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Whatever happened to Titanium Road?

Ben Steelman

The name vanished from Wilmington maps after the Wilmington City Council voted early in 1998 to rename the stretch “Independence Boulevard Extension.”

Actually, for many years, Wilmington had two different “Titanium Roads” connecting Carolina Beach Road with River Road. The southern Titanium Road was renamed Sanders Road.

Why Titanium? Well, on June 10, 1957, Allied Kennecott Corp. — a partnership between Allied Chemical and Kennecott Copper — announced plans to build a massive titanium plant beside the Cape Fear River south of Wilmington.

The $40 million facility was supposed to recover titanium from beach sand, to fill the huge demand for the exotic metal in the Cold War aerospace industry. (This, of course, was in the days before cell phones.) Maps showed it would cover a 1,500-acre complex running from the Cape Fear to Carolina Beach Road, next to Silver Lake, between Barnards Creek and Mott Creek.

According to releases at the time, the titanium plant was supposed to hire 500 employees at first, eventually expanding to 3,500 to 4,000. The initial payroll was put at $2 million.

Announcements of the plant ran in The New York Times and Wall Street Journal. North Carolina Gov. Luther Hodges trumpeted the industrial recruiting coup from Raleigh.

Local reaction bordered on the hysterical, as Wilmington residents desperately sought good news — and  a big employer to replace the Atlantic Coast Line railroad, which had announced plans two years earlier to move its corporate headquarters to Jacksonville, Fla. The Morning Star (predecessor to the StarNews) plastered the story across its front page with huge jumps  inside. The lead editorial for June 11, 1957, was headlined “Wilmington on Eve of Wondrous Era.”

And then … nothing.

For years thereafter, Allied Chemical and Kennecott executives would regularly assure local officials that, yes, they did plan to go ahead with the plant, sometime, as soon as demand for titanium picked up.

After awhile, however, the announcements petered off, and Cameron family interests acquired the property intended for the titanium plant. In 2006, the Camerons sold 1,330 acres of this  parcel to Newland Communities of San Diego for $72.5 million. Newland announced plans for a massive residential development, eventually called RiverLights, which would include a riverfront park and boat ramp.

All that was left of the titanium plant were the access roads cut to the site. In 1998, even the name disappeared from the maps.

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One Response to “ Whatever happened to Titanium Road?”

  1. On July 16, 2010 at 9:18 am Bill R wrote:

    Interesting….My old Dell GPS that I purchased new in 2005 actually had Titanium Rd on it (section of Independence between Carolina Beach Rd and River Rd). I always wondered where that came from or if it was an error.

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