Monday, August 11, 2014

NC Oak Island and Cape Fear River mouth 8/10/14

     Welcome to Oak Island / Caswell Beach NC.  The tip of this island marks the southern edge of the mouth of the Cape Fear River.  

    Oak Island is so called because it does have a large section that has hardwood forest on it, as compared to the last three islands which had nothing more than scrub and palmetto trees.

     This island is more of a community island, also making the break from the heavily visited tourist islands we have seen for the last 100 miles.  There is some architecture that looks a lot more like New England that a southern beach town.

 Here is a photo from 1889 of the Oak Island Lifesaving Station.

     Lighthouses had been constructed here starting in the late 1700's, but still many mariners got in distress in the tricky waters at the mouth of the Cape Fear River.  In fact, early inhabitants wanted it called "Cape Fair," but because of the difficulties navigating the inlet the name "Cape Fear" prevailed.  It was these many boats that found trouble that drove the locals to put this crew of life-savers together.

     That house I showed above that I said looked almost New England in style?  That is on the National Historic Register of places, and was the "Life Saving Station" built in the 1800's.

     On the end toward the river there is a large coast guard station.

     Oak Island Lighthouse marks the way to the river, and when it was built in 1958 at 153 feet, it was the brightest lighthouse in the United States - and the second brightest in the world, second only to a French lighthouse on the English Channel.

     This is the first island I have seen that names its walk-ways to the beach - complete with an official looking sign.  They are all named after individuals - but I didn't find any explanation as to whom the individuals were.

     Usually we see the effects of erosion on these barrier islands, but on this one there is clear evidence of sand deposits.  Here is a walkway that now leads into a sand dune.

     In the few miles we have traveled from Myrtle Beach, we have gone from this . . .

Myrtle Beach

. . . to this.  

     The very end of the island is gated off, with signs that say it belongs to the North Carolina Baptist Church. I saw a lot of houses there - but it didn't appear to be anything worth the trouble of getting through the gate.

     Heading back to the mainland and just up the coast a bit, we arrive at the town of Southport.

     The town of Southport is bound on three sides by open water, making it a quite picturesque place.  In fact there have been dozens of movies filmed here.

    In the photo below, Oak Island is the strip of land on the right side, and just out through the center you can see Bald Head Island that sits way out in the mouth of the river.  On the left is Battery Island, a small atoll.

     Numerous forts were constructed here over the centuries - many because of the need to protect the area from pirates.  Below is the outline of the one that was built in the mid 1800's.

     This fort sat on a hill overlooking the wide vista we saw above.  This house was used by military brass until just a few months ago when the city took it over.  It is being transformed into a museum, with many exhibits already in place.

     Several docks are available for community use.

     And a number of restaurants overlook the various waterways.

     There are also a number of marinas around the peninsula.  This is a quaint town - I would think that this and Oak Island would make a great vacation spot if one is looking to be a bit away from the herd and still be able to enjoy the full range of marine water sports.

     Just up the river a few miles we find the Brunswick Town and Fort Anderson Historic Sites.  This is a free site to visit.

     Site Manager Brenda Bryant was a big help here, and I was lucky enough to catch here at a slow time.  She explained in detail much of the older cultural history of the area.

     There is a very interesting footnote to history here.  In the early 1660's some folks settled here and named their colony Charles Town.  The settlement was disbanded a few years later, and in 1670 another "Charles Towne" was established about 160 miles south.  There is evidence that many of the settlers from here made that move further south - a fact that is lost in all of the Charleston history I have read.

     On the property there are the ruins of St. Philip's Church, built in 1754.  The British burned in during the Revolutionary War, along with the Governor's Mansion that sat just a few hundred yards up the bank of the river.

St. Philips Church

Governor's Mansion

     The rebels in this area initiated a large part of the Stamp Act Rebellion in 1765, and thus the British were more than a bit harsh when they had a chance to retaliate here.

     There is also a museum with many displays of colonial life and life in the 1800's and civil war era in the museum.  One of the unique displays deals with the history of the torpedo.  There are several examples of torpedoes from the 1800's.

     The one I have never heard of was called the "Coal Torpedo."

     The Coal Torpedo was simply a black rock hollowed out and filled with explosives.  This was then hidden in coal piles that would be used in the enemy's boats.  They were highly feared by ship's captains.

     Another display that is unique is a variety of door hardware pieces from the 1600's and 1700's.  Also are many displays of ordinary household items from those time periods.

     Back outside, there is an ample wooden walkway that runs the better part of a mile, through Civil War mounds out to where the original colony of Brunswick Town was built.

     Archaeologists have excavated a number of the foundations of the original settlement.  The town was razed by the British in the Revolutionary War and was not rebuilt after.

     Through inspection of the foundations and careful review of old documents, folks here have created very realistic renditions of what each house looked like.  These likenesses are on signs alongside each foundation, accompanied by a bit of history on the owners of the house.

     Several other items are displayed outdoors, and there is ample pavilion and picnic table space here.  It is a place with a nice mix of various artifacts that are presented well.

     And today's parting shot - Bing Crosby Ice Cream.  Who would have thunk it?  

Have a great Monday !!

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