Hurricanes and Other Terrible Storms – from the Bill Reaves Files

1761 Federal Point
In 1761, the pilot road across the beach at the “Hawl-over” was blown out by a terrific hurricane and was converted into what was to be known as “New Inlet.” (Wilm.Star, 8-25-1877)

Between August 12th and Sept. 2nd, 1871
A most violent northeast gale visited the coast, producing some apprehension, according to Henry Nutt, for the safety of the government works in progress, and later during the month, much rainy weather prevailed, retarding operations somewhat. From the violence of the storm some of the unfinished cribs and preparatory timber was displaced, which involved some loss of time and labor to replace them in position again. This was successfully and speedily accomplished through the energy and skill of the local superintendent, and all is now going on well again. (Wilm.Star, 9-6-1871)

September 2, 1871
A report issued on this date mentioned that the beach south of the government works was growing. The catch-sand fences had proven successful. Not a rail had been removed by the recent storm, and the brush had been completely covered with sand to the top of the fence, presenting an embankment 3 to 5 feet high, and far above the reach of any tide. This, and the weak parts of the beach where the wind had blown out trenches between the hills, was now being strengthened by a system of cultivating the “beach grass”. This grass bore transplanting well; none of that which was set out in July and August had died; but all growing and doing well, and it was suggested that transplanting could be done at any season of the year. Where the “beach grass” was planted, it had not only successfully resisted the blowing away of sand, but has already collected, it at many places, a foot or over in height. (Wilm.Star, 9-8-1871)

July 1, 1880
A large water spout was witnessed between Fort Fisher and Sow’s Marsh, near the mouth of the river. The wind at the time was blowing nearly a hurricane. The water spout covered a space of about 50 yards in circumference, and moved a distance of about 1 1/4 miles. The water from the spout ascended to an altitude of about 100 to 150 feet, and looked like a white funnel-shaped cloud. The phenomenon was witnessed by about 75 persons, including the employees at the government works and a large number of fishermen. (Wilm.Star, 7-4-1880)

August 17, 1887
The wind blew a perfect gale at Carolina Beach, and at Zeke’s Island, it was reported the houses were in danger of blowing over. (Wilm.Messenger, 8-20-1887)

August 28, 1893
During the hurricane there was a high tide at Carolina Beach. It broke over the beach into the sound and washed up the boardwalk in front of the cottages. Some of the fences were blown down, but no other damage was done. Capt. Harper brought his steamer WILMINGTON to the beach to be in readiness to take the people off. They found everything quiet and no one alarmed. Residents in the cottages situated for a mile along the beach preferred to stay in their cottages. Many of the beach visitors wanted the opportunity to see the ocean in all its grandeur, with the wild waves lashing the beach, throwing the surf high in the air. The river was remarkably smooth at the pier, on account of the land-locked situation of the wharf, and no rough water was experienced until later when it returned to Wilmington. (Wilm.Star, 08-29- 1893)

August 6, 1902Hurricane
News reached Wilmington at 4:30 in the morning of August 7th that a storm had played havoc at Carolina Beach on the night of August 6th. The hotel was blown down and several people were injured, though no lives were lost. Mrs. Alice Phillips suffered a broken ankle and contused back. She was in the ruins for 1 1⁄2 hours before help could reach her. Capt. John Barry suffered sprains and other injuries to both ankles. Mrs. John Barry had a severe injury to her left lower limb, fracture of the femur and ankle, which caused suffering on account of her advanced age from the nervous shock.

Tobe Howard, bar-keeper at the hotel, suffered a laceration of the scalp, with contusion of both arms, jaw and shoulders. Mrs. Tobe Howard suffered a laceration of the forehead. Mrs. Howard, after her rescue, went bravely into the rescue work and in the absence of a physician she assisted nobly Miss Furpless, even going as far as to tear her own clothing to make bandages for the injured. J.E. Haywood and 5-year-old daughter, of McColl, S.C. were in the hotel. Mr. Haywood suffered a severe sprain of the right ankle, left leg broken just above the ankle and a dislocation of the same ankle: a severe contusion of the spine.

The little girl was on the second floor of the building and escaped without injury. Accompanied by Mr. J.S. Thompson, of Hasty, she will return home today.

Mr. Haywood and Mr. Thompson came down the day before and expected to stay some time, but the storm changed their minds. J.M. Rumley, of Beaufort, N. C. suffered injury to the back, left hip and knee.

The old Oceanic Hotel had not been used strictly for hotel purposes in several years and during the past two seasons, Capt. Harper had refused to rent it as a hotel but merely as a pavilion for the entertainment of excursionists, with a restaurant attached. It was fortunate that it was not used as a hotel, else the consequences of the storm might have been more terrible. Capt. Harper and every person connected with his boat or interests on the beach did all in their power for the suffering ones.

The first knowledge in Wilmington of the catastrophe at the beach was through Robert Freeman, colored, who was sent for Dr. Andrew H. Harriss by Capt. Furpless. Though alone at the beach, Dr. Harriss accomplished wonders in administering to the wants of the wounded and improvised cots and stretchers were made and all placed on a flat car, which reached the pier safely. The wounded ones were placed on the steamer and by 8 o’clock all the sufferers were taken to the hospital in Wilmington and later to their homes. At the hospital Dr. Harriss was assisted in his work by Dr. Pride J. Thomas, and Dr. W.D. McMillan.

Mr. W. H. Biddle, of Masonboro, reported that the tornado, or cyclone, lasted for about five minutes, carrying destruction in its path. There was much damage to corn, trees were uprooted, fences blown down among other damages. The cyclone moved in a path nearly two miles. The most serious loss and injury by the storm was in the wreck of the old Hotel Oceanic, the large two-story wooden structure, owned by the New Hanover “Transit Company, and operated by Mrs. Rebecca Eilers, of Wilmington.

The storm came in from the south-west and it blew the middle part of the hotel toward the ocean. Eight of the occupants of the hotel were engaged in dancing at the time in the dining room of the old hotel and were taken completely unawares.

The only one to escape was Mr. Sebastian Winner, who was picking a guitar for the dancers. He was near the door and got on the outside before the crash came, but his guitar was smashed to smithereens. He received only a slight injury on the leg.

Mr. Marion Winner, father of Sebastian Winner, was the first to reach the scene, but very soon afterwards he was joined by Capt. Thomas McGee, Mr. Robert S. Collins, who was spending some time with his family at the beach; Mrs. Hans A. Kure, Captain Furpless, Capt. J.C. Smith, Mr. Henry Stolter, Mr. J.S. Thompson, of Hasty, who was stopping at the Kure House across the sound; Miss Furpless, daughter of Capt. Furpless, and Mose and John Evans, two colored men employed by Capt. J. W. Harper.

All the injured ones except Mr. Hampton Smith, who was most seriously injured were taken from the hotel ruins by 10 o’clock. Young Smith, the son of Capt. J. C. Smith, the well-known steamboat man, was not rescued until two hours later and it was then by the heroic effort on part of Capt. Tom McGee. He is said to have lifted almost the entire roof.

August 29, 1935
Torrential rains washed out a number of roads in New Hanover County, sent the fresh water lake at Carolina Beach out of its bounds to flood nearby houses. The rain storm was the greatest in the 64-year history of the local weather station, with 5.97 inches of rain recorded during the 28 hour period between 4 p.m. Thursday and 8 p.m. last night.

The waters of the fresh water lake, just 100 yards from the Atlantic Ocean at Carolina Beach were receding slowly and water was still standing in a number of cottages. In addition a half mile section of state highway No.40 beside the lake was under water and traffic to Wilmington was diverted over the old route via the Ethyl-Dow Chemical Company plant and Kure’s Beach.