Cape Fear Meat Packing Plant
Navassa, North Carolina
The old and haunted Cape Fear Meat Packing Plant is no more. In its stead, speeding cars will traverse the final leg of Interstate 140, the Wilmington Bypass.
This region saw a great deal of industrial growth in the late 19th and early 20th century as the South tried to resurrect itself following the Civil War. Business was booming so much so that even the title banner of the local paper, The Wilmington Morning Star, is set on a background of industrial buildings, a ship and a locomotive. Wilmington—just across the marshes of the Cape Fear River—was a booming industrial town at that time.
Navassa saw growth from its connection with a small, uninhabited island between Jamaica and Haiti called Navassa Island. The turpentine industry, which was supported by the huge swaths of pine trees in the region, sent much of its product to the West Indies but had nothing to fill the ships returning, until huge amounts of guano—bird and bat excrement—were discovered on this tiny island. In North Carolina, the first fertilizer plant opened in this area in 1869 with other plants opening in turn. Around these plants, the community of Navassa grew up.
An editorial in 1917 praised the building of the new meat packing plant in Navassa and hailed the coming of a new industry to the region, “a new opportunity as broad as North Carolina.” The editorial continues with all the verbose pomp of the era:
We make obeisance and acknowledge allegiance and loyalty to King Cotton and Lady Nicotine, but they have not yet established a capital of one iota of the magnitude and grandeur of any of the swineopolitan centres [sic] of the livestock and grain domain. We simply mention this is order to emphasize the possibilities in energetically and practically promoting the livestock and packing house industries as a potential means of making Wilmington the Chicago of the South. [The Wilmington Morning Star, 9 December 1917]
The editorial also notes that the new meat packing plant was expected to be completed the next year.
This plant was built for the Cape Fear Meat Packing Company which opened on the heels of the Carolina Packing Company which opened a plant in Wilmington just a few short months before the Navassa plant opened. The Cape Fear Meat Packing Company was formed by G. Herbert Smith in partnership with his son in law, Walter L. Griffith. With its opening, the plant rode of a tide of optimism, the company did not survive very long. On May 14, 1921, G. Herbert Smith was found dead in the bathroom of his home. From his untimely death, ghost stories began to swirl.
Most legends pointed to Smith’s death as being a suicide, though the newspaper account the day after his death indicates his death was accidental.
There were many reports current during the afternoon that he had committed suicide, but these were scouted by friends of the family who were familiar with the circumstances. There is every indication, friends state, that he was preparing to take a bath, either upon his arrival early Saturday morning, or later in the day when getting up, and that he was overcome by escaping gas from a water heater. The coroner declared there was nothing to indicate, insofar as he could learn, other than that death was accidental. [The Wilmington Morning Star, 15 May 1921]
Smith was found in the bathroom of his home in Wilmington clad in underwear. He had returned from a business trip to Richmond, Virginia and wasn’t feeling well. His body was discovered by his wife who had noticed the gas fumes coming from the bathroom.
The Cape Fear Packing Company lingered on for a few years after Smith’s death, declaring bankruptcy in October of 1922. Just before the turn of the new year, the company was purchased by the Southern Packing Company, which used the plant as a slaughterhouse. Recent articles indicate that the plant was closed a short time after that, though contemporary papers do not seem to indicate when the plant closed.
For decades, the structure sat abandoned gathering graffiti, curious teenagers and ghost stories. Among those stories, it was said that Smith had committed suicide within the building by hanging. For decades, this was noted as the only death associated with the building, besides the legions of pigs that had been slaughtered there. In 1982, one of the curious teens attracted to the building fell to his death from atop the concrete building. A 2006 article from the Wilmington Star-News, quotes Navassa mayor Eulis Willis as believing that many more deaths could be associated with the building.
While the building is almost universally acknowledged as being haunted, there are no published stories regarding the site. I’d most definitely like to hear locals or investigators familiar with the site as to what the activity was.
For now, the sad history of the haunted slaughter house has come to an end.
- Navassa Island. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 20 April 2014.
- Navassa, North Carolina. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 20 April 2014.
- “An Opportunity as Broad as North Carolina.” The Wilmington Morning Star. 9 December 1917.
- “Progress That Makes the Way for More Progress.” The Wilmington Morning Star. 17 June 1917.
- “Southern Packing Corporation Absorbs Cape Fear; Plant Here to be Merged with Old Carolina.” The Wilmington Morning Star. 29 December 1922.
- Spiers, Jonathan. “Former meat packing plant, said to be haunted, gives way to Wilmington Bypass.” Port City Daily. 17 April 2014.
- Tatum, Crystal S. “Haunted histories.” Star-News. 18 October 2006.
- Wilmington, North Carolina. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 20 April 2014.
- “Wilmington Shocked By Sudden Death of Prominent Citizen.” The Wilmington Morning Star. 15 May 1921.