Is Sunset Beach Carolina’s Widest?

Back in the late 1950s, Bald Beach, N.C. was little more than a barren, two-and-a-half-mile stretch of powdery sand dunes, separated from the mainland by the Intracoastal Waterway – the southernmost beach in a state blessed with some of the finest in the nation.

Then a visionary tobacco farmer named Mannon C. Gore discovered it.

He sold his farm, and laid out $60,000 to buy the island from a family named Brooks.  They’d acquired it with an 18th-century royal grant and used it over the years as their own private estuary, full of fish, clams and oysters.

Gore built a pontoon swing bridge over the waterway.  He renamed the barrier island Sunset Beach.  And he began to sell his lots.

Dave Nelson, now a real estate broker and owner of the Sunset Inn, met Gore the first time he came to there in the mid-’60s at the age of 10.  “He was driving an old, beat-up car, and selling oceanfront lots for $2,400,” he says.  “Whatever you had in your pocket was your down payment.  He’d finance the rest.”

Today, 1,300 cottages line the island, laid out in a careful grid.  About 300 vacant lots remain.  A few of them are oceanfront, with an asking price of $700,000.

The total value of the island now, Nelson estimates, is about $725 million – even in these economic times.

Summer rentals are the mainstay; only about 100 people live there full time.  There’s no national grocery chain, no liquor store, not even a miniature golf course. If a visitor wants any of that, they’ll need to head back across the bridge.

“People come here for the quiet and the beach,” Nelson says.  “It’s drop-dead beautiful.”

That’s because it may be the widest stretch of sand in North Carolina, spreading out a quarter-mile or more at low tide.  There’s no erosion problem at Sunset Beach.  Instead, sand is accumulating there, arriving on the tides from beaches to the north, like Holden, Topsail and Oak Island.

“The whole island is growing larger,” Nelson says.  “Nobody knows why, but it has as long as I can remember.  It’s gained 150 yards.”

And so the visitors flock there.  Up until 2010, they were still arriving atop the little one-lane swinging pontoon bridge, circa 1958.

These days, they drive across a sweeping concrete and steel span, designed and built by North Carolina’s Department of Transportation, one that’s 65 feet high and 2,600 feet long.

It reaches high above the waterway, along the salt marshes lining the northern edge of the island, to reveal vistas of the Atlantic Ocean in the distance.

It’s called, appropriately enough, the Mannon C. Gore Bridge.

For more on Sunset Beach, go to

For more on the Sunset Inn, go to

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