Wrightsville Beach is a special place for both the resident and the visitor and is quite unlike the commercial beaches that often come to mind when one thinks of the coast. There is no carnival atmosphere -- no Ferris wheels or gaudy displays of beach merchandise (well, maybe just one that locals try hard to overlook), no bumper boats, no arcade. Instead, Wrightsville Beach is primarily an affluent residential community that has its roots in Wilmington. For nearly a century, the 5-mile-long island beach has been a retreat from the summer heat for residents of Wilmington. Many of the homes are owned by city residents whose families have maintained ownership through the decades, and that is not likely to change soon. Wrightsville Beach was incorporated in 1899 as a resort community. The Tidewater Power Company built a trolley system from downtown to the beach, providing the only land access to the island until 1935. The company, which owned the island, was interested in development and built the Hotel Tarrymore in 1905 to attract visitors and revenue. Later named The Oceanic, this grand hotel burned down in 1934, along with most structures on the northern half of the island. Lumina, a beach pavilion, was also built by the Tidewater Power Company to attract visitors. On the site of the current Oceanic Restaurant at the south end of the beach, Lumina offered a festive place where locals gathered for swimming, dancing and outdoor movies. The building was demolished in 1973. The Carolina Yacht Club, the first large structure on the island, was built in 1856 and is the second oldest in the country, after the New York Yacht Club. Development of the beach continued steadily until 1954 when Hurricane Hazel, a monster storm, came ashore and wreaked devastation on the island's homes and buildings. Hazel also shoaled the channel between Wrightsville Beach and adjacent Shell Island. Developers, seeing an opportunity for expansion, filled in the remaining water and joined the islands together. Today, the area is the site of the Shell Island Resort Hotel, numerous condominiums and large homes. In the aftermath of two hurricanes in 1996, the resort hotel found itself precariously close to an advancing inlet. Shell Island's condominium owners wanted to erect a seawall to save their property from the encroaching sea, but the state denied them permission to do so.

North Carolina has very strict laws regarding seawalls because of their negative impact on the rest of a beach. In 2002, the inlet was dredged and moved north toward Figure Eight Island, thereby, for the time being, reducing the threat to Shell Island. Today's Wrightsville Beach is a very busy and prosperous place. Because of its popularity with both residents and tourists, there is almost no available land for sale. The area is still a stronghold of long-term residents who summer in family homes built to catch the ocean breeze. The permanent residential population is about 3,000, but that figure swells considerably in the summer.

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