Oak Island - A Beacon Into Itís Past,
A Light On Itís Present

by Wendy Murwin

Oak Island, located in Brunswick County, North Carolina is a thriving community and resort area that lures tourists from all over the world. Year after year people in search of sun and fun come to this lovely town, known for its peace and quiet, to sail, surf, bird watch and canoe. Visitors can choose from two piers to fish from as well as go boating on charters that regularly tour from the islandís Blue Water Point Marina. On this idyllic island sailing and surfing are regular activities, not only for the tourists but residents as well. Although Oak Island boasts an annual summer population of thirty to forty thousand, it also has a steady population of approximately eight thousand, making it not only a popular resort, but a thriving residential community. Rich in history, throughout the years Oak Island has weathered multiple hurricanes and is home to historic landmarks including Fort Caswell, which was completed in 1838, and the Oak Island Lighthouse which was completed in 1958.

Fort Caswell - Oak Island, North Carolina (NC)
Additional Reading:
The History of Fort Caswell

Although building did not officially begin on Oak Island until the 1930s, its early beginnings can be traced back to the construction of Fort Caswell (named in 1833 for Richard Caswell, the first Governor of North Carolina) on what is now know as Caswell Beach. Construction of this landmark fort began in 1827 and finished in1838. One of only three masonry forts in the state of North Carolina before the Civil War, in 1861 Fort Caswell was Captured by the Confederates. Its partial destruction in a mine explosion during the Civil War and its remote and inaccessible location (it could only be reached by water) resulted in its abandonment. It would remain this way, deserted and in ruins, until 1896 when the United States finally allotted money towards its reconstruction.

By 1916 Fort Caswell had experienced a renaissance of sorts, and was once again a major military post on the East Coast. It became the headquarters of the Cape Fear Coastal Defenses and was manned by three companies of Coast Artillery Corp. under the command of Colonel Charles A. Bennet. On January 31, 1946, Fort Caswell was designated as war surplus and tagged for deconstruction, but once again it was rescued and experienced a rebirth. In 1949 The Baptist State Convention of North Carolina purchased the fort for the sum of eighty six thousand dollars and they remain the owners to this day. Today, Fort Caswell, once a silent witness to so much violence and bloodshed, has become a haven and retreat for those in search of relaxation and quiet reflection.

Long Beach Pier - Long Beach, North Carolina (NC) - Oak Island
Long Beach Pier was built in the mid-1950s and officially closed for business on January 6th of 2006. The pier was demolished to make way for new oceanfront homes in the fall of 2006.
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Although its beginnings can be traced back to the 1800s, construction on Oak Island officially began in 1938 when an ambitious timber exporter from Charleston South Carolina by the name of Ernest Middleton bought land on Oak Island in conjunction with his partners in Carolina Lands, Inc. and began development of Long Beach, an area of land on Oak Island. By 1939 Middleton and his partners had opened a pavilion, a canteen with a dining room and 20 bath houses. Oak Island was no longer merely a location, it had become a destination. Visitors to the Island could attend Saturday dances held at the pavilion, enjoy live orchestras and buy ocean front lots for three hundred fifty dollars. Unfortunately, World War II and the resultant shortages and restrictions brought this beginning boom to a temporary halt.

Undaunted, Oak Island persevered and continued building after the war until tragedy struck in the form of Hurricane Hazel. In 1954 Hurricane Hazel cut a swath of destruction that all but destroyed Oak Island. In the aftermath only five houses were left standing and all residents were left homeless. But once again Oak Island rallied. Middleton continued building, and in 1955 the island incorporated the neighboring towns of Long Beach and Yaupon.

Oak Island Lighthouse - Built in 1958
Additional Reading:
The History of
The Oak Island Lighthouse

In 1958, the Oak Island Lighthouse was built in conjunction with the Oak Island Lifesaving Station, replacing the Cape Fear Lighthouse which was located across the Cape Fear River on Bald Head Island. The Oak Island Lighthouse (now the most famous lighthouse in the world) stands 158 feet tall, with a tower designed to sway about three inches in a 100 mile per hour wind (not three feet as legend has it) and unlike most old lighthouses it has a series of ships ladders instead of a spiral staircase, with a total of 134 steps to the lantern gallery level. Tools are hauled to the top by way of a long pulley.

Due to its ingenious construction Oak Island Lighthouse never needs painting. The first forty feet of the tower are constructed of natural gray cement, the next fifty feet are white Portland cement mixed with white quartz aggregate, and the final fifty feet are black paint mixed with the cement, resulting in a low maintenance, extremely durable construction that has stood fast for almost fifty years. Today the still operational lighthouse is a historic landmark. With a beam that casts a signal visible for 19 miles, Oak Island Lighthouse has kept up with the times and is the proud owner of the newest and most powerful beam among all American lighthouses. Only a French light on the English Channel is more powerful than the one used by Oak Island Lighthouse. Because its beam generates a phenomenally intense, blinding heat, repairmen must wear protective clothing and even then they can work for only short periods.

Through devastating hurricanes, civil war and world war, Oak Island has continued to grow and prosper. Like its titular oaks it has stood fast and endured. Like Fort Caswell it has been destroyed and rebuilt, growing and improving with each rebirth. Like its Lighthouse its foundation is rock solid and it has adapted and adjusted to meet the demands of the present. A thriving community, a destination hot spot for vacationing travelers, a living piece of history - thatís Oak Island; the true jewel of the Carolinas.

Copyright © 2007. All Rights Reserved.

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