In 1973 Surf City Pier was for the most part a steel pier, old and in somewhat poor condition (pictured above). It was up for sale and the price was right for Edwin P. Lore, Jr. of Smithfield, North Carolina. He was looking for something to do since his career as a surveyor was cut short due to the development of a severe allergy to yellow jacket stings. He spent that first year learning the ins and outs of operating a fishing pier along with his wife, Miriam and two sons, Steve, 16 and Edwin, 11.
The very next year a fierce nor'easter destroyed much of the pier just after Thanksgiving. Undaunted, Mr. Lore rebuilt the pier the following year, and despite the many storms in the years that followed, some that caused minor damage and one, Hurricane
Fran that completely destroyed the pier in 1996, Surf City Pier celebrates its 40th anniversary this year.
During the year I will be reminiscing about some of my experiences during my time at the pier. Oh, and by the way, I'm the youngest son Edwin, who now owns the pier and hopes to continue the Lore family tradition....
To be Continued.....
Lore History of the Pier- Part I (cont.)
As I touched on last time, the Lore family bought Surf City Pier in 1973. My dad was an avid speckled trout fisherman, having loved it since he was stationed at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida in the early '50's. I inherited his general love of fishing, but saltwater fishing was new to me, having previously experienced only freshwater fishing with a cane pole in my grandfather's farm pond. My first summer at the pier was spend doing a few odd jobs, but mostly learning how to catch fish in the ocean; flounder,drum, sheepshead, mackerel, and blues to name a few. It was wonderful, and I caught on pretty quickly.
We lived in Smithfield in the off season and made trips to Surf City in the summer and on weekends in the spring and fall. Down here, we stayed in a 48 foot long by 12 feet wide trailer which was normally quite cozy. It was very unnerving, though, to be in it when there was a bad storm, expecially like the one that hit the Saturday night after Thanksgiving, 1974. That "nor'easter," with winds over 60 mph, rattled and shook the little trailer, but it survived. Much of the pier, however, did not.
That next Sunday morning the old steel pier was collapsing. The pierhouse was located over the water at that time, complete with a small grill and tackle shop, gameroom with pool table; foosball table, and even a jukebox, and a 2-table dining area. And as a result, my dad ordered all of us out in case it fell too. My brother and I were the first out followed by mom who was carrying an armful of important documents and insurance paperwork. My dad came out last, carrying the most important things to him other than his family....his trout fishing rods.
The pierhouse did survive somehow, and the winter and early spring were spent rebuilding what was lost. Alot of fish were caught in the ensuing years, and the weather remained quiet until the early '80's. In part II, I'll briefly discuss a couple of close-call hurricanes and also a rather large fire that occurred in Pender County in 1986.
To be Continued....
History of the Pier.....Part III
As I mentioned in part II the mid to late '70's were fairly quiet, with few hurricanes and, from what I can remember, some decent runs of fish. However, on September 29th of 1985 Hurricane Gloria rolled up the coast. Though it stayed well offshore, it sent huge waves crashing to the beach causing damage to most of Topsail's piers. Luckily, the only damage to us was the loss of a single pilon near the end of the pier. The very next day marked the beginning of the longest run of spots in the modern day history of the pier. Folks pulled in spots almost every day until Thanksgiving. I actually worked that year...a lot.
In May of 1986 the infamous Pender County fire burned 70,000 acres from the 5th through the 16th. Though it never threatened the pier, it almost jumped across Hwy 17 toward Topsail Island, but the many
firefighters from all across the region were able to prevent it from doing so. The view from the pier were spectacular, and the dark cloud of smoke that drifted over the water dropped ash that resembled snowfall into the water, and a black tide line was created. The intense heat from the fire even caused a thunderstorm to develop over it, which is extremely unusual for this region.
The mid 80's saw some big runs of fish, from spots to king mackerel and even large amberjacks which haven't been seen on the piers since 1990. Spanish mackerel were also abundant during this time. The weather may have had something to do with the large numbers of fish, but all I know is that it was a fun time to be fishing on the pier.
History of the Pier - Part IV
The late 1980's marked the beginning of what was to be a period of enhanced hurricane activity, which did not bode well for the pier. It began with a rather nasty storm, named Hugo which hit on the night of September 21st 1989. Although the winds were never over 50 mph., and the center was over 260 miles away, the fierce wave action still destroyed over 50 feet of the end of the pier. I remember watching the progress of the storm on TV
with my wife, Terri, praying it would turn away from the coast. Horrible for the folks in South Carolina, it could have been far worse for us as it rolled in just north of Charleston. Charlotte, N.C. remembers this storm quite well too.
The following winter saw an unprecedented snowstorm and subsequent cold snap that would last over a week. The storm hit between Dec. 22nd and Dec. 24th and produced over 18 inches of snow and up to 50 mph winds. (Wilmington had 15.3 inches of snow making it by far their biggest snowstorm ever.) The low temperatures Christmas morning was -5 F., cold enough to produce large chunks of ice in the intercostal waterway. A staggering number of flounder, speckled trout and other species of fish were killed by the sudden cold. The poor fishing that followed in he early '90's, at least for some of the
non-migratory species, may be at least in part attributed to this unusual storm.
The pier was repaired the following spring
just in time for a good run of blues, Spanish and jack crevalle. Good crowds came during the following years despite some up and down fishing. The early to mid 90's were relatively hurricane free... until that fateful summer of 1996...
To be continued....
I remember it well. It started off innocently enough with a good run or Virginia mullet in the spring and good numbers of Spanish and king mackerel in May and June. July 4th was very busy, and it looked like we were going to have a great summer.
However, just after that big holiday a disturbance formed in the eastern Atlantic that was soon to become Hurricane Bertha. It came ashore as a category 2 Storm on July 13th with winds up to 110 mph, and Surf City was, for awhile, in the eye of that storm. The sun even came out briefly before the onslaught of fierce winds and waves that proved to be to much for the very end of the pier and a section just shy of the pierhouse (see pics).
The walk-in cooler, along with its very thick concrete floor, collapsed and dropped straight down into the water. Parts of the floor become visible sometimes now when enough sand washes away form the area. The rest of the tackle shop remained intact.
Work began immediately to repair the sections and was completed in a couple weeks. Only part of the end of the pier was repaired (about 30 our of 70 feet), and plans were to finish the rest at the end of the season. But no one was prepared for what was to happen less than 2 months later....
Part V .....1996 Continued
August of 1996 was typical of summertime at Topsail. Heat and humidity were around like always and fishing was slowing down as were the crowds. School was starting back and mostly only the local bunch came out to fish and that was mainly in the early mornings and late evenings.
An average Labor day weekend came and went and so we began preparing for the fall fishing season. However, storms had begun brewing in the Atlantic and initially, most of the attention was placed on Hurricane Edouard, which formed on August 19th and lasted for some time. It was a very large and powerful storm (145 mph winds) but it managed to stay well offshore. It was soon after it dissipated that all eyes were directed to Hurricane Fran, which quickly blew up near the Bahamas and rolled straight up into the Cape Fear region as a category 3 storm. Topsail Island was in the dreaded northeast quadrant of the storm and on September 6th took the hardest hit with winds at 115 mph.
I remember the days and hours before the hurricane struck, struggling to deal with the fact that it was going to hit and there was nothing I could do about it but prepare the best I could. My first priority was to make sure my family was safe and taken care of. Next was to try to save what I could out of the pierhouse. We rented a large U-Haul truck and proceeded to load it down with mostly "high-end" items and things I considered as irreplaceable (my trout rods, for example,....heard that before?)
The weather worsened rapidly in the early afternoon as we finished up with our packing. I sent the family on ahead and after some foolery and picture taking (see Photos) with my friends, I took some time to reflect on all the years and good times spend on the pier. I knew as I took omne last look before driving away that it would be the last time I would see that old pierhouse....
(Next month.....the aftermath...)
Part VI 1996 (cont.)
....I received the call on my cell phone at about 9 a.m. the next morning (Sept. 7) . As I had expected there was nothing much left of the pier but a small section about half of the way out. The pier house was completely destroyed. (Our drink box was found inside a demolished beach house about two miles away). Mike Martin, a good friend who would later manage the new pier, was choked up as he gave me the news. He had chosen to ride the storm out as his home just off the island. The whole island , as he put it, looked " like it had been bombed".
I rode the storm out with my mom and dad and wife and daughter in Smithfield, N.C. We took a pretty good licking from the storm also. I spent the next day clearing limbs and trees out of neighbors' yards and generally doing what was necessary to begin what was to be a long recovery process. I actually got power restored to my home in Surf City before my parents got their power back on .(about 12 days)
As soon as I was able, I returned to view the damage. As the pictures show it was simply "a mess". Amazingly enough, my home near Lanier's Campground had very little damage. After the cleanup there I began to focus my attention on what needed to be done to try to rebuild. Because I had been unable to acquire insurance on the pier as it was old and "uninsurable", funds were going to have to come from elsewhere if Surf City Pier was to return. The governor at the time was Jim Hunt, and with his help and that of FEMA the ball started rolling.....
(Next month, trials and tribulations become success and recovery...)
The Road to recovery began quickly after Fran and funds were secured by early January 1997 to begin the rebuilding process. Fueled by the governor's wish for quick recovery for all of Eastern North Carolina, I was able to acquire all the needed permits faster than is usually the case. While only Seaview Pier and Jolly Roger (which somehow survived the storm with some damage) were to return despite some rumors others would be rebuilt, it was only when materials arrived to the parking lot that all doubt was removed concerning Surf City Pier. Construction began in February and with the help of decent weather, progress was made so that on August 30th, 1997 the pier was completed.
On that afternoon I took my then three year old daughter Caroline out on the pier with her little pink rod and reel, and she caught the first official fish off the new pier, a tiny pinfish. We then opened the doors to a multitude of people and thus began the new era of fishing.
That fall brought the best all around fishing I have ever seen in the 40 year history of the pier. Spots by the cooler full, Spanish and king mackerel, drum, trout, you name it, there were a bunch caught. Thousands of people came to fish and that number was heighten by the lack of other piers along the coast .
We even has a visit from Governor Jim Hunt, in September as he made us his first stop while inspecting the progress of recovery efforts. Caroline, who was very shy, surprised everyone by greeting the governor by sticking out her tongue at him, to which I apologetically explained, "Sorry, but she's a Republican".
(Next Month, good fishing continues and yet another hurricane brought us a scare....)