Joseph Hawley came to Wilmington with his wife in 1870 from North Carolina, presumably as a freedman.
He soon became active locally and made his mark in several ways. Most evident was the “Midland Block” constructed on the west side of South Street between Main and Sugartree Streets.
The Block contained three storefronts (about 80 feet wide), was built of brick and was three stories high (it still stands and appears to be in fine condition, but is only partially used). The building contained some 40 rooms including a parlor, dining room, an office plus several stores, a bar and billiards room.
The Midland Hotel utilized most of this space, but several other businesses moved into the structure after its completion in 1879. On the same piece of land was an ice house and a livery stable. (Hawley’s name and the date of construction are clearly visible on the third-floor façade)
An issue of the Wilmington Journal in 1888 highlighting successful businessmen in Wilmington and contained two lengthy articles about Mr. Hawley. One of these concerned the Midland Hotel and the other focused on the man.
With reference to the hotel was the following: “No town in the State can have a better hotel than the Midland, as is attested by the number of traveling men who make it a point to spend Sunday in Wilmington.”
One could say that Hawley was “celebrated” in these essays; it is evident that the hotel was frequented by both races. Newspaper articles comment on the fact that the space in front of the hotel was often used by groups to gather for a variety of activities and celebrations.
From all indications, this Block functioned as the town center. A few steps away was the post office and inside the building one could get a shave and haircut at the BON TON Shaving Parlor, eat at the restaurant and use both the telephone and the telegraph exchanges which were housed there.
There was also a pharmacy with a pharmacist, a clothing store run by two men, a grocery store with a wide selection of goods, a feed store, and local produce was also sold there. If one wished to purchase a train ticket, and there were several passenger trains traveling through town each day, that could be done in the confines of the hotel.
Finally, in 1887 “A large blackboard has been placed on one of the walls of the reading-room and quotations from New York stocks and Chicago markets are received and displayed every few minutes.” (Like the previous Black History Month article, the material for this article comes from the local newspaper).
Hawley was also an active member of the Republican Party and served the group in several capacities. He was voted on the city council for some seven years and served on several committees and offices.
Although I have not been able to confirm this, it is evident that the street between Grant and Walnut is named after him, Hawley Avenue.
In the summer of 1887 Hawley was able to single-handedly bring the only African American battalion in the state to the Clinton County Fair Grounds on West Main for a six-day encampment. It was composed of companies from Columbus, Springfield and Xenia and included some 325 men.
The Wilmington Journal observed, “No regiment has ever camped here and our citizens will no doubt take a great interest in its daily drills and the routine duties of soldier life.”
Joseph Hawley was a very ambitious man!
Neil Snarr is Professor Emeritus of Wilmington College.