In 1754, Fort Johnston, North Carolina's first fort, was established and a small community of river pilots, fishermen and trades people grew up around it. In 1792 the town of Smithville was created and became the county seat of Brunswick County in 1808. For the remainder of the century, the town made plans to link rail service with the existing river traffic to make the community a major Southern port, and the city was renamed Southport.
Southport was one of the first areas in the state to celebrate the Fourth of July and is widely regarded as the Fourth of July Capital of North Carolina. History records that in 1795, citizens gathered at Fort Johnston and observed a 13-gun military salute to the original 13 states. In 1813, a Russian warship anchored in the harbor fired a 13-gun salute, and it was on this Fourth of July that fireworks were used for the first time to close the celebration. In 1972, the Fourth of July Festival was chartered and incorporated as the official North Carolina Fourth of July Festival, and it has become a tremendously popular four-day event for residents and visitors alike.
Southport, a quaint, historic seaport, is situated at the confluence of the Intracoastal Waterway and the Cape Fear River where it flows out to meet the Atlantic Ocean. The town makes for an interesting day trip. Leave the car — parking is free — and just walk around as you discover shops, restaurants and pleasing views. It's an extremely casual community that invites visitors to pause and savor a slow pace of life that is fast disappearing in nearby areas. A lovely, leisurely stroll, Riverwalk, begins at Waterfront Park and winds along the riverfront, through the Old Yacht Basin and on to the Southport Marina.
The town is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and history buffs will especially appreciate a visit for its beautiful old homes and historic cemeteries. The Captain Thompson Home, for example, offers a glimpse into the life of a Civil War Blockade Runner. The literary set will enjoy a visit to the Adkins-Ruark House, where author Robert Ruark lived as a young boy with his grandparents. Ruark's novels, including The Old Man and the Boy, give readers insight into Southport life years ago.
Once known as the best kept secret in North Carolina, this lovely little village with its live oak–lined streets is now being discovered. New shops, restaurants and hotels are springing up in the area as well as in the town, affording residents better choices without the necessity of traveling out of town. New housing developments abound. The Southport Marina has been completely redone and the movies have discovered the town - again. The first movie filmed here was Crimes of the Heart, in the 1980s. There have been several others since that time including Safe Haven which was filmed in the summer of 2012. The TV series, Under the Dome, also does some filming in Southport.
Dosher Memorial Hospital has again expanded its space and services, and the Southport Area Senior Center is now located in a new 13,000-square-foot space. This space is centrally located and allows for expansion of fitness, educational and nutrition programs with an added benefit of being located close to medical offices. In addition, year-round golf, boating and fishing create an enormously pleasant environment, making this a popular place for retirement.
This is the place for people who genuinely want to kick back and enjoy beautiful coastal scenery. With a year-round population of about 3,500, there's still plenty of elbow room. If you fall head over heels for Southport and decide to make a permanent move, keep in mind that its charm also means that the town includes some of the area's priciest real estate and most exclusive homes.
Southport can be accessed by both ferry and scenic highway. From Wilmington, Southport is reached by N.C. Highway 133 or N.C. Highway 87, although the N.C. 133 route is very beautiful and offers attractions like Brunswick Town and Fort Anderson. For information on the ferry route and schedule, see Getting Here, Getting Around.