North Carolina coastal area offers laid-back vibe lots of history
BY ELEANOR HENDRICKS MCDANIEL
SPECIAL TO THE FLORIDA COURIER
Florida is fortunate to be mostly surrounded by water. Not all states are that lucky. Why not explore those that cling to the Atlantic Coast? You’ll discover a new vibe and lots of experiences that vary in each place. Travel up to the coast of North Carolina to soak up the laid-back atmosphere of Jacksonville and Swansboro, which are parts of North Carolina’s Onslow County.
Clapboard buildings with porches or balconies, very narrow sidewalks, gulls squawking overhead, the roar of outboard motors and decorative swans around every corner describe Swansboro. The tiny seaside town was founded in 1783 and its oldest district is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Walking tours weave through the historic area and brochures can be obtained from the Visitors Center. Because it’s known as “The Friendliest City by the Sea,” its population of 3,000 balloons to enormous proportions in the summer months.
People, like birds, flock to nearby Bear Island for a day of sunny fun on an unspoiled beach. Kids work to erect sandcastles while prone adults absorb the rays, beach walkers search for shells, and fishing enthusiasts cast their lines into the breakers. However, everyone splashes in the surf.
Sectioned out of Bear Island is Hammocks Beach State Park (ncparks.gov/hammocks-beach-state-park). Arrive by passenger ferry or private boat and head for the Welcome Center. Get a feel for the isle by viewing wildlife and history exhibits.
Nature dominates this area with trees, sand dunes, salt marshes, tidal pools and mudflats – not high-rise resorts. Outdoor recreational activities include fishing, shelling and swimming. The park provides primitive campsites for individuals, families and groups.
Former Black beach
In 1961, North Carolina assigned the Hammocks Beach State Park for the use of African Americans only. But due to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, everyone was then welcome to enjoy it.
North Topsail Beach sits east of Jacksonville. Its 26 miles of uncrowded shoreline is pet- and automobile-friendly, because cars with permits can drive on the beach. But there’s lots of free parking available nearby.
Like many coastal communities in the South, North Topsail Beach refused beach access to Blacks. In 1949, African Americans were able to purchase property in the region of Ocean City. They built oceanfront vacation homes and created a vibrant community that survives even today. Street signs and historic markers point out significant spots. This city is on the Jacksonville-Onslow African American Heritage Trail.
Ocean City will present its 10th Annual Jazz Festival this year on June 4-7. For more information, go online to oceancityjazzfest.com.
After being in the water, it’s time to get on the water. You don’t have to tell fishers twice.
Fishing charters in Jacksonville and Swansboro expertly navigate their vessels across the inshore and ocean areas to where local species are biting. Anglers are likely to hook Red Drum, Speckled Trout and Redfish, to name a few.
In Jacksonville, Ricky Kellum of Speckled Specialist Charters (speckledspecialist.com) guarantees his customers a great catch. Fishbone Inshore Fishing Charters (fishbonecharters.net) sails under Captain Junior Sinclair as he takes you down the New River, in the creeks and out beyond the breakers.
Situated on a corner in downtown Swansboro is Pogie’s (pogiesfishing.com), a store made for the serious fishing fanatic. You can find clothing equipment, bait, kayaks and more there. The experienced staff can arrange a fishing charter by boat or kayak.
A family adventure
Some landlubbers prefer just to relax and float. Captain Lance Ledoux and his wife (and first mate), Marilyn, invite you to cruise on their yacht, the Bayonet (bayonet-enterprises.com). Eat, drink and be ferried along the New River and the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway in Jacksonville. Lance, a former Marine Colonel, has been hosting guests on his boat for seven years.
For an awesome family adventure, board Marsh Cruises (marshcruises.com). The 23-foot skiff will whisk you through backwaters behind the barrier islands in Swansboro. There will be watching for dolphins and birds. And there will be stops on sand bars to dig for clams and seek out shells and sharks’ teeth. Owner and Captain Darryl Marsh says, “I focus on exploring coastal waters, and experiencing ecology, combined with area history.”
Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune is located in Jacksonville. It honors its heroes in the Lejeune Memorial Gardens (visitJacksonvilleNC.com). Visitors can study the significance of each of the six memorials in a peaceful and lovely setting. Several have inscribed the names of the fallen. The largest memorial represents the marines who were sent to Beirut, Lebanon to keep the peace, and lost their lives in the bombing of their barracks.
The 9/11 Memorial is a gift from New York City in gratitude to the marines who were the first to reach Afghanistan to capture the terrorists who perpetrated the destruction of the Twin Towers.
Be sure to view the Montford Point Marine Memorial (MontfordPointMarines.com) which is dedicated to the African American men who were trained and stationed at Montford Point, a segregated marine base in Jacksonville. It was established in 1942 during World War II by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and decommissioned in 1948 when President Harry S. Truman integrated the military.
The memorial lauds the 20,000 Black marines who trained in Montford Point. As part of the memorial, there’s a sculpture depicting an African American marine who was called to battle. The names of the Montford Point men are listed on the wall behind him.
Beginning in 2012, the nation began awarding them the Congressional Gold Medal. Of course, many are deceased, but their medals are presented to their families. The names of many men have slipped through the red tape cracks, but the military is still trying to locate them. The memorial was officially dedicated in a ceremony in July, 2016.
While there, take time to visit the National Montford Point Marine Museum, which is also on the Jacksonville-Onslow African American Heritage Trail.
Seafood and more
Riverside Steak and Seafood (the-riverside-swansboro.com) serves fresh-caught North Carolina seafood and hand-cut beef. Housed in a home built in 1915, it was renovated into a waterfront restaurant in 1998 and has become a foodie hotspot. Folks fill the first-floor dining rooms, wait on an expansive porch or belly up to the second-floor bar.
The menu offers an array of seafood and meat choices. Whichever you prefer, you’ll be satisfied when your plate arrives, brimming over with expertly prepared cuisine. Fried oysters have a light crispy crust around a moist center. Perky salad greens are rained on by fresh crabmeat or grilled shrimp. New York strip and other steaks ooze savory juices. Lastly, the best down-home hushpuppies and sweet potato muffins round out the meal.
Riverside Steak and Seafood is located in Swansboro and only 15 minutes from Jacksonville.
Journey to a 300-plus-acre farm for fun and food. Mike and Theresa Lowe have transformed a small, old family tobacco farm into a destination, called Mike’s Farm (mikesfarm.com). A compound of several structures, including a barn, provide spaces for events, weddings, family reunions, dinner shows and more.
A delightful gift shop and a bakery entice shoppers. Between September and Christmas, hayrides, pumpkin patch picking and brilliant holiday lighting, attract large crowds.
But the biggest draw is the restaurant that serves all-you-can-eat meals. For a modest fee, you’ll get an endless helping of delicious southern favorites: fried chicken, pork loin with gravy, mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, fluffy country ham biscuits, green beans and corn, topped off with yummy desserts – all served family style. Mike’s Farm is open Thursday through Saturday.
For more information about the county, go online to onlyinonslow.com. Also check out jacksonvilleonline.org/community/AfricanAmerican-heritage-trail.
Eleanor Hendricks McDaniel is a seasoned travel journalist whose travels have taken her throughout the United States, Europe and other countries. Formerly of Philadelphia, she now resides in Ormond Beach. Follow her on Twitter: @ellethewriter, Instagram: @ eleanor1004, Facebook: Eleanor.hendricks.mcdaniel and her website: flybynighttraveler.com.