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What is Masonboro?

Ben Steelman
StarNews

A township and community in the eastern, coastal region of New Hanover County, centered around Masonboro Sound.

The name appears on Abram Collet’s map of North Carolina in 1770, but it seems to have been in use much earlier than that. Apparently, it is derived from the efforts of a number of zealous Masons to establish a community or resort in the vicinity. Historian Alan D. Watson reports that the region’s first Masonic lodge, “Solomon’s Lodge,” was established near Masonboro Inlet in 1735.

The region remained popular as a resort through the 1800s. Because of the number of historic homes in the region, Masonboro Sound is now listed as a National Register District by the National Register of Historic Places.

Masonboro Sound lies between Greenville Sound and Myrtle Sound. Its nutrient-rich waters are an important nusrsery area for spot, mullet, summer flounder, pompano, menhaden and bluefish.

Masonboro Inlet lies opposite the mouth of Hewlett’s Creek, between the waters of Masonboro and Middle sounds. According to William S. Powell, it opened in 1833 near the site of the former Shole (or Shoal) Inlet, which had closed sometime after 1775. It separates the town of Wrightsville Beach from Masonboro Island, and while its role in Civil War blockade running is probably exaggerated, it has been an important waterway for local fishermen and boaters for generations.

Masonboro Island, which lies between Masonboro Inlet and the artificially created Carolina Beach Inlet (dating from 1952), is the largest undisturbed barrier island along the Southeastern North Carolina coast. It is roughly 8.4 miles long and consists of some 5,000 acres, 87 percent of which are covered by marshland or tidal flats. About 600 acres are oceanfront beach and dunes. Loggerhead and green sea turtles nest here, along with black skimmers, Wilson’s plovers, brown pelicans and least terns. Gray foxes and river otters can also be spotted here. It is part of the N.C. Natural Estuarine Research Reserve.

In 1992, area residents formed the non-profit Society for Masonboro Island, to raise money to buy the remaining private land on the island, thus ensuring that it would remain in pristine condition. Today, at least 95 percent of the island is public property, mainly under state control. In 2003, the Society for Masonboro Island merged with the N.C. Coastal Land Trust.

Accessible only by boat, Masonboro Island remains popular for surfing, camping, hiking and birding.

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