The History of Sunset Beach*
Unique among the southeastern North Carolina barrier island communities, the Town of Sunset Beach encompasses both a mainland and an island.
The Town began in 1955 a year after Hurricane Hazel struck the surrounding area but left what was then called Bald Beach, the southernmost island in North Carolina, unscathed. The smallest of the South Brunswick Islands, Mannon C. Gore purchased Bald Beach from the Brooks family, who dated its ownership back to the 1700’s. Gore was impressed by the beautiful sunsets and renamed the island Sunset Beach. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Gore purchased 500 acres of mainland property along the Intracoastal Waterway from International Paper Company and began making his vision a reality.
Since there was no Island access except by boat, Gore designed and installed a pontoon swing bridge that led vehicular traffic to a causeway that connected to the Island. Built in 1958, it was possibly the only bridge of its kind that remained in operation on the east coast until it was decommissioned in November 2010. Mr. Gore also built the original Vesta Pier on the Island named after a civil war blockade-runner that now rests buried in the sand beside the present Sunset Beach pier.
Island property sales began in 1958 and Sunset Beach has grown in every way since. To aid Mannon Gore, his son Edward M. Gore, Sr. joined the business in the late 1950’s. Together they successfully developed and shaped the Island into what it is today. As the amazing Island’s beach grows in size, we continue to maintain the easy feeling of yesterdays when times were simpler.
The Sunset Beach Pontoon Swing Bridge was unique too in that it was a pontoon barge with a house on top, called the Tender House. The wooden road built over the pontoons rose and fell with the tide. When the tide was high, cars traveled over a slight incline in the middle of the bridge; when the tide was low, there was a small valley in the middle. All the while, the bridge Tender maintained a watchful eye from the little white house. When a boat approached, it would signal the bridge Tender who then opened the bridge just for that boat. There is little doubt that the biggest change the Town has experienced over its lifetime occurred on October 1, 2010 when the new Mannon C. Gore Bridge was dedicated. The long awaited and long debated span, 2,600 feet in length and 65 feet in height, is constructed of tons of steel and concrete. Held up by twenty-two concrete columns, the bridge has two vehicular lanes and two bicycle/walking lanes. Despite its massive size, the Gore Bridge quickly became part of the scenery and affords awesome views of the Intracoastal Waterway.
In 1963 the North Carolina General Assembly ratified an Act to Incorporate the Town of Sunset Beach and established the governing body as a Mayor and five (5) Council Members. The Mayor had no vote and served primarily as the Town signatory. The Commissioners established the rules, regulations and policies. The Town boundaries were established as the island, the strip from Park Street to the bridge along the Intracoastal Waterway, plus Twin Lakes and Blaines Landing to Bonaparte’s Landing. The town’s boundaries remained this way until 1990. Throughout the years since incorporation, the Town leaders have confined commercial areas to specific parts of the Town to maintain the family type atmosphere for those who live in Sunset Beach permanently and for those who make Sunset Beach their vacation destination. Sunset Beach’s population is very different from the original thirty residents in 1963- it has grown to approximately 4,000 permanent residents today.
In 1976 land adjacent to the Town became available from International Paper Company and four area businessmen bought and developed the land as Sea Trail, a mobile home community. In the early 80’s, additional acreage became available from International Paper Company and the same four businessmen, in partnership with Odell Williamson, bought the property with plans for development. Some of the land was leased and developed as Oyster Bay Golf Course. When the original four developers saw the Oyster Bay success, they immediately began construction of the Maples Golf Course in 1984, and began developing the land around it as Sea Trail Plantation. Mr. Williamson did not want to develop the land at that time and the original acreage was divided with Mr. Williamson retaining the acreage that later became the Angel Trace Golf Courses (now the future Jaguar’s Lair portion of Ocean Ridge Plantation).
From 1990 through today, the Town of Sunset Beach has grown in size with the addition of almost all of Sea Trail Plantation including the three golf courses, Sugar Sands, The Village at Sunset, along with the Sandpiper Bay, Wyndfall and Cape Side communities including the Sandpiper Bay Golf Course.
*The History of Sunset Beach via www.sunsetbeachnc.gov