Culture,  Lifestyle,  Bookshelf

Beyond the Pages: Robert Ruark’s Southport

By C.V. Cherry

Southport is located in Southeastern North Carolina in Brunswick County, on the South Carolina border. Southport is known for seafood, a nice vacation spot, and being along the banks of the Cape Fear River. There are several landmarks to enjoy including the Old Brunswick Jail, Fort Johnston Southport Museum, and the River Pilots House. Another landmark is the Adkins-Ruark House, more commonly known as The Robert Ruark Inn, made famous by North Carolina author Robert Ruark in The Old Man and the Boy articles that appeared in Field and Stream and later compiled in book form. The Robert Ruark Inn is now a Bed and Breakfast, painted in its original yellow and located at 119 North Lord Street, within walking distance to downtown Southport and several local attractions.  

The Robert Ruark Inn was owned by Ruark’s maternal grandfather, Captain Edward Hall Adkins, and was built around 1890. Ruark would write about his adventures with the Old Man, an amalgamation of Captain Adkins and Ruark’s paternal grandfather, Hanson Kelly Ruark. The stories would usually end with The Old Man instilling insight, wisdom, and sometimes hard lessons for the Boy.

Ruark writes about his childhood and the features that can still be seen in Southport. Whether it is the pier, the waterfront, or the Whittler’s Bench, which Ruark called the “cedar bench,” one can almost see the Model T Ford in front of the Robert Ruark Inn. I can see the oak trees in the yard and imagine young Bobby, as Ruark was known then, planning a fishing trip, quail hunt, or a duck hunt with the Old Man. 

Ruark spun tales from the 1900’s that were familiar to me even growing up in the 1970’s, and still ring true to me now in the 2020’s. It is rural Eastern North Carolina, and the smells, sounds, and visuals strike a mental chord and I am transported back to my own upbringing. Ruark tells of learning gun safety as a young boy in the field, shooting and eating wild game, oyster roasts, and cooking fish over a fire in the sand. Then as now, The Old Man taught conservation and hunting. “That’s enough,” The Old Man said, “we got three a piece,” regarding shooting quail.

The Old Man would disperse with wisdom in the parlor of the house or in the field. The parlor is a beautiful room, and the time I visited the Robert Ruark Inn I could almost smell the pipe tobacco and hear the Old Man as he waxed forth eloquent.  

Ruark describes Christmas lunch to the point where you can visualize the hustle and bustle of the preparation of the food. The smells of wild turkey and waterfowl and venison cooking on a wood stove conjures up the sense of the smokey goodness of the feast about to be laid out.

“Miss Lottie, my grandma, was a fair hand with a stove, and between the smell of what she was cooking, the smell of the evergreen, and the smell of the strange Yule specialties that you never saw at any other time of the year, the house literally trembled with odor.”

“Miss Lottie would have a couple of big fruit cakes, under way since about September, cakes as big as mill wheels, full of dark green citron and fat raisins and candied cherries and juicy currants, and soaked in enough brandy to get you giddy on a slice of it.” 

“For the holidays you had oranges which never appeared at any other time, and whose oily hides added an extra pungency to the society of odors.”

“The smells of this stuff mixed with the wild turkeys that were cooking slowly, being basted by old Galena, the cook, and the saddles of venison that somebody was dripping wine and jelly onto, and the wild ducks taking it easy in the bake pan with carrots and onions and slices of apple- perhaps the quail frying for the breakfast meal, to help the ham along.”

By virtue of my job as a Special Agent with the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation (NC SBI), and being assigned to state wide units, I was able to visit Southport on several occasions. One day I had extra down time and stopped by the Robert Ruark Inn. Luckily there were no guests in that day. The manager took me a on tour of the house. What I remember most is walking up the steps to the second floor. Once at the top of the stairs, I turned left, and the first room on the right was Bobby’s bedroom, the room Ruark stayed in when visiting the Old Man. I savored every moment of the impromptu tour and imagined the future newspaperman and bestselling author spending his time here.

The Robert Ruark Inn is a beautiful home now, as I am certain it was then, when The Old Man and the Boy roamed Southport and the surrounding Brunswick County countryside and waterways seeking their coveys of quail and flocks of turkeys and ducks and oysters and crabs and fish to eat in feasts fit for a king.

My reference materials for this article were and “The Old Man and the Boy.” I highly recommend the Robert Ruark Inn as a nice destination for a getaway and a chance to learn about North Carolina history. If you’re an outdoorsman or outdoorswoman and enjoy hunting, fishing, and tales of a simpler time that seems to be ever fading, “The Old Man and the Boy” is a must read.

If you are interested in planning a trip to Southport, North Carolina you can visit the cities website 

To learn more about author Robert Ruark and see items from the authors life please visit the  Southport Visitor’s Center and Museum.

Picture of C.V. Cheery

C.V. Cheery

is a retired law enforcement officer and is originally from Eastern North Carolina. Cecil grew up on a tobacco and hog farm and still loves the rural life. He enjoys waterfowl, upland, and big game hunting. He loves the idea of field to plate and enjoys cooking and eating all of his harvests and cannot wait until the next hunt.