Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina

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Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina
Johnnie Mercer's Pier
Johnnie Mercer's Pier
Flag of Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina
Official seal of Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina
Location in New Hanover County and the state of North Carolina.
Location in New Hanover County and the state of North Carolina.
Coordinates: 34°12′40″N 77°47′55″W / 34.21111°N 77.79861°W / 34.21111; -77.79861Coordinates: 34°12′40″N 77°47′55″W / 34.21111°N 77.79861°W / 34.21111; -77.79861
CountryUnited States
StateNorth Carolina
CountyNew Hanover
TownshipHarnett Township
Named forJoshua G. Wright
 • MayorDarryl Mills[1]
 • Total2.27 sq mi (5.89 km2)
 • Land1.40 sq mi (3.61 km2)
 • Water0.88 sq mi (2.28 km2)
7 ft (2 m)
 • Total2,473
 • Density1,772.76/sq mi (684.67/km2)
Time zoneUTC-5 (Eastern (EST))
 • Summer (DST)UTC-4 (EDT)
ZIP code
Area code910
FIPS code37-75820[3]
GNIS feature ID0997665[4]

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-mile (6 km) long beach island, an interior island called Harbor Island, and pockets of commercial property on the mainland. It served as a filming location of Dawson's Creek.



Wrightsville Beach is a popular spot for teenagers and students of the University of North Carolina Wilmington nearby

The first documented history of present-day Wrightsville Beach began when the Lord's Proprietor granted land to Charles Harrison in 1725. The land grant was for 640 acres (259 ha) located north of the present day Heide 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 1883, the Carolina Yacht Club was founded by seven local men who loved to sail and race boats.[5] It is currently known as the seventh oldest Yacht club in America. 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.[6] 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.

Wrightsville Beach Aerial Photo showcasing the Intracoastal Waterway


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)[7] took control of the city of Wilmington's utilities by forming the Consolidated Railroad, Power & Light Company (CRPLCo - subsequently renamed the Tidewater 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. After MacRae subsequently took over the Wilmington Sea Coast Railroad, he consolidated the area's lines into one electric streetcar system, carrying people from downtown Wilmington to one of seven stations along South Lumina Avenue. Automobiles were banned from Wrightsville Beach until the 1930s, giving the CRPLCo streetcar a virtual monopoly on transportation. The streetcar operations also carried freight with adapted freight cars, often part of the operations consist mainly of 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 and 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. It was opened in 1905 with a 25,000 square feet (2,300 m2) venue for dancing and socializing, games, food, and entertainment.[8] 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 and 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. The health department then condemned lumina. 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 to build a resort for African Americans in the community. They built a pavilion, boardwalks, concessions, and bathhouses. Visitors could ride the streetcar to Harbor Island and board the ferry, taking 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, reopening 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 its maiden voyage in the Civil War in 1864. 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.

The construction and popularity of these new buildings were made possible in part by constructing 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 access the town via road easily. On April 18, 1939, W.R. "Tuck" Savage, who had operated the first electric streetcar in Wilmington, also piloted the city's last one on a return trip to Wrightsville Beach.[9]

Storm activity[edit]

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 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 in 1954 from Hurricane Hazel, which made landfall at Holden Beach. This was the third named hurricane to hit the area within seven weeks and is the only category 4 hurricane to make landfall in North Carolina.[10] 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 damages to Johnnie Mercer's Pier and other houses along the beach.

In 1996, the area was hit by two hurricanes, Bertha and Fran, within months of each other. The storms destroyed the beaches' fishing piers and caused hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of damage.[11][12][13]

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[14] and set up the catastrophic flooding disaster that would be the result of Hurricane Floyd's landfall nearby just weeks later.[15]

Hurricane Florence made landfall in Wrightsville Beach in 2018 as a Category 1 storm with maximum 90 miles per hour (140 km/h) winds.[16]

Historic sites[edit]


Wrightsville Beach is located at 34°12′40″N 77°47′55″W / 34.211194°N 77.798636°W / 34.211194; -77.798636,[18]

The area's geography is composed of two islands 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. 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), of which 1.3 square miles (3.4 km2) is land and 1.1 square miles (2.8 km2) (44.40%) is water.

Contemporary home in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina
Aerial footage of the south end of Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina
Wrightsville Beach South End
Wrightsville Beach Neighborhood


Historical population
Census Pop.
U.S. Decennial Census[19]

2020 census[edit]

Wrightsville Beach racial composition[20]
Race Number Percentage
White (non-Hispanic) 2,322 93.89%
Black or African American (non-Hispanic) 11 0.44%
Asian 15 0.61%
Pacific Islander 1 0.04%
Other/Mixed 89 3.6%
Hispanic or Latino 35 1.42%

As of the 2020 United States census, there were 2,473 people, 1,166 households, and 531 families residing in the town.

2000 census[edit]

At the 2000 census,[3] 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 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. ^ "Elected Officials". New Hanover County Board of Elections. Retrieved April 23, 2022.
  2. ^ "ArcGIS REST Services Directory". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved September 20, 2022.
  3. ^ a b "U.S. Census website". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2008-01-31.
  4. ^ "US Board on Geographic Names". United States Geological Survey. 2007-10-25. Retrieved 2008-01-31.
  5. ^ Carolina Yacht Club The Club House, retrieved 21 July 2020
  6. ^ Proffitt, Martie (Apr 17, 1983). "Local history offers tasty tidbits". Star-News. pp. 8C. Retrieved 1 November 2015.
  7. ^ Selected North Carolina Topics, retrieved 21 July 2020
  8. ^ Our State Lumina Pavilion, 30 April 2014, retrieved 21 July 2020
  9. ^ TBT: Traveling by trolley, 23 September 2015, retrieved 21 July 2020
  10. ^ "Weather.com". Retrieved 6 September 2021.
  11. ^ Anne Russell. Carolina Yacht Club Chronicles. Wilmington Printing Company: Wilmington NC. 1993.
  12. ^ Virginia Kuhn. Tide and Time, A History of Wrightsville Beach North Carolina. Artspeaks. 2008
  13. ^ "New Hanover County". Jim Forte Postal History. Retrieved 1 November 2015.
  14. ^ "TPC ATLANTIC DENNIS 1999 PRELIMINARY REPORT". 2013-10-04. Archived from the original on 2013-10-04. Retrieved 2018-09-27.
  15. ^ "TPC ATLANTIC FLOYD 1999 PRELIMINARY REPORT". 2010-12-02. Archived from the original on 2010-12-02. Retrieved 2018-09-27.
  16. ^ "Florence live coverage: 'This flooding is only going to get worse'". abc11.com. September 16, 2018. Retrieved September 16, 2018.
  17. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. July 9, 2010.
  18. ^ "US Gazetteer files: 2010, 2000, and 1990". United States Census Bureau. 2011-02-12. Retrieved 2011-04-23.
  19. ^ "Census of Population and Housing". Census.gov. Retrieved June 4, 2015.
  20. ^ "Explore Census Data". data.census.gov. Retrieved 2021-12-24.

External links[edit]

Preceded by Beaches of Southeastern North Carolina Succeeded by