Posted By Norman Gasbarro on July 25, 2011
In the Lower Cape Fear area of North Carolina is a mansion and plantation with a direct connection to the Civil War and to the Lykens Valley area. The painting shown above was completed in the 1970s by Elizabethville, Dauphin County, Pennsylvania, artist Leah [Radel] Weaver.
Leah Weaver began painting shortly after she married Ned Weaver during World War II in Madison, Wisconsin, and was one of the early members of the Millersburg Art Association and also was a member of the Harrisburg Art Association. Leah had a strong interest in history as well as art and was one of the original members of the Gratz Historical Society where she was active for many years. She was also a member of the Antique Automobile Club.
Leah’s interest in history was shared by her husband Ned Weaver. Most of the biographical and historical sketches of Civil War soldiers that appear in A Comprehensive History of the Town of Gratz Pennsylvania were researched and written by Ned. In addition, he has given several talks on the Civil War at historical society meetings. Those talks are available in the video resources of the Gratz Historical Society Library.
Ned’s career in the garment manufacturing industry took him to the south in order to meet requirements of clothing contracts for his factories, one of which was located in his hometown of Elizabethville. Leah often accompanied him on those trips. On many occasions Ned and Leah would tour historic sites – particularly those related to the Civil War. Over the years, Ned took many pictures of southern plantations and their stately homes – from Natchez, Mississippi, to Tidewater Virginia, and from North Carolina to Tennessee. Leah took a special interest in painting the plantation scenes – particularly the homes. After visiting the sites, Leah would refer to Ned’s pictures to complete the paintings. Ned does not recall how many mansion home paintings she produced during those years – perhaps, too many to count. In time, the paintings got dispersed – sold or given away – and only one is remaining in Ned’s possession – the one of Orton Plantation shown above.
Orton Plantation is located near the southernmost part of North Carolina in an area known as Lower Cape Fear. The town of Brunswick is the closest community. The history of the plantation goes back to Colonial times with interesting stories of Indian raids and buildings being destroyed. At one time the plantation was owned by Col. Maurice Moore, a colonial governor and father of Supreme Court Associate Justice Alfred Moore. In 1826, the home that was built there was purchased by Dr. Frederick Jones Hill who kept it in his possession through the Civil War until January 1865. Union soldiers then confiscated the house and plantation and used it as a headquarters and military hospital.
In an effort to replace many of the soldiers in the 103rd Pennsylvania Infantry who were lost in the final days of fighting in North Carolina before the Appomattox surrender in April 1865, a second Company G of the 103rd Pennsylvania Infantry was formed with many of the recruits coming from the Lykens Valley area. That replacement company was mustered in in Harrisburg, March 1865 and immediately sent to the coastal area of North Carolina. Meanwhile, the final Confederate holdouts were resisting surrender in the inland areas of North Carolina and Gen. William Sherman was sent to get peace terms from the rebels. The coastal area was filled with the sick and wounded as well as refugees, deserters, prisoners of war, and Union soldiers who were awaiting discharge. Company G of the 103rd Pennsylvania Infantry spent much of their service time acting as military police. They were eventually mustered out in June 1865. Whether any of the members of Company G actually spent time at Orton Plantation is not known – but all the plantations in the Cape Fear area most likely saw some use by the military, so similar situation were likely encountered by the Lykens Valley area soldiers no matter where they were stationed in North Carolina.
Today, Orton Plantation is on the National Register of Historic Places and receives thousands of visitors each year. Changes were made to the buildings of the Civil War era but the original section of the main house looks much like it did during the Civil War.
Leah [Radel] Weaver died 3 February 2008. She was survived by her husband Ned, and two sons and their families, and two sisters and a brother. The painting of Leah (above) was done by Ethel Hottenstein of the Millersburg Art Association as a tribute to her on the occasion of her 50th birthday. Her husband Ned continues as a volunteer for the Gratz Historical Society, now working on the comprehensive name index for the soon-to-be-published history of Lykens Township. Ned also is an ongoing contributor to the Civil War Research Project.
Pictures of the paintings shown above were provided courtesy of Ned Weaver. Some of the information on Orton Plantation was taken from Wikipedia.