Beach Town in a Forest

Beach Town in a Forest
Beach Town in a Forest, Pine Knoll Shores located in Carteret County on North Carolina's Crysal Coast. Photo compliments of Bill Flexman and Dave Prutzman

Monday, July 6, 2015

Iron Steamer Pier Retrospective

Development in Pine Knoll Shores opened the area not only to people wanting a full-time or part-time place at the beach but also to day-trippers, people in driving distance wanting an occasional day on the coast. The following retrospective is a story of what used to be a perfect spot for such a visit.

Advertisement for Iron Steamer Pier and Motel
Looking at a 1980’s vintage photograph of the Iron Steamer Pier, I suddenly became nostalgic for day trips to the beach. Throughout the 70s and 80s, our family and friends who also lived inland at the time routinely made day trips to Bogue Banks. Without a beach cottage or connections to someone with one, we would head directly to the Iron Steamer. There were motel rooms there as well, but we never stayed overnight.

The pier was perfect for day-trippers. We would arrive mid-morning and park our cars for free in front of the pier house. Those in our group who wanted to lounge on the beach would carry chairs, coolers and swim boards into the pier house and head out the side screen door, down steps leading to the beach. Others, with fishing poles, tackle-boxes, buckets and coolers went directly to the counter and purchased all-day pier passes, which were stapled to their caps.

I was among the beachgoers and liked the Iron Steamer because the pier provided shade so we could enjoy periodic respites from afternoon sun. We used the tackle shop for occasional needs. It had odds and ends, like suntan lotion; provided a bathroom; and sold food, soft drinks and frozen treats. 

The waters close to the pier were a favorite location for surfers since currents there often produced perfect waves. No one in our group surfed, but we loved watching others catch and ride the big ones. Pier owners had put up signs warning surfers not to come too close, but wave riders were a risky lot.
Waves building up along the Iron Steamer Pier

From the beach, we could also watch the fishing action. Action, preceded and followed by lulls, was common at the Iron Steamer. During lulls, watching people was great entertainment since the pier attracted young and old from all over the world—all sizes, shapes and complexions.

Fishing was tiered on the pier. Experienced anglers, whose gear often included sleeping bags, were on the far end. Using float rigs and live bait, they fished primarily for King Mackerel. The next tier, those who liked to be as far out as they could get without going to the end section, were usually bottom fishing with shrimp. However, early in the morning and before sunset, they would often cast and reel in slowly, jerking the lure to catch Spanish mackerel and other fish feeding close to the surface. 

Pictures like this one of a King Mackerel caught on the pier lined the walls of the tackle shop.

Then there were those who stayed near cleaning tables or fished by remnants of the ironclad Civil War vessel for which the pier was named. The sunken ship served as an artificial reef attracting a wide variety of fish—desirable food fish like flounder, spot, pompano, sea mullet, blue fish, drum, sea bass and sea trout as well as less desirable species like pin, hog, toad and lizard fish, among others.  

Beachgoers periodically checked out the pier, walking its length to see what was happening. On my visits, I would stop, ask people what they were catching, lean over the pier and appreciate the view from above. Sometimes I would be lucky and see a large stingray swim by, barely getting itself between the pilings. A sea turtle might surface or dolphins put on a show. 

Anglers in our group always took time out from pier fishing to enjoy a swim and lounge on the beach. They might even try to change their luck by surf fishing for a while.  

Kids divided their time between the beach and pier, often spending their pier time trying to catch crabs with a baited box-trap attached to a rope. The trap opened flat on the bottom and closed as they pulled it up, an activity frequently accompanied by shouts of glee as blue crabs appeared.

In those days, the Iron Steamer Pier was among eight Bogue Banks’ piers, and I’m not sure why we chose it over the other seven, but doing so gave us a special appreciation for Pine Knoll Shores, which was growing year by year. In the 1990s, we built a home about a mile from the Iron Steamer Pier, which closed forever in 2004.

I later learned that Shelby Freeman, who built the Iron Steamer Pier and Motel, had bought the land from the Roosevelts late in the 1950s or early1960s. He had been working for them selling lots in the easternmost part of what is now Pine Knoll Shores. He said there was nothing along this strand of beach, and the road was unpaved. He had to hack his way through thick maritime forest, underbrush and briars, to make a path to the beach.
Perhaps his knowledge of North Carolina Civil War history had made him select the site.
The ironclad blockade-runner, SS Pevensey, had gone aground there after being attacked by the New Berne. Shipwrecks naturally attract fish, and remains of the Pevensey were close to the pier he built, approximately 220 yards off the beach.

The town put up a plaque marking it, and there is also a new beach access with parking, a wooden walkway, and bathroom facilities, so locals and visitors can still enjoy a day at the beach near the Iron Steamer.  For more information about the blockade-runner, see the post entitled “SS Pevensey Ties Pine Knoll Shores to Civil War.”

Post Author: Phyllis Makuck
An earlier, shorter version of this post appeared in The Shoreline.
To contact the author or the History Committee