The 110 People, Places & Events That Shaped WB
Story from Wrightsville Beach Magazine®, by Jules Norwood, Emily Brown, Cory Mac Pherson, Emily Russell and Richard Leder, January 2009.
This is a great and interesting read. Thanks to the authors! It’s obvious a LOT of work went into this effort: These are all their words. Enjoi.
On the occasion of Wrightsville Beach’s 110th anniversary, we wanted to do something special in the magazine that bears the name of our remarkable community. But no single story seemed able to hold the breadth, depth and living color of our history. There are simply too many wonderful people, places and events that shaped our town over the years. The answer presented itself at a brainstorming staff meeting: “What about a list?” we said. And so, with everyone in the office putting their minds to it, and with members of the community guiding us along the winding road, we happily and proudly present our 110-year retrospective of our beach, our friends, our neighbors and our town. Happy anniversary, Wrightsville Beach! And many more.
01 Incorporation of Wrightsville Beach
The Town of Wrightsville Beach was incorporated in 1899 to include “all that land known as Wrightsville Beach, and bounded by the Atlantic Ocean, Moores Inlet, Wrightsville Banks Channel and Masonboro Inlet,” as described in its original Act of Incorporation by the Legislature. Its officers were to include a mayor and two aldermen, appointed by the state legislature every four years. The first to serve were Mayor Samuel Northrop and aldermen William R. Kenan and Ernest Williams.
02 The Carolina Yacht Club is built in April 1853, making it the first structure erected on Wrightsville Beach.
03 In 1887, a charter is granted to the Wilmington Seacoast Railroad Company to build a track to extend from Wilmington all the way to WB, known then as the Hammocks. With rail transportation and a footbridge, development of the island begins to accelerate.
04 The Hanover Seaside Club, established in Carolina Beach in 1898, branches out to Wrightsville Beach in 1906.
05 Under the watchful eye of Mrs. Pembroke Jones, who insisted upon a natural garden, the landscaping of Airlie Gardens begins in 1901.
06 Beach trolley service from Wilmington to Wrightsville Beach begins in 1902 and continues until 1939.
07 Built in 1905, originally called the Hotel Tarrymore, and later named the Oceanic Hotel, this classic, impressive structure burns to the ground in 1934, along with most of the buildings on the northern end of the island.
08 Harbor Island Auditorium is built in 1916 with capacity for more than 2,000 people. Its torn down in the late 1930s.
09 Katherine Meier Cameron, born in 1918, learns to dance at Lumina where her parents are both dance teachers and goes on to become a professional dancer. She returns to WB and dances at Lumina until the last song is played.
10 Roberts Grocery first opens its doors in 1919.
11 In April 1920, a 700-foot-long steel pier is the first of its kind to be erected in southern North Carolina. In 1921, its destroyed by a storm.
12 The first surfer rides the waves in Wrightsville Beach using a wooden plank board in the early 1920s.
13 Lumina Pavilion
For many years, the brightest spot on Wrightsville Beach, and a hub of social activity, was Lumina Pavilion, opened on June 3, 1905. The Pavilion was built by the Consolidated Railways Light & Power Company to draw visitors to the beach and to encourage them to ride the trolley to get here. The original structure was 300 feet long and two stories in height, stretching from the high-water mark on the beach to within 20 feet of the trolley tracks. It was later expanded to include a larger ballroom, an orchestra shell and dressing rooms. Lumina was a place for music and dancing, and featured some of the most famous Big Bands of the times provided you came dressed in appropriate evening attire, else you would be quickly escorted outside. It even offered silent movies on a screen built in the surf. The WB landmark survived the Great Fire of 1934 and Hurricane Hazel in 1954, but was finally done in by the changing times and attitudes, and was demolished in 1973.
14 Babies Hospital, established and operated in Wrightsville in 1920 by Dr. J.B. Sidbury, is closed in 1978 and demolished, despite protestations, in 2004.
15 Shell Island, an African American resort, is built in 1923 by L.T. Rogers.
16 St. Andrews On-the-Sound Episcopal Church opens its doors in 1923.
17 In June 1926, Causeway Bridge is built, and the first automobile is allowed on the island.
18 In 1927, construction begins on the first housing development on Harbor Island Shore Acres.
19 On April 5, 1928, a beached sperm whale appears on the shores of WB and is too big to move.
20 Wrightsville Beach history buff Bill Creasy is born at the beach in 1928; he moves back for good in 1985 and has helped us keep track of WB history since then.
21 Shortly after the Wrightsville Beach fire of 1934, The Crystal Pier (formerly known as the Mira Mar Pier) is constructed.
22 Atlantic View, now known as Johnnie Mercers Pier, is built shortly after the Wrightsville Beach fire of 1934.
23 Waynick Boulevard is constructed during 1935 and 1936, after the automobile bridge is built.
24 Choosing to offer Consolidated Railway, Light and Power Company an easement instead of a right-of-way in the early 1900s, the Sprunt property reverts back to the family in 1939, leaving the “Sprunt Compound” intact to this day.
25 Wilmington native Claude Howell paints marine-themed pictures inspired by Wrightsville Beach, and becomes the first Tar Heel accepted into the Metropolitan Museum of art in 1940.
26 Lester Newells store evolves from a simple drink stand and sandwich shop to a much larger entity in the early 1940s.
27 The first WB post office opens in November 1941.
28 Wrightsville Beach changes from an old septic tank system to a “modern” sewage disposal system in 1944.
29 With seating for 388, the Crest movie theater opens at 18 N. Lumina in November 1946.
30 Blankheads Neptune Restaurant opens in 1946, is the only seafood restaurant for many years, and retains its popularity to this day.
31 The first dial telephone is installed on WB on July 24, 1947.
32 Wrightsville United Methodist Church holds its first service on Harbor Island in 1947 moving to its current location on Live Oak Drive in 1954.
33 Little Chapel on the Boardwalk holds the first service in its new location on Oxford Street in August, 1951.
34 Millard “Stinky” Williamson becomes sheriff of Wrightsville Beach on September 25, 1952.
35 Guardians of the Beach
The first lifeguards of Wrightsville Beach, employed by the hotels and clubs, kept watch over the beach from long surf boats anchored beyond the breakers. At the first sign of trouble, up came the anchor, and the boat raced to the scene, powered by the oars of six African-American men hired to assist in the lifesaving operations. A 1913 ordinance required the Hanover Seaside Club, the Seashore Hotel, the Carolina Yacht Club and the Oceanic Hotel to employ lifeguards and maintain a surf boat.
Today, Wrightsville Beach Ocean Rescue, a division of the towns fire department, protects beachgoers at Wrightsville. Under the supervision of program director Dave Baker, more than 25 lifeguards are employed each summer, manning 13 lifeguard stands, but only after competing for coveted spots on the team and undergoing a rigorous training regimen that includes a survival swim in conjunction with U.S. Coast Guard Station at Wrightsville Beach. The squad meets the highest standards of the United States Lifesaving Association, has earned high marks in national ocean rescue competitions and recently was recognized for its efforts to educate the public about rip currents and beach safety.
36 Harbor Island
The Hammocks, now known as Harbor Island, was a low-lying island of sand dunes and marshes. The first building on the island, the Island Beach Hotel, opened on July 1, 1888. In the summer of 1925, the owners of a number of small wooden structures tucked among the dunes were notified that they must remove the buildings. The Shore Acres Company had contracted the Calkin Dredging Company to place 350,000 cubic yards of soil on Harbor Island at a cost of $400,000, with the plan of creating 350 or more buildable sites. The residential neighborhood, Shore Acres on Harbor Island, was formally opened to the public on June 12, 1926 (bottom right).
Two days prior, on June 10, the ribbon had been cut to open the Causeway, a hard-surface road that ran parallel to the trolley line to Harbor Island by way of a 550-foot bridge. For the first time, motorcars rolled onto the island, 700 strong. The mayor of Wilmington had declared the day a holiday, and boat races in Banks Channel were followed by a celebratory banquet.
37 The Harbor Island Garden Club is founded in 1952. Still going strong, they have kept a watchful eye on the natural beauty of WB for 56 years.
38 Bryant Real Estate opens its first office in 1952.
39 In 1954, Johnnie Mercers pier is partially destroyed by Hurricane Hazel, only to be rebuilt and then completely destroyed in 1996 by hurricanes Bertha and Fran. In 1999, local marine contractors rebuild Johnnie Mercers as the states first all-concrete fishing pier. It opens to the public in 2002.
40 Wrightsville Beach Baptist Church opens its doors on May 16, 1954.
41 On Christmas of 1956, Santa brings Nancy Faye Craig her first bicycle.
42 Faircloths Cafe and Oyster Roast serves fine food until the late 1950s.
43 Television personalityJim Burns moves to Wrightsville Beach in the 1950s.
44 The Spot (current location of 22 North) entertains Wrightsville Beachers as a popular watering hole in the 1950s.
45 The Salisbury Bridge is constructed in 1958.
46 As a federal test site for conversion of seawater into fresh water, the saline plant is built in 1962, where the municipal park stands now.
47 The Surf Club is established in Wrightsville Beach in 1962.
48 July 1962: The first branch bank opens on WB Bank of Eastern North Carolina, which in 1970 becomes the Bank of North Carolina.
49 Wits End, “The Wits,” a Wrightsville Beach hotspot, attracts many visitors in the 1950s.
50 Beach Renourishment, known as the Shore Protection Project, is initiated in 1964.
51 The Blockade Runner Hotel (later the Blockade Runner Beach Resort) is built in 1964, replacing The Seashore Hotel.
52 On August 13, 1964, the WB Board of Aldermen passes the first surf zone ordinance. The fine for violating the ordinance is $50 and/or not more than 30 days imprisonment for each violation.
53 The Great Fire
On Sunday, January 28, 1934, a handful of year-round residents of Wrightsville Beach noticed smoke coming from the Kitty Cottage, a large summer boarding house. The Wilmington Fire Department responded, but the wheel-cart fire engine and bucket brigade were outmatched by a strong wind from the south that quickly spread the flames to the Carolina Cottage, the Oceanic Hotel and a number of private cottages.
By the time the flames had died down, everything north of the Trolley Lines Station One had burned, save for a small handful of cottages that were protected from the flying embers by the dunes or the bucket brigade. The Wilmington newspaper reported that 103 buildings were destroyed and estimated the property damage to be as much as $1 million a hefty sum at the time that would be easily eclipsed by the destruction of one beach home today.
54 Moores Inlet is closed in 1965, connecting Wrightsville Beach and Shell Island.
55T he Coast Guard station opens in Wrightsville Beach in August 1969.
56 Redix, WBs classic beach goods store, opens for business in 1969.
57 First string bikini appears on Wrightsville Beach in 1970.
58 On March 29, 1973, the Board of Aldermen awards a contract for the installation of 404parking meters.
59 Seapath Towers is constructed in 1974.
60 Atlantic Marine is established on Harbor Island in 1975. It remains family owned and operated to this day.
61 Jim and Diane Skiba open Sweetwater Surf Shop on July 1, 1976.
62 In 1976, B.C. Hedgepeth opens the first Trolley Stop at Wrightsville Beach.
63 The Wrightsville Beach boat ramp, operated and managed by the Wildlife Resources Commission, is opened in 1977, and most recently renovated in 1997.
64 Hurricane Hazel
The forces of nature conspired against Wrightsville Beach on October 15, 1954, when Hurricane Hazel made landfall with wind speeds approaching 150 miles an hour. The Category 4 storms arrival coincided with a high tide on a full moon, creating a storm surge that peaked a full 8 feet above the normal high-tide line. As many as 89 buildings, including the Carolina Yacht Club, were completely destroyed, and another 155 suffered major damage. Most of the islands fleet of fishing boats was left scattered high and dry in the roadway. For the second time in 20 years, much of Wrightsville Beach had been destroyed. The loss of property was estimated to exceed $7 million.
Hurricane Hazels path of destruction did not end after the storm made landfall. Its rapid forward movement carried it inland to Raleigh and north past New York, where a 113-mph gust remains the highest wind speed recorded in the citys history. Still at hurricane strength when the storm reached Toronto, Hazel collided with a cold air mass and dumped its remaining moisture, washing away entire neighborhoods.
65 The Heide Trask Drawbridge
Wrightsville Beachs only connection to the mainland, the Heide Trask drawbridge, was built in 1956 to allow passage for vessels on the Intracoastal Waterway while continuing to provide vehicle access to the island community. Two steel spans connect the mainland to Harbor Island by means of a massive concrete structure supported by 148 concrete pilings and 400 timber pilings. The bridge operators monitor VHF Channel 13 and open the bridge every hour on the hour, when needed, for pleasure vessels, and on request for commercial traffic.
The bridge was named for NC highway commissioner Heide Trask, whose daughter, Nell Trask Hooper, recalls her mother being the first person to walk across the bridge upon its completion and dedication.
In September 2007, the drawbridge caused thousands of dollars in damage to the mast and rigging of a cruising sailboat when it closed too soon as the boat passed through on its way south for the winter. Attention was again riveted on the bridge in June 2008 when thermal expansion necessitated the use of a fire hose to cool its steel spans and prevent them from becoming stuck.
66 The Wilmington YMCA holds its first triathlon at Wrightsville Beach in 1979.
67 Shortly after the fire that destroys the Doak Apartments in 1981, Wynn Plaza is dedicated to fireman Lt. Robert M. Wynn, who lost his life in the blaze.
68 Record Bar Pro-Am comes to Wrightsville Beach on September 18, 1983.
69 After renting on WB during the filming of Firestarter in 1984, legendary producer Dino De Laurentiis builds a home on Asheville Street in 1985-86.
70 The Municipal Complex, home of the WB police department, fire department and other public works and services offices, is put into service in 1984.
71 On April 11, 1985, the WB Board of Aldermen makes a historic commitment to annex theGalleria shopping mall on the mainland.
72 Frances Russ becomes first female mayor of Wrightsville Beach in 1985.
73 Wrightsville Dunes is built in March 1986.
74 The WB Merchants Association forms in 1987, grows like sea oats, transforms into the Chamber of Commerce in 1989, and re-emerges in 2004.
75 Causeway Caf opens its doors in February 1987.
76 Wrightsville Beach School
When Wrightsville Beach School was built in 1953, it offered, for the first time, a community school for families that lived at the beach year-round. Students could walk or bike to school the children of the era report that they had free run of the beach town, as long as they were home when the streetlights came on. There was one class for each grade, first through sixth, says current principal Pansy Rumley. The first principal, John Bridgman, was also the sixth-grade teacher. There was a custodian and a lunchlady, but no secretary. The students took turns on phone duty they could hear the phone ring from their classrooms, and when it did, the student on duty would leave class to answer the phone and take a message.
Now, Wrightsville Beach School has an enrollment of 292 students and a staff of 14 teachers for kindergarten through fifth grade. It is widely acclaimed for its marine science program, a hands-on curriculum that includes kayak trips into the marshes of Wrightsville Beach to study the flora and fauna of the coastal environment.
77 Vitos Pizza opens in 1987.
78 Dune Ridge is built in December 1988.
79 On June 28, 1990, the “Barstow, Calif 2,554” sign on Interstate 40 is unveiled in Wilmington, signifying the completion of NCs first (and currently only) major east-west Interstate corridor, effectively bringing all of the USA to WBs doorstep.
80 Motts Channel Seafood opens in May 1990.
81 On April 7, 1990, the Oceanic Restaurant opens its doors.
82 Wings arrives in the old Newells building in 1992.
83 The first million dollar home, located at 2626 N. Lumina Avenue, is sold on January 29, 1993.
84 The Wrightsville Beach Sea Turtle Project, a program to monitor the nesting of sea turtles, is started in 1994 by Stephanie Carter.
85 In 1996, Wrightsville Beach Museum moves from 124 S. Lumina Avenue to its current location in the renovated historic Myers Cottage.
86 Though there has been a marina on the property for as long as anyone can remember, the Wrightsville Yacht Club, established in 1996, is home to some of WBs most outstanding vessels.
87 Wrightsville Beach suffers the wrath of Hurricane Fran in 1996.
88 In 1997, the East Coast Wahine championship becomes the first all-female surfing competition on the East Coast.
89 UNCW builds an aquaculture plant for marine biology research and education at Wrightsville Beach in 1997.
90 On Easter weekend, 1997, South Beach Grill opens.
91 Castles and Scoops, a sandcastle building challenge presented by the Childrens Museum of Wilmington, hosts its first event in 1998.
92 Marine Max arrives on Harbor Island in March 1998.
93 The oceanfront Holiday Inn SunSpree Resort is built in 1999.
94 The Wrightsville Beach Long Board Association is founded on August 3, 1999, by Hall of Fame surfer William Curry.
95 Palm Tree Island emerges in early 2000. Known as “The Diminishing Republic,” it remains a popular low-tide destination for boaters in the know.
96 Wrightsville Beach Magazines premiere issue is published in December 2000.
97 N.C. Holiday Flotilla
Years before I-40 connected the capital to the coast, or an annual triathlon drew thousands of visitors to Wrightsville Beach in the late fall, business at the beach quickly ground to a halt each year after Labor Day. A dedicated group of residents decided to create an event that would draw a crowd to the beach late in the year, and thus was born the NC Holiday Flotilla, first held in 1984.
Those pioneers envisioned a community-wide festival that would soon become a time-honored holiday tradition. It started with a handful of boats, a few strings of lights, a flourish of fireworks, and a cornucopia of fruit baskets and ringside seats for the sponsors. Today, the weekend-long event brings more than 50,000 people to Wrightsville, not only for the popular lighted boat parade and fireworks, but also for parties, an appearance by Santa and Mrs. Claus, an old-fashioned Town Hall tree-lighting ceremony, the Day in the Park festival and a car show. The 25th anniversary of the event in 2008 featured an expanded fireworks display, dozens of decorated boats, and special appearances by Miss North Carolina, Mrs. North Carolina, Miss Teen North Carolina, major league baseball star Trot Nixon and U.S. Congressman Mike McIntyre.
98 The Loop
Its a place to exercise. Its a place to see and be seen. And its a place for a procession of pets that would be the envy of many a kennel club. Its the John Nesbitt Loop, simply “the Loop” to most. The 2.47-mile sidewalk circles Wrightsville Beach Park along Causeway Drive and Salisbury Street, making use of both bridges over Banks Channel, and promenades through the downtown area alongside North Lumina Avenue.
Former public works director John Nesbitt saw the need for residents to be able to walk to and from the post office safely, and he and his employees began the construction of a sidewalk during their slow months using undedicated funds. Built in bits and pieces, the Loop was originally dedicated on Jan. 9, 1992. In 2006, the Board of Aldermen named the walkway the John Nesbitt Loop and unveiled a sidewalk marker honoring his contributions to the town.
Visible and accessible from the Loop are Harbor Way Gardens, Lees Nature Park, the Wrightsville Beach Museum of History and Visitors Center, Kenans Creek, Banks Channel, and a variety of restaurants and shops.
99 World-renowned Wrightsville Beach Surf Camp is founded in 2001 by Rick Civelli.
100 In May 2002, the first Lumina News hits stands with the headline: Worrell 1,000 visits Wrightsville Beach.
101 During the winter of 2001-2002, construction begins to reroute Mason Inlet 2,500 feet north of its original location. The new Mason Inlet is opened on March 7, 2002, and the old inlet is closed by March 14, 2002.
102 A home located at 813 S Lumina Avenue is sold for $2,100,000 on April 20, 2003.
103 A $3,000,000 home, located at 18 E. Fayetteville is sold on June 16, 2004.
104 The first Pro-Am Surf Tournament on WB takes place in July 2005.
105 On December 23, 2005, thousands ofdead Menhaden fish mysteriously line the shores of Wrightsville Beach.
106 Surfers Healing comes to Wrightsville Beach on September 14, 2006.
107 In Fall 2006, Middle of the Island, known far and wide as MOI, closes its doors after being a local hotspot for 47 years.
108 On April 3, 2007, a $4,500,000 home, located at 122 Parmele, is sold.
109 Destination Wrightsville, WBs ultimate travel guide, is published in June 2008.
110 Named a historic location, The Glenn, a much-loved WB landmark established in the late 1930s, is torn down in the spring of 2008.
Without question, WB has been home and host to many outstanding people, places and events that have shaped our community over the years. If we missed one thats important to you, send a note to email@example.com, and well continue the list in an upcoming issue.
Special Thanks: Sylvia Holleman, WB Town Hall, Jeff Schlatter, Bill Creasy, Susan Taylor Block, Beverly Tetterton and Joseph Sheppard of the New Hanover County Public Library North Carolina Room, LuAnn Mimms, curator of the Wrightsville Beach Museum, Pansy Rumley, principal Wrightsville Beach School, Bernard Carroll, Lawrence Lee, Ace Cofer, Randy Williams and Michelle Clark.