Just below the cement gates to Ft. Fisher was water. The Air Force base was a training base. The parade ground was right when you come inside all those houses. On the other side of the parade ground is the river. In between was the barracks and the chow hall.
Big guns were on the beach for target practice with targets off shore that the naked eye couldn’t see. The Army had a blimp that flew over the Ft. Fisher area for a spotter. There were target practices for big guns. The blimp would sit up there and tell the military where the shells went. It’s out of sight so you can’t see it from shore; but the blimp sitting up there could see them. They had a USO on the Air Force base grounds. Southern Bell would send them down.
Starting in 1946 you couldn’t do anything until the Army got out.
The Orrell Brothers owned the pier—all of Ft. Fisher. The Orrell Brothers hired Earl Walter Winner as a building contractor. Earl stayed down there because there was so much to do. The Army knew they weren’t going to keep the place and spend much money on something you’re fixin’ to leave.
Earl Page cleared sand off Fort Fisher Parking lot. Earl would grade the roads and put down boardwalk to each cottage so you didn’t have to get in the mud to go fishing. The Ft Fisher pier was further south. Blue Top was up near the post. We had the pier and there were 8 cottages around the pier. People would come and stay at the cottage and go out on the pier and fish.
Airplane: This is a BT-13 plane, an Ex-Army air-force. This airplane is sitting right where the museum is at Ft Fisher. When you walk in the front door of the museum and walk out the back door, you’re looking right down the airstrip. The pilot is a friend of Earl Page and the other is Earl Page’s father.
They used to come in on that plane landing on the Ft. Fisher air strip – 4 of us in a 2-seater. No lights, no nothing. Cars would come down from the Blue Top with lights to help them see to land. And that’s when Earl’s daddy said “You’re in love or you haven’t got a bit of sense.”
[Editor’s Note: This is the last of the oral histories summarized by Ann Hertzler. Thanks so much Ann!]
Before they’d even start oystering, they’d eat a full bate of oysters, raw. A full bate is a full bellyful. They were getting $2.00 a bushel. They would oyster around Buzzard’s Bay, the same with clams. They’d go on the shoals, at low tide when the shoals fall out flat. We didn’t dig like they do now. If you know what the spit sign looks like, all you do is take a potato hoe. You’re looking at a spit sign that looks like a streak. It’s a hole in there; it’s kinda raised. You don’t see the clam, you see the hole and then it spreads out.
That’s what you’ll see first. Now we’re talking about 3 or 4 feet and you follow that back to the spit sound and there’s your clam. Take that potato hoe and go down, there’s your clam! Pile ‘em up cause they were on land, they’d make pyramids. We were on land, and when the tide came in, we’d float the boat up and load the clams in the boat.
High Rock was northeast of Corncake Inlet approximately 2 1⁄2 to 3 miles below Ft. Fisher pier. You don’t see it. They all had their own separate marks – shoreline…you could see across the river…a tree… and you’d put that in with another one here and where they cross, that’s where you anchor.
Six or seven Freemen fishermen fished with a rowboat. They’d go out to a place called High Rock in the early fall time of year. June, July and August, just forget it. It’s not like it used to because the mullet don’t run. Each fisherman would keep his own fish on a stringer, so when he came back in, he took his fish and sold ‘em. There was always a crowd waiting. The man who owned the boat would take a percentage of each man’s catch.
Fishing the seasons:
Early fall was mullet, Black Trout or Speckled Trout. You catch them in nets, too.
Winter was Roe mullet. You catch catfish in the river on trout lines.
Spring was Virginia mullet, also known as Whiting. Spots don’t come in until early August. You have to go off shore now to catch mackerel, King mackerel and Spanish mackerel.
Summertime was black fish and gray trout. Sometimes you’re trolling; other times bottom fished anchored in places that you’d found through experience.
The 5 piers going from south to north were Fort Fisher Pier, Kure Pier, Center Pier, the Steel Pier in the heart of Carolina Beach with the sky ride/lift, and the Northern Extension Pier. Now we have two – The Northern Extension and Mike’s at Kure Beach.
The Ft. Fisher pier, first built in 1938 was at the end of the highway. Only one bus between Wilmington and Carolina Beach would come down here and turn around further south than the cement gateways to Ft Fisher; but not beyond where the Ft. Fisher State Park/Aquarium is now. 500 ft. north of the museum was the end of the highway. The highway used to be over alongside the cliff with a huge, beautiful beach that was inaccessible. You could see part of it on low tide. A piling stood there for years after Hazel.
The pier with the bait shop was here with the cottages which had a restaurant. When you drove in to the pier or the restaurant, eight cottages were on the right hand side. There was nothing near the pier before they built the Blue Top. It was all forest.
Notice the difference in the two pictures of Fort Fisher Pier. The second picture has a platform on to load a boat. The boat would put out its anchor when it reached this platform and then put two guidelines to keep the boat from rocking so people could come aboard. They didn’t have to go through the breakers then.
This pier was 26 ft. wide and the nicest pier on the beach. All the other boats had to go through the surf. You could go up to Masonboro Inlet. Corncake Inlet was not deep enough for boats this size. It’s filled in now. Just this side of Bald Head was a nice inlet for outboards. If you got on the other side of Corncake, you were on Bald Head.
There were no inlets around here then. Masonboro was a man-made inlet, the one with the rocks on each side. Mother-nature made Corncake and also cut another inlet between Ft. Fisher Pier and Corncake. But it was only accessible by small Motorboats a few years. You went out to a place called High Rock, just a hop and a skip out in the ocean which was excellent fishing. Spanish mackerel were jumping everywhere. They’d jump in the boat it was so thick out there.
They did not have head boats and party boats like they do now to take people out. Carl Winner was one of the first ones to go out through the surf. And you helped him with the boat, bringing it up on the hill and putting it in the water. Not so much the women, but the men. You’ve already paid him his money and now you’re going to help put the boat in the water. That was common. Nobody gave it a second thought.
Earl could carry 3300 pounds of fish on his truck and go all the way into Wilmington to deliver to Lee’s Fish House. They’d say “Sorry Page, I can’t take no more.” Now what do you do with all the fish? The thing in their favor was cold weather in late December.
Earl wasn’t worried about the fish. He came back to the pier which is closed as far as fishing, but they used the shed there. They had to corn them—salt them. They unloaded the fish and drove back to Wilmington to get salt and 100-pound wooden barrels. They had to make 3 trips with Earl’s truck.
You had an assembly line. You keep putting water and salt in it until you get one mullet that you filleted to float. If it doesn’t float, you haven’t got enough salt! We’re talking about a thousand or more pounds of salt.
You don’t scale ‘em. All you do is cut their heads off, rake out the guts and dump the heads and guts off the pier to feed the marine life. The crabs, snails and sea life have a ball.
The last man takes that real sharp knife and just gives a split—but leaves the tail intact so it lays open. Put them in hundred pound barrels and put the lid on so the fish don’t get contaminated or spoiled.
When the salted fish go out into the country stores, the owner will take a hammer and bust that top. And the people come in and buy it.
When you get ready to cook it, you’ve got to par boil it. Soak it overnight in fresh water to get the salt off. The next morning, it’s delicious. It took about 3 months to sell these fish. But they made $25 a keg, when before, they couldn’t get 2 cents a pound.
Fishermen bought popeye mullet in a fish market as fresh bait. The beautiful beach was right where the Rocks are now, across from the Museum at Ft. Fisher – bigger than Carolina Beach, but inaccessible. You couldn’t get a parking place and you had cliffs.
They are working a haul seine to catch popeye mullet. The boat went out around the mullet with the net and came in up here. Everybody pulled the net in by physical strength. Some had mules or tractors.
A haul seine takes a crew from 20 to 23 men.
You have to do it at night so the fishermen would see one, jump out of the boat and hold this staff. They caught like 6,000 pounds for commercial use. You sold Popeye mullet to the wholesale houses and they sold to the retail stores.
Gill net – There’s a difference between a haul seine and a gill net. One man can work a gill net. Here’s a gill hanging out to dry – 150 yards long – longer than a football field. Fish get hung up in it in their gills. And they can’t back out. Earl did this after he came out of the Navy in World War II.
It takes two gill netters with two boats that come together back at the stern, stern to stern, and both netters go like this with one man in each boat.
Blue Top was the first home that was built. There was a string of cottages next to Blue Top before 1940. The Army hadn’t come in yet.
Walter Winner ran the Blue Top Cottages in ’37. Granddad ran it 38, 39 and 40. Granddad and grandmother moved in to an end cottage—the very first one on this end became an office and a home. Earl’s father came into the picture in ’46. His Mother didn’t care for this kind of life.
She’d stay maybe a month, two months. She was a city woman. Earl got discharged. His Dad asked him to help keep the pier going. Well, Earl and ten million other guys didn’t have a job. read more
Earl bought an Army truck when he got out of the service. He used it to pull vehicles out of the sand and help in fishing. The dirt road goes down to the Rocks. The picture shows just two ruts in the dirt road. The highway ended this side of the Museum. Then it became a cow path.
Earl was on his way to help a guy raise a sail boat. He had to get there across a ditch. He pulled lots of vehicles out of the sand. They’d get stuck at the beach. It looked like a car was sitting right in the water. Earl’s truck had front wheel drive.
No one had 4- wheel drive back then. There were only two 4-wheel drive vehicles on this beach – Earl’s and a garage at Carolina Beach. Earl drove in water going out in the Bay to get a jeep. A guy walked in front looking for holes.
He pulled a taxi cab out of the ocean. He took pictures and it’s a good thing because the insurance company didn’t believe it.
Earl pulled a tank out of the ocean. A ship barge lost it. When Earl contacted the owners, they said we could keep it because it would cost more for them to come get it. Three men rowed out in the ocean in a row boat and brought the tank in close enough that Earl could get a wench on it.
Earl sold it.
Many had to have vehicles pulled off the beach because they didn’t know how to drive on the beach. It was like Daytona Beach at low tide – someone went down to Corncake Inlet driving on the beach. To turn around, he drove down toward the ocean and then tried to back up in the soft sand; the wheels sunk and the tide came in. Thank goodness for that Army truck.
The beach was very wide. If you stand with your back to the Fort Fisher monument, look out into the ocean, and hold your hand at a 10 o’clock angle you can see how wide the beach was. But right there, at 60 degrees, it’s nothing but rocks. It looked like Coney Island. It was beautiful. But you couldn’t park and you had cliffs. You couldn’t get down right there unless you had an Army truck.
[8/17/2015 – We were honored to have Margaret and Earl Page attend our monthly meeting tonight at the History Center. Check out the picture at the end of article.]
Earl N. Page, Jr
Earl N. Page, Jr., was born in Atlanta, April 26, 1924.
Earl had been coming to Fort Fisher in the summertime ever since he was knee-high to a duck to see Granny and Granddaddy (W. O. Page).
His father’s parents lived in Wilmington on a street named for them off Wrightsville Ave.
Earl came out of the Navy after World War II in April of ’46 with almost 4 years service.
He was on a 30-day leave just back from Nagasaki, Japan when they dropped the bomb.
View more detail – click
Earl lived at Fort Fisher with his daddy and granddaddy. They ran the pier, about 8 cottages, and a restaurant. Outside restrooms and showers served fishermen and, every weekend, a lot of sightseers.
Margaret Helms (Page) came to Wilmington because her daddy worked for Standard Oil. Her family bought three places at Wilmington Beach. Hurricane Hazel got 2 of them. Margaret’s roots were really in Wilmington but her momma and sister came down here all the time.
Earl met Margaret in ’46 and they married in ’48. The couple lived right across from her Momma in Wilmington Beach in a barracks with electricity, phone, trash and sewer. They never heard of air conditioning. You just left your windows up! They didn’t have a TV but had a radio.
Earl did fancy roller skating on Shipyard Blvd. where they used to go. They jitterbugged in the summertime at The Lumina at Wrightsville Beach and on the Boardwalk at the Ocean Plaza. One or two special dancers, mostly men, were good enough to be professionals.
There’d be girls (just teenagers) waiting to dance with them. Each man could take the girl across his shoulder and turn her every way but loose. You put the nickel in the jukebox and you’re dancing. You get your money’s worth.
Then the shag came in which Pages didn’t care for. Nearby Sea Breeze had some of the best live bands – Count Basie and many others. You could hear them right in the boat Basin. People would go up there and anchor just to hear em.
A good Southern breakfast – grits, seven days a week, scrambled eggs, coffee, and ham, sausage or bacon. Margaret rolled her own biscuits. Been doing it 58 years. If you start off with a good breakfast, you’ll do good.
Dinner was a meat (chicken or steak), a vegetable, a starch, and of course, a dessert. Earl could eat fish 7 days a week any day of the week, breakfast or supper. Margaret liked to prepare fish any way, just name it.
Remember those big triangle bars that they rang at the farms? Lunch or dinner, you’d hear that ringing all down here in Kure Beach.
The Drugstore at Carolina Beach was where Laney Real Estate is now. Earl did most of his truck service or took it into Wilmington to the International people just over the Northeast Bridge.
Banking? Pages didn’t have money enough to go to the bank. Church was St. Paul’s Methodist.
Bame Hardware had everything, but nothing like we know it today. Bame had a grocery store, a hotel, and right across the street was a Texaco Station.
Miss High had the best restaurant, a diner and ex-street car converted into a diner, where Mack’s used to be. She did her own cooking,. Another one at Kure Beach on the way down to the pier was run by Ma and Pa Fry. All was good Southern cooking, not like fish houses.
Groceries? At Carolina Beach a man came by every morning selling everything out of the garden farm somewhere in Masonboro just over the bridge. Earl’s Grandmother and all the other housewives knew when he was coming.
Edward Lewis had a grocery store and meat market at Kure Beach right across from Big Daddy’s, also a filling station back in those days where you got service and they wiped your windshield and looked at your radiator to see if you had enough water in it.
Front row: Margaret and Earl Page Aug. 17, 2015
The meat was handled by Jones. A Meat Market was where Linda’s Dress Shop is now. And right next door to him was Jessie Robertson’s Fish and Tackle Shop. The buildings are still there.
Earl had a 52-foot shrimp boat to shrimp down where Snow’s Cut marina was, not the State Park. Linwood Lewis had a small shrimp dock off to the side of the marina. Earl sold fish to Lewis (Linwood) who would buy all he would catch.
Earl would run over to Southport sometimes with his small motor boat when they were getting low on shrimp and get a hundred pounds at a time. Earl also sold fish to the Atlantic fish house on the waterway.