Historic Walking Tour

Note: The tour below lists many, but by no means all, of the sites within the Swansboro Historic District, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The selections attempt to demonstrate the historical and architectural variety of our town. Please respect the privacy of homeowners while walking, but most of all, enjoy yourself.

1. Tucker Littleton House/ Visitor’s Center, 1920: Start your tour here. This house, named for the builder’s son Tucker, was moved from 1 block west in 2007. Tucker Littleton was a tireless historian of the town and surrounding areas. The Littleton Collection is located in the North Carolina State Archives in Raleigh. The index of most of the collection can be found at the Swansboro branch, and in the Tucker Littleton Room of the main branch, of the Onslow County Library.

2. Smoky Hollow/Poor Man’s Hole: The area of waterfront from Church to Broad Streets. Partially filled in during a 1930s New Deal dredge operation, the project perhaps also helped to create Water Street. Area originally comprised of homes, fish houses, and boatyards. The “Smoky Hollow” nickname originates from the story that a huge sawdust mound (near the local lumber mill) caught fire and smoldered for months. This area later utilized as a charter boat basin.

3. George Bell House, 1881: Note decorative lintels over doors and windows. Bell was a fisherman and sailor.

4. Swansboro Land and Lumber Company originally located on the current site of Caspar’s Marina. Started as Prittyman’s Mill in the 1890s. Logs were floated down the White Oak River or brought to the mill on narrow gauge trains. Two steam boilers operated a huge band saw, various milling machines, and drying kilns. The lumber company shipped to many ports in New England and the Bahamas. Many local homes in thecurrent historic district were constructed during this “lumberboom.” Interestingly, the lumber mill paid workers with “wooden nickels” which local merchants accepted for payment.

5. Ward’s Shore and Surrounding Waterview: A gift of the Ward Family, this area traditionally served as a neighborhood beach for the children of old Swansboro and Newtown (the area of Swansboro developed after World War II from north of Walnut Street to Hwy 24 and Wise’s Creek). In addition to recreation, churches used Ward’s Shore to perform baptisms. Spectacular views abound. From left to right you will notice Swansboro’s Historic Waterfront, the White Oak River, Highway 24, Cedar Point, and the Intracoastal Waterway, “North.” Straight ahead lies Huggins Island with its Civil War earthworks remains. Bear Island (Hammocks Beach) is to your right. Bear Island was first home to native Neusiok and Coree Indians. In the 1961 the island was deeded to the State of North Carolina as Hammocks Beach State Park for African Americans only. Following the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the park was open to all. To your far right is the Intracoastal Waterway “South“ and Deer Island, site of a turpentine still and Civil War era salt works.

6. Hawkin’s-Glover Cemetery, ca. 1771: Two grave markers, one with especially elaborate carvings with perhaps New England influences, are visible from Elm Street. In 1975, town workers discovered the grave of Cyrus Glover (not currently visible) during road repair. The exhumed iron coffin is currently stored in the Onslow County Museum. In 1785, Methodist Bishop Francis Asbury preached near this cemetery. After his visit Asbury described the Swansboro townspeople as: “a wicked people indeed” though “a few had joined society.”

7. Swansboro or Ward Cemetery, 1800s to present. Until the 1940s, and the development of Newtown, the cemetery formed part of the northern town boundary. Note the massive old growth live oaks.

8. Thomas H. Pritchard House, 1907: Pritchard, who managed the Swansboro Land and Lumber Company, built this large home around an original core structure that was the first Methodist’s parsonage. Pritchard used details inside and out, possibly to advertise the wide variety of the Swansboro Land and Lumber Company’s products.

9. Basil Hawkins House, 1826: A center passage plan with two tier porch. The rear addition is modern. This plantation home was originally built in 1826 near the Hawkins-Glover cemetery and moved to its present site in 1840.

10. Hawkins House, 1830s: During the Civil War, a Confederate dispatcher was captured in the upstairs bedroom when Union troops briefly occupied Swansboro for a second time in 1862.

11. Swansboro Methodist Church and Male and Female Academy site, l800s -1900s: An academy functioned here from the mid-1800s to the early 1900s. The Methodist church was built by the early 1900s. By 1931, the Methodist congregation had moved to the former Emmerton School. The church structure continued use as lookout tower during WWII, and also a motion picture theater and warehouse, until demolition in the early 1960s. The former Methodist Parsonage, built in 1905, sits on the site of the Male and Female Academy and next to the site of the original church building.

12. Robert Lee Smith House, 1901: Smith, a shipbuilder and master carpenter, constructed many of the “lumber boom” houses in town from the early 1900s-1920s. After salvaging a shipwreck on Bear Island, he built this home, his very first. Using ship timbers and practical design, this home advertised Smith’s skill. A STROLL FURTHER DOWN Walnut street reveals Swansboro Land and Lumber Company products on many of the houses. For example, notice the fish scale and decorative shingles in gables, scrollwork, and posts for porches, as well as framing and siding lumber.

13. Emmerton School, 1928: Constructed during the ministry of Reverend Margaret B. Barnard, this Unitarian Mission sought to bring both religious and educational enlightenment to Swansboro. The school created the town’s first kindergarten as well as its first Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops. The U-shaped building contained several classrooms and a fine auditorium. Northern philanthropists contributed funds for the construction as well as for the salaries of teachers, many from outside of the state. In 1931, the Unitarian Church, located to the left of the front of the Emmerton School, mysteriously burned. This, coupled with the Great Depression, and the recently opened Swansboro Graded school, prompted the Unitarians to close their mission and school here.

14.  Josiah Holt windmill site, 1770s (site of parking lot of First Citizens Bank):

A post mill type windmill to grind corn existed here, along with a house, prior to Swansboro’s incorporation in 1783. Deed records indicate that as many as five windmills operated in Swansboro at different times with the one here the earliest. WALK DOWN MAIN STREET EXTENSION OR DRIVE TO THE TWO SITES BELOW:

b. Old Town Gate, ca. 1900: Between 1900 and the construction of Hwy 24 in the 1930s, a gate and fence were erected across the road to Jacksonville. (Currently this is Main Street Extension near Mount Pleasant Road.) The gate kept free ranging horses, cows, and pigs out of town. The animals destroyed gardens, and kept residents awake at night, especially the pigs, which foraged and squealed under homes. Local children stationed themselves here on afternoons and weekends, opening and closing the gate for a few coins from grateful motorists.

c. St. Thomas African Methodist Episcopal Church, Cemetery, and Freedman’s School, ca. 1868: Following the Civil War the Freedman’s Bureau, aided by Northern missionaries and teachers, established a school here for newly freed slaves. In 1869, the church was founded.

15. Jonathan Green, Jr. House, ca.1770. Believed to be the oldest home in town built by Jonathan Green Jr, son of the town site’s first owners. Evidence suggests that the house was standing when the original town plot was laid out. The house features a beautiful concave frieze fireplace, and Flemish bond brick work on the eastern chimney. Also note the ballast stone foundation and turned porch columns.

16. Peter Ringware House, 1778: Born in France, Captain Ringware, according to tradition, was a privateer in the Revolutionary War. Note its hand hewn framing, ballast stone foundation and basement, and Georgian simplicity. Unusual triangular shaped rooms on left side of hall share an interior chimney vented to an exterior wall. Most of the house is still original wood. Spectacular vistas of the White Oak River, Bogue, and Bear Inlet still can be seen from third-story rooms.

17. Privy, 1893: This small building was originally located at 202 Main Street in the kitchen garden of the James T. Bartley House (Tidewater Gallery). Older residents suggest that the building once served as a post office with a location on Front Street. Another architectural historian remarked on its similarity to milk houses. Note the guilded-age “vents.” A privy, post office, or milk house; this building is a Swansboro conversation piece.

18. Beaufort House, 1790s: Capt. Thomas Thomas (yes, his real name) moved this house here from Beaufort in 1851-1852. A unique ventilation system peculiar to early Beaufort homes expels heat near the roof and pulls cooler air into rooms from the porch below.

19. Swansboro Baptist Church, 1897: This structure is unusual because the second story was constructed as a Masonic Lodge. Used until 1957. The former parsonage is located at 108 Walnut Street.

20. William Pugh Ferrand Store (Old Brick Store), 1839. Ferrand, a merchant and exporter of naval stores, (imagine turpentine barrels lining Main Street across present highway 24), built this store of imported brick with a ballast rock foundation. The original roofline featured double-chimneyed parapets on the front and back gable ends. On the front end gable (facing the water) a circular window featured a star motif. This building has been altered and used continuously since construction as a store, school, drugstore, church, Post Office, and now residence and shops.

21. Robert Spence McLean Store, 1839: Mclean, a Scotsman, was a merchant in the turpentine trade. Much period detail remains visible inside. Mclean’s first store was destroyed by fire in 1838, but quickly rebuilt. Interestingly, the original town ordinance of 1783 outlawed wooden chimneys to prevent the devastating spread of fire. Union troops partially burned the current store in 1864 (note exposed wallpaper inside).

22. Tarrymore Hotel site, 1910-1911: Demolished to expand restaurant parking several decades ago, the Tarrymore was a fine example of a coastal North Carolina resort. Upon completion, the Tarrymore was a two story, 24 room hotel. A first floor porch overlooked the lawn and the White Oak River. At the river, a pier with a cabana and bathhouse extended over the water. The hotel catered to hunters and anglers in the blossoming sport fishing industry, and also served as social hotspot for locals by hosting large dances and gatherings. The hotel converted into apartments in the 1950s prior to its demolition.FOLLOW THE PEDESTRIAN WALKWAY UNDER THE HIGHWAY 24 BRIDGE.

23. Bicentennial Park, 1983: Formerly the Swindell-Weeks sawmill site. The park was built as part of Town of Swansboro’s 200th Birthday celebration in 1983. The park honors the town’s founder Theophilus Weeks, Onslow County colonial representative and town’s namesake Samuel Swann, and the nation’s most successful privateer in the War of 1812, Otway Burns. RETURN BACK TO DOWNTOWN VIA THE PEDESTRIAN BRIDGE.

24. Mattocks House, 1901: William Mattocks was a merchant marine, engineer, and intellectual. The structure next door, to the left, is a matching miniature, originally built in 1931, as a café and teahouse catering to travelers along the newly opened NC 24 highway.

25. Codfish site, 1930s-1940s: Originally in the “front Yard” of the current Icehouse Restaurant, the Codfish was a local “juke joint” that served ice cold beer and offered “lots of dancing” for locals.

26. Otway Burns Shipyard site, 1810s: Located on the water between Moore and Main Streets. During the War of 1812, Burns gained fame as one of the most successful privateers in his armed slop “The Snapdragon.” In 1818, Burns built the first steamship in North Carolina, the “Prometheus,” here. Native American artifacts abound along the coastal shoreline. These archeological remnants attest to culturally rich life of Native Americans prior to European arrival along the coast.

27. Town Dock: Part of a 1713 land grant purchased in 1730 by Jonathan Green. In 1735, Green’s widow, Grace, married Theophilus Weeks, who like Jonathan, was also from Falmouth, Mass. Weeks laid out “Weeks’s Wharf” in 1770, 48 lots with six streets. Dock has been for public use since. Town renamed Swansborough in 1783 after speaker of Colonial House of Commons, Samuel Swann.

28. Corner of Front and Main: Many downtown stores were built in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Points of interest include the David James Moore House, 1887 (Church Street Coffee & Deli), the Harry Moore Store, 1934 (Noah’s Ark) which features a parapet front and an original tin ceiling. The Barley-Pittman Store, 1890 (Russell’s) offers many visible period details inside. Capt. Charlie’s Restaurant, named for Charterboat Captain, Charlie Buckmaster, served as restaurant for Tarrymore Hotel. Capt. Charlie’s was preceded by the Swan Café, which also served guests of the Tarrymore. The Watson-Parkin Store, 1910, along with others, contains original details, such as shelving. Richard Riggs Store, (Beach House Realty) was at one time a post office. Milsted Ice Plant, 1945 (The Icehouse Restaurant), and Bell’s Drugstore, 1950 (Yana’s Ye Old Drugstore) which contains original soda dispensers inside, represent examples of mid-20th century construction.

29. Jim Canady Fish House, 1930: Seafood processing and storage (note ice room floor inside). It is one of best the preserved examples of a fish house on the North Carolina coast, and the only one, of once many, remaining along Front Street. Similarly, a dry cleaners, movie theater, and numerous boatyards, which once thrived downtown, are no longer evident.

Sources: “Swansboro Historic District” National Register of Historic Places (1989), Swansboro Historical Association, Inc., various pamphlets, Swansboro Bicentennial Committee pamphlets, J. Daniel Pezzoni—The Architectural History of Onslow County, North Carolina (1998), Jack Dudley, Swansboro: A Pictorial Tribute (1998), and oral traditions. Funded by Onslow County Tourism