Burgaw History

Burgaw is a railroad town that owes its very existence to the Wilmington & Raleigh Railroad Company that routed its tracks across the Burgaw Creek, where a small cross-roads trading post had heretofore existed. 

In October, 1836, the work was begun on the tracks of the Wilmington & Raleigh Railroad, later to be called Wilmington & Weldon and Atlantic Coast Line/Seaboard Railroads. The original company was chartered in January, 1834, and when the last spike was driven on March 7, 1840, this railroad line was the longest in the world, 161½ miles. 

“In January, 1854, the post office department began to call this location, Burgaw Depot. The small trading post had heretofore been called simply “Cypress Grove.” The depot is the oldest in the state circa 1850 and is part of the North Carolina Civil War Trail. 

“During the Civil War, the Wilmington & Weldon Railroad served as a life-line of the Confederacy. It carried fresh troops to the battlefields and brought back the sick and wounded. Military supplies and foodstuffs were carried from the port of Wilmington to the fighting fronts in Virginia, etc. The depot at Burgaw saw much of the activity during the duration of the war.” The railroad and its depots quickly fell to the Union forces after the surrender of Wilmington on February 22, 1865. The interior of the warehouse still bears the charred scars of a Union cavalry attack in 1863. In 1865, the depot was a Confederate headquarters for retreating generals and their troops for weeks after the fall of Fort Fisher and Wilmington.  It also became the holding site for six thousand or more prisoners of war for over a week in February 1865 while a massive prisoner exchange was negotiated in Richmond and Washington, D.C. The Depot was a vital communications center. 

PenderCounty was separated from NewHanoverCounty in February, 1875, the last of 100 counties to be formed in North Carolina. “W.H. James, a civil engineer, who was employed by the Wilmington & Weldon Railroad, examined the land lying between the railroad tracks and Burgaw Creek, and reported it to be a good place for the town and well situated for drainage.” 

“On February 6, 1876, the Wilmington & Weldon Railroad Company deeded a plot of land to the Pender County Board of Commissioners for the establishment of the town and for the construction of the new courthouse.” 

The town of Burgaw was incorporated by an act of the North Carolina General Assembly (Private Laws, Chapter 23) on February 25, 1879, and on December 8, 1879, the name of the post office was changed from “Burgaw Depot” to just plain “Burgaw”. 

Even with such a rich historic past, the town still possesses modern facilities for education, industry, and medical care, along with Pender County’s government offices. Burgaw offers educational opportunities from preschool to continuing education for adults; the town contains several preschools, BurgawElementary School, BurgawMiddle School, and a CapeFearCommunity College campus, all located within the town limits. PenderHigh School is located just minutes outside of town on NC Highway 53 West. The town also provides intermediate health care services, including several doctors’ offices and PenderMemorialHospital, part of the New Hanover Regional Medical Network. Burgaw is also the home of the Pender County Courthouse. 

*Source: History of Burgaw, N.C., Centennial Edition

By Bill Reaves, 1979