History of Ocean Isle Beach: The Beginning Years (1946 to 1963)

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By Staff Brunswick Beacon

In 1947 and 1948, Odell Williamson began purchasing tracks of land that eventually comprised Ocean Isle Beach. These tracks of land were owned by various families, including the Brooks family, the Stanley family, the Gore family and the D. Stowe Crouse family.

Williamson was originally in partnership with Mannon Gore, but Gore and Williamson soon parted ways, dissolving the partnership. Gore’s son, Ed Gore, soon focused on developing Sunset Beach while Williamson focused on Ocean Isle Beach.

Williamson was elected to the state legislature in 1947 and from there was able to spearhead Ocean Isle Beach’s growth.

In 1949, Williamson and his wife Virginia gave this beach the name Ocean Isle Beach. Williamson was the first mayor of Ocean Isle Beach serving from 1959 to 1963, and Virginia was mayor from 1969 to 1973.

Before 1949, this stretch of coastline was called Hale Beach, named after Hale Swamp near here. Hale Beach was divided into three separate beaches—Little Beach on the east end, Gause’s Beach in the center and Brooks Beach on the west end.

The Williamsons and their children, DeCarol and LaDane, have been lead developers of Ocean Isle Beach since 1947.

In 1950, Odell Williamson built an airplane landing strip on the east end of Ocean Isle, but bad wind drafts led him to later move the airport off the island.

On the east end of Ocean Isle in the surf today you will see remnants of pilings, especially at low tide. These pilings were put there back in 1957 as an erosion control barrier for an old pavilion and Realtor office Williamson built in 1955.

Shallotte Boulevard, also on the east end of Ocean Isle, is where Williamson and Mannon Gore built a four-car ferry in 1950. The ferry operated until 1959 when a swing bridge was completed that year across the Intracoastal Waterway.

The swing bridge operated until 1986 when the high-rise bridge over the waterway was completed in the same spot.

On Oct. 15, 1954, the worst hurricane to hit Ocean Isle Beach came ashore. It was Hurricane Hazel. The Atlantic Ocean met the Intracoastal Waterway that day here at Ocean Isle Beach. There were 41 houses on the island when Hurricane Hazel came ashore, including Mannon Gore’s house.

The houses were mostly on the east end of the island and were built directly on the ground. Only two houses survived the hurricane. Only 10 people lived on Ocean Isle Beach as permanent residents at the time—the Register family and the McLamb family.

The Register family decided to stay on the island and ride out the storm. The McLamb family vacated the island. Six visitors to Ocean Isle Beach from High Point also decided to ride out the hurricane.

As the ocean water met the Intracoastal Waterway during the storm, the Register family tried to get to the highest spot on the island—Gause Hill. Before Hurricane Hazel, Gause Hill was twice as high.

The six visitors from High Point all died during Hurricane Hazel, and three Register family members died during the hurricane—Madeline, Sherman and Buddy. Madeline was Williamson’s sister. Her body was never found after Hurricane Hazel.

Two Register children, Bucky and Sonya, survived Hurricane Hazel on the island and were the only known survivors. Nine people on Ocean Isle Beach died during Hurricane Hazel.

In the spring of 1955, the George Sloane family moved into the McLamb house. It had shifted off its foundation but had survived Hurricane Hazel. Members of the Sloane family were the only permanent residents on Ocean Isle Beach from 1955 to 1964. Two of the Sloane children, Tripp and Debbie, today own and operate Sloane/Coldwell Banker Realty on the island.

Tripp Sloane recently told me what it was to like to live on Ocean Isle Beach during those years as the only family here. He said Joe Brooks and a Mr. Stanley had a fishing cabin on the east end of Ocean Isle Beach. The fishermen would catch thousands of mullet each day in nets in the surf during the fall.

Fishermen have been catching mullet in the fall on Ocean Isle Beach for decades. Fishermen would put out long nets in the surf at low tide, and then retrieve the nets in 12 hours when it got low tide again. It was hard work pulling nets in by hand.

Tripp also told me the World Book Encyclopedia in 1959 listed the population of Ocean Isle Beach as four—George Sloane, wife Rae Sloane, son Tripp and daughter Debbie.

Ocean Isle Beach was incorporated in 1959. For the first few years of Tripp and Debbie going to public school, they would ride the ferry each weekday morning to get off the island.

Tripp’s mom, Rae, recently told me in 1955, front row 50-foot ocean lots were $500 if you were going to build on the lot, or $750 if you were not going to build on the lot. She told me Williamson had hired her and George to sell real estate out of the pavilion on this end east of the beach.

During these years, 1955 to 1963, the Williamson family lived in Shallotte.

I recently asked Johnny Sheffield, owner of Sheffield’s Food Store on Ocean Isle, what was the worst hurricane to hit or near-hit Ocean Isle Beach since Hurricane Hazel.

Sheffield said the worst hurricane to hit this area since Hurricane Hazel was Hurricane Hugo, which came ashore near Charleston on Sept. 22, 1989.

Sheffield said during Hurricane Hugo, water came up to the top step behind Sheffield’s store, but water did not get inside his store. Water has never gotten inside of Sheffield’s store from any hurricane, but it came closest with Hurricane Hugo.

Ocean Isle Beach has been lucky ever since Hurricane Hazel in 1954 because no hurricanes have directly hit or done devastating damage to the island. Hurricane Donna in 1960 was a Category 5 hurricane when it came close to Ocean Isle Beach, and Hurricane Floyd dumped 20 inches of rain on this area on Sept.16, 1999.

The Ocean Isle Inn is at 35 West First Street. Back in 1958 when the island still had only clay roads, George Sloane Jr. built the first Ocean Isle Motel in the same spot where the Ocean Isle Inn is today. Sloane was mayor of Ocean Isle from 1967 to 1969.

The final article titled “The Modern Era at Ocean Isle Beach (1964 to today)” will appear next week in the Beacon. A two-CD driving tour of the history of Ocean Isle Beach is available at the Museum of Coastal Carolina, Sheffields, Ingram Planetarium and Beach Exchange on Ocean Isle.

David will give a presentation on the history of Ocean Isle Beach at 7 p.m. Oct. 14 at the Museum of Coastal Carolina. For more information, call 579-1016.