• Carolina Beach in 1897 – A Delightful Ocean Resort

    from: The Wilmington Messenger, August 22, 1897

    The Wilmington - from 'A Colonial Apparition, A Story of the Cape Fear', 1898 – by James Sprunt

    The Wilmington – from ‘A Colonial Apparition, A Story of the Cape Fear’, 1898 – by James Sprunt

    Carolina Beach, as a seaside resort, has great advantages, as reported in The Wilmington Messenger, dated August 22, 1897. The best proof of this is that it is visited by thousands annually. It has become the Mecca of excursion parties.

    In the summer of 1896, the steamer Wilmington, which conveys passengers to the beach from Wilmington, sold, as it is shown by its returns to the inspector of steamboats, 32,000 round trip tickets.

    During this summer since the opening in May, 1897, to the present date, the steamer Wilmington, has taken up, in round numbers, 48,000 round trip tickets.

    Of these, Captain Harper estimates that one-half were visitors from the Wilmington area and one-half were visitors from other section of North Carolina and other states, and this number of tickets does not represent the whole number of persons carried, for no charge is made for children under the age of 10 years, and there are thousands of these that annually visit the beach.

    One might write volumes in description of Carolina Beach, and yet could write nothing that would praise in higher terms the attractions of this resort than this simple recital of facts.

    Opened in 1885
    Carolina Beach and Captain John W. Harper are associated together in the public mind. Previous to 1885, he commanded the steamer, Passport, plying between Wilmington and Southport, and during the summer months, carried many excursion parties and passengers down the river.

    Capt John Harper

    Capt John Harper

    He conceived the idea of a seaside resort on the ocean beach, with a railroad across the narrow peninsula lying between the ocean and the river, there to connect by steamer with the City of Wilmington. He organized the New Hanover Transit Co., which constructed the railroad, and located the resort at the lower end of Masonboro Sound immediately on the Atlantic Ocean.

    He named the place Carolina Beach and in the summer of 1885 the resort was first opened to the public. The little steamer, Passport, the pioneer in this river excursion parties, now out of service, is pleasantly remembered in association with the beach. From the first the resort was a favorite. At first, patronized chiefly by the Wilmington people, it has since grown into larger proportions and now includes in its frequent visitors people from all sections of this and other states.

    How Reached – Steamer Wilmington
    Steamer WilmingtonThe steamer, Wilmington, runs between Wilmington and the river pier, conveying passengers and freight. It is a comfortable, swift, and commodious steamer, designed especially for her present character of transportation.

    She is in length 135 feet, breadth 23 feet, tonnage 110 net, double decked, compound engines, and is allowed by the United States steamboat inspection service to carry 600 passengers a trip.

    She can carry 2,000 passengers a day, as she makes five trips daily. The steamer is owned and commanded by Captain Harper. He likewise owns a controlling interest in the beach and the railroad across from the river to the ocean. To this fact may be ascribed, for he is a man of executive capacity and experience, the safe, smooth, and easy system by which the large crowds are handled.

    Captain Harper has had an experience of twenty-one summers in handling passenger steamers on the Cape Fear. In this time he has never lost a day in the service, nor ever had an accident on any of the boats under his command. He commands order and requires of his crew and passengers a courteous consideration for the pleasure, comfort and rights of the many who travel under his care.

    Sail Down the River

    The visitor boards the steamer, Wilmington, at her pier, in the City, the foot of Market Street, and the steamer having cast her moorings he finds himself swiftly gliding down the river, which is a broad and beautiful stream, passing on either side scenes of historic interest and natural attractiveness.

    The sea breezes, which sweep up the river, refresh and invigorate, while passing ships, steamers, tugs, both domestic and foreign, which ply along the river, engaged in local, domestic and foreign commerce, enliven the scene, as the steamer speeds on to the pier of the New Hanover Transit Co. – a distance down the river of about fifteen miles.

    New Hanover Transit Company

    Shoo-fly Train at Carolina Beach

    Shoo-fly Train at Carolina Beach

    At the pier of the New Hanover Transit Co., which is the river terminus of the railroad running between the river and the Atlantic, Ocean, in length three miles, the passenger is transferred to the railroad car, and after a few moments ride on the train through woodland scenery, he is landed at Carolina Beach, in jumping distance of the great ocean.

    He has made the trip from Wilmington in one hour and fifteen minutes.

     

    from 'A Colonial Apparition, A Story of the Cape Fear' – by James Sprunt

    from ‘A Colonial Apparition, A Story of the Cape Fear’, 1898 – by James Sprunt

    Its Location
    The site of Carolina Beach has been well selected. The hotel, pavilions and cottages are all situated on the beach, fronting the ocean. There is a stretch of twenty miles of beautiful beach. It is wide, hard, smooth and slopes gently to the ocean, extending northward to Masonboro Inlet, which divides this beach from the beach at Wrightsville, and southward as far as the celebrated Fort Fisher.

    Behind the cottages lay the waters of the lower end of Masonboro Sound, which affords delightful still water bathing and opportunities for fishing and sailing; back of the site are pine groves, water oak and woodland scenery.

    It is within one-half of a mile of what is known as Camp Wyatt. Here in the Civil War the Confederate soldiers stood guard of the coast defenses. As one looks out upon the Atlantic, he sees the wrecks, still two or three blockade runners, which failing in their attempt to run into New Inlet and escape the blockade, were destroyed rather than permit them to pass into the hands of the enemy.

    Carolina Moon Pavillion NHC Library - LT Moore Collection

    Carolina Moon Pavilion c. 1907
    NHC Library – L.T. Moore Collection
    Click

    Its Advantages and Pleasures
    It is perfectly healthy, for the land upon which it is situated is dry and well drained. The visitor breaths only the pure air of the ocean. The sea breezes make it always cool and refreshing. The surf bathing is rendered comparatively safe by the gentle slope of the beach.

    To say that the ocean water is better here than elsewhere on the coast might strike an inland man as exaggerated. The fact is, however, the water of the ocean further south is too warm and insipid; farther north it is chilled and one can remain in it but a few moments. The temperature of the water here, as along this Carolina coast, is neither to warm or too cool; it has a delightful temperature.

    It is nothing for surf bathers to remain in the surf for an hour, with impunity, and as in this time one is undergoing continuous active exercise, accompanied by the pleasure of bathing, the benefit is greater than where his bathing is made necessarily short by the discomfort of the water. there are all the facilities, of course, for surf bathing and protection to bathers while in the enjoyment of the sport.

    There are splendid opportunities for fishing either in the ocean or in the sound, and sailing, either over the smooth waters of Masonboro or the rolling billows of the ocean. The sheep-head, drum and sea-trout are the fish usually landed by the sportsman. The beach excellent facilities for driving and bicycling, and is a play ground for the children of endless interest and amusement to them. All the pleasures of the sea are here.

    Oceanic Hotel
    Bill-Reaves-Carolina-Beach-The-Oceanic-Hotel-Rocks-May-15-1893The Oceanic Hotel is kept by Mr. R. A. Jenkins. It is the rendezvous of excursion parties. The proprietor does not undertake to serve Delmonico meals, but one may have at all times well served sheepshead, soft shell crabs, shrimps and, in season, oysters, as well as all the delicacies that come out of the sea. The hotel comfortably accommodates a limited number of transient boarders.

    Cottage Life
    There are forty private cottages at Carolina Beach, owned by residents at Wilmington, Charlotte and elsewhere. The housewife has comparatively little trouble in keeping house. Merchants of Wilmington send daily to the cottages for orders and deliver goods at the door. The fisherman and truckers deliver in like manner fish, game and vegetables. Water is supplied by water works and sanitation provided in modern methods.

    The cottage life of this resort is one of the most agreeable and peculiar features. The afternoons and evenings are spent in many kinds of social enjoyment and in the interchange of hospitalities between the cottagers. Time passes among them, not in the nervous and enervating excitements of fashionable life, but in the quiet, peaceful life and occupation suggested by the fresh air and natural environments of the place.

    The management reserves at all times the best of order, although there are few temptations to invite on the part of anyone the least disorderly conduct, and as a result of the excellent decorum alike among permanent and transient visitors, there is a feeling in the cottage life of security and protection that lends additional pleasure to the resort.

    Of course, one is not here out of the world, as the newspapers are delivered to him by 7 o’clock in the morning and there are two mails a day each way to Wilmington.

    Its Future
    Carolina Beach is no longer an experiment. It is an assured success. Every year has marked an increase in visitors. The coming years will show it’s still greater development. Captain Harper realizes that another year will be under the necessity of running two instead of one boat to the beach. There is in contemplation the erection of a fine club house in another year. Enlarged hotel facilities will come. The prospect of this pioneer of seaside resorts along the Cape Fear shores is destined to become one of the famous resorts of the Atlantic seaboard.


    [Feb. 2015: This article’s text was originally published in the May 1997 – FPHPS Newsletter (pdf)]Walk of Fame - Harper Marker

    [Bill Reaves provided FPHPS with this story from ‘The Wilmington Messenger’, August 22, 1897 · Page 12]

    (Editor’s Note, 1997:  Bill Reaves, a long time supporter of our Society and a foremost historian of the Cape Fear area, has recently completed Volume III of the History of Southport, the most recent of a long line of publications to his credit. Bill is a regular contributor of materials from his extensive research. The Southport Historical Society has declared June 1, 1997, to be ‘Bill Reaves Day’)

    A noted historian, Mr. Reaves was involved in over fifty local history publications and genealogical abstracts, covering New Hanover, Brunswick, Pender and Duplin counties. A charter member of the Southport Historical Society, he wrote a remarkable four volume history of Southport. He was the author of Strength Through Struggle, The Chronological and Historical Record of the African-American Community in Wilmington, North Carolina, 1865-1950, for which he received a national award from the American Association of State and Local History. – (New Hanover County Public Library)


    View excellent pictorial descriptions of Carolina Beach in the late 1890’s by local authors:
    1.   Carolina Moon Pavilion – by Ann Hewlett Hutteman
    and ..
    2.   The Pavilion was called many names – by Elaine Blackmon Henson
    ‘Carolina Moon, Carolina Club Casino, Carolina Club’

    Captain John Harper – from the Bill Reaves Files – a FPHPS webpage

    A brief history of the steamer, Wilmington

     

     

    The Ocean Plaza

    Ocean Plaza - SlapdashBy Leslie Bright & Daniel Norris

    Eugene and Marie Reynolds known as Mom and Pop, knew better days were coming as World War II ended in 1945 and soldiers were coming home. Big bands were the rave of the day and the new money could be made on the north end of the Boardwalk of Carolina Beach with the building of a large enough facility to house big bands and large crowds.

    The Reynolds had purchased four and a half lots and a bowling alley on the northeast corner of Harper Avenue and Carolina Beach Avenue North in August 1942, from L. M. Massey. [2015: current construction site of The Hampton Inn and Suites]. They decided to remove the bowling alley and make this the footprint for their new Ocean Plaza building.

    The building would contain a bathhouse and café on the first floor; a large cabaret or ballroom with bandstand area on the second floor; and a small apartment on the third floor. Work began to build the Ocean Plaza after the beach season of 1945 and continued through the winter and spring of 1946 under the direction of Mr. Shirley, a local contractor.

    Once completed, the Ocean Plaza was a sight to behold. It became the new “Crown Jewel” of the Carolina Beach boardwalk. It was opened for business on May 31, 1946, which was Memorial Day weekend.

    Bill Grassick and his orchestra, featuring the lovely singer, Betty McHugh, performed to an audience who paid $2.00 per person to attend. Even though the big band era was waning, the Ocean Plaza remained the center of activity as new trends changed musical entertainment.

    The Reynolds sold the Ocean Plaza around 1950 and it changed hands several times before May 1961 when E. F. Courie Sr. and his wife, Rosabelle, purchased the property.

    Through the years, many notable entertainers performed to large crowds at the Ocean Plaza. Jerry Lee Lewis, Chubby Checkers, Fats Domino, Bo Diddley, and The Embers, to mention a few, attracted audiences from all over.

    The Jitterbug, bob, shag, rock & roll, twist and every variety of dance imagined occurred at the Ocean Plaza through the years.

    With growth and development of better lodging facilities, the need for a bathhouse on the boardwalk diminished. The bathhouse at the Ocean Plaza was converted into a night club.

    During the 80’s and 90’s the entire boardwalk fell into decline causing neglect to many of its structures.

    In spite of the decline, the Ocean Plaza remained open struggling at times to do so. The Courie family, including sons, Eli Jr. and Louis, continued ownership until April 1993, when the Ocean Plaza was sold to Leslie and Darlene Bright and son, Sam Bright.

    The second floor ballroom was renovated again and opened after several years of inactivity as the private club, Wranglers Dance Hall and Saloon, and later as the Shag Club.

    The Brights sold Ocean Plaza to Robert Russo on January 31, 2000 and his Club Tropics was installed on the second floor. Mr. Russo operated Ocean Plaza until April 5, 2006, when he sold to Russ Maynard.

    Leslie Bright – Federal Point Historic Preservation Society
    From:  Carolina Beach, NC – Images & Icons of a Bygone Era

    Source:  SlapDash Publishing, LLC, 2006

    Construction begins on boardwalk hotel at Carolina Beach – 2015/02/03

     


    OCEAN PLAZA T-SHIRTS –   Only available at the Federal Point History Center!

    http://federal-point-history.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/Gift-Shop-4.jpgThe OP’s gone but not forgotten. But we still have our CLASSIC Ocean Plaza T-shirts and Sweatshirts.

    We’ve ordered a variety of sizes and they come in sky blue and daisy yellow.

    They make great gifts or mementos and are sure to start a conversation with every ol’timer you meet.