Intracoastal History

North Carolina Intracoastal Waterway History

It is far to easy to get wrapped up in the views while searching homes for sale or lots for sale along the Intracoastal Waterway.  Below, we have put together a brief history of the Intracoastal.  Hopefully the next time you are in Wrightsville Beach, Wilmington, Hampstead, or any of the Brunswick County Islands, you are able to take a moment to really appreciate all that went into making the waterway such a beautiful place to buy a home. 

The Intracoastal Waterway built throughout the country was originally created as a means of navigating without facing the hazards of open sea travel. Currently, the entire Intracoastal Waterway, or ICW, is 3,000 miles in length and runs along the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. It touches through Boston, to the Atlantic Seaboard, around Florida and then follows the Gulf Coast to Texas. The waterway is made of joined routes—some are natural inlets, some are bays and some are man-made canals.
For decades shipping hazards have been a reality to maritime travel. However, finding ways to utilize the waters is a great commercial and military advantages. Initially, the natural features of the east coast were the prime location for Intracoastal developments. After centuries of deposition of sediment and erosion, the redistribution of land was the perfect pathway for boats to navigate. The US took control over the coastline to supply coastal trades.
In 1787, new lands were discovered and incorporated into the coastal routes. A new free national policy was created also and it allowed for the route to be utilized and developed over time. Inland waterways were created to develop a “Great Loop” which allowed for circumnavigation via water of the entire eastern part of the country, using as little ocean travel as possible.
Building of the Intracoastal Waterway was a major concern for the nation. The debates also created a political division on who would pay for development, who would work on those developments and what timeline the ICW would follow. It was in 1802 that the Senate initiated a comprehensive plan for transportation via the ICW, detailing its relevancy and entire scope. It was in this plan that North Carolina was first cited as a central location for development, with a fourth canal being established in the areas of what is now New Hanover County, Brunswick County and Pender County. Current major cities that were targeted in the initiative are Wrightsville Beach, Wilmington, Ocean Isle Beach, Topsail Island, Holden Beach, Oak Island and Hampstead.
Although the plan presented by The Senate was aggressive and with merit, it was never approved. With a price tag of over $20-million and a 10-year completion plan, it was considered to be too risky and costly to embark on. Although the comprehensive plan was not accepted, that did not stop for developments to begin in smaller stages.
In 1812 the war highlighted the need for some way to maneuver throughout the country via the ICW. In 1824, building of the full ICW was approved and authorized. At that time it was the US Army Corps of Engineers, or USACE, that has taken the responsibility of maintaining and improving upon the waterway.
It took some time for the ICW to get started, but once steam power of 1826 came into play, it was much needed. Steam power developed water transportation, but the country needed a place to utilize it. One by one the government chose different cities to incorporate their landscape into the ICW. There were hiccups during history. For example, the Civil War put all developments on hold due to funding. Plus, at the time railways were a central focus. It wasn’t until the early 1880s that things changed. Again, it was the Senate that stepped in to recommended additional transportation methods. Funding was created and earmarked for waterways.
Once diesel engines came into play in 1892, the market changed again. It was decided that an Intracoastal Waterway from the Rio Grande to Boston was needed. An additional waterway was required from St. Andrews Bay, Florida to the Apalachicola River. Leaders were seeking the easiest and most cost-efficient method of moving freight. From 1910 to 1915, channels allowing for freight movement over waters were developed. This is when much of modern-day development occurred.
Currently the ICW runs the majority of the Eastern Seaboard. Throughout North Carolina there are a number of bridges that allow for ease of movement. Here are some of the main ones in our area:
             Wrightsville Bascule Bridge. This bridge is located at the 283.1 mile marker and has a vertical clearance of 20-yards, although this has been reported as lower by some resources. This is a drawbridge that is open from 0700 to 1900 on-the-hour; it also can be opened on demand. There are times throughout the year that it is closed, so travelers should confirm its use during their time in the area.
             Ocean Isle Bridge. This bridge is located at the 334.0 mile marker and has a vertical clearance of 65-yards. It is a fixed bridge that is always open.
             Topsail Island Bridge. The Topsail Island Bridge is at the 252.5 mile marker. It has a vertical clearance of 64-yards and is another fixed bridge.
             Holden Beach Bridge. This bridge is at the 323.0 mile marker and has a vertical clearance of 65-yards. It is also a fixed bridge.
             Oak Island Bridge/Ft. Caswell Bridge. This is another fixed bridge with a vertical clearance of 65-yards. It can be found at the 312.0 mile marker.
Each bridge was strategically positioned for ease of travel throughout the areas.
The portion of the ICW within North Carolina is highly developed with many of its solutions being fixed bridges for convenience and safety. Navigation is streamlined and cities are accustomed to traveling by waterway. The cities most affected by the ICW in our area are located along coastal New Hanover, Brunswick, and Pender Counties and include cities and towns such as Wilmington, Topsail Island, Figure Eight Island, Ocean Isle Beach, Oak Island, Holden Beach, Wrightsville Beach, Hampstead, Sunset Beach, Carolina Beach and Bald Head Island.  To search homes for sale in these areas, use the easy link to the MLS below or the search feature on our homepage.