From King’s Highway to US 421 Part IV “The Railroad “Trolley” That Never Was”

By: Rebecca Taylor

In the 1880’s, while Captain Harper was bringing hundreds of people to the new resort of Carolina Beach by steamship from the docks in downtown Wilmington, another beach was being developed. In 1888, the Wilmington Sea Coast Railroad, under president William Latimer, built a rail line from Wilmington to Ocean View Beach, (now know as Wrightsville Beach) as far as the Island Beach Hotel, on what we now call Harbor Island.  A year later a second rail line was built that extended the line onto the barrier island as far as the Breeze Hotel.

Then in 1902, Hugh MacRae, owner of the Wilmington Gas Light Company, as well as the Wilmington Street Railway Company, bought the two smaller lines. He converted the steam trains to electric trolleys and extended the line all the way to the Carolina Yacht Club. Popular from the start, by July 4th of 1910, the “beach cars” carried 10,000 people to Wrightsville Beach.

Determined not to be left behind, the developers of the beaches on the southern end of New Hanover County, on Federal Point, were determined to add rail access to the resorts of Carolina Beach, Wilmington Beach, and Fort Fisher Sea Beach as well. As early as 1891, an article ran in the Wilmington Weekly Star stating that the Fort Fisher Land and Improvement Company was surveying land to run rail lines all the way to Fort Fisher. For unknown reasons that plan never came to fruition.

“The Carolina Beach Railway Company was organized and chartered for the purpose of building a Railway linking Carolina Beach with Wilmington. Many of the leading business men in this section, men who are on the ground and know conditions, have become interested in the project.”

Then in the early 1920’s, another developer stepped in, determined to build the long talked about rail line. The Carolina Beach Railway Company received a charter from the North Carolina General Assembly and began making plans for a line that would run from Sunset Park,  the “new” suburb on the South side of Wilmington, to the booming resort of Carolina Beach.

A state-wide campaign to raise funds by selling stock was conducted in 1920. Among the public relations promises were:

 “Sentiment in the community is wholly with the Carolina Beach Railway Company.  Expressions of approval are heard on every hand because it is realized that a mainland beach, easily accessible by Trolley, is the one thing lacking in the community, and in North Carolina. The accomplishment of this will naturally turn everyone towards Carolina Beach because it will be much safer than any other resort on the South Atlantic coast.”

Always ready to take a dig at Wrightsville Beach, the company’s publicity also stated: “The absence of rivers, creeks and bays is explained by its distance from the neighboring inlets. Consequently, the treacherous undertow and currents that take their annual toll from bathers are entirely missing at this Resort.

Among the officers of the new company were P.Q. Moore, the then serving mayor of Wilmington and John D. Bellamy who had served as congressman for the area and was general council for the Seaboard Air Line Railway. Also listed is Secretary and Manager was A. W. Pate, the owner of the New Hanover Transit Company as well as the Greystone Inn.

It’s hard to find out exactly what happened to the plan. There is a report in the newspaper that they had begun clearing land for the roadway in early 1921. However, by July of 1921, a stock salesman named J. P. Lindsey was suing Pate and the Company for $15,000 claiming he had a contract for a 15% share in stock in the company and 15% of the front lots at Carolina Beach.

After that all publicity for the railroad disappears, and by 1929, the promotional publicity for Carolina highlights the fact that you can reach the beach by automobile via. “asphalt road.”