A 1963 postcard shows the Surf Club in Wrightsville Beach, which was on the northernmost part of the island before Moore's inlet was filed in in 1965. Courtesy of Helen Henson.

NC - Wrightsville Beach history: When Shell Island was a Black beach resort

In June, the Holiday Inn Sunspree resort at Wrightsville Beach unveiled a revamped look and a lengthy new name: Lumina on Wrightsville Beach, a Holiday Inn Resort. Lumina, of course, is an homage to the fabled Wrightsville Beach pavilion of old, which was demolished in 1973.

But what many visitors to the area, as well as many new residents, might not know is that, just 60 years ago, the land the hotel sits on wasn't land at all. Rather, it was an inlet, Moore's Inlet to be exact, and it separated Wrightsville Beach from what's known as Shell Island, which back then was an actual island.

"At times you could, when the tide was low," literally walk over to Shell Island from Wrightsville Beach, said Elaine Blackmon Henson, a Wilmington historian.

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For the latest episode of Cape Fear Unearthed, the StarNews' local history podcast, we talk to Ray McAllister, author of "Wrightsville Beach, The Luminous Island," about this particular part of Wrightsville Beach history, and about Shell Island itself, which has its own culturally significant history.

To ride up and down a built-out Wrightsville Beach today, it's hard to imagine that, less than a lifetime ago, the "north end" of Wrightsville Beach was marked by The Surf Club on Mallard Street.

"I can't tell you how different it was back then," said Robert Rehder, a 1966 graduate of New Hanover High School whose family had a cottage on Shearwater Street when he was growing up in the 1950s and early '60s.

"It wasn't much," Rehder said. "Not like the big beach houses they have now."

Still, they'd typically stay from May to October, Rehder said, swimming, fishing, water skiing and even making jaunts across Moore's Inlet to Shell Island.

Once, Rehder said, he and a friend decided to swim to Shell Island at high tide, knowing they could walk back to Wrightsville later when the tide was lower. As they were swimming over, however, someone saw them, assumed they were drowning and alerted a lifeguard, who tried to initiate a rescue, Rehder recalled with a laugh.

Once you got onto Shell Island, "It was no man's land," he said, with no structures other than "maybe a fishing shack."

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