The Fate of the

Oakley’s Brass Band
Excerpt from ‘The Ark’ Still Waits For Musician-Builder

William Oakley Melvin was born in the Lisbon community downriver from Elizabethtown near Carver’s landing on August 1, 1894, and lived there until he was six…

… Oakley and “some of his cronies” formed a brass band in 1913, according to the younger brother [Broadus], who says he played cornet for the group at age 11. Oakley, who, like other band members, was 19 or 20, played trombone.

At the time, this was the only band in the county, or between Wilmington and Fayetteville, for that matter. The group received many invitations to play at high school commencements, holidays and parties, but Oakley’s favorite engagement undoubtedly was playing as “house band” on some of the many steamboats that plied the river between the Port City and Fayetteville as late as 1937.

On one such occasion, a White Oak family chartered “The City of Fayetteville” for an excursion party to Wrightsville Beach and Oakley’s band was offered free passage if they would entertain.

Oakley and his boys were at the White Oak Landing by sunrise, warming up the river morning stillness with “Sweet Bunch of Daisies,” Broadus remembers.

The band played from the upper foredeck on the way down, so the captain could enjoy watching from the pilothouse. Many local people must have heard the music approaching on the river and turned out on docks along the way to listen and watch the gay spectacle pass and fade.

While waiting on the Wilmington docks for wagons to take the party to the beach, Oakley led the band in “Redwing” and “Captain of the Guard,” drawing about 200 spectators, Broadus says.

Once everyone had gone for a swim,a few wanted to dance, so Broadus says the band gave them “Sobras las Olas” (Over the Waves), “The Sorceress” and “Trail of the Lonesome Pine.”

Oakley slipped an improvised version of the “Doxology” into the middle of “Dancing on the Old Barn Floor” and Broadus says everyone was heving such a good time dancing, “they never even noticed.”

[The Fayetteville Times by J.L. Pate, Sunday Staff Writer]



The City of Fayetteville Sinks With
Cargo of Cotton at Champion Compress
Dock—Crew’s Narrow Escape.


At 3 o’clock yesterday morning the steamer City of Fayetteville sank in the slip at the foot of Red Cross street, at the Champion Compress, where she docked at 5 o’clock Sunday afternoon, and from the looks of the wreck, it would seem that the steel hull has broken in two.

The boat was loaded with 236 bales of cotton for Alexander Sprunt & Son, 135 of which were gotten out yesterday, very little damaged, but Agent S. M. King, of the Merchants & Farmers Steamboat Company, which owns the vessel, was of the opinion last night that the remainder, which is entirely submerged, will prove almost a total loss. Messrs. Sprunt carried insurance on the cotton, but the steamboat company has no marine insurance, being unable to get it on the river. They carry fire insurance.

Their loss will approximate $15,000 if it proves that the hull has broken in two, that being the figure at which “the City” was valued. She was built in 1904, is 125 feet in length and has a draft of 26 inches. The manager of the company is Mr. S. P. McNair, and a number of local business men hold stock in the concern.

Engineer J. F. Creel and four of the crew were asleep on the boat when they were awakened by her settling, and they had to hurry to get out of her. The engineer had his small son with him and he said he got the lad out by catching hold of his leg and throwing him bodily to the wharf. They had gone over the boat sometime before and found nothing wrong.

It may be that a hole was punched in the bottom by a pile or that there is a shoal at the mouth of the slip, and that when the tide went out—it was extremely low yesterday morning—the weight of the machinery caused the stern to settle, breaking the boat amidships.

The work of raising the boat will go right along and the officials of the company hope that the damage may not be so serious that she cannot be repaired. She has made only two trips during the Summer, bringing cotton this month. Many visited the wreck yesterday and watched the salvage of the cotton going on.

[Wilmington Morning Star - Tuesday, September 30, 1913]

NOTE: The City of Fayetteville arrived upon the Cape Fear river in January of 1903.

Raising the City of Fayetteville


Work of Raising Stern Wheeler Proceeding Slowly – History.

The wrecking crew working on the City of Fayetteville made little progress yesterday in their efforts to float her. However, they will continue on the job until they find out whether or not she is wrecked beyond repair. The Fayetteville Observer yesterday gave a sketch of the boat, which has plied the river between Wilmington and Fayetteville for the last 10 years. A part of it follows:

“The steamer City of Fayetteville was built in 1904 by Merrell & Stevens, of Jacksonville, Fla., for a stock company composed of Lismon, Lorge & Co., of New York City, and others. For a year after the steamer was floated the original owners ran her between Fayetteville and Wilmington. They then sold out to the Cape Fear Steamboat Company, and the steamer has been in regular service since that time.

“The tonnage of the City of Fayetteville is 135, and she was guaranteed to draw not more than 18 inches with a full cargo aboard. She has a steel hull and was first equipped with tubular boilers, steam heat and electric lights. The passenger accommodations are good, better than any other steamer that ever ran on Cape Fear river. She was licensed to carry 125 passengers with a full cargo of freight.

[Wilmington Morning Star – Thursday, October 2, 1913]

The City of Fayetteville.

The contract for raising the City of Fayetteville has not yet been awarded but probably will be given some time this week. All the cotton has been removed, and everything is in readiness for beginning the work of raising the boat. The cause of her sinking has not been definitely determined.

[Wilmington Morning Star – Wednesday, October 8, 1913]

Boiler Removed From Vessel.

The Marine Railway Compaiy {misspelled}, which has the contract for raising the City of Fayetteville, which was sunk at the cotton compress dock here several weeks ago, succeeded yesterday in getting the boiler from the vessel, and expect within a short time to have the boat floated. It has not yet been possible to learn just what was the cause of the vessel’s sinking, and this will not be known until she is raised. Her cargo of cotton was removed soon after she sank.

[Wilmington Morning Star – Tuesday, October 21, 1913.]


Quarterly report of the Harbor Master was read and approved.

The Harbor Master, Captain Edgar D. Williams, appeared in person before the Board and reported that under date of October 17, 1913, he had given notice to the Merchants and Farmers Steamboat Company that the wreck of their steamer City of Fayetteville, lying in the dock at the foot of Red Cross street, must be removed at once as it was an obstruction to navigation and a great hindrance to the traffic and commerce of the port; that the Merchants and Farmers Steamboat Company, through it president, Mr. Z. W. Whitehead, had replied, under date of October 20, 1913, stating that everything, possible was being done to remove the wrecked steamer, and that it was hoped to have all the wreckage cleared away in the course of three or four days; but that despite his (the Harbor Master’s) repeated complaints since that time, the wreck still lay in the Red Cross street dock.

After a general discussion of the matter, the Commissioners instructed the Clerk to quote to the Merchants and Farmers’ Steamboat Company, Rule No. 17, of the Port and Harbor Regulations, reading as follows:

“Should any hulk, raft, flat or other obstructive substance become sunken, from any cause, in the river, the same shall be immediately removed, under a penalty of Five Dollars for each and every day such nuisance shall remain, after notice from the Harbor Master, to be paid by the parties interested or concerned; and in case exertions are not immediately made for the removal aforesaid, the Commissioners may exercise their discretion of using other means of abating the nuisance, even to the confiscation or condemnation of such obstructions.”

The Clerk was further instructed to say to the Merchants and Farmers’ Steamboat Company that the Board had been very lenient about enforcing the above rule, in view of the most unfortunate casualty to the steamer City of Fayetteville, and the consequent heavy loss to the owners; but that the Commissioner felt that they were now bound to take a firm stand in the matter, because of their obligation to the commercial interests of the port as a whole, and that unless the wreck of the steamer City of Fayetteville be removed, on or before November 10, 1913, from its present position to a point where it will not interfere in any way with the river traffic of the port, the Board will be obliged to exact a penalty of $5 per day, provided in Rule No. 17, as long as the wreck remains an obstruction to navigation, and in addition thereto, to take such measures as may be found necessary to remove the obstruction, holding the Merchants and Farmers’ Steamboat Company liable for the expense of such removal.

There has been some complaint made to the Board recently concerning the noise made by gasoline boats in the harbor, when their engines are used without mufflers, this noise being

There being no further business, the meeting adjourned.

L. BROWN McKOY, Clerk.

[Wilmington Morning Star - November 6, 1913]

NOTES: I have not yet found the record of the raising of the City of Fayetteville. The Wilmington Morning Star issue for November 11, 1913 was missing. I have read through November 13, 1913. It may be that reading further will produce the raising report, or it may have been in the missing issue.

The sister vessel of the City of Fayetteville was the steamer C. W. Lyon, which burned on November 14, 1913. Capt. Henry W. Edge, was a mate aboard the Lyon at the time of her burning. He jumped overboard and was drowned. Capt. Edge had been the master of the City of Fayetteville at the time of her sinking.

In 1905, the original boiler(s) of the City of Fayetteville was/were replaced by that/those which were in the steamer Highlander, which burned in 1904. Interesting that the Highlander burned just a week after it was reported in the State (Columbia, SC) newspaper that she was unprofitable.

In 1914, a replacement steamer, the KENNEDY, burned on her way up the Atlantic Coast to the Cape Fear.


Variety of Matters Considered at the

Regular Monthly Meeting Yesterday Morning.

Wilmington, N. C., Dec. 3rd, 1913.

Regular monthly meeting of the Board of Commissioners of Navigation and Pilotage was held today at the office of the chairman, with the following present: Chairman James Sprunt, and Commissioners H. G. Smallbones and William St. George.

The reading of the minutes of the last meeting were dispensed with, they having been published in the newspapers at the time and read by the commissioners.

It is understood that the wreck of the steamer City of Fayetteville has now been removed, although not within the time limit prescribed (on or before November 10th), but in view of the fact that the Merchants & Farmers’ Steamboat Company worked on the wreck time and again trying to move it, and in consideration of their subsequent heavy loss through the destruction by fire of their other steamer, it is ordered that they be relieved of any fine….

[Wilmington Morning Star Daily – Thursday, December 4, 1913]

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