Bald Head Island, beauty and history
Located on southern Smith Island, the village of Bald Head Island is a charming community. Accessible only by ferry, there are no cars on the island and the only way to get around is either by bicycle or golf cart. According to the 2000 census, 173 people resided in the 5.8-square-mile village, with many more in the summer months.
The island is also popular for weddings, either on the beach or in the picturesque village chapel. Other visitors are drawn by the island’s amenities, including vacation rentals, a golf course, two bed and breakfasts, and canoeing and kayaking.
Humans aren’t the only inhabitants, with loggerhead turtles, raccoons, fox, deer and alligators on the island.
European settlement in the area to 1664, when John Vassal founded Charles Town along the west bank of the Cape Fear River. However, due to conflicts with the natives and political problems, he moved Charles Town farther south, which is now Charleston, S.C. In 1713, a land grant was issued for what is now Smith Island.
Bald Head Island saw activity, although briefly, in the Revolutionary War. British military leaders, Gen. Clinton and Lt. Cornwallis, used the island for a staging area for their ships. The British established Fort George on the southwestern corner of the island, garrisoned with about 30 troops to prevent the area from being used for shipping. Continental soldiers attacked the fort, and British soldiers eventually withdrew from the island. This is believed to be one of the first amphibious operation in American military history.
During the Civil War, the Confederates built Fort Holmes on the island in 1863 as a defense for the Cape Fear River. It had as many as 18 guns and 1,000 troops.
In 1789, the construction of a lighthouse was authorized on the island. Construction was completed in December 1794, costing $11,359. However, the tower had been built too close to the water, fell victim to erosion and was rendered inoperable by 1813.
Built on higher ground, the current lighthouse, Old Baldy, was finished in 1817, totaling $15,915. Bricks from the original lighthouse were used in the construction of Old Baldy. The lighthouse was turned off, as were all light beacons on the coast, during the Civil War so Union ships wouldn’t be able to navigate around the shoals.
Through the years, repairs and improvements were made to the structure. It was decommissioned in 1959 after Oak Island Light, which was the second brightest lighthouse in the world, was built a few miles away. Old Baldy’s brick and plaster are 5 feet thick, and can withstand a category-three hurricane, though some residents sought shelter inside of the lighthouse during Hurricane Fran, a category three, in 1996.