A rusty barge mired in the Brunswick River, once visible to the north from US 74/76 between Leland and Wilmington, the “USS Belville” was a landmark of sorts for close to 30 years. It finally sank from view in 1995 and still rests on the river bottom, according to Richard Lawrence of the N.C. Underwater Archaeology Branch at Fort Fisher.
A steel barge, 185 feet long with a 34-foot beam, the vessel began life as the Harry J. Sheridan, built in 1907 at Port Richmond, N.Y. It was towed to the Brunswick River and essentially run aground on the riverbank in 1961, after having sunk and been raised from the harbor in Norfolk, Va.
Over time, it became a target for local graffiti artists; the names “Amy,” “Tony” and “Down South Junki” were visible at one time or another. Sometime after the town of Belville was incorporated in 1977, somebody climbed aboard, marked out “Harry J. Sheridan” and painted in “USS Belville” — obviously a tongue-in-cheek reference both to the Battleship North Carolina Memorial and to Belville’s relative size.
In 1983, a local band called the Ravens carried a power generator aboard and gave a free concert, for three hours or so, from the Belville’s deck to an impromptu crowd ashore.
In 1989, the incorporation of Leland left the derelict technically within Leland town limits. Not longer afterward, another wag climbed aboard, crossed out the “USS Belville” and painted “USS Leland” in its place.
A heavy storm in 1993 dislodged the Belville/Leland from the riverbank and sank most of the vessel. Part of the old barge remained visible above water until the autumn of 1995, when erosion and internal leakage left only a tip above the surface. It disappeared soon after that. Spokesmen for the Corps of Engineers said the barge could not be moved, since it was not in a navigable waterway and two nearby low-lying bridges made it impossible to tow away. At least a few commuters sincerely missed it.
Date posted: September 16, 2009