Seabreeze – A History Part 2 – Carolina Beach and Shell Island

by Rebecca Taylormap cropped

Because Sea Breeze was a leisure site, it has deep meaning for residents and former business owners, as well as for people who patronized it. The old resort has a remarkably wide constituency. All over North Carolina I have encountered people who have vivid and fond memories of Sea Breeze.”  – Jennifer Edwards, 2003

Through the last part of  the nineteenth century there was considerable cooperation between the Seabreeze and Carolina Beach communities.

  • From the August 15, 1891 Wilmington Messenger we find: “Professor Edward Jewell, the good-looking young aeronaut, left the earth in his balloon at 6 pm and was borne upward into the boundless space on the horizontal bar attached to his big canvas balloon inflated with hot air. He went up to 5,000 feet and came down in the ocean about one mile from shore. About 1,800 people, men and women, old and young, and many children had collected to witness the spectacle.
Seabreeze Resort

Seabreeze Resort

Bruce and Roland Freeman, with five men each,went to Jewell’s rescue with their whale boats. Professor Jewell, when about six feet from the water, sprang into the surf and against the tide and through the breakers swam one mile to the shore, as reckoned by the Freemans. The boats brought in the balloon and all was well.”

  • “Ellis Freeman, the well-known caterer, was prepared to furnish Myrtle Grove oysters at Carolina Beach. He was making a specialty of roasts. – Truelove’s Sauce, new delicious and appetizing.”
  • “It has been learned that Roland Freeman, one of the heirs to the Freeman estate, colored, which owns considerable quantities of land near Carolina Beach had practically closed negotiations for the sale of 250 acres of land owned by the estate and that he had also agreed to give options on a like amount of territory. The home of Roland Freeman was near the beach.”
  • “Real Estate Transfer – J. N. Freeman and wife transfer to A. W. Pate, trustee, for the Wilmington & Carolina Beach Railway, for $1 and other considerations, a 100-foot right-of-way through their lands in Federal Point Township.”
  • “On March 11, 1887, W. L. Smith Jr. bought a strip of land comprised of 24 acres for the amount of $6650. These acres were between the head of Myrtle Grove Sound and the ocean beach as recorded in New Hanover County Deed Book YYY, Page 578.”   Today, this land is located in the heart of the business district of the Town of Carolina Beach.

 

Shell Island Resort/Wrightsville Beach

In 1924, as Seabreeze was just beginning to flourish, Thomas H. Wright and Charles B. Parmele began to promote the Shell postcard of suitsIsland Beach Development Company. With an investment capital of $500,000 they planned to make Shell Island “a Negro Atlantic City.” A small island just north of Wrightsville Beach, it lasted only three summers before it mysteriously burned to the ground.

Shell Island Resort was destroyed by fire about 1926 and was not rebuilt. In the 1930’s Wrightsville Beach began enforcing ordinances that prohibited blacks from bathing on but one extreme northern section of the beach. They were also prohibited from wearing bathing suits and walking on the boardwalks in front of private white cottages.

Earlier attempts by blacks to develop resorts in the Wrightsville Beach area in 1883, 1902, 1904, and 1920 were either short-lived or never developed. In 1993 E. F. Martin took a ten-year lease on the Jim Hewlett place, at Greenville Sound, for a natural park and resort for the black community. Called Atlanta Park.

Bruce Freeman (one of Robert Bruce Freeman, Sr.’s grandsons) remembered that by 1929, after Shell Island burned, building had really begun at Seabreeze, and the resort was drawing crowds numbering thousands. Spending free time among one’s peers, away from the scrutiny of whites, is an implicit message emerging from oral histories of the people speaking about the early days of Seabreeze.