In the year 1957, I was working part time as a reporter for the ASC (measuring land.)
The extreme southern section of Sampson County was not known for large farms or productive soil and seasoned reporters usually avoided that area of the county. Being a rookie and not understanding the system, many of these lesser assignments were pushed my way. I would leave Clement High School (in upper Sampson) at lunch and drive to Ivanhoe and Kerr Station (in lower Sampson) and work until dark. During this time I developed an appreciation for the special character of the people and history of this unique area of Sampson County. Since that experience Ivanhoe has remained one of my favorite places in Sampson County.
A bit about the early history of Ivanhoe: the Scots who settled along Black River at Ivanhoe were part of untold thousands of Scottish immigrants (starting in 1739) who came up through the lower Cape Fear Valley. The Scots stopping off in the Ivanhoe area found a cash crop ready to be harvested in the form of endless long leaf pines. Soon they developed lucrative trading businesses in tar, charcoal, turpentine, resin and timber. And the Black River was their highway to the seaport; located first at Brunswick and later Wilmington.
The Ivanhoe village is older than Sampson County itself. It had been a thriving community as early as 1740 when Black River Chapel was organized there, with sermons and singing done in Gaelic in earlier years. Even slaves were taught Gaelic and worshipped as Presbyterians. Four different church buildings have served the Black River Church community. The present church building was built in 1859.
The first building was a log cabin, which was destroyed by fire and rebuilt in 1770, only to be destroyed by fire a second time and constructed again c.1818.
One of the main features of the church is the slave gallery where the slaves sat during services. There are separate doors on each side for entrance. There has been no change in the original construction.
In the earliest days they didn’t always have a regular minister. Itinerant ministers coming from Wilmington referred to it as “the outback.” Rev. Colin Lindsay was called from Scotland in 1788 and Reverend Robert Tate arrived in the fall of 1799. Reverend Tate tells that when he first arrived he found quite a lack of discipline. Dancing, gambling and horse racing were rampant, and barrels of whiskey were consumed at both weddings and funerals. Black River Chapel has witnessed nearly two and three-quarter centuries of Ivanhoe’s history.
The church is on the National Register of Historic Places and is open daily for touring. Worship services are still held weekly. Headstones in the church cemetery reflect the names of the early settlers there.
Located in the community of Ivanhoe is an area that is known as a slave cemetery, where visitors today will find a granite marker that preserves this part of the county’s history. It is not certain how many slaves are buried on this half-acre lot, but according to reports, state archaeologists visited the site and found 21 sink holes believed to be human graves. Farmer Valiado Hayes brought this to the attention of the Sampson County Minority for Progressive Government to do something, and a granite marker was installed in August 1989.
During the Revolutionary War the Loyalists and Patriots faced each other at Corbett’s Ferry (Ivanhoe.) This was before the Battle of Moore’s Creek, which occurred just down the road.
Long before the Civil War the Cohary Rivers and Six Runs Creek had been opened up to navigation. These streams merged to form the Black River near Lisbon. Many timber rafters from upper Sampson would have made camp at Corbett’s Landing (Ivanhoe) along the banks of Black River. My g. g. grandfather Wrench left documentation behind of rafting naval stores as early as the 1850s from the headwaters of the Little Cohary River near Hall’s Store in upper Sampson to Wilmington. So, he got to see Ivanhoe long before I did.
The Civil War ended the antebellum era of large planters and slaveholders in the area and changed the old way of life forever.
The southernmost tip of present day Sampson was not always a part of Sampson County but was added in four different transactions from New Hanover County. The largest transfer came in 1872 and included the village of Ivanhoe. A new township was created and named Franklin, in honor of Franklin Corbett. Franklin was a former slave who, after the war, rented large tracks of turpentine forests. Then he hired his fellow former slaves to work the trees for extremely low wages. Franklin became wealthy and influential, and when a vote was taken for the purpose of naming the township, the name “Franklin” won.
According to speculation, New Hanover County transferred the area of present-day Franklin Township to Sampson for political reasons. The many freed slaves in the township had joined the Republican Party and they were upsetting the voting patterns of former days. New Hanover was looking for a way for the Democrats and whites to regain political control, so they ceded the land to Sampson in order to be free of this large block of Republicans.
The Ivanhoe community may have died a quiet death many years ago if it were not for the coming of the railroad. The railroad came in 1889-1890 and gave new life to the community.
Over the centuries Ivanhoe has had many names: Corbett’s Ferry or Corbett’s Landing, (Corbett’s Ferry is identified on a 1808 map of NC) when the depot was first built it was called Corbett’s Station and then Hampton for a short period of time; these names faded away. Two citizens of the area, Mr. Robinson and Rev. McDonald, were inspired by having recently read the novel Ivanhoe and suggested the name “Ivanhoe” to the railroad officials. The name was accepted.
A deed was signed on Sept. 22nd 1890 from James L. Corbett and wife, Mary A Corbett and W. M. Corbett and wife, Hattie B. Corbett to the North State Improvement Company (agent of the C. F. & Y. V. RR.) The track of land was five and one quarter acres.
Ivanhoe became a post office on the 30th of August 1890 with Franklin S. Faison as the first postmaster. The first post office was located a few hundred feet in front of Black River Chapel.
Brown’s sawmill moved into Ivanhoe on flat rail cars in 1906. They became the hub of the timbering business in lower Sampson and surrounding areas. The remaining long leaf pine timber that had been bled dry by the turpentine industry now became prey to the crosscut saw. Brown’s sawmill laid tram tracks over much of lower Sampson County to bring timber to the mill sites. Before the railroad only the Black River had been the route used to raft the naval store products and timber to Wilmington.
Many farmers turned their mules out to pasture and went to work for the sawmills. The sawmill was the only industry other than farming in and around Ivanhoe.
The railroad officials laid out city streets and lots for Ivanhoe. Lots were sold and a burst of new growth took place. Ivanhoe even had a hotel at one time in its history.
Stores were established; two of the early stores were J. W. S. Robinson and Charlie Corbett.
Author Carl Goerch featured Uncle Charlie Corbett’s store in several of his writings, in the mid-twentieth century.
One tale goes like this: “Charlie Corbett started a business at Ivanhoe (over 100 years ago presently;) he opened up in a little store close to the railroad station. His system of merchandising was simple He ordered his goods from traveling salesmen, threw the merchandise into the store upon its arrival, and sold it as customers asked for it. There was no place for the proprietor to sit down inside the store, so he usually could be found sitting out on the little porch in front. For years not a single customer entered his store. The reason for this was that they couldn’t get into the place. It was packed from floor to ceiling with the wildest disarray of merchandise you have ever seen in all your life. Through the center of the establishment was a narrow lane, just large enough to accommodate Mr. Corbett. He never had the slightest trouble finding whatever it may be that his customers order. Whether it was a can of beans, a spool of thread, or an article of clothing.
Most stores had a space reserved for an office; not so, for Mr. Corbett. His right coat pocket was his office.” After Carl Goerch’s story, people came from hundreds of miles away just to see his store.
After Charlie died the building was sold and soon torn down leaving only a foundation and the many tales about the treasures that could be found inside. Those that helped tear it down fully expected to find some of the late Corbett’s money hidden in the walls or buried under the floor, but they were disappointed. Bet only Charlie could find that too!
In the 1950s Willie Moore’s gristmill was still operational in Ivanhoe. A steam locomotive’s whistle could still be heard occasionally as the train approached the depot.
All but one sawmill left. Soon the stores were forced to shut their doors. In the 1960’s the trains stopped running and lastly the tracks and depot were removed
When the prime timber was cut over the sawmills moved on and the jobs were gone.
Ivanhoe went into decline and many citizens moved away. But, I’m sure many still cherish their Ivanhoe memories.
Sources: Register of Deeds; 1946-1947 Year Book, by Mrs. Taft Bass; Sampson County Heritage Book; Olde Kinston Gazette; Mr. E. C. Johnson; Wrench family records.
* From the October 2011 issue of the Huckleberry Historian