Very Local History: History Break at Greenfield Lake


Very Local History: History Break at Greenfield Lake

You might think Greenfield Lake is filled with water, but it is in fact filled with history. And that green stuff on top? Extra history. In this episode we fill out the backstory of Wilmington’s once and future playground.

Show Summary

The Beginning of Greenfield Lake

  • Rice plantations and North Carolina
  • Dr. Samuel Green
  • Roger Moore and Orton’s Plantation
  • The Civil War and the end of rice production

The McIlhenny Era

  • Thomas Cowan McIlhenny acquires the property around 1850
  • The sawmill
  • Renting rowboats

The 1920s

  • A carnival is opened, starts fencing in areas
  • Connection to downtown’s Bijou theater
  • J.E.L. “Hi Buddy” Wade, mayor, buys the property for Wilmington
  • The area is beautified
  • “Big Motor Boat Races”

The Great Depression

  • The “City Playground” takes shape
  • A pavilion island is built
  • Lion’s Club Easter egg hunt
  • The zoo
  • The WPA starts building a road around the lake

Post World War II

  • The mini-train and the Showboat
  • Lake sees decline
  • The amphitheater is built
  • Environmental concerns
  • The Cape Fear River Watch is founded in 1993
  • The Greenfield Lake Amphitheater is renovated in 2008

Wrapping up

  • Don’t feed the alligators
  • The two 400-pound lions


Metal giraffe installment at Greenfield Lake by Michael Van Hout

Metal giraffe installment at Greenfield Lake by Michael Van Hout


The Cape Fear River Watch offers kayak and other rentals at Greenfield Lake.

The StarNews has a writeup about Greenfield Lake on

The death notice for Thomas McIlhenny, in 1901.

A lot of history about the Bijou theater and its connection to the lake entertainment.

The photographs of Louis T. Moore document the life and times of “The City Playground.”

J.E.L. “Hi Buddy” Wade was mayor of Wilmington from 1889 to 1980.

The North Carolina Sorosis club has a strong historical connection to Greenfield Lake.

As does the Cape Fear Garden Club.

The Greenfield Lake Amphitheater’s website.

“Man bitten by alligator in Greenfield Lake.”

The City of Wilmington says: Don’t feed the alligators!

Begun, the alligator wars have.

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