Emerald Isle

THE TOWN OF Emerald Isle’s two-word credo is catching on as a statement of the beliefs that guide actions: “Nice Matters!”

Town Manager Frank Rush explains the origin of the term came out of a conversation with Mayor Pro-Tem Floyd Messer about how “people who approach you in a nice, respectful, friendly way have a much better chance of achieving their goals than those who are critical or negative.” Messer said: ‘Frank, you know, Nice Matters!’ … and it grew from there.”

“Essentially, it means three things,” Rush said. “1) Being nice to our customers is expected and promoted during every interaction; 2) Keeping Emerald Isle looking nice is paramount to our efforts to create a desirable community for residents, visitors and for prospective future residents and visitors; and 3) Everyone should be nice to each other (pretty much the Golden Rule stated more simply).”

Being nice is part of Emerald Isle’s overall strategy to be known as America’s favorite family beach destination.

It’s nice to know that Emerald Isle was not founded by Ireland as an Irish colony … although the town’s annual St. Patrick’s Festival grows bigger each year. Emerald Isle’s former Mayor Art Schools says the first known owner of the entire uninhabited, 13-mile stretch of Bogue Banks west of Salter Path was John A. Royall, a New Englander who owned numerous islands in neighboring Onslow County.

Schools said Royall sold the property to Henry K. Fort of Philadelphia in 1922 for $70,000. Fort drew up plans and specifications for a resort development (still on file at town hall). America’s Great Depression (1929-39) squashed those grandiose plans. After Fort’s death in 1943, the property was inherited by his daughter, Anita Fort Maulik. She sold timber rights to William Britton McLean (known as W.B.) in 1946. (McLean sounds a wee bit like an old Scottish name; definitely not Irish.) McLean and George Spell had a sawmill business in Red Springs in Robeson County.

McLean saw the potential to develop the island as a “seaside paradise,” but alone he couldn’t come up with the cash to meet Maulik’s asking price of $350,000. Spell agreed to chip in, as did other Red Springs’ investors J.A. “Bus” Singleton and Hiram Grantham, but still they were about $150,000 short. Schools said Robert Holding, then president of First Citizens Bank of Smithfield, put down the rest of the cash needed in the names of his three sons, Frank, Lewis and Robert Jr.

When the $350,000 sales transaction was completed in 1954, it was the largest land deal ever recorded in Carteret County. (Current property values in Emerald Isle total more than $2.7 billion.)

Schools said new owners McLean and Spell sought the advice of an unnamed property development consultant from Florida, who requested an airplane ride to survey the property. As they flew over Bogue Banks, the consultant was impressed and inspired by what he saw – miles of lush forest, a solid green gem in the middle of a sea of sparking water – and said: “This place shall be known as Emerald Isle.” And so it was. That’s a nice story.

As the development of the “planned community” proceeded from east to west, the original roadway was paved through the sand, careful to spare the old live oak trees that covered the island. With access, beach cottages for summer people began to appear.

Emerald Isle was incorporated as a town July 1, 1957, and will observe its 60-year anniversary this year.

McLean was quick to rationalize that a ferry service was needed from Cape Carteret to Emerald Isle, as a short-cut, so motorists coming from upstate didn’t have to drive around their elbow into Morehead City and go across to Atlantic Beach, then back-track, geographically speaking, to get to Emerald Isle. The state hemmed and hawed whenever McLean inquired.

Paxon McLean Holz made the comment that her father W.B. “was never known for his patience, so, he began dredging a channel across Bogue Sound and purchased two surplus car ferries in Virginia.” They were never used, however, as the state reluctantly agreed to pony up and take responsibility for the transportation.

The state began offering free ferry service from Cape Carteret to Emerald Isle in 1961.

The ferries continued until the B. Cameron Langston Bridge on NC Route 58 was built and opened in 1971. (Langston was a highway commissioner who had campaigned hard to get the bridge built but died in 1966.) The bridge was named for him, in memory of his efforts.

Gov. Bob Scott asked Langston’s young granddaughter to do the honors of cutting the ribbon on bridge dedication day. That was a very nice gesture.

It’s nice that Emerald Isle is written up in a famous book, "Mr. Boston: Offfical Bartender’s Guide." In 2000, it printed the recipe for “Emerald Isle Cocktail.” Use two ounces of gin, a teaspoon of green crème de menthe and three dashes of bitters. Add ice, stir and strain into a cocktail glass.

That’s probably the other “Emerald Isle” – across the sea – that the guidebook is referring to – but nice nonetheless.

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