Transcript of Mayor J.P.Hatem’s Weather Tower Update
July 28, 2020
A Historical Perspective
Before there was CNN, text messages, cell phone news alerts, the Weather Channel or Jim Cantore, there was Jessie Stevens Taylor and the Southport Weather Tower.
These Weather Bureau Storm Signal Towers, also known as Coastal Warning Display Towers, were ordered by the administration of President William McKinley in 1898, to be built so as to implement a hurricane warning system for ships. Dozens of these towers were built along the U.S. Coast, including Southport’s, in 1900.
Jessie Stevens began her career as a “cooperative observer” in March 1900. She became Jessie Stevens Taylor in 1909, marrying C. Ed Taylor, an attorney and civic leader in Southport, including serving as the first chairman of the Board of Trustees of Brunswick County Hospital –now Dosher Hospital-which opened its doors June 2, 1930. So Southport had a Weather Tower 30 years before it had a hospital.
Mrs. Taylor served from 1900 until her passing in 1961. Her greatest challenge as a weather observer would not arrive until 1954. “According to a post-storm report from the Wilmington office of the U.S. Weather Bureau, ominous clouds appeared the morning of October 14th. The barometer fell steadily during the day and the rain squalls began around 5 p.m. By 10:30 p.m., a heavy storm swell was breaking on Wrightsville Beach. Hurricane Hazel hit with 140 mph winds at the North Carolina South Carolina State Line at 10:00 a.m. Friday morning, at high tide, as a category 4 storm. The weather bureau report said Jessie Taylor of Southport spent the night telephoning warnings to people along the coast.”
I can hear the voice of Jessie Stevens Taylor, through the wind and the blowing rain, and the dark of night and the early morning dawn: “Hurricane approaching, Southport take cover, protect your family, secure your boat, say a prayer.” And after receiving word from the Weather Bureau office, in Wilmington, of the impending Hurricane Hazel, I can see her, this 76 year old matron of Southport, fly these large hurricane flags—red background with a black square—onto the metal tower on the grounds of Fort Johnston. It has been written that in her later years, her grandchildren, the sons of her daughter Margaret Taylor Harper, Jimmy and Ed Harper, their father, James Harper, Jr., the publisher of the State Port Pilot, would help their grandmother hoist the various weather flags.
On February 23, 1955, Mrs. Taylor was “honored by the Weather Bureau for heroism during the passage of Hurricane Hazel on October 14—15, 1954. During the passage of that storm she stayed up all night to make reports to the Weather Bureau and to warn citizens of the approach of Hazel. As a result, no lives were lost in Southport, although there was much damage to its waterfront.”
In April 1955, Mrs. Taylor received a Letter of Commendation from President Eisenhower:
The White House
April 9, 1955
Dear Mrs. Taylor,
I have learned from Secretary Weeks of your long and devoted service as a cooperative observer for the Weather Bureau. In providing regular reports during the past fifty- five years on the weather conditions in your locality, you have made an important contribution to the work of the Bureau and to the welfare of your fellow Americans.
Along with congratulations on your outstanding record, I send my thanks for your very unselfish service.
With best wishes,
Signed Dwight Eisenhower
Mrs. Taylor was presented with a Silver Medal for Meritorious Service—warning about the approaching Hurricane Hazel-by the Under Secretary of Commerce, in Washington, D.C. Nineteen people died in North Carolina, but none in Southport. Mrs. Taylor saved lives.
A memorial monument to Jessie Stevens Taylor, on the grounds by the Weather Tower:
Mrs. Jessie Stevens Taylor
She loved her God, Country and Fellow Man. Served here as a Voluntary Weather Observer and as Storm Warning Display Woman from 1900—1961.