Southport, located at the mouth of the Cape Fear River, the Intracoastal Waterway and the Atlantic Ocean has long served as a protection harbor for sea-going craft. From the pirate ships of yesterday to the fishing and recreational vessels of today, the city has long been noted for its quiet beauty and hospitality.
Just walking underneath the huge sprawling oak trees that line the avenues leading to beautiful historic homes takes you back to a gentler, friendlier period of time. Although a laid back lifestyle exist, Southport is a bustling city. Southport has 15 antique shops with 75 dealers, historic sites, the Southport Maritime Museum, wonderfully diverse restaurants, art galleries and relaxing parks.
The most popular park in Southport is Waterfront Park. From the park you can watch large transoceanic ships from every country pass on their way up the Cape Fear River to the State Ports, creating remarkable photographic opportunities. Southport is so photogenic that a number of motion pictures and TV films have been made here.
Although it is Victorian in appearance, Southport was founded in 1792 and its history predates its own creation. The Indian Trail Tree in Keziah Memorial Park is estimated to be over 800 years old and was used by the Cape Fear area Indians. Bonnet's Creek was a haven for Stede Bonnet, The Gentleman Pirate, who operated in the area and was captured in the harbor during the 'Battle of the Sand Bar' in 1718.
It's a town close enough to Wilmington to reach the conveniences of a big city and college campuses, yet just out of reach of the interstate traffic. The road from Wilmington passes a southern attraction, Orton Plantation, which is open to the public in the spring and summer months. The two-lane slowly meanders towards the coast, live oaks hang across the highway. Just before you get to town there are the conveniences of the super stores so you aren't "in the woods" entirely. Southport touts a 2,600 year round population that spurts up with the temperatures.
Several marinas in the area cater to the dock and dry lift boat enthusiasts and their services spill over to non-boaters. Fosters, located just behind the Southport Marina, offers a user-friendly ships' store, grocery, deli, kayak and bike rental, and a wash and fold service for the laundry-bound traveler.
The idyllic setting of Southport was almost turned into something much less desirable. Had the city fathers had their druthers, the sleepy little waterfront town would have become the main shipping port in the region. That distinction, instead, went to Wilmington, keeping Southport the small waterfront burg it is known as today.
Largely because the port went down river, Southport is considered by Rand McNally to be one of the best places in the country to retire.
The town was originally named Smithville, for North Carolina Governor Benjamin Smith, who served valiantly under George Washington in the Revolutionary War. City leaders changed the name of the town to Southport in 1887 to make the small port seem more like THE port of the South. Their ploy failed. Southport kept its new name, and remained a small town, barely touched by the heavy shipping traffic that passed on its way to Wilmington.
Today, Southport is the quintessential small Southern town, right down to its five block, tree lined commercial district, home to local businesses, galleries and antique shops.
The residents of Southport have made preserving their rich history a priority. The 200 year-old live oaks that line many of the streets are protected by law, as are the faithfully preserved Victorian mansions found throughout town. It is rumored that some of those stately homes might have been owned by some of the pirates who made the area home because of the pirate-friendly local governments in the hay-day of piracy. The North Carolina Maritime Museum in Southport chronicles the exploits of many of those pirates.
Southport's waterfront location is heaven on earth for anglers, who can cast from one of the many fishing piers in the area, or venture out from one of the many marinas in the area and try their luck in the deep waters of the Atlantic.
Along with the beauty and safety Southport affords its residents, the town is home to J.A. Dosher Memorial Hospital, one of the finest hospitals in the region. The hospital's reputation draws medical professionals from across the country to practice in the area, providing residents some of the best health care in the Southeast.
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