WHITE OAK — The momentum gained over the past few years, and especially the past several months, to improve activity and refurbish the grounds and buildings at Harmony Hall Plantation Village came screeching to a halt last week with the resignation of numerous key individuals.
The resignations came following a joint meeting of the Harmony Hall Plantation Board of Directors and Bladen County Historical Society that was full of debate, innuendo and finger-pointing.
The fallout from the meetings was the resignations of at least four Harmony Hall board members that included President Seth Lewis, Field Marshal Bobby Lewis, Secretary Sunday Allen and Madison Garner. In addition, alternate board members Becky Martin and Scott Lewis resigned, as did non-board members Lenny Moore, the blacksmith, and Jim Perry, the grant writer.
Harmony Hall was being run, since July, by a 10-member board, and is now being ruined by two people,” said Bobby Lewis. “I thought we were past all this, but …”
The two he was referring to are Directors Maureen Thompson Bell and Harry LaRock.
Prior to last week’s joint meetings, Bell passed out a written statement pointing out her concerns about how the Harmony Hall group was being run. Included in that statement discussed the process of renaming the new Tar Heel Ferry Road Bridge after Revolutionary War Col. James Richardson, the builder and founder of Harmony Hall Plantation.
“There have been no meetings, official or unofficial, to my knowledge, allowing members of either organization an opportunity to voice their opinions or vote on this important matter,” she said. “It is my belief that Mr. (Seth) Lewis has acted on his own.
“I also find it extremely offensive, not only to myself but every citizen of Bladen County and their honorable ancestors, that Mr. Lewis apparently felt he was the only individual qualified to determine whose name is worthy of being honored for their contributions to Bladen County by having the Cape Fear River Bridge at Tar Heel named after them,” she added.
Seth Lewis defended his actions, first admitting that he’s “not a committee-oriented person,” adding that his efforts were aimed at getting the preliminary work started before taking it to the full board.
“And there really are no better names to suggest for that area, since we know Col. Richardson’s plantation included the land where the bridge is located or was just east of of it,” he said.
But when a vote was called for to rename the bridge, it was defeated.
Another concern for both Bell and LaRock brought up at the joint meeting was the apparent lack of minutes and financial reports.
“We simply asked for a full disclosure for minutes and financial statements,” Bell said. “We actually had to ask for a vote, which is ridiculous. We should be given those things regularly.”
Tony Parnell gave those in attendance last week a treasurer’s report, but did not have printed copies available and did not know exactly how much money Harmony Hall was taking in through memberships or donations. Parnell has previously stated that, once the financial books were up to date, he would also resign his position on the board. Also, Allen, as secretary, was not able to attend the meeting, so Seth Lewis said no updated minutes were available.
The ripple effects of the meetings and resignations — Treasurer Seth Lewis, Bobby Lewis and Garner all also resigned from the Historical Society board — have put a number of activities in question and caused specific sub-groups to move elsewhere.
According to Bobby Lewis, the Backwoods Militia has taken its headquarters from Harmony Hall to Bladenboro and the Harmony Hall Bible Study group will also be moved to another location under a different name.
“The bridge renaming has been halted and the Sunday activities at harmony Hall are, as far as I know, in limbo,” he said. “And as for the Battle of Elizabethtown, I’m not sure yet, but Sunday Allen and myself will be meeting with Mayor Sylvia Campbell and (Elizabethtown-White Lake Chamber of Commerce executive director) Dawn Maynard soon to discuss it.”
Bell also said she is unsure what the future holds.
“I just don’t know what direction it will all go. Each entity will have to meet and decide how to proceed,” she said. “There have been no meetings scheduled yet (but) I just hope the drama can end.”
For now, anyway, both Seth and Bobby Lewis say they have removed themselves from the situation.
“I’m through with it — at least until it takes a different direction — because we’ve been fighting this for too long,” Seth Lewis said. “At 73, it’s just another predictable progression of things over the years. But the pendulum swings back and forth, and I hope it will swing back again.
“I feel like I’ve raised a family out there at Harmony Hall, since they have all spent a lot of time there over the years,” he added. “It’s a near and dear part of me.”
Bobby Lewis said he is also disappointed with what’s happened, but that a day could come again where he’s involved once more.
“We’ll see,” he said. “It’s hard to say for sure right now, but there are hopes.”
Until an opportunity presents itself to return to Harmony Hall, Seth Lewis said he plans to get involved in other areas of Bladen County history — such as promoting and publicizing the Revolutionary War-era Battle Of Brown Marsh in Clarkton.
“It was an American patriots’ loss, and hasn’t been very publicized, but 25 local men were taken prisoner and I think it’s an important part of our local history,” he said. “So I’d like to see that brought to life.”
Also moving forward is Bell, who said she is keeping something her grandmother always told her close to heart.
“She always said that, no matter what, always protect your honesty and integrity,” Bell said. “Just do everything above board, and that’s what I’ve been trying to do.”
W. Curt Vincent can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.