Christmas Eve 1937 is when we got electricity. Prior to that all chandeliers were either candles or oil, and of course we burned peanut oil instead of whale oil. Soot rises to the ceiling, and if you have a medallion there all you have to do is repaint your medallion every year and not your whole ceiling."

Of course the plantation used its own turpentine still to make the paint.

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Poplar Grove Plantation

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