Wrightsville Beach History

Long before Wrightsville Beach became the modern vacation and residential beach town of today, the island was owned by the State of North Carolina and was known as New Hanover Banks. The island was originally made up of two segments separated by an inlet that has since been filled in, with the northern segment known as Shell Island, the site of the present-day Shell Island Resort, along with expensive homes and large condominium developments.

Third Oldest Yacht Club Built

The island became private property between 1791 and 1841, although it remained uninhabited, visited only by hunters and fishermen.

The area was also popular for sailing, and in 1853, the first structure on the island was built, the clubhouse for the Carolina Yacht Club, which is the third oldest yacht club in the United States. In fact, some of the club members were involved in the Civil War, and blockade runners were active in nearby waters, with three of them supposedly having foundered on the island.

Rail Lines Constructed

Following the war, a turnpike, with a surface of oyster shells, was constructed between Wilmington and Wrightsville Sound, and in 1887 the Wilmington Seacoast Railroad laid tracks from the city to the Hammocks, a piece of land to the west of the beach now known as Harbor Island. A footbridge connected the Hammocks with Wrightsville Beach, and development began to pick up.

Another yacht club, several hotels and some beach cottages were built, and in 1889, the rail line was extended across the Hammocks and Banks Channel to the beach proper, and visitors from Wilmington began to flock to Wrightsville Beach in the summer. In 1899, with only 40 or 50 residents, most of them seasonal, the Town of Wrightsville Beach was incorporated, but unfortunately, later that year a hurricane destroyed it.

Beach Trolley Comes

The town was soon rebuilt, the rail line became an electric trolley in 1902, and by 1907, 8,700 passengers from Wilmington, New York and other cities made their way to the beach on the “Beach Trolley.” Costing $7,000, a significant sum in those days, Lumina was built at the end of the trolley line in 1905. Consisting of 12,500 square feet, Lumina was three floors of activities including bowling alley, dance hall and shooting gallery.

Connected To Wilmington

Lumina was expanded several times, a movie screen was erected 50 feet out in the surf, and in 1910, 600 electric lights were placed on the exterior making it visible for miles. By 1930, the population had grown to 110 residents, but in 1934 a fire destroyed more that 100 cottages and the Oceanic Hotel. Again, the town rebounded and in 1935 a road was built all the way from the mainland to Wrightsville Beach.

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