The Museum of the Albemarle will open its newest exhibit, I Do! Weddings in the Albemarle, 1831–2015, on June 27, 2015. The stunning exhibition focuses mainly on the bride and her dress, but it also includes tailcoats, top hats, trousseaus, shoes, purses, photographs, and other wedding-related items. A special “Wedding Experience” interactive space will allow future couples a chance to plan their dream wedding.
Four sets of outfits worn by brides and one groom are on exhibit in this first section. The blue wool wedding suits of Ida P. Weston and William T. Berry highlight this era. The couple married on February 27, 1884. William and his brother Alexander formed the Berry Company, a mercantile enterprise in Swan Quarter that provided everything from wholesale lumber to funeral services.
The white silk dress embroidered with seed pearls worn by Margaret A. MacKeel when she married Joseph C. Meekins on February 22, 1911, is also on display. The couple met in 1908 and were engaged on July 31, 1909. The ceremony took place at the MacKeel residence in Columbia. The long-lace and dotted Swiss dress, worn by Hattie Creef during her wedding to Cecil Linwood Griffin on June 29, 1915, in Mt. Olivet Methodist Church, Manteo, is the third outfit featured in this section. Hattie’s father, George Washington Creef Jr., designed the famous sharpie Hattie Creef.
(Images courtesy of Photography by Jill, Jill Koch)
DRESS and TROUSSEAU PIECES (left), 1921 Lillian St. Clair Perry of Strawberry Hill Plantation in Chowan County wore this pussywillow satin gown when she married Lloyd Turnage on June 22, 1921. She carried the silk seven-piece trousseau set, featuring hand-painted flowers and vines, with her on the honeymoon. Tailors professionally trained in the French hand-sewing method stitched the trousseau and features.
MACKEEL/MEETING WEDDING (right), 1911 Margaret A. MacKeel and Joseph C. Meekins married on February 22, 1911. Margaret wore the white silk dress embroidered in seed pearls during the ceremony that took place at the MacKeel residence in the Tyrrell County, NC town of Columbia. The couple met in 1908 and became engaged on July 31, 1909.
A dress and a seven-piece trousseau set are the final objects in this section. Lillian St. Clair Perry of Strawberry Hill Plantation near Edenton wore a pussywillow satin gown when she married Lloyd Turnage on June 22, 1921. She carried a silk trousseau set, featuring hand-painted flowers and vines, with her on the honeymoon. Tailors professionally trained in the French hand-sewing method stitched the trousseau and features.
Bias-cut attire made up early 1930s fashion, along with evening gowns and dresses influenced by cinema and current events. Suits proved popular during the Great Depression, and dresses became simpler during World War II. The early 1960s offered the silhouette style with long hair and pillbox hats and “shortie” gloves. Victorian and Edwardian styles reappeared. Formality and rituals gave way to the loose and simple in the 1970s. Dresses of the 1980s followed the trends of Princess Diana (from Great Britain) and the TV show Dynasty with wide shoulders, puffy sleeves, and rich, decorative bodices.
Twenty-first-century brides are returning to formal traditions while incorporating their own fun, eco-friendly, nontraditional ideas. Brides select different color choices, lengths, and trimmings. Gowns with V-necks, silky cowl necks, and lace elbow sleeves are surfacing. Brides who marry in casual settings such as summer outdoor weddings want shorter dresses. Modern-day traditions with historic flair include finding your dress at a local clothing drive. Styles of the past are coming back to the present.
Four dresses will be on exhibit in this section for the first rotation. Sisters Alma and Ruth Blanchard both married their respected fiancés at a double wedding on July 31, 1937, at Gatesville Baptist Church. The brides wore matching cream lace (Alencon) overdresses with stand-up collars, covered buttons, and short puffed sleeves. Alma wore the displayed dress as she wed Marion T. Plyler Jr. In 1930, Alma earned a degree in education from the University of North Carolina for Women, now UNC at Greensboro. She taught in Greensboro and Ahoskie. Marion was a doctor.
In the same case as Alma’s dress will be the wool two-piece suit that Sarah P. Sawyer wore at her wedding to Asa B. Phelps Jr. in Windsor on October 30, 1943. Sarah was the daughter of Windsor’s town doctor, graduated from UNC–Chapel Hill in 1941, and later became a novelist. Asa served in Company G, 30th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division, during World War II. He died in 1945 in a French hospital from shrapnel wounds. The last dress for this section will be one borrowed from Melissa Turmel. She wed Joshua A. Turmel on the porch of the Museum of the Albemarle on May 4, 2013.
All dresses listed in these sections will rotate out with different textiles for the year 2016. Rotations include a 1914 cream satin dress worn by Evelyn L. Aydlett, of Elizabeth City; a 1928 flapper-era dress worn by Louise W. Whitehurst, of South Mills; the white summer dress selected by Doris Baker, of Elizabeth City, in 1948; and the dress worn by Claire F. Love, of Elizabeth City, in 1952. In addition, the dress and accompanying hat with veil that Sonja J. Spruill wore in 1981 at her Roper wedding and the Christian Dior designer dress worn by Holly Hunter in the 1991 film Once Around also will be on display in 2016.
Who Could Forget the Accessories?
The exhibit features women’s bridal accessories, including veils, headdresses, garters, stockings, trains, and shoes. Martha Ann Murray wore a pair of silk stockings during her wedding to James W. Adams Jr. in 1831. Born in Kingston, Massachusetts, in 1806, James moved to Hyde County prior to the marriage. By 1850 he possessed sizeable holdings worth over $4,000 and owned seven slaves by 1860. Martha was a descendant of Francis Cooke, who arrived at Plymouth, Massachusetts, on the Mayflower in 1620. Joyce F. Boyce wore a pair of white gloves when she married Bobby R. Lassiter Sr. on August 19, 1966. These gloves are among the few accessories she had on that day. Bobby later served in the army during the Vietnam War and retired in 2002 from Lipton Tea. His bride retired from Gates County Schools as a cafeteria manager in 2004.
What the Men Wore
The exhibit has plenty of men’s garments and accessories. William T. White wore a cotton-embossed, patterned vest adorned with “damasklike” woven roses at his wedding to Axey N. Morgan in 1849. During the Civil War, the Whites’ Pasquotank County home burned during the 1863 raid of the region by Union general Edward A. Wild. The suit worn by Carl E. Causey at his wedding to Georgia Wilder on September 25, 1912, is also on display. Wilder was the daughter of William R. Wilder and Frances E. Donner, a survivor of the Donner party. Frances’s mother, Tamsen Eustis, came to Elizabeth City in 1825 to teach at Elizabeth City Academy. She married Tully Dozier, of Camden County, and later George Donner, of Rowan County. In 1846 the Donner family traveled with others to California, where a number of individuals suffered loss of life during the trip. The tailcoat worn by Ammon J. Scott Sr. at his wedding to Annie Cartwright on December 27, 1899, at the First Baptist Church in Elizabeth City will be in the same case as the above two outfits. Ammon was a salesclerk at a local hardware store.
Stories Behind the Graphics
The use of graphics in the exhibit also tells those special wedding moments. An image of John W. Fisher, of Currituck County, and his wife, Fannie, tells the story that with only seven dollars in his patched pants pockets at the time; John borrowed money to marry Fannie on May 3, 1883. John scraped by as an agent for steamboat companies that provided service from Norfolk, Virginia, to Elizabeth City before establishing himself in the mercantile business.
JOHN W. FISHER and FANNIE M. FISHER, 1883
(Image courtesy of Gladys Grantham Fisher and John Fisher)
With only seven dollars in his patched pants pockets at the time, John borrowed money to marry Fannie on May 3, 1883. John scraped by as an agent for steamboat companies that provided service from Norfolk, Virginia, to Elizabeth City before establishing himself in the mercantile business. The Fishers were from Currituck County, NC.
A large-scale image borrowed from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts depicts Lake Drummond Hotel in 1830. Couples from Virginia would often travel to North Carolina to marry due to the lower age requirement. Situated on the Dismal Swamp Canal, the Lake Drummond Hotel, referred to as the “Halfway House,” was a known location to elope. A certificate dated 1903 also will be shown. The date marks the 20th anniversary of the wedding of Joseph H. Gordon and Martha Ann Miller Gordon. Born in 1861, Joseph was the son of Sarah Robbins and Henry C. Perry, a free black cooper. Prior to 1920, the Gordons moved to Elizabeth City, where Joseph taught school. A studio photograph in 1945 shows newlyweds Marie Bennett and James Allen Diggins having their picture taken in Norfolk, Virginia. The couple resided in Creswell after the wedding. Marie’s grandfather, Darious “Ross” Bennett, was enslaved at Somerset Place.
Some couples had only one image taken of them during their lifetime. For Albert Saunders and Eliza Ann Chappell that was a crayon, or charcoal, portrait made soon after they were married on December 11, 1873. Utilizing a creative element popular in the late 19th century, the artist embellished photos with material such as charcoal. The Chappells were members of Piney Woods Friends Meeting in Perquimans County. The wedding of Rebecca “Tempie” Vann and Joseph E. Brittle Jr. on February 28, 1914, in Conway is remembered by a painting of the couple scanned for the exhibit. Tempie was the great-great-granddaughter of Francis Deloach, who fought in the American Revolution.
ALBERT and ELIZA SAUNDERS, 1873, Perquimans County, NC
(Image courtesy of Vivian White)
This crayon, or charcoal, portrait, made soon after Albert Saunders and Eliza Ann Chappell were married on December 11, 1873, is one of two images of the couple. Popular in the late nineteenth century, the artist embellished photos with material such as charcoal. Both were members of Piney Woods Friends Meeting.
The Present Day
Not all of the graphics or artifacts on display are historical. Images can be seen of the vintage, yet modern, rustic decorations for the Jessica A. Johnston and Chad Tyler Auten wedding and reception at Pembroke Hall in Edenton on April 26, 2014. The couple met in Pharmacy School at UNC–Chapel Hill. Jessica hails from Plymouth, whereas Chad grew up in Huntersville. Another modern-day example is a collage of images depicting a “Jumping the Broom” ceremony in 1993 at Somerset Place in Washington County. Michelle Riddick and Alfhonso Hudson exchanged vows while incorporating traditions such as Jumping the Broom into their ceremony. In addition, Jamie and Zachary Higgins allowed the museum to borrow and display beach-related decorations from their wedding reception on August 2, 2014, at Glen Cove in Pasquotank County. The couple met while working at a local fitness center and later was engaged on Jamie’s birthday.
Come and visit the Museum of the Albemarle, located on the waterfront in downtown Elizabeth City, to learn more about this exhibit and others. I DO! Weddings in the Albemarle, 1831–2015 will run until December 2017.
JARVISBURG COUPLE, 1928, Currituck County, NC
James C. Bowser and Annie M. Case wed on April 15, 1928, in Norfolk, Virginia. Both persons were from city of Jarvisburg in Currituck County, NC. James worked in Norfolk at the time of the wedding.
IDA and WILLIAM NIXON, ca. 1886, Gates County, NC
Ida Gordon and William Nixon, Jr., married at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Hertford, NC, on Dec. 30, 1886. This silk quilt, believed to be part of Ida’s wedding trousseau, was pieced together in a traditional Log Cabin pattern. The squares form a dramatic repeating pattern of dark and light rows. The couple’s initials, the year 1886, and flowers embroidered in a satin stitch appear in a square position in the quilt’s center.
DIGGINS COUPLE, 1945, Washington County, NC
(Image courtesy of Regina Diggins Bryant and Reginald Diggins)
Marie Bennett and James Allen Diggins had their wedding moment captured in a photography studio in Norfolk, Virginia. The couple resided in Creswell after the wedding. Marie’s grandfather, Darious “Ross” Bennett, was a slave at Somerset Place.