Seabreeze

While the white folks romped all around Wrightsville, segregation laws directed the black population to look elsewhere for recreational opportunities. In 1924 a multiracial group of Wilmington professionals built a resort for blacks on Shell Island, just across Queens Inlet from Wrightsville, and less than three years later the entire complex was completely destroyed by fire—a very suspicious fire, in the minds of many.

The resort of last resorts was a little further away and a lot harder to get to if you didn't have a car, but Seabreeze was the only other nonwhite beach option, about 12 miles south of downtown near Carolina Beach.

A new 25-room hotel built by Madam Victoria Lofton in 1924 was the start of great things to come on a tract of land that extended from the river to the sound. The land had been black-owned since Alexander Freeman, a freed slave, bought the former Sedgeley Abbey from a near-broke white man in 1855. Freeman initially purchased the house's 400-acre tract with an adjoining 300-acre beach tract and, by 1890, was the owner of 2,579 acres in the Federal Point Township. At his death in 1900 he had 11 children who laid claim to all of that property.

The Lofton Hotel and Dance Hall built a cement walk from the building to the water, and then a bigger house. Peter Simpson and his wife opened Simpson's Hotel, and development began to spring up all around. In May 1929 Frank Herring's seven-piece orchestra performed for the grand opening of the Russell Hotel.

Music at Seabreeze was a bit different from Wrightsville and Carolina Beach because it was black swing, rhythm and blues—in short, everything the white race rioters had so greatly feared a couple decades earlier. The dance moves seemed suggestive and the volume was cranked up to a level that could be heard for miles around. Then jukeboxes on Carolina Beach began to play a few records and the rest, as they say, is beach music history.

An old black-and-white photo of Seabreeze shows a line of small beach huts, none larger than a rabbit hutch, overlooking Myrtle Grove Sound. The Wilmington Bus Company received a franchise granted by the North Carolina Utilities Commission on May 23, 1925, to operate a bus line from Wilmington to Seabreeze.

Crabcakes and clam fritters were the house specialties, and Daley's Pier Restaurant was a prime spot for fishing and crabbing. Barbecue Sams kept a pig pen in the back yard to supply an open pit, and a full-blooded Indian known as Snakeman ran a small circus with a Ferris wheel, hobby horses, chair planes, a carousel and candy store. Bo Didley played to a packed house.

The music drifted for miles and Carolina Beach girls lined up to dance with a white boy known as Chicken Hicks who learned his moves in a black section of Durham. Predictably, the Carolina Beach Town Council passed an ordinance outlawing teenage jump joints, and many of them departed for Myrtle Beach, which now calls itself The Home of Beach Shag.

Frank and Lulu Hill built the Monte Carlo by the Sea and people came by car and by bus, from New York and other distant points. On October 15, 1954, Hurricane Hazel made landfall, a category four storm with wind gusts reported in excess of 130 mph. It struck during high tide of a full moon creating storm surges of catastrophic proportions, completely wiping out Seabreeze, Carolina Beach and Kure Beach.

The difference between Seabreeze and everywhere else was its total lack of flood insurance and complete inability to access any kind of federal aid. Nevertheless the Hills salvaged building materials and by the following summer rebuilt the place with their own hands and reopened it for business. Then came Hurricane Diane in 1955, Helen in '58, Donna in '60 and Alma in '62.

The job that hurricanes started at Seabreeze was finished by integration. Blacks were finally allowed to cross, visit, swim, eat, drink, play the blues and shake their booties at any beach in the area, and Seabreeze went into its final meltdown. A few vestiges remain.

Freeman's Beach at the north end of Carolina Beach is still partially owned by Freeman family descendants, but is maintained and operated by Carolina Beach. In the 1980s Frank Hill erected a sign prohibiting jeeps, trucks, cars, bikes or dogs, and these are precisely the current inhabitants. Carolina Beach charges a fee for four-wheel drives that come to pitch tents, set camp fires, and flagrantly disregard the regulations that control the rest of the beach.

On the mainland side of Snow's Cut Bridge, Seabreeze Road is the last turn on the left before the bridge. A short distance down this road you'll find some disintegrating structures with signs on them, "L&R Lounge" and "Seabreeze Gentleman's Club." Put your ear to the ground and you'll no doubt hear that heavy bass beat still reverberating in the sand.

More Information

Terms: Cape Fear Recent Military History: Seabreeze

Cape Fear Recent Military History: Seabreeze

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