Small Coastal Towns
Visit Scenic Southport
Few places on earth offer travelers a more relaxing respite from the stresses and strains of the workaday world than Southport. The harbor here is considered among the most scenic in America. And the pace is so relaxed, it takes the local residents four days to celebrate the Fourth of July. (Their long heritage of unbridled patriotism may have something to do with that as well.)
A good place to get your bearings is at the Southport Visitor Center, where you’ll find information for self-guided walking tours, maps, and other brochures and booklets on area attractions, restaurants, lodging, ferry schedules and more. The Visitor Center is located at lovely Keziah Memorial Park, the grounds of which happen to contain the town’s oldest historical artifact: a gnarled 800-year-old giant called the Indian Trail Tree. Cape Fear Indians originally bent this live oak when it was a sapling to mark the way to their tribal fishing grounds.
Not far down the street is the North Carolina Maritime Museum at Southport, where you’ll find items chronicling the fascinating nautical history of the area.
Perhaps the most popular park in town is Waterfront Park. From here you can watch large ocean liners from every country steam their way up the Cape Fear River to other state ports. Two lighthouses are visible from this vantage point: Bald Head Lighthouse, North Carolina’s oldest lighthouse, and Oak Island Lighthouse, featuring the brightest lamp in the United States. A fixture on the grounds of the park is historic Whittler’s Bench. For as long as anyone can remember, folks have been sitting here under the ancient trees, whittling and regaling one another with tall tales.
After you’ve "set a spell," you’ll be ready to resume your walking tour in earnest. Here are just a few highlights you’ll encounter along the way:
- The stately Victorian homes line Howe Street, Bay Street and several other scenic avenues. From the foot of Howe Street, the waterfront vistas are particularly stunning – among the most beautiful of any coastal town anywhere.
- Don’t miss the Adkins-Ruark House. Built in 1890 by river pilot E.H. Adkins, its more famous part-time resident was Adkins’ grandson Robert Ruark, journalist and author. Ruark spent his childhood summers here and based his novel "The Old Man and the Boy" on his Southport summertime experiences.
- The oldest house of worship in Southport is St. Philips Episcopal Church, which was built in 1860.
- You’ll also want to visit the Old Smithfield Burying Ground, dating from the 18th century. Buried here are entire families who died from various epidemics, as well as river pilots, ship captains and soldiers from every American war.
- Then, you may want to finish your tour with the Brunswick Inn, home of Tony the Ghost. Legend has it that Antonio Caseletta, an Italian harpist who was living here in 1882, went sailing one day and drowned. His spirit has reportedly been making mournful sounds in the Inn ever since.
Take time out from sightseeing to enjoy Southport’s historic business district, especially the many antique shops along Howe and Moore Streets. Also be sure to walk along the Southport Riverwalk and visit the shops around the Yacht Basin and near the Marina.
Finally, take time to savor wonderful local seafood at the many fine restaurants around town. Or pick up some fresh seafood from the fish houses along the Yacht Basin.
added: December 22, 2008
updated: December 22, 2008