Fort Fisher State Recreation Area » History

Fort Fisher Recreation CenterTrailPrior to European settlement, the Cape Fear Native Americans, of the Siouan language group, lived in and around the lower Cape Fear peninsula; farming, fishing and hunting. Artifacts of the native culture, including pottery fragments, arrowheads and mounds of oyster shells, or midden piles, have been found in this area.

Early attempts at colonization in the area were unsuccessful, mainly due to conflicts with the Cape Fear Native Americans. Pirating, common in the area during colonial times, also contributed to the struggles of early settlers. About 1730, further upstream along the Cape Fear River from Fort Fisher, the port of Wilmington was settled. Wilmington became a bustling port, particularly important for its exports of naval stores – tar, pitch and turpentine products derived from the resin of the long-leaf pine.

During the Civil War, Fort Fisher, built in 1861, served to protect the valuable port of Wilmington from Union forces. By late 1864 , it was the last southern port open to trade. In this same year the first of two Union attacks on Fort Fisher took place. The fort held strong during the first battle and Union forces withdrew, but the Confederacy was not so lucky the second time.

In early 1865, a fleet of 56 ships bombarded the fort prior to a land assault by a force of more than 3,300 infantry. After a six-hour battle, Fort Fisher was captured and the Confederate supply line was broken. It was the largest land-sea battle fought in any war up to that time. The outcome contributed significantly to the outcome of the Civil War. Approximately three months after the fall of Fort Fisher, the Civil War came to an end.

In the late 19th century, a long rock jetty called “The Rocks” was built west of Fort Fisher to aid navigation by stopping shoaling in the Cape Fear River. Completed in 1881, The Rocks closed the former New Inlet, once used by Confederate blockade-runners to avoid the U.S. Navy, and created a lagoon, now called “The Basin”.

Today, The Rocks and The Basin are part of the Zeke’s Island component of the North Carolina National Estuarine Research Reserve, and 1160-acre area of outstanding estuarine and ocean resources with extensive marshes and tidal flats.

The southern tip of New Hanover County became an island (now known as Pleasure Island) in 1929 when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dredged Snow’s Cut (named for Major William A. Snow, Chief Engineer for the Wilmington District). This cut is a canal that connects the Cape Fear River to Masonboro Sound and is now part of the Intracoastal Waterway.

World War II caused huge economic and social changes in the Wilmington area as industrial development and shipyards boomed. Civilian workers and military personnel poured into the area during the war years, causing Wilmington’s population to quadruple.

In late 1940, construction began on Camp Davis, located about 30 miles north of Wilmington. The base used five remote training sites along North Carolina’s southern coast, and Fort Fisher became the primary firing range. The range stayed open until 1944, training many military personnel and aiding the war effort. A bunker still remains along the Basin Trail from the World War II base.

From 1955 to 1972, Robert E. Harrill, who became known as the Fort Fisher Hermit lived in the World War II bunker. He became a celebrity and philosopher of sorts, becoming known to the thousands of visitors who came to Fort Fisher during those years. Harrill relied on nature for much of his food, eating oysters, clams and fish as well as what he would grow. Over time, as his popularity and reputation grew, he also benefited from donations left by his many visitors.

Fort Fisher State Recreation Area was established as a unit of the North Carolina State Park system in 1986 when 287 acres were transferred from the Historic Site to the Division of Parks and Recreation. Today, Fort Fisher offers beach access, educational programming and many other amenities to hundreds of thousands of park visitors annually.

Fort Fisher Rec Area CenterFort Fisher provides a glimpse of the dynamic ecosystem known as a barrier spit where the only constant is change. Sixteen threatened and endangered species can be found at Fort Fisher depending on the time of year.

Loggerhead sea turtles nest on ocean beaches in the warmer months and terns, plovers, and oyster-catchers use bare sandy areas from the beach to the salt marsh for nesting and foraging.

Vast Spartina salt marshes, one of the most productive ecosystems on earth, provide food and shelter for fish and shellfish and shorebirds. Fall brings migrations of warblers, hawks, and peregrine falcons. Winter brings many species of ducks to the marshes.

Storms constantly rearrange the landscape, over-washing dunes, opening and closing inlets and channels, and changing the shape of the beach. Native wildlife at Fort Fisher depends on this constant environmental change to maintain the habitat that it requires.

N.C. Division of Parks & Recreation • Raleigh N.C.

More at:


Carolina Beach Fire Department History

In 1937, 35 local men saw the need for better local fire protection at Carolina Beach. Their equipment included one hose reel and two lengths of fire hose, the bare minimum to fight a fire.

A few months later, they were the recipientsCarolina Beach FD Helmet of a hearse car. They converted this into a fire truck. In addition, an unremembered town in upstate North Carolina, gave them an older model fire truck.

And in 1939 1940, a tragic fire ravaged almost all of the central business district. Just about every building from Harper Avenue to the Fisherman’s Pier, including the recently constructed Hotel Bame, was destroyed.

Carolina Beach Fireman PlateWith the aid of Wilmington’s Fire Department, the Carolina Beach fire fighters fought the blaze all night, and saved the remaining buildings.

It set the stage for better fire protection and ensured that today’s modern Fire Departments in both Carolina Beach and Kure Beach (including Federal Point) are well equipped and properly trained.

Excerpted from:
Carolina Beach, NC
Friends & Neighbors Remembered – Volume 2
By Daniel Ray Norris

See more local pictures and Daniel Norris’ narrative preview.pdf



Lori Sanderlin – Mourning Customs of the Civil War Period

The Federal Point Historic Preservation Society will hold its monthly meeting on Monday, February 17, 7:30 pm at the Federal Point History Center, 1121-A North Lake Park Blvd., adjacent to Carolina Beach Town Hall.

Lori SanderlinOur speaker this month will be Lori Sanderlin, Curator of Education at the Southport Maritime Museum. The Civil War era saw a number of developments in how the American culture dealt with death.

Lori will talk about the mourning customs that developed in both Northern and Southern communities. She will also highlight the lives of some specific women of the Lower Cape Fear and the trials and travails they survived.

Lori Sanderlin - Women of Cape FearLori graduated from UNCW with a degree in history. She worked at the Fort Fisher State Historic Site, the Onslow County Museum, and the Maritime Museum at Beaufort before coming to the Southport Maritime Museum. Lori says she’s excited to speak to our Society again; one of her very first public presentations was here at the History Center in 2001, when she talked about General Whiting.

Oral History – Fessa’ John Hook – ‘Jim Hannah, One of the Two Original Beach Music Pioneers’

[Extracted from Fessa’ John Hook’s oral history, “Jim Hannah, One of the Two Original Beach Music Pioneers, 1920-2010.” Published in “Dancing on the Edge Journal,” Vol. 1, Issue 1. February 8, 2010. Available from or ]

The Birth of Shag

Jim Hannah was born on October 7, 1920 and grew up on a farm in Mecklenburg County. He played Class D baseball in Mooresville in 1938 (“same as Class A today”). Although it was only a farm team, Jim had the opportunity to play two games against Ted Williams at the time. That same year he moved to Norfolk to work in the shipyards. When his superiors learned he was not only sharp in reading blueprints and that he could lay a ship down from the keel all the way up to the shakedown cruise he was sent to the Wilmington Shipyard.

Birth of Shag - Ocean PlazaJim mustered out in 1943 and hung around Carolina Beach for a few years. In 1945 he opened the Tijuana Inn (ground floor of the Ocean Plaza Building) on the Boardwalk. “The Tijuana Inn was one of the two first “Beach Music” clubs in the Carolinas, i.e. clubs that offered Black music on jukeboxes in establishments serving a white clientele.”

Jim’s bar and grill offered boardwalk cuisine and beer without a name over the door. A few weeks later his friend Chicken Hicks returned from a vacation that started in 1943 with his friend Chuck Green. They hitchhiked to the West Coast – Phoenix, Los Angeles, then down to Mexico. When Chicken returned in spring of 1945, he suggested Jim call the place the “Tijuana Inn.” He put its new name over the door in May 1945.

Birth of Shag - MallardsTo say that Chicken and Jim were “Beach Music” pioneers is a gross understatement. In fact, in 1945 there were no white establishments anywhere which carried black music on their jukeboxes. More accurately, white kids weren’t allow to listen to black music anywhere.

But next door to the Hannah homestead in North Mecklenburg County was an African-American Church named Torrance Chapel where Jim heard a powerful maelstrom of melancholic spirituals and uplifting, foot-stomping gospel. Chicken grew up on the “wrong side of the tracks” in Durham where he was likely to be running the streets with black as well as white playmates. Both Chicken and Jim came from working class backgrounds and they were both compelled to leave home by one kind of wanderlust or another. These two ingredients sometimes combined into the kind of rare fearlessness they exhibited in 1945.

Birth of Shag - SeabreezeSeabreeze was the black resort just up the coast across the Intracostal Waterway at Snow’s Cut. Originally called Freeman’s Beach from the 1920’s to the 1950’s, locals made a living serving black tourists with sandwiches, beer, and plenty of room for family picnics in the day and adult entertainment at night. Chicken Hicks found his way to Seabreeze in the early 40’s, returning often for white hot Carolina moonshine, and even hotter music on the piccolos (jukeboxes) at places like the Ponco, The Big Apple, the Daley Breezey Pavilion, Bruce’s, Ponco #2, the Monte Carlo, and as Jim recalled, “a place called Big Mama’s.” After returning from Mexico, Chicken suggested they add some of the music he’d heard over at Seabreeze.

Birth of Shag - 7The Bostic Music Company in Wilmington owned and serviced the piccolos for Seabreeze and all the other jukeboxes on the beach. Chicken and Jim talked to Parker and Clyde who serviced the boxes for Bostic Music each week. Chicken sometimes rode with them over to Seabreeze to hear the new tunes they were adding. The ones he liked they added to the Tijuana Inn jukebox.

Jim remembered with pride, and probably a little wistfulness, “Our music changed, our customers increased till they filled the place, and some had to dance outside on the Beach. “ The Tijuana Inn was a multicultural threshold on what was then the busiest working class beach between Wilmington and Folly Beach in Charleston.

The Tijuana Inn’s jukebox was the first wave. In 1947 Jim took over “The Roof” (a bowling alley across from the Ocean Plaza) renovated it as a nightclub and changed its name to Bop City. Naturally he changed the music on the jukebox as well. “It was the baddest place on the Boardwalk.” Jim exclaimed, “We only played R&B music on the jukes. We served only cold soft drinks and ice, it was BYOB (bring your own booze).

Birth of Shag - 9“I was looking for a good band to play our type of music. I was told there was a group of Army brats in Fayetteville that played R&B. I got in touch with them and they came to Carolina Beach to see if we could work out a deal.” After talking with them on Monday, Jim wasn’t sure they’d really show up to audition.

“Friday evening, my future wife, Frances Carter, came up and said some boys were downstairs looking for me. I went down to the street where their spokesman told me who he was and I said, ‘uh hun’ – they were in an old open top Army surplus jeep, with an old wooden trailer behind – they really looked more like Beach Bums.” “I asked whether they had a name, he said, ‘Jimmy Cavallo and the House Rockers.’ I told them to unload, go park the jeep, set up, and ‘show me what you got.’”

“Well, well, well, this Italian boy Cavallo blew as bad an alto horn as I had ever heard. They played Drinkin’ Wine Spo Dee O De and Good Rockn’ Tonight. That was enough. I signed them as house band for a month, starting them out in the Ocean Plaza ballroom which I also leased beginning in ’46. They were so hot I moved them next door to Bop City and they stayed all summer.”

Birth of Shag - 8Bop City’s live and jukebox musical fare was a heady mix which cast a spell on tourists and the local hotdog dancers as well.

Casey Jones, a well-known Carolina Beach dancer had already converted three or four cement bowling alleys along the boardwalk into “jump joints.” The conversion wasn’t too difficult, he’d put three or four benches around a chained-down jukebox and the tourists and locals had a jump joint.

[Editor’s Note: Remember that oral history is about preserving the memories of our community elders – as they remember them. Good oral history reflects the language and “way things were” in the words of the person being recorded. Oral history is NOT meant to be documented history. Any two people may remember the same incident very differently.]

Carolina Beach in the 40’s – by Chicken Hicks  –  The State, July 1994


Battle of Bentonville

March 11, 2014 – Webcast Live From Bentonville

Artillery was a major factor at the Battle of Bentonville, as fired cannonballs traveled for up to a mile across the 6,000 acre battlefield.

A March 11, 10:30 a.m., webcast live from Bentonville Battlefield will demonstrate and explain the workings of Civil War era cannons. (from 10:30 to 11:15 a.m.)

Students, teachers and members of the general public can register for the webcast here. There will be opportunities for question and answers via email during the webcast.

Historic Weapons Program Coordinator Andrew Duppstadt, N.C. Division of State Historic Sites, will explain the magic of black powder and other bits of science and physics.

A team of historians in period uniforms from the Division of State Historic Sites will explain the different types of artillery and projectiles.

What’s the difference in a smooth bore or rifled bore cannon, and how each performs in battle? Why the order of loading and firing a cannon matter? What impact did artillery have on the war? These are some of the areas to be explained during the 45 minute presentation.

“We want our students and everyone interested to understand how these weapons performed in battle,” Duppstadt observes. “They represent the best military technology of the time, and were used to great effect.”

Special training is required to handle black powder and period weaponry, as it is still dangerous and can be fatal if improperly handled. Duppstadt has been trained by the National Park Service to conduct and supervise historic re-enactments. These activities should not be tried at home.


Monthly Meeting Report – January, 2014

Island GazetteWe had quite a crowd at our January meeting for the program presented by Jasmine McKee who has worked for the Island Gazette for 10 years. Many people said they learned a lot about the history of the Island Gazette Newspaper and the family who owns it.

Island Gazette - Hurricane BerthaFounded in 1978 the paper has chronicled the biggest stories of the past 40 years that the paper has covered, from Hurricanes in the ‘80’s and ‘90’s, to fights about development and the struggles of the business owners on the Boardwalk to attract tourists back to their establishments.

It’s amazing how much history has happened in the last 40 years in this little corner of the County.

From the President – February, 2014

Barry Nelder

Barry Nelder

President’s Message: From Barry NelderFPHPS - 149 Reenactment

Thanks to everybody who braved the cold weather to make our hot dog sale at the 149th Fort Fisher Re-enactment such a success. Darlene and Demetria did their usual thorough job of planning and shopping before the event.

Kudos also go to the Saturday work crew including Darlene and Leslie Bright, Demetria and Phil Sapienza, Cheri McNeill, John Gordon, and Sylvia and Don Shook.

A special “gold medal” goes to Tony Phillips who spent the day showing the spectators to our booth.

Finally, thanks go out to our great cookie bakers; Demetria Sapienza, Jeannie Gordon, Cheri McNeill, Rebecca Taylor, Pat Filipiak, Juanita Winner, Nell O’Connor, Jean Stewart, and Carol Ufferman.

Society Notes – February, 2014

Darlene Bright, History Center Director

  • Sadly, we found out this week that longtime Society member Ann Hertzler has passed away. Ann will be best remembered for her leadership and diligent work on the Oral History Project.
  • The History Center recorded 86 visitors! The gift shop took in $ 69.99. The History Center was used by Got-‘em-on Live, the UDC and the Sugar Loaf Preservation Group.
  • Welcome to new personal member Rick Both of Carolina Beach and new business member, Mike McCarley, Carolina Marine Terminal.
  • Thanks to our History Center Volunteers Carl Filipiak who is working on the cataloging of the subject files. Also, thanks to Andre’ Blouin for all the time he’s put into the new website. The website is up and it’s chock full of all kinds of great information.
  • Fort Fisher Re-enactment: First, I would like to thank Jim Steele, Site Manager, and his staff for including us in the day’s event on Saturday, January 18, and giving us the privilege of providing lunch for the re-enactors and volunteers. It was soooo cold with a wind chill of 17 degrees. I don’t know how they did it, but our volunteers hung in there. Thanks so much to Barry Nelder, John Gordon, Phil & Demetria Sapienza, Leslie Bright and Cheri McNeill, who were there early to help set up. Also, Tony Phillips and Don & Sylvia Snook, who worked until the end and helped break down. It was a hard, hard day, however, we profited approximately $500 in hot dog sales. THANKS TO ALL!
  • Newsletter: Thanks to Cheri McNeill for her always thorough proofing of the newsletter and Lois Taylor for her help getting the Newsletter in the mail.
  • Thanks to Tony Phillips for working on our subject files project. He is searching the internet for all kinds of information about the local area and has already contributed a number of great articles.


Wilm Water Tours - Black River Cruise

Click -> Black River Cruise Images

Don’t Forget
You can now Purchase Wilmington Water Tours Tickets
At the Federal Point History Center Call 910-458-0502 Or 910-338-3134

February Specials!
Friday February 14, 5:30 – 7:30: Lover’s Moon Valentine’s Day Cruise
Saturday February 15, 5:00 – 7:00: Romantic Harbor Dinner Cruise

Check Out their full schedule at:


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Six-Flavor Pound Cake

Here’s a Local Twist on a Classic

Six-Flavor Pound CakeSix-Flavor Pound Cake
“This is the best pound cake recipe of all.”

2 sticks margarine, softened
3 cups sugar
5 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. lemon extract
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 350°. In mixing bowl, cream the margarine and sugar, beating until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla and lemon extracts. Sift together the spices, flour and salt; add them to the wet ingredients, stirring gently just until well combined.

Pour the batter into a greased and floured 10-inch tube pan and bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the cake cool in the pan, then turn out onto a plate.

Contributed by: Darlene Bright