For those of you who are new in town, and those who enjoy a trip down memory lane now and then, here are some local sights that are lost, but not forgotten.
In 1887, when Captain Harper began bringing beach goers to the new resort of Carolina Beach, the road to Federal Point was a sandy wagon track. Instead, people took the steamer, Passport, and later the Wilmington, down the Cape Fear River from Wilmington.
But, it was a long, hot, buggy walk from the dock on the river to the beach, so he bought a small, three car train and constructed tracks across the peninsula from Sugar Loaf (and, later, Doctor’s Point) to the first ocean side building.
January 14, 1887: The Carolina Beach Company, recently formed, had begun work on a railroad which was to run from near Sugar Loaf, about 13 miles below Wilmington on the Cape Fear River, across the peninsula to the Atlantic coast, near the head of Myrtle Grove Sound, and just below old Camp Wyatt. The iron rails have already been purchased and the rolling stock provided. The railroad work was to be completed in about two months, and the line was not to be more than two miles in length. At the terminus of the railroad on the ocean side there will be a “playground” for the excursionists where they can go and enjoy themselves. WILM.STAR 1-14-1887
May 1, 1887: Capt. Beach was to have charge of the hotel which was to be erected at the new summer resort being developed south of Wilmington. The building was to be put up as soon as the railroad from the river to the beach was completed and made available for the transportation of building materials received from Wilmington. WILM.STAR 5-1-1887
May 4, 1887: A locomotive for the railroad extending from the Cape Fear River to old Camp Wyatt and then to the ocean beach was sent down from Wilmington. WILM.STAR 5-5-l887
May 5, 1887: Three railroad cars, intended for use on the railway from the river to the beach at Carolina Beach, were taken from the shops of the builders, Messrs. Burr & Bailey, to the wharf at the foot of Dock Street, for shipment. WILM.STAR 5-6-1887
Did you know?
You can still see where the old tracks ran in places in the Carolina Beach State Park.
You can also see them very plainly, right down the middle of Harper Avenue, which is why it curves as it approaches Dow Rd., instead of running exactly perpendicular from the ocean to the river.
Fort Fisher Radar Base
Fort Fisher Air Force Station was opened in 1955, on part of the Fort Fisher AFS installation as USAF Permanent System Radar Station “M-115” during a $1 billion increase for US continental defense after the Air Force approved the Mobile Radar program in mid-1954. It was assigned to Air Defense Command as part of a planned deployment of forty-four Mobile Radar Stations. Fort Fisher AFS was designed as site M-115 and the 701st Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron was assigned on August 1, 1955.
Initially, the Air Force Station functioned as a Ground control intercept and warning station to guide interceptor aircraft toward unidentified intruders picked up on the squadron’s radar scopes.
During 1962, Fort Fisher AFS joined the Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) system, initially feeding data to Fort Lee AFS, Virginia. After joining, the squadron was re-designated as the 701st Radar Squadron on July 1, 1962. The radar squadron provided information 24/7 to the SAGE Direction Center where it was analyzed to determine range, direction, altitude, speed, and whether or not aircraft were friendly or hostile.
The 701st Radar Squadron (SAGE) was inactivated and replaced by the 701st Air Defense Group in March 1970. Just before inactivation, the squadron earned an Air Force Outstanding Unit Award for exceptionally meritorious service for the period from December 1, 1968, through February 28, 1970. The upgrade to group status was done because of Fort Fisher AFS’s status as a Backup Interceptor Control (BUIC) site. BUIC sites were alternate control sites in the event that the SAGE Direction Centers became disabled and unable to control interceptor aircraft. The group was inactivated and replaced by 701st Radar Squadron (SAGE) in January 1974, as a reduction to defenses against manned bombers. The group and squadron shared a second Air Force Outstanding Unit Award for the period January 1, 1973, through December 31, 1974.
The base closed on June 30, 1988, and the USAF retained the housing complex and converted it into the Fort Fisher Air Force Recreation Area. Supervision of the Recreation Area was transferred to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base when Myrtle Beach AFB closed in 1993.
Ground Equipment Facility J-02 continued use of the USAF radar in the Joint Surveillance System and “in 1995, an AN/FPS-91A performed search duties.” A portion of the base was returned to the State of North Carolina, which turned much of it into the Fort Fisher State Recreation Area and historic site.
The Fort Fisher site is used by the National Guard as a training area and also hosts the Annual Seafood, Blues and Jazz Festival.