Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina

Wrightsville Beach is a town in New Hanover County, North Carolina, United States. Wrightsville Beach is just east of Wilmington and is part of the Wilmington Metropolitan Statistical Area. The population was 2,477 at the 2010 census. The town consists of a 4 miles (6 km) long beach island, an interior island called Harbor Island, and pockets of commercial property on the mainland.

Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina
Johnnie Mercer's Pier
Location in New Hanover County and the state of North Carolina.
Coordinates: 34°12′40″N 77°47′55″W
CountryUnited States
StateNorth Carolina
CountyNew Hanover
TownshipHarnett Township
Named forJoshua G. Wright
  MayorBill Blair
  Total2.4 sq mi (6.2 km2)
  Land1.3 sq mi (3.5 km2)
  Water1.1 sq mi (2.8 km2)
7 ft (2 m)
  Density1,000/sq mi (400/km2)
Time zoneUTC-5 (Eastern (EST))
  Summer (DST)UTC-4 (EDT)
ZIP code
Area code(s)910
FIPS code37-75820[2]
GNIS feature ID0997665[3]



The geography of the area is composed of two islands that are separated by two different bodies of water. Bradley Creek runs between the mainland and the Hammocks (currently known as Harbor Island). The Hammocks are then separated from the beach by Banks Channel.

The first documented history of present-day Wrightsville Beach began when the Lord’s Proprietors granted land to Charles Harrison in 1725. The land grant was for 640 acres (259 ha) located north of the present day Hiede Trask Bridge that runs over the Intracoastal Waterway and was the first formal ownership of property near the beach. In the 1700 and 1800s the Hammocks were accessible by a footbridge from the mainland, but the beach itself was only accessible by boat.

In 1853, the Carolina Yacht Club was founded by seven local men who loved to sail and race boats. Currently known as the second oldest yacht club in America, the Yacht club was built in 1884. It was the first permanent structure on the beach and was only accessible by boat. This was followed by a few scattered cottages and commercial buildings began springing up on what was then known as Ocean View Beach.

The town bears the name of Joshua G. Wright of Wilmington (1842-1890), who developed a local realtor company.[4] A post office called Wrightsville was subsequently established in 1881. Accessibility to the beach improved in 1887 when Shell Road was completed, running from Wilmington to the edge of the current Intracoastal Waterway. The town was incorporated in 1899 as Wrightsville Beach, in honor of the Wright family of Wilmington and the community of Wrightsville on the mainland side of Harbor Island.


By the late 1800s, ownership of the land had passed to the MacRae family of Wilmington. In 1887 passenger service began on the Wilmington Sea Coast Railroad from Wilmington, bringing people from downtown Wilmington to the edge of Bradley Creek. In 1889, the Ocean View Railroad built a track across Banks Channel to carry visitors to the oceanfront.

Having already established a power generation company, in 1902 Hugh MacRae (March 30, 1865 - October 20, 1951)[5][6] took control of the city of Wilmington's utilities by forming the Consolidated Railroad, Power & Light Company (CRPLCo - subsequently renamed the Tide Water Power Company, which became part of the Carolina Power & Light Company in 1952 post-MacRae's death). The Ocean View Railroad was subsequently converted to an electric streetcar, and after MacRae subsequently took over the Wilmington Sea Coast Railroad, he consolidated the areas lines into one electric streetcar system, carrying people from downtown Wilmington to one of seven stations along what is now South Lumina Avenue. Automobiles were banned from Wrightsville Beach until the 1930s,[7] giving the CRPLCo streetcar a virtual monopoly on transportation. The streetcar operations also carried freight, with adapted freight cars often part of the operational consist, mainly carrying ice in an era before indoor refrigeration was available, allowing the subsequent development of far more snack stands and soda shops along the beach.

With the CRPLCo electric streetcar now in operation, the MacRae family began developing plots of land both along the streetcar line, as well as Wrightsville Beach as a beach resort. The two hotels on the beach were renovated and the first public entertainment venue on the beach was built, named Lumina because of the 6,000 exterior lights that illuminated the building. Opened in 1905 with a 25,000 square feet (2,300 m2) venue for dancing and socializing, games, food and entertainment. It attracted many entertainers and musicians including the Big Bands of the 1930s and 40s. In 1913 Lumina enlarged the dance floor and added a movie screen in the surf from which they showed silent films. After World War II its popularity slowly declined due to the cancellation of the trolley service to the beach in 1940 as well as the growing number of other entertainment venues in and around the area. Lumina changed hands a few times after the war as people tried various ways to make it the hottest spot on the beach. It was a skating alley and then a bar before it was closed in 1972. Lumina was then condemned by the health department. It was torn down in 1973 to make room for condominiums along the beach.

In 1923 Shell Island was purchased by the Home Realty Company for the purpose of building a resort for African Americans in the community. They built a pavilion, boardwalks, concessions and bath houses. Visitors could ride the streetcar to Harbor Island and board the ferry which would then take them over to Shell Island. But in 1926, a massive fire burned every structure on the island. Never rebuilt, transportation to Shell Island also hence ceased.

In 1937 the third pier in North Carolina, the Ocean View Pier, was constructed. In 1939 it was bought by Johnnie Mercer and renamed after its new owner. Hurricanes have really taken a toll on the pier. It was hit by hurricanes Hazel, Connie, Bertha and Fran. After Fran in 1996 the pier was so damaged that it was closed until 2002 when it reopened with a whole new look. The Current Johnnie Mercer’s Pier is made of reinforced concrete and still stands today. A second pier was constructed in 1938 by Floyd Cox and named the Mira Mar Fishing Pier. It was built on top of the wreck of the Fanny and Jenny, a Confederate blockade runner that ran aground during the Civil War. The wreckage created a natural reef, making for good fishing. Originally Mira Mar was 1,000 feet (300 m) long and boasted a bowling alley and restaurant. The pier was later bought and briefly renamed the Luna Fishing Pier and then the Crystal Fishing Pier. Since 2015 it houses the beach’s most famous restaurant, The Oceanic, a place where patrons can enjoy the ocean view while dining on fresh seafood.

The construction and popularity of these new buildings was made possible in part by the construction of a highway and car bridge to the beach in 1935. A causeway from the mainland to Harbor Island was built in 1926. This allowed people to drive to the first part of the beach. The opening of a road all the way from the mainland to the beach, with a bridge over Banks Channel, allowed residents and visitors to easily access the town via road. On April 18, 1939, W.R. Savage, who had operated the first electric streetcar in Wilmington, also piloted the city's last one, a return trip to Wrightsville Beach.[7]

Storm activity

Wrightsville Beach has weathered many storms. Two devastating hurricanes hit in 1899. The first hurricane hit on August 17 making landfall at Hatteras with widespread destruction at Wrightsville Beach. The second storm came in just south of Wrightsville Beach on November 1 at high tide. Many structures and buildings on the island were damaged. Cottages were wiped off the beach, the train trestle was damaged and the Carolina Yacht Club had to be completely rebuilt. A few smaller storms hit in the early 1900s but none did extensive damage.

The next big hit came from Hurricane Hazel, which made landfall on October 15, 1954 at Holden Beach. This was the third named hurricane to hit the area within 7 weeks and is the only category 4 hurricane to make landfall in North Carolina. The storm headed up the coast devastating Yaupon Beach, Long Beach and Southport before hitting Carolina Beach and Wrightsville Beach. Hurricane Connie hit the beach in 1955 and caused damaged to Johnnie Mercer’s pier and other houses along the beach.

In 1996, the area was hit by two hurricanes, Hurricane Bertha and Hurricane Fran, within months of each other. The storms destroyed the beaches’ fishing piers and causing hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of damage.[8][9][10]

In 1999, the area was affected by Hurricane Dennis, which dumped heavy rains and recorded gusts up to 90–100 miles per hour (140–160 km/h) at Wrightsville[11] and set up the catastrophic flooding disaster that would be the result of Hurricane Floyd's landfall nearby just weeks later.[12]

On the morning of September 14, 2018, Hurricane Florence made landfall in Wrightsville Beach as a Category 1 storm with maximum 90 miles per hour (140 km/h) winds.[13]

Historic sites


Wrightsville Beach is located at 34°12′40″N 77°47′55″W,[15]

Wrightsville Beach lies south of Figure Eight Island, separated by Mason's Inlet, and north of Masonboro Island, separated by Masonboro Inlet.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the town has a total area of 2.4 square miles (6.2 km2).1.3 square miles (3.4 km2) of it is land and 1.1 square miles (2.8 km2) of it (44.40%) is water.


Historical population
Est. 20182,542[1]2.6%
U.S. Decennial Census[16]

At the 2000 census,[2] there were 2,593 people, 1,275 households and 566 families residing in the town. The population density was 1,943.4 per square mile (752.8/km2). There were 3,050 housing units at an average density of 2,285.9 per square mile (885.4/km2). The racial makeup of the town was 98.11% White, 0.27% African American, 0.31% Native American, 0.54% Asian, 0.08% Pacific Islander, 0.19% from other races, and 0.50% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 0.66% of the population.

There were 1,275 households of which 10.7% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 37.6% were married couples living together, 4.0% had a female householder with no husband present, and 55.6% were non-families. 32.0% of all households were made up of individuals and 7.1% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.02 and the average family size was 2.47.

Age distribution was 8.9% under the age of 18, 16.8% from 18 to 24, 34.0% from 25 to 44, 25.3% from 45 to 64, and 15.0% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 37 years. For every 100 females, there were 125.3 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 126.1 males.

The median household income was $55,903, and the median family income was $71,641. Males had a median income of $35,388 versus $36,083 for females. The per capita income for the town was $36,575. About 2.0% of families and 9.5% of the population were below the poverty line, including 9.4% of those under age 18 and 2.2% of those age 65 or over.


  1. "Population and Housing Unit Estimates". Retrieved December 15, 2019.
  2. "American FactFinder". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2008-01-31.
  3. "US Board on Geographic Names". United States Geological Survey. 2007-10-25. Retrieved 2008-01-31.
  4. Proffitt, Martie (Apr 17, 1983). "Local history offers tasty tidbits". Star-News. pp. 8C. Retrieved 1 November 2015.
  5. https://www.ncpedia.org/biography/macrae-hugh
  6. http://www.starnewsonline.com/article/NC/20150711/News/605044282/WM/
  7. http://www.cmhpf.org/development%20of%20streetcar%20systems.htm
  8. Anne Russell. Carolina Yacht Club Chronicles. Wilmington Printing Company: Wilmington NC. 1993.
  9. Virginia Kuhn. Tide and Time, A History of Wrightsville Beach North Carolina. Artspeaks. 2008
  10. "New Hanover County". Jim Forte Postal History. Retrieved 1 November 2015.
  11. "TPC ATLANTIC DENNIS 1999 PRELIMINARY REPORT". 2013-10-04. Retrieved 2018-09-27.
  12. "TPC ATLANTIC FLOYD 1999 PRELIMINARY REPORT". 2010-12-02. Retrieved 2018-09-27.
  13. "Florence live coverage: 'This flooding is only going to get worse'". abc11.com. September 16, 2018. Retrieved September 16, 2018.
  14. "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. July 9, 2010.
  15. "US Gazetteer files: 2010, 2000, and 1990". United States Census Bureau. 2011-02-12. Retrieved 2011-04-23.
  16. "Census of Population and Housing". Census.gov. Retrieved June 4, 2015.
Preceded by
Figure Eight Island
Beaches of Southeastern North Carolina Succeeded by
Masonboro Island
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