Connecting the past to the future – Wrightsville Beach Magazine

A Brief History of the South Banks Channel Bridge


Footbridge completed in front of Island Beach Hotel


Wilmington Sea Coast Railroad, Co. builds trestle for wagon


Two-lane wooden bridge built to accommodate automobile traffic


Current four-lane concrete bridge built

Fall 2022

Renovations should be completed

South Banks Channel Bridge 2021. Photo by Allison Potter

The South Banks Canal Bridge at Wrightsville Beach turns 50 this year and, coinciding with this milestone, the fixed bridge is undergoing a $ 3.7 million renovation from the North Carolina Department of Transportation to repair and preserve the structure. concrete.

The south exterior lane will remain closed to traffic for the duration of the project, which will continue through much of 2022. It is estimated that tens of thousands of visitors cross the bridges to enjoy Wrightsville Beach during the summer months. summer.

The project includes the repair of the beams and the approach slab and the replacement of the bridge joints.

“Every time you go under that boat bridge and look up you can see exposed reinforcement steel, the salt water is eating it,” says Wrightsville Beach Mayor Pro Tem Hank Miller, a resident of Harbor Island. “You have to make sure that the structural integrity is still there. The repairs will extend the life of the bridge into the future.

When the two barrier islands off the Carolina coast became popular with summer vacationers and residents, the only access until 1888 – except, of course, by boat – was via a walkway extending from the hammocks, now South Harbor Island in Wrightsville, later known as Ocean View Beach.

In 1889, a trestle bridge built by the Wilmington Seacoast Railroad Co. for its passenger cart replaced the gangway.

The open-air cart transported visitors from downtown Wilmington, picking up others along the way, to cross the Banks Canal, dropping passengers off at stops along Lumina Avenue before ending at the famous Lumina Pavilion, the three-story oceanfront attraction that opened in 1905.

South Shore Canal Bridge c. 1926. Courtesy of Al Creasy

For 25 cents, visitors could take a tram ride and enter the Lumina, where entertainment options included outdoor movies on the beach, live big band music, and dancing on the dance floor of high level. Many famous big groups of the time, including Vaughn Monroe, Benny Goodman and Guy Lombardo, performed at the Lumina.

A two-lane wooden bridge was built in 1935, the first to bring automobiles across the Banks Canal from the sound side to the beach. A raised footbridge ran along the way to the west.

Scott McKinnon, a native of Wrightsville Beach and professor at the Wrightsville Beach History Museum, fondly remembers those early days. In 1946, he and his family moved to Harbor Island. McKinnon frequented the two-lane wooden bridge from the hammocks to the beach.

South Shore Canal Bridge c. 1945. Courtesy of the Cape Fear Museum of History and Science.

“I crossed the catwalk on the bridge, I can’t tell you how many times. I was at the beach almost every day. We would leave in the morning, maybe come home for lunch, maybe not, ”McKinnon laughs.

He was in the first graduating class of Wrightsville Beach Elementary School in 1953 and worked summers at the Crest Movie Theater in high school. The Lumina continued to draw visitors across the wooden bridge in the 1950s. The large orchestras and dances of previous years were replaced by performances by local musicians and roller skates.

South Banks Channel Bridge late 1950s. Courtesy of Al Creasy

“The Jetty Jumpers, a popular local band, was a favorite,” McKinnon says. “The large dance floor has become an ice rink. I spent many nights in the summer rollerblading with friends. You would introduce yourself and your friends would be there.

The existing four-lane concrete South Banks Canal bridge on Causeway Drive (US 76) was built in 1972. The bridge preservation is expected to be completed in the fall of 2022.

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