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Cape Fear Pride 2008 - Southport

READ MORE: Cape Fear Pride 2008 - Southport
Southport has a rich maritime history, but it wasn't always known as Southport. In fact, the name came about because of a big idea that's being considered again today, and stirring up controversy. For more than 200 years, folks have called the spot at the confluence of the Cape Fear River and the Atlantic Ocean home. It was chartered on New Year's Eve 1792 as Smithville, named for Benjamin Smith, who owned much of the land here including Smith Island, better known as Bald Head Island. Historian Jim McKee said, "The people who wanted to start the town here figured they needed to get his support, and they promised to name the town after him. His detractors thought that was a good idea because they figured the town was going to fail." How wrong they were. McKee says the town benefited from ports up river in Wilmington and Brunswick town. To get there, ships needed river pilots, who lived here at the mouth of the river as early as the 1730s -- a legacy that continues today in the name of the town's newspaper. By the mid 1740s, construction began on Fort Johnston to help protect the British interests here and further inland. But, the big changes started when northern businessmen came south after the Civil War, and saw the benefits of North Carolina's only deep water harbor. "There was a lot of talk of making an international port." The idea was to link Southport by railroad to the rest of the country and keep ships from having to head so far up river, making this the port of the south. So on March third, 1887, Smithville became Southport to reflect that status. The port, though, never materialized thanks to upgrades at the port of Wilmington. Today, of course, the idea is alive again as the North Carolina Ports Authority considers building an international terminal in Southport. But, just last month, a group calling itself No Port/Southport began an opposition movement to the plan. Mike Rice, No Port/Southport, said, "I've been to Elizabeth, New Jersey, and I've been to long beach, and I see what a port of that size does to a community." A community that has evolved over time thanks in part to the force of Hurricane Hazel in 1954. The storm washed away much of the commercial fishing trade here. McKee says by the 1990s owners found it far more lucrative to sell their waterfront property than to try and continue fishing. Today the town is a hub of tourism and recreation that many agree will change in some way if an international port is built -- for better or for worse. An interesting fact -- McKee says as the Southport-Fort Fisher ferry starts to turn up river after leaving Southport, it is one of the few places anywhere that you can stand in one place and see three different lighthouses: Price's Creek, Oak Island and Old Baldy out on Bald Head Island.

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