by: Rebecca Taylor – Part 1
As we all know the development of Carolina Beach was largely dependent on Captain Harper’s Steamship line. From the mid-1700’s to the 1920s, the Cape Fear River served as the primary route from Wilmington to Southport.
Beginning in the 1880’s, during summer months, he began dropping passengers off at Sugarloaf Dune (and later Doctor’s Point), where the three car Shoo-Fly train carried passengers from the riverbank to the oceanfront for fishing, surf bathing, and just enjoying fresh breezes as a break from the downtown heat.
But did you know that long before there was a Carolina Beach there was an inter-state highway that ran through Federal Point?
The King’s Highway
The King’s Highway, named after King Charles II, who asked the governors of his colonies to establish a line of communication between the colonies in 1660, very soon after being crowned.
The entire length of The King’s Highway did not become a continuous wagon road until about 1735. Incorporating the Boston Post Road (opened in 1673), the route traveled over 1,300 miles, from Boston, Massachusetts to Charles Town, South Carolina.
Along the route, there are numerous communities today with a King Street, King’s Road, or King Avenue, all remaining from the days when it was called the King’s Highway.
From the Quaker communities around Edenton, the old highway followed what is now US Highway 17 to New Bern, North Carolina, an important seaport and the early colonial capital of North Carolina. From New Bern, the highway bypassed White Oak and Angola Swamps in a fairly direct line to Wilmington, North Carolina, at the Cape Fear River. As US Highway 17 does today, the old road continued on to Georgetown, and finally to Charles Town, the colonial capital of South Carolina, and the southern terminus of the King’s Highway.
Big Sugar Loaf Ferry
With a road running from Wilmington to Charlestown South Carolina, there needed to be a way to cross the Cape Fear River. In 1727 (Wilmington didn’t exist yet), the first authorized ferry in North Carolina was established from Brunswick Town on the western bank of the Cape Fear River and the “haulover” on the eastern bank. It was also known as the “Ferry at Big Sugar Loaf” and appears to have docked within what is now the Carolina Beach State Park.
The colonial general court authorized Cornelius Harnett Sr.*, to keep a ferry “from a place on the West side of the River to a place called Haulover, and that he received a sum of five shillings for a man and a horse and half a Crown for each person.”
The 1733, Mosley map shows the ferry directly opposite Brunswick Town, on land owned by Col. Moore, at the foot of what was later named Telfair Creek, which runs into what is now Snow’s Cut.
The ferry continued to run under a series of owners until at least 1775. However, by March of 1776, British warships had entered the Cape Fear and well armed troops were placed ashore. Those troops carried out sporadic raids on Brunswick Town and the surrounding countryside.
The town was undefendable and abandoned for the more secure and prosperous Wilmington, where a ferry from Wilmington, across Eagles Island had been established in 1766.
*Cornelius Harnett, Jr., a major force in the Patriot cause during the American Revolution, was just three years old when his family moved to Brunswick Town. A member of the Sons of Liberty and the chairman of the North Carolina Committee of Safety, he was elected to the Continental Congress in May of 1777, and served three years before returning to Wilmington. Near the close of the War he was captured by the British in Onslow County and brought to Wilmington. There he was imprisoned in an open blockhouse where his health declined rapidly. Although paroled from prison, he died soon afterwards. Harnett is interned in St. James Churchyard.