Part V: “Fort Fisher to Chicago.”
By: Rebecca Taylor
In December, 1927, the Federal Point Road, commonly called Carolina Beach Road, by then, was officially transferred to the State of North Carolina. It seems a little strange that it was the Wilmington City Commissioners who signed the official document, but in those days the City Council was far more powerful than the County government. “Wilmington City Commissioners, by a two to one vote, agreed to sign the “waiver” contract whereby the State Highway Commission was to take over and maintain the Carolina Beach Road, relieving the County authorities of the annual maintenance cost of $10,000 or more. Motion to this effect was offered by Commissioner J.E.L. Wade and seconded by Commissioner J.E. Thompson. Mayor Blair had voted “No” but signed the contract under protest. WILM.STAR, 12-29-1927.
By August of 1928, the State Highway Commission had awarded a contract to West Construction Company for building the new highway to Carolina Beach. The estimated cost was $199,244 and construction was set to start around October 1. It was promised that the beach road would be completed by early Spring of 1929, and would be available for the summer season of 1929 at the beaches. Can you imagine road construction moving so fast today?
By December of 1928, construction was underway and the Wilmington Star reported that the hard surfaced road was now completed as far as Keyes’ Store. “The highway was to be maintained by the State Highway Commission and will be known as a continuation of N.C. Route 40, which extends from the Virginia line to Wilmington. The new road was of sand asphalt construction with a width of 16 feet. The old highway to Carolina Beach was worn down considerably by heavy traffic. The new highway was to be opened well in advance of the 1929 season at the beaches. WILM.STAR, 12-2-1928.
It didn’t remain NC Route 40 for long. By the late 1920s, the Federal government was designating “inter-state” highways and by 1931, the designation US Highway 421, appears on maps running from Winston-Salem to Boone on highway maps. In 1936, US 421 was officially extended south from Wilmington to Carolina Beach, Kure Beach, and Fort Fisher, replacing NC 40. However, through most of the 30s and 40s, the section south of Wilmington was called “The Coast Highway.”
By the late 1950s, the road from Wilmington to “The Beaches” had become notorious for traffic congestion, serious accidents and the Snow’s Cut swing bridge was becoming a bottleneck during tourist season. The Wilmington Chamber of Commerce and local tourism leaders began to campaign for the bridge to be replaced and the highway straightened and widened. In 1963, today’s “high rise” bridge over Snow’s Cut was opened and plans proceeded to widen the highway all the way from Wilmington to Carolina Beach.
Today, US 421, runs from the boat launch at the Rocks, below Fort Fisher to Michigan City, Indiana.
From Boone, NC it runs through a significant amount of the Appalachian Mountains in North Carolina, Tennessee, and Kentucky.
Instead of from Wilmington to Barstow, CA on I-40, what an interesting drive through time that would be.