In 1947 and 1948, Odell Williamson began purchasing tracks of land that eventually comprised Ocean Isle Beach. These tracks of land were owned by various families, including the Brooks family, the Stanley family, the Gore family, and especially the D. Stowe Crouse family. Odell Williamson was originally in partnership with Manlon Gore, but Manlon and Odell soon parted ways, dissolving the partnership.
Manlon’s son, Ed Gore, soon focused on developing Sunset Beach while Odell focused on Ocean Isle Beach. Odell was elected to the NC legislature in 1947 and from there was able to spearhead Ocean Isle Beach growth.
In 1949, Odell and his wife Virginia gave this beach the name Ocean Isle Beach. Prior to 1949, this beach was called Hale Beach, named after Hale Swamp near here. Hale Beach was divided into three separate beaches – Little Beach on the east end, Gause’s Beach in the center, and Brooks Beach on the west end.
In 1950, Odell built an airplane landing strip on the east end of Ocean Isle, but bad wind drafts led him to later move the airport off the Island. Also on the east end of Ocean Isle in the surf today you will see remnants of pilings, especially at low tide. These pilings were put there back in 1957 as an erosion control barrier for an old pavilion and realtor office built by Odell in 1955. Shallotte Boulevard, also on the east end of Ocean Isle, is where Odell and Manlon Gore built a four-car ferry in 1950. The ferry operated until 1959 when a swing bridge was completed that year across the Inland Waterway.
On October 15, 1954, the worst hurricane to ever to hit Ocean Isle Beach came ashore. It was Hurricane Hazel. The Atlantic Ocean met the Inland Waterway that day here at Ocean Isle. There were 41 houses on the Island when Hurricane Hazel came ashore, including Manlon Gore’s house. The houses were mostly on the east end of the Island and were built directly on the ground. Only two houses survived the hurricane.
Only ten people lived on Ocean Isle Beach as permanent residents at the time – the Register family and the McLamb family. The Register family decided to stay on the Island and ride out the storm. The McLamb family, consisting of Mr. McLamb and wife Sibyl and one-year-old Teresa, vacated the island. Six visitors to Ocean Isle Beach from Highpoint, North Carolina also decided to ride out the hurricane.
As the ocean water met the Inland Waterway during the storm, the Register family tried to get to the highest spot on the Island which was Gause’s Hill. Before Hurricane Hazel, Gause’s Hill was twice as high. The six visitors from Highpoint all died during the Hurricane Hazel, and three of the Register family members also died during the hurricane, Madeline, Sherman, and Buddy. Madeline was Odell’s sister. Her body was never found after Hurricane Hazel. Two Register children, Bucky and Sonya, survived Hurricane Hazel on the Island and were the only known survivors. So, nine people on Ocean Isle Beach died during Hurricane Hazel.
In the Spring of 1955, the George Sloane Jr. family moved into the McLamb house that had shifted off its foundation but had survived Hurricane Hazel. The Sloane family was the only permanent residents on Ocean Isle Beach from 1955 to 1964 when the island still had only clay roads, Mr. George Sloane Jr. built the first Ocean Isle Motel in the same spot that the Ocean Isle Inn sits today.
Tripp Sloane has said Joe Brooks and a Mr. Stanley had a Fishery Cabin on the east end of Ocean Isle Beach and the fishermen would catch thousands of mullet each day in nets in the surf during the Fall of the each year.
Fishermen have been catching mullet in the Fall on Ocean Isle Beach for decades, probably even centuries. Fishermen would put out long nets in the surf when they see the mullet coming. It was hard work pulling those nets in by hand. They would cook mullet on sticks on the beach.
Tripp also says that the World Book Encyclopedia in 1959 listed the population of Ocean Isle Beach as 4 – being Mr. George Sloane, wife Rae Sloane, son Tripp and daughter Debbie. Ocean Isle Beach was incorporated in 1959.
For the first few years of Tripp and Debbie going to public school, they would ride the ferry each weekday morning to get off the island. Tripp’s mom, Rae, says that in 1955, front row 50 ft ocean lots were $500 if you were going to build on the lot, or $750 if you not going to build on the lot.
She said that Odell had hired her and George to sell real estate out of the pavilion on this end east of the beach. During these years, 1955 to 1963, the Odell Williamson family lived in Shallotte.
A swing bridge was built in 1959 to replace the OIB ferry, and a new OIB sign was erected out of Highway 17.
Odell was the first mayor of Ocean Isle Beach serving from 1959 to 1963,
There was a Camp Atlantic Boys Home Retreat that operated on the east end of Ocean Isle in the late 1960’s and 1970’s.
Mr. George Sloane Jr. was mayor of Ocean Isle from 1967 to 1969 and then Virginia Williamson was mayor here from 1969 to 1973.
The OIB swing bridge operated until 1986 when the high-rise bridge over the waterway was completed that year.
Johnny Sheffield (owner of Sheffield’s Food Store on Ocean Isle) was asked “what is the worst hurricane to hit or near-hit Ocean Isle Beach since Hurricane Hazel. Johnny said the worst hurricane to hit this area since Hurricane Hazel was Hurricane Hugo, which came ashore near Charleston on September 22, 1989. Johnny said that during Hurricane Hugo, water came up to the top step behind Sheffield’s store, but water did not get inside his store. Water has never gotten inside of Sheffield’s store from any hurricane, but it came closest with Hurricane Hugo. Ocean Isle Beach has been lucky ever since Hurricane Hazel in 1954 because no hurricanes at all have directly hit or done devastating damage to the Island. Hurricane Donna in 1960 also was a Category 5 hurricane when it came close to Ocean Isle Beach.
Ocean Isle Gem of the Atlantic Coast – Full Color Coffee Table Edition
Escape to the sandy shores and salty air with a celebration of Ocean Isle Beach: The beauty of Ocean Isle’s beaches, marshes, canals & laid-back lifestyle in rich full color photography. See the featured homes, parks, shops and attractions of this hidden gem we know as Ocean Isle Beach, NC!
Buy this hard cover, high quality, full-color coffee table edition, available for only $24.95 and take home a piece of this treasured island and have the beach with you all year long!
Signed by both authors, Jacqueline DeGroot and Miller Pope