The Rocks at Fort Fisher
Many people are familiar with the rock wall that stretches from the south end of Ft. Fisher to Zeke’s Island and then on toward Smith Island but have you ever stopped to wonder why this wall is there, or how it came to be?
Back in the early to mid 1800’s, as the town of Wilmington was emerging as an important seaport, mariners would navigate the natural channel from the mouth of the Cape Fear River up to Wilmington.
As we have come to know, shoaling occurs very quickly, especially when fueled by a storm. In an area like the lower Cape Fear, rich with barrier islands and sand dunes, sand bars would quickly form, changing the route to navigate.
In the 1800’s there was no dredging equipment to keep the channels open so the Civil Engineers (now the Army Corps of Engineers) came up with a plan to build a rock retaining wall in an effort to hold back the sand from drifting into the channel.
The project was started in 1865; in thinking about that date for a minute, you’ll realize there was no mechanical equipment available and slavery had ended so labor was suddenly much more expensive.
The corps constructed by loading stone by hand, or with horses and mules, from the quarries north of Wilmington onto barges, then floating the rocks down river and sinking the loaded barges in place to form the wall.
It took four years but they solved the problem.
What they did not know at the time was how this project would help develop one of the richest salt marshes on the coast. 1500 acres of this 8000 acre salt marsh has become part of the National Estuarine Research Reserve.
One word of caution: If you wish to walk the wall out to Zeke’s Island be extremely careful as the rocks now have 140 years of slippery algae and some seriously sharp barnacles and oysters. Also be aware of the tide cycle because high tide may leave you stranded on the island longer than you want, and the mosquitoes are just as bad now as in 1865.