Belville is a town that has experienced so much over the decades. While it has changed a lot, it has stayed the same in many ways. This past month the Town of Belville broke ground on their new Town Hall/ Municipal Center (which we shared with you on our Facebook page), making steps to invest in their future. Yet the Town’s past certainly influences its today.
When looking at the lines of the Town of Belville, Leland, Winnabow or Navassa, it can be pretty hard to follow. But they speak to an age influenced by many stories and a lot of time.
Belville is located moments from the site of the original Cape Fear town, Brunswick Town. Founded in July 1726, Brunswick Town was a major port through the 18th century and grew rapidly. During the 1730s, Brunswick Town became the political powerhouse of the region and the eventual capital city of North Carolina (1743-1770) when the first royal governor of North Carolina moved there.
But in 1775, residents began to flee in anticipation of the Revolutionary War and Brunswick Town was attacked by British forces in 1776. During the Civil War, Confederate troops used the land to build a bastion of defense, originally named Fort St. Phillip but renamed to Fort Anderson.
Even though today Fort Anderson and Brunswick Town are officially part of Winnabow, the activity on the shores of the Cape Fear no doubt contributed to the rise in esteem that the Town of Belville encountered.
The majority of Beville was once part of a 280-acre plantation. Owned by Daniel Lindsay Russell, Jr. , the Belville Plantation profited from rice farming. Russell was a prominent North Carolina lawyer, judge and politician. He was North Carolina’s Governor from 1897-1901 and representative to the 46th United States Congress.
Unfortunately, during his time as governor, Russell incurred many debts while at the same time the rice industry in North Carolina was eclipsed by large-scale rice farming on the Gulf Coast, whose soils could handle the weight of the combine harvester. Yet today, the Town of Belville organizes the annual NC Rice Festival to honor the traditions and business of yesteryear.
While Russell is generally considered to be the founder of the Belville area, in 2016 the Town unearthed evidence of the Buchoi Plantation, which was used as early as 1776. The Buchoi Plantation was originally occupied by Justice Alfred Moore, a U.S. Supreme Court Justice who fought in the Revolutionary War and a North Carolina Highway Historical Marker nearby is dedicated to Moore.
In 1941, the U.S. began using the Beville area to build Liberty Ships in the preparation for World War II. On December 6, 1941, the Zebulon B. Vance was the first Liberty Ship launched from the Brunswick Area.
Originally, Belville benefitted greatly from a causeway that connected Wilmington to Brunswick County, right to a thriving downtown Belville. But in 1977, a new Brunswick River bridge and bypass highway was opened to traffic and the old causeway road was completely abandoned.
Coincidentally, the Town of Belville was incorporated as a town that same year, 1977, in anticipation of the new traffic coming over the bridge. Afterall, Belville is conveniently located near Wilmington and serves as a gateway to the beaches in Brunswick County as well as Myrtle Beach.
Yet it seemed as though, after a time, Belville began to struggle to find its identity and stay economically viable. With traffic by-passing its downtown area, things were changing. Businesses began to close their doors and Belville slowly became engulfed on its edges by the Town of Leland. Yet the little town fought to maintain its independence.
Then in 2006, the Town’s infamous Town & Country Motel burned to the ground. With a reputation for housing crime and drugs, there was almost a sense of relief as it went up in flames. It invited Belville residents to turn over a new leaf. The Town soon announced its plan for a redeveloped and vibrant future. Officials planned to have a place on the River for shops, dining, and relaxation, accessible to both boaters and land visitors. Belville also publicly committed to their vision as a place that embraces nature and wild resources.
As a study boldly declared, “Although it is a constant source of embarrassment, the blighted condition of the Downtown may be a blessing in disguise. Together with its natural resources, close proximity to Downtown Wilmington, and high visibility, the blighted condition provides a “clean slate” for new development (redevelopment).”
Some of the 2007 plans have been modified through the passing of time (such as the recent addition of a large Circle K gas station), but Belville has moved forward with their larger vision where they could. They call it The Renaissance Plan: A New Beginning.
The Riverwalk is to be completed in Phases and last spring Phase I was celebrated. Officials unveiled a boardwalk, a 1,800-square-foot observation deck, three walking trails, three picnic areas and the 125-foot fishing pier with 56 fishing positions and spots for wheelchair-bound fishermen.
But through the growth, Belville has remained committed to maintaining its small town personality. As of the census of 2000, there were 285 people, 108 households, and 84 families residing in the town. But Town officials say that, today, there are 2,011 residents, displaying tremendous growth.
And Belville has a lot to offer. With a brand new Riverwalk park, Fort Anderson and its newly discovered cannon down the road, Orton Plantation a skip away, and many new businesses under its purview at Waterford Business Center, Belville is bound to draw in a new population who embraces the small town but loves the access to all that surrounds.
For more information on the Town of Belville, visit www.townofbelville.com or call 910-371-2456
Like history posts? Check out this post on Leland’s history.