north carolina highway historical marker program
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program
 

 
 
 

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Essay:
      Wilmington’s Hugh MacRae, beginning in 1905, recruited immigrants to southeastern North Carolina for resettlement in six agricultural colonies. Using his funds as capital, MacRae set out to recreate the close-knit rural communities of Europe. Three of the six colonies were successes. In order of significance they were: Castle Hayne, Dutch settlers; Saint Helena, Hungarians; Marathon, Greeks; New Berlin, Germans; Van Eeden, Dutch; and Artesia, Poles. Van Eeden took its name from Frederik Van Eeden, a Dutch writer and physician.

           Among MacRae’s advisers was Alvin Johnson, a native of rural Nebraska, an economist, and director of the New School for Social Research in Manhattan. As the Nazi cloud descended over Europe, Johnson proposed to MacRae to revive Van Eeden, which had foundered not long after its establishment in 1909. Johnson created the Alvin Corporation to facilitate the emigration of Jews from Hitler’s Germany, some of them directly from camps at Dachau and Buchenwald. MacRae received $50,000 for the tract. Financier Bernard Baruch provided $2500 startup money. Each family was promised one acre, a cottage, and a cow. Four families joined the community in the fall of 1939 and another four in the spring of 1940. More followed.

           Problems emerged soon. Resettlement of urban sophisticates to rural North Carolina did not go smoothly. As Leonard Rogoff has written, “Burgaw was not Berlin.” Max Wolf, the first settler, had a vineyard in Germany but most were professionals. Arthur Flatow was an architect; Hubert Ladenburg held a doctorate in economics. With few agricultural skills their crops suffered. And there were snakes and mosquitoes. They made the best of a bad situation. Felix Willman brought his opera records. Children of the settlers walked five miles to the nearest school, at Penderlea. And settlers quarreled amongst themselves to the point of irritating Johnson.

      By 1943 the settlement was abandoned, homesteaders moving to other opportunities in Wilmington as war commenced or to the Northeast. In 1994 Susan Taylor Block interviewed one of the settlers in New York. Paula Willman said, “I owe so very much to Dr. Johnson and Mr. MacRae—words are too poor for it.”


References:
Susan Taylor Block, Van Eeden (Lower Cape Fear Historical Society, 1995)
Charles W. Riesz, Jr., Tar Heels in Wooden Shoes: Dutchmen, Daffodils, and Dairies in 20th-Century North Carolina (2012)
Melissa Bentley, “The Van Eeden Settlement: Alvin Johnson’s Attempt to Rescue Jewish Refugees and Turn the Tide of American Opinion in Favor of Jewish Resettlement” (UNC-A senior thesis, 2003)
Leonard Rogoff, Down Home: Jewish Life in North Carolina (2010)
UNC Library Shalom Y’All exhibit: https://digitalresearch.lib.unc.edu/exhibits/show/shalom_yall_jewish_south
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north carolina highway historical marker program


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