June 23--Brunswick County encompasses a wealth of historical and cultural treasures, including the remnants of Colonial and Civil War forts, a mailbox that contains the written outpouring of souls, and the settings for myriad movies filmed in the Cape Fear region.
But it is the county's lighthouses, those sentinels known for guiding ships at sea, that seem to intrigue some visitors the most. As Brunswick marks its 250th anniversary, the county's lighthouses and other landmarks serve as tangible reminders of a vast community's heritage.
"There's a romanticism with lighthouses," said Karen Sphar, executive vice president of the Southport-Oak Island Area Chamber of Commerce, where questions about lighthouses are the most frequently asked when it comes to landmarks. "And they're unique. You don't have lighthouses all over the country."
The Oak Island Lighthouse
Details: Built in 1958 at a cost of $110,000, the structure itself is 153 feet tall, with a slight rise that puts the light at 169 feet above water. The landmark was deeded to Caswell Beach in 2004 by the U.S. Coast Guard. The town is responsible for maintenance of the lighthouse and its grounds, while the Coast Guard retained responsibility for the upkeep of the lights inside.
How to visit: Free tours to the lighthouse's second level, which don't require reservations, are held 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Climbing to the top is available year-round for anyone 9 years old or older, but reservations are required at least two weeks in advance. They can be made at www.oakislandlighthouse.org. For more information, call Caswell Beach Town Hall at 910-278-5471.
Old Baldy Lighthouse
Details: This guiding light was built in 1816, using the original bricks from the first lighthouse built on Bald Head Island in 1796. Considered the state's oldest lighthouse, it is 90 feet tall.
How to visit: Tours cost $6 for ages 13 and up, $3 for ages 3 to 12 and are free for children who are 2 or younger. The cost of the only way to get to Bald Head Island, via a private ferry, is $24.75 for ages 14 and older and $15.75 for ages 3-12. Old Baldy tours take place 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday. For more information, visit www.oldbaldy.org
Price's Creek Lighthouse
Details: Built in 1848, the 20-foot-tall Price's Creek Lighthouse is the only range light to survive out of eight the federal government built. Many were destroyed by Confederate forces when Fort Fisher fell in January 1865. Today, the light is owned by chemical company ADM.
How to see it: The lighthouse is decrepit and closed to the public, but it can be seen by passengers on the Southport-Fort Fisher Ferry, from the right side as the ferry pulls into Price's Creek from Fort Fisher and from the left side as the ferry leaves the Southport dock headed to Fort Fisher.
Details: Now home to the Fort Johnston-Southport Museum and Visitors Center, Fort Johnston was built in Colonial days in response to perceived threats from Spain. This perception turned out to be true on Sept. 4, 1748, when two Spanish privateers and a captured sloop tried to seize slaves working on the fort, according to MyReporter.com, a StarNews website. "They didn't succeed, but they did manage to move on and loot Brunswick Town for a couple of days," wrote former StarNews staff writer Amy Hotz. During the Civil War, the fort was the site of recruitment and training activities. Today, the visitors center is inside the Garrison House while other buildings on the property are home to the N.C. Maritime Museum. About 1,000 people come to the visitors center each month. The Garrison lawn plays a key role in the N.C. Fourth of July Festival each year, as the site of the naturalization ceremony.
How to visit: Located at 203 E. Bay St. behind the N.C. Maritime Museum, the center's hours are 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 1-4 p.m. Sunday. More info: cityofsouthport.com; 910-457-7927
Old Sunset Beach Bridge
Details: Built in 1958, the Sunset Beach Pontoon Swing Bridge linked the island town of Sunset Beach to the mainland for more than 50 years before it was decommissioned in 2010. "The wooden road built over the pontoons rose and fell with the tide. When the tide was high, cars traveled over a slight incline in the middle of the bridge; when the tide was low, there was a small valley in the middle," explains the town's website. "All the while, the bridge tender maintained a watchful eye from the little white house. When a boat approached, it would signal the bridge tender, who then opened the bridge just for that boat." Residents formed a preservation society to save the bridge from destruction. In May this year, the organization opened the Old Bridge Preservation Society Museum and Interpretive Center, which houses a re-creation of the bridge tender's office.
How to visit: Part of the bridge now resides, along with the bridge tender's building, the museum and a picnic area, at 109 Shoreline Drive West on property near the new Mannon C. Gore Bridge across from the Sunset Beach Fire House. More information is available at www.oldbridgepreservationsociety.org and
The Boiling Spring
Details: Developers of Boiling Spring Lakes discovered The Boiling Spring in 1961, a spring located in a wooded ravine. At one time, it was known as The Bouncing Log Spring because a log in the spring would bounce around when the spring "boiled" with the upward thrust of ground water, according to the town's website, www.cityofbsl.org.
Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson
Details: Brunswick Town served as a major pre-Revolutionary War port along the Cape Fear River before British troops destroyed it. On top of the lost village, the Confederacy in 1862 built Fort Anderson, known at first as St. Philips Fort after the ruins of a Brunswick Town church. The brick-wall remnants of St. Philip's Church, built in 1740, still stand at the Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson State Historic Site.
How to visit: The site, which includes a visitor's center, is at 8884 St. Philip's Road SE in Winnabow and is open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday.
Details: Roger Moore first built a home at Orton Plantation in 1725. That house was burned, reportedly by Indians, and Moore built another in 1735, a one-and-a-half story structure that forms the center of the current house. Moore developed Orton into a successful rice plantation. Later owners James and Luola Sprunt added the wings to Orton House in 1910. Louis Bacon, a descendant of Roger Moore, bought the home and property in 2010 and Bacon has granted conservation easements on more than 6,600 acres of the property since then. The grounds are not currently open to the public,
Details: A Civil War fort on the eastern tip of Oak Island, Fort Caswell is home these days to the N.C. Baptist Assembly, the site of church retreats and camps. For more information, visit www.fortcaswell.com.
Kindred Spirit Mailbox
Details: A Sunset Beach tradition for decades, the Kindred Spirit Mailbox serves as a place to send dreams rather than actual mail. Inside are notebooks and pens with which people can record their dreams, thoughts, wishes or anything else they care to write.
How to visit: The mailbox is on Bird Island, near Sunset Beach.
New landmarks: movie locations
Details: The home at 229 N. Caswell Ave. in Southport is known as "The Crimes of the Heart" house because the 1986 movie of the same name was filmed there, the first major film to be shot entirely in Southport, according to the book "Southport Secrets," published by the Southport Historical Society. These days, according to Fort Johnston-Southport Museum and Visitors Center volunteers, people want to know where they can find some of the locations shown in the film "Safe Haven" (props from the movie are displayed at the visitors center) and the TV series "Under the Dome" (including Trinity Church at 651 Pequot Ave., Spike's Dairy Bar at 102 W. Nash St. and the character Big Jim's house on the city's waterfront)
Coming June 30: The Brunswick history series concludes with a look at the county's beaches. What began as hard-to-reach, windswept islands dotted with a few humble houses evolved into a leading economic engine for the county. Please take part in the series by sharing your early memories of family gatherings at Brunswick beaches. Did you have to take a ferry? Send us a short story, and we'll post it online. Please email your story -- including your name and phone number, in case there are questions -- to Brunsco250@gmail.com.
Cece Nunn: 910-520-2597
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