On May 13, 1830, Zebulon Baird Vance was born in the Reems Creek area of Buncombe County. Raised in Asheville, Vance studied at the University of North Carolina. After setting up a law practice in Asheville, he launched his political career. Known for his personality and oratorical skills, Vance served as a state senator, U.S. congressman and governor.
Initially an opponent of secession, Vance cast his lot with his state and region after President Abraham Lincoln’s call to arms. Vance raised his own company and was later elected colonel of the Twenty-Sixth Regiment.
Though the war raged on, politics was never far from Vance’s mind. The Conservative Party selected the popular colonel as its candidate for governor in 1862. The election resulted in an overwhelming victory for Vance, who, at 32, became the youngest chief executive in state history.
On his birthday in 1865, Vance was arrested in Statesville by federal cavalry as he attempted to flee the approaching Union army. He was imprisoned in Washington, D.C., for two months. No charges were ever brought and he was eventually released.
On May 13, 1961, Vance’s 131st birthday, the Gov. Zebulon B. Vance Birthplace State Historic Site in Weaverville was dedicated and opened to the public.
Other related resources:
- Examining Letters of Zebulon B. Vance, North Carolina’s Civil War Governor, a lesson guide from North Carolina Historic Sites
- Historical images of governors from the State Archives
- Biographies of North Carolina’s governors on NCpedia
- Governors of North Carolina from N.C. Historical Publications
On May 12, 1876, North Carolina’s first Jewish synagogue, the Temple of Israel, was dedicated in Wilmington. The Jews of Wilmington were part of the second wave of immigrants who arrived in the United States from Germany, and they worked primarily as artisans, merchants, and storekeepers. In 1855, Jews set aside a Hebrew section of Oakdale Cemetery in the city. As the community grew in the mid-1800s, the Jews in the area began to need a house of worship.
The initial plans for a synagogue were interrupted by the Civil War. About 40 families came together in 1872 to set plans for the church. Soon after they affiliated with the Union of American Hebrew Congregations. A local chapter of B’nai B’rith, a Jewish service organization, was founded in 1874. Samuel Sloan of Philadelphia was retained as the architect and plans were developed for a distinctive building in the Moorish Revival style. Construction began in 1875 and was completed the next year.
Rabbi Samuel Mendelsohn presided over the dedication in 1876. He went on to lead the Temple of Israel congregation until 1922. Eric Meyers, director of Duke University’s Center for Judaic Studies, said of the synagogue, “It represents one of the high points of Southern Jewish culture.”
On May 11, 1898, in battle at Cárdenas, Cuba, Ensign Worth Bagley of Raleigh became the first naval officer and first North Carolinian killed in the Spanish-American War. The sinking of the USS Maine on February 15, 1898, led to a declaration of war on Spain by the United States. North Carolina met President William McKinley’s call for troops by establishing three regiments.
Born in Raleigh in April 1874, Worth Bagley graduated at the United States Naval Academy in 1895. He achieved the rank of ensign in July 1897, and, in November, was appointed inspector of the new torpedo boat Winslow. When she went into commission the next month, Bagley became her executive officer. In April 1898, the Winslow was mobilized, with the fleet, for operations in Cuban waters.
On the morning of May 11, the ship went with two others to force open the entrance to the harbor of Cárdenas. The Winslow was fired upon by a Spanish gunboat and a battle ensued. The ship was disabled and was hauled out of range of the Spanish guns. Just as the engagement ended, Bagley and four sailors were killed by a shell.
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On May 10, 1949, the Morehead Planetarium opened on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill. It was first planetarium in the South, the first planetarium on a university campus and the sixth planetarium to be built nationwide.
The planetarium was primarily a gift of John Motley Morehead III, an 1891 graduate and founder of Union Carbide Corporation. Construction took 17 months and cost $3 million, making the building the most expensive in the state at the time. It was supervised by Harvard astronomer Harlow Shapely and designed by the architects who worked on the Jefferson Memorial.
From the late 1950s to the late 1970s, the planetarium became a hub of NASA’s astronaut training program. The facility was used primarily to help astronauts learn to navigate by the stars in case computerized navigation systems failed. The program ended largely because of advances in the technology of those navigation systems.
In 1973, the planetarium added an observatory with a telescope managed by UNC-Chapel Hill’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, and, in 1984, it became one of the first planetariums in the nation to use computer animation in its shows.
For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day, subscribe by email using the box on the right and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.