HAMLET — Members of the city council were left scratching their heads earlier this month after City Manager Marcus Abernethy brought out a long-lost plaque which seemed meant to dedicate a city park to the memory of a man with an unfamiliar name who is referred to as “Founder of Hamlet.”
After briefly introducing the matter to the council, Abernethy jogged out of the chamber and returned with the memorial marker with the words “John Shortridge Memorial Park” embossed on it, asking whether anyone present knew anything about the man or the marker.
Mayor Pro Tem Johnathan Buie had to Google Shortridge’s name.
“I found something right here,” he said after a short wait. “It says on Historic Hamlet he was from England and it does say he’s the founder.”
Local historian Tom MacCallum, in an email to the Daily Journal, provided additional information.
For one thing, Shortridge is the “great-grandfather of the late Catherine Monk of (the) Richmond County Daily Journal.” According to Monk’s obituary, she died on Feb. 25, 2011 and “was the great-great-granddaughter of John Frank Shortridge, the founder of Hamlet.” Monk was a Richmond County journalist for more than 54 years.
What MacCallum verified about Shortridge was that he was born in Carlisle, England, in 1818. Twenty years later, he immigrated to the U.S. where he settled in Rhode Island and married Mary McQuiston. The family moved to Rockingham, where Shortridge worked in manufacturing in the mill industry.
After Union Army troops burned the mills Shortridge was affiliated with, including ventures he’d begun on his own, he moved to Sand Hill Depot, also called Sandhills. He built an iron foundry with a business partner, and also built and operated a “woolen mill” and a saw mill on Mark’s Creek.
MacCallum explained Shortridge’s settlement was known as Shortridge’s Mill until 1873 when the family planted a sycamore tree in the area and christened their little village “Hamlet.”
“In my native country of England,” Shortridge said, “a cluster of houses is called a hamlet, a few more houses a village, and still more a town, and many, a city. I believe that this will soon be a hamlet.”
When asked whether any council members or other city employees had delved further into the matter or made strides toward solving the mystery of the parkless plaque, Abernethy said the going has been slow.
“We still have not found out when (the plaque) was made,” he said. “I imagine it was made some time back, maybe five or ten years ago. We discovered this plaque in a box — the same box it was delivered in. And we don’t know this to be officially correct, but the consensus of the group seems to be that it would have been dedicated at the city lake, had it ever been placed.”
For now, the plaque’s destination will have to remain a mystery.
Reach reporter Melonie McLaurin at 910-817-2673 and follow her on Twitter @meloniemclaurin.