Oral History – Ray Rothrock – Part 6: ‘Downtown Kure Beach’

by Ann Hertzler

There was also a Mrs. Davis‟ Restaurant in Kure Beach on U.S. 421, now S. Ft. Fisher Boulevard Avenue. It was across from the Lutheran Retreat. The building is no longer standing and is now an empty lot. That building was one of the old Army Barracks moved from Ft. Fisher Army Base. Her restaurant was in the front part and she lived in the back part of it. Mrs. Davis sold predominately local, fresh caught seafood and was only open for the evening meal. Her calling card was her Hush Puppies. She sold more Hush Puppies and Hush Puppy Mix than she probably did food. People would have fish fries at home and have someone go to Mrs. Davis restaurant to pick up Hush Puppies or get her Hush Puppy Mix, just add water (all the other secret ingredients were in the bag) and cook her Hush Puppies to enjoy with their fresh caught fish, oyster roast, or clam bake.

Canoutas Restaurant was at the southeast corner of the main intersection at Kure Beach. That corner is now Jack Mackerel‟s parking. Andy’s Dad, George, ran the restaurant and his wife, Lola had a Bingo Parlor and Beachwear Shop on the other side of it, toward the oceanfront. They later opened a Pool Hall in a building just south of the restaurant and they lived upstairs. Ray and friends enjoyed playing pool, especially in the winter time when it was too cold to be outside. Ray went to school with Andy, who was a couple of years older. Andy was Ray‟s Platoon Leader in Army ROTC in the 10th grade and Company Commander in the 11th grade at New Hanover High School.

The Kure Beach Post Office was next door to that. Just past the Post Office was Smitty‟s. Seems like Smitty put a little building in that was a tackle shop at one time and now is where Freddie‟s is located. Behind that building is where the Kure Beach Dance Hall was and everybody learned the jitter-bug and Shag while the Juke Box was blaring and blasting. Closer to the ocean was a restaurant and on the Oceanside of the crossover walkway, a large building sat on the oceanfront. The bottom floor was George Stathis Restaurant and rooms upstairs for rent. Hurricane Hazel just about took it away and it was moved over to the vacant land that is now where Kure Beach is building the oceanfront park.

In 1956, Ray’s Mother and Smitty’s brother (Ronald Smith) left Smitty’s and leased the building that had been moved from the oceanfront which was located between what is now Old Pier Restaurant and the ocean. They named it the R & S Restaurant (Rothrock and Smith). Ray’s mother was the cook and everything she cooked was delicious. She ran it until the early 60’s. It was a lot like Mr. & Mrs. Lewis Restaurant, opening at 4:30 in the morning, serving breakfast to the fishermen, specials for lunch and lots of different fresh, local caught seafood for dinner.

Kure_Beach_Bud_Joe In the early 50‟s, Mr. Fisher was the Chief of Police. Ray believes they had one other police officer, civilian clothes and only called upon when needed. Mr. Christmas was the Constable and back then with not so much crime, no more police were needed. Mr. Fisher was always walking around the main street of downtown Kure Beach, between where the traffic signal is now and the fishing pier. His black, private car with a red light set up with a siren was always parked just up from Bud and Joe’s [picture]. There was a sign, “Reserved for Chief of Police.” Ray does not remember Mr. Fisher having a radio to talk with Carolina Beach, the County nor the State. Later they did get a radio where he could talk to Carolina Beach Police and Emergency Ambulance Services.

Ray was a Kure Beach Volunteer Fireman when he was 16. On October 15, 1954, being young and perhaps foolish, when Hurricane Hazel made landfall, he and the other Volunteer Firemen watched all the piers and most oceanfront buildings destroyed or severely damaged. His family’s oceanfront apartment was one of those buildings that were severely damaged. It was rebuilt and ready for the tourist in the summer of 1955. They had a few Fire Hydrants, but not nearly enough, so the small water truck would have to be filled or run lots of hoses when they had a fire. Didn’t know about CPR but they did obtain a Breathing Machine.

On July 4th, 1955 Ray was a Mate on the boat Lewis Davis had bought. They headed out from The Basin Marina to bottom fish when, about 3 or 4 miles off the beach, a fisherman had an apparent heart attack. Thank goodness the ocean was flat, no wind, no waves and Lewis Davis beached the boat right next to Kure Beach Fishing Pier. They had no radio, no cell phone, no nothing. Ray was on the bow when the boat hit land, he was off and running to Canatouas’ Restaurant to get Andy, the lifeguard, and the keys to the Town Hall where the Breathing Machine was kept.

The Town Hall was the back of the existing ABC Store which is now the building where Bowman‟s Realty is. Andy came without the keys, so he rammed his fist through the glass to unlock the door and get the oxygen machine. In the meantime, the Rescue Squad from Carolina Beach came and took the man to the hospital. Thank goodness the fisherman recovered and continued to come to Kure Beach to fish, but not going out on a boat. They pushed the boat off the beach, turned it around and went deep-sea fishing as planned. In the summertime the only medical was an EMS, 2 Technicians stationed right behind Britt‟s, and an ambulance at Carolina Beach.

v18NO7 July FINAL PDF-003Ray and five others from Kure Beach and the Monkey Junction area went to the Navy Recruiter, then located in the Wilmington Post Office, to join the Navy on August 11, 1955. They had completed all their applications and that was the day they were scheduled to be processed.

Ray remembers the Navy Recruiter asking them, ‘What are you guys doing here today, don’t you know a Hurricane is coming?” One of them answered, “that’s the reason we want to get off the Island!” Ray was the youngest and said, he did not say that. All the others were older and subject to be drafted, so they were ready to go.

Little did Ray or the others know that the Hurricane Connie (August 12, 1955) would destroy most of the beach, Connie and Diane (August 17, 1955) took all of the oceanfront, two-story, four-apartment building Ray’s Mom and Dad had. It also did lots of wind damage to the cottages they had. They did not rebuild the oceanfront, because insurance did not cover the damages from the ocean. They sold the property in the late 60’s and that is where Admiral Quarter’s smaller building now stands.

Ray remembers Kure Beach being incorporated in 1947. Mr. Lawrence Kure was the first Mayor. Ray’s Dad ran for Mayor once but Ray does not recall who he ran against. Back then there may have been a big total of 175 – 185 voters.

Oral History – Ray Rothrock – Part 5: ‘Lewis Store’

by Ann Hertzler

Ray ate at home and at Andy Canouta’s father’s restaurant on the southeast corner where the parking lot for Jack Mackerel’s is – burgers, hotdogs, ham sandwiches or dinners with vegetables and they always had delicious homemade pies and cakes.

Ed and Gertie Lewis had a grocery store across the street on the southwest corner of the main intersection in Kure Beach, where the convenience store is now located. They had two gas pumps out front, regular and high test. They had a grocery store with a meat market and on the north end of the building they had a restaurant with about a dozen bar stools and 3 or 4 booths that each seated 4 to 6 customers. They opened at 5 am, cooked three meals a day and closed between 9 and 10, depending on the customers. The picture (left) shows Mrs. Lewis and her son in front of the store with kerosene pumps in the back on the left.

Mr. and Mrs. Lewis built the little building on the north side of the store and restaurant and leased it to Mr. Bob and Mrs. Margaret Ford to operate a Bait and Tackle Shop. Today it is where the Ice Cream Store is operated.

Ray worked for Mr. and Mrs. Lewis for 50 cents an hour, but he could eat and drink all he wanted while working. Gaining weight at that young age was not a problem as Ray was only 5‟ 10” tall and weighed only 129 pounds when he went into the Navy at the age of 17 years and two weeks in August 1955. Ray did everything there was to do at the store and restaurant – pump gas – stock groceries – run the cash register – cut different cuts of meats – and grind up beef for hamburger meat. He learned a lot from Mr. and Mrs. Lewis and continues to talk about it today, being thankful for their training. Mr. Lewis taught him how to cut up a whole side of beef or pork, how to cook and not to hit his hot grill with a Spatula unless you wanted a swift pop behind the back of your head. Ray said, “I was a very fast learner from Mr. Lewis”, I never got popped!
Back then they did not have frozen French fries. They peeled as many as a hundred pounds of potatoes a day, sliced ’em up, and cut them for French Fries or mashed potatoes. No hash browns, but all the regular, not quick cook, grits you wanted. Cole slaw, tater salad were all made from “scratch;” no ready-made deliveries from food service trucks.

Ray went to work at 4:30 am in order to have the grits ready to open at 5 in the morning for a good breakfast crowd. Fishermen were always up before daylight going out on the boats, on the piers, or surf fishing. Back then they believed you had to get an early start to have the best catch of fish! After breakfast, they would prepare the lunch menu, two or three different meats with home cooked vegetables. Dinner was pretty much a-la-carte, mostly shrimp and other seafood. Fresh, locally caught shrimp were peeled, deveined and washed before covering them lightly with Mr. Ed‟s secret cornmeal and whatever else he put in it. He also had his secret Hush Puppy recipe and they would cook hundred‟s of them every day.

v18NO6 June FINAL PDF version-004The fishermen fished everywhere back then as they do today – on the boats, off the surf and all the piers – Ft. Fisher Pier – Kure Beach Pier – Center Pier – and the two piers at Carolina Beach. They also walked or drove to the North End to fish and some would take a boat over to Masonboro Island to fish. The picture (right) shows a tourist looking at the 40+ lb. Red Drum caught by Sleepy Ferguson on Bald Head Island. Sleepy worked for Ray’s Dad in the furniture business refinishing furniture. It is hanging in front of Smitty’s Restaurant in Kure Beach.”

During the fall and winter, Ray’s Dad would do commercial fishing, netting Popeye Mullet up and down the beach and off Bald Head Island. One time they had a very, very big catch over at Bald Head Island. They brought them back in several boat loads and filled two dump trucks full of Popeye Mullet at The Basin Marina. They took them to the market in Wilmington. Ray recalls his Dad and DP being very, very upset when they were paid 2 cents a pound for the small ones, 4 cents a pound for the medium and a big 6 cents a pound for the large ones, which were about a foot and a half long. They had that nice big catch and learned when the market is flooded, the price goes down.

There was more than one Fish Market downtown Wilmington off the foot of Market to the south. These markets would sell a lot of the local catches to locals. These markets also shipped seafood out of Wilmington via boats, trucks, and train. A lot of folks here and up state ate salted Popeye Mullet, especially for a fish and eggs breakfast. The bigger female Popeye Mullet provided a large market for fish roe that lots of folks coated with cornmeal and fried. Back then J. H. Lea and Sons had a very large fish market in Hampstead, but it was too far away to truck the catches from lower New Hanover County to be sold. J.H. Lea and Sons had lots of large trucks and provided many markets and restaurants up and down the east coast, fresh caught seafood.

Oral History – Ray Rothrock – Part 4: ‘Charter Fishing – Marina’

by Ann Hertzler

In about 1947, soon after Ray’s Dad built the 3 cottages, his Dad got into the Charter Fishing Business along with a Marina. Ray’s Dad and Mr. D.P. Lilly became very good friends and partners. They obtained a 99 year lease from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the property at the very end of U. S. 421 to build the first marina and boat ramp at Ft. Fisher.

They got a black gentleman from Seabreeze to bring his horse and drag pan to start the digging. A drag pan is like a very large shovel (scoop) with two handles. The very strong operator would lift the handles as the horse pulled it, scooped it full of soil, then push down on the handle when the scoop was full, having the horse pull it to the area to be dumped. There, the strong man would lift the handles, flipping the pan over to dump the soil.

When the water level was reached, they had a Drag-Line to come in and continue digging to get the marina deep enough for the boats that would be using it. Once the boat ramp and docks were complete, they had the drag-line remove the berm left between the marina and the Basin.

To get to New Inlet, Corncake Inlet, or the Cape Fear River, you had to go toward Zeke’s Island, where they had broken the rock wall apart. They had built the rock wall from the end of U.S.421 to Zeke’s Island and then on over toward Bald Head Island between 1875 and 1881 to reduce the flow of water through New Inlet that caused severe shoaling in the Cape Fear River. read more

Oral History – Ray Rothrock – Part 3: ‘Fort Fisher’

by Ann Hertzler

The buildings at Ft. Fisher Army Base were not originally for families. It was an Army Base with barracks, a few office buildings and a very large Mess Hall. The buildings were pre-fabricated somewhere else, the 8 by 8 foot sections brought in by trucks and put together. Even the roof was in sections; they just had to put the tar paper and shingles on to complete the installation. After the War, the base closed.

Families bought the buildings and housing and had them moved all over the beaches, mostly on Kure Beach, then Hanby and Wilmington Beach. From 3 blocks south of the traffic light in Kure Beach, today you can see the buildings still standing that were moved from the Ft. Fisher Army Base. Some were primary homes and many were utilized as second homes or beach homes. They were inexpensive to buy and did not cost very much to move.

The airstrip is the section right past the Civil War Museum where it parallels the highway. Just before you turn into the Ft. Fisher Aquarium, you can see where the airstrip was. Ray remembers the Army being there but does not recall seeing any military airplanes. After the base closed, Punky Kure and others would use the short airstrip for their airplanes to spot Menhaden fish for the boats netting them along the coast.

The Ft. Fisher Army Base began where the concrete columns are today and went to the end of U.S. 421, just past where the Ft. Fisher/Southport Ferry is today. His Dad and fishing partner, D.P. Lilly eventually built the boat ramp and docks at the end of the road. Going down U.S. 421, on the left side or ocean side were several bunkers where the Army stored their ammunition. One of the bunkers was where the Hermit claimed his home to be. Ray went into the Navy in 1955 which was before the Hermit came to KB.

read more

Oral History – Ray Rothrock – Part 2: ‘Kure Beach Rentals’

by Ann Hertzler

Because Ray’s Dad quit the Shipyard when WW II was at its peak, he was called to be examined for the Army. He was 33 years old and had seven children. Ray very well remembers that day his Dad got on the Cattle-Car in Kure Beach to go to Ft. Bragg. His Mother and all the children were standing with his Dad, all crying because they thought they may never see their Dad again. He got back from Ft. Bragg about 2 a.m. the next morning, having walked and hitch-hiked back to Kure Beach after failing the physical.

Ray’s Dad was a workaholic. When he left the shipyard, he went into the reupholstering and refinishing business. After the War Ray’s Dad bought half the Army Mess Hall at Ft. Fisher, a huge building. They took it apart, moved it to Monkey Junction area, and put it back together for the back end of his furniture business. It was across the highway from the Army Surplus Store and sat right where Sanders Road is now.

Ray’s Grandfather and Grandmother on his Mother’s side of the family had built the building which is now the Army Surplus Store and also lived in that building where his Grandfather refinished furniture. With this furniture business on Carolina Beach, his Dad and Mom had a total of 4 business locations, with the others being in Wilmington, all on Castle Street. Ray’s Mother was the seamstress, doing all the sewing for the furniture to be reupholstered in addition to making drapes and slipcovers.

His Dad, Ray, and his older brother Corkey looked after the cottages, staying at the beach all the time. His Mother and other brothers and sisters would come down and spend some time. Ray’s Dad bought an Army Surplus Jeep to drive around the beach which the children really enjoyed. There was no Buffer Zone while Ray was growing up, so the woods all the way to the Cape Fear River was a great place to play and hunt. Sunny Point wasn’t commissioned until sometime in ’55 or ’56.

read more

Oral History – Ray Rothrock – Part 1: ‘Kure Beach’

by Ann Hertzer

Ray Rothrock

Ray Rothrock

Ray Phillip Rothrock was born in Thomasville, North Carolina, July 26, 1938. His parents were Henry T. and Mattie (Billie) Rothrock. World War II was at the peak in 1943 when his Dad had to either get a government job or be drafted. So he left Thomasville Chair Company, moved to Kure Beach and went to work at the Wilmington Shipyard as a welder. Ray was 5 years old. His parents had 6 children and were expecting a 7th one. Of the 7, Ray was right in the middle. Kure Beach probably had more than 400 year-round residents.

The Rothrock family first lived on S. 3rd Street in one of the little cottages that still stands behind Moran’s Motel (118 Ft. Fisher Blvd. S. on the right). They lived in the small cottage closest to Moran’s Motel. The cottage had only two very small bedrooms, a little kitchen and a sitting room. The very small front porch is now closed in. Mom, Dad and seven children lived in this tiny cottage for a year before moving South of Monkey Junction.

His Mom and Dad bought the property from Sanders Road down to the south entrance to where Harris Teeter is now located. It had three small houses on it, but certainly larger than the very small cottage at Kure Beach. Back then they did not have running water, but a hand operated pump close to the house and an Out House way back in the back yard. They raised chickens and hogs and had a small backyard garden. read more