Southport: A Love Story

An old map of the original Southport, founded in 1792 where the Cape Fear River flows into the Atlantic.

Like a lot of us, I occasionally scan the Nextdoor website just to see what’s going on in the greater Southport neighborhood. The posts range from cranky (“Why do so many people drive UNDER the speed limit?”) to inquisitive (“Where’s the best pizza/internet service/physical therapy?”) or sad (missing dogs and cats). Once in a while, a post asks a question that sets off a raucous dialogue. As it did recently when someone posted a simple question: “Been seeing the ‘Don’t change SPT let SPT change you’ signs around. What’s that about? And who is ‘sponsoring’ it?”

That question has generated 70 comments and counting. The way the dialogue develops around the post is interesting, with an early comment answering the question definitively: “It’s referring to all the proposed development that will double the population of Southport within the next decade, not to mention the traffic and strain on our infrastructure.” This set off a lot of banter about land use, traffic patterns and the widening of Highway 211. It got quite technical. Then someone claimed it referred to “outsiders” moving here who wanted Southport to become more like where they had come from, which set off another thread of strong opinions (welcome to social media!).

Then Maria Swenson cleared it up for everyone: “My son, Paul came up with the phrase. He is giving the signs away, had tshirts made he is selling at flavas under his tshirt company ‘simply southport.’ His intention was simply, southport is a lovely place (which we all know) and definitely a mind set. Happy thanksgiving.”

So it was, after all, a sweet and simple thought about Southport. But in its sweet and simple way, it expressed a complex dynamic about the community where we live. We are, in fact, living in an area that is changing rapidly, driven by that most powerful of change drivers — demographics.

There are a lot of people in the Southport area with deep, multigenerational roots. I once had a long conversation with a local craftsman about a project and we got to talking about the hot summers here, comparing them to the cooler, dryer summers out West. I asked him if he ever thought about moving. “Nope,” he said. “I like it here. Plus, my wife’s maiden name is Dosher.” Those are some deep roots (the Doshers go way back — Dosher Cutoff Road, Dosher Hospital, etc.).

“I like it here. Plus, my wife’s maiden name is Dosher.”

But more and more, an emigrant population is springing up here — people from New Jersey, Virginia, New York, Pennsylvania, Kansas, even from as far away (in my case) as California. They’re drawn by the weather, the water, the cost of living and the pace of life. With the pandemic driving people out of urban areas, we may even see a new surge of arrivals.

Newbies move here with great expectations but little context. And settling in, the process of understanding our new environment and acculturating to it can be mysterious and confusing. When I first moved here, people would tell me about “Southern time,” that is, the seemingly long periods of time it would take to get a call returned or an appointment kept. Then I noticed that it was mostly non-Southerners who used the term and remembered that chauvinism isn’t always about gender.

But after a while, if you are patient and pay attention, you start to develop a sense of place. And if you continue to be open, and lean forward a little, you start to develop a sense of home.

I remember several years ago taking a pair of shoes out to Danny’s Shoe Repair on Midway Road. I got to talking to Danny and he remembered that when he lived in that house as a kid, “I could go out on the road in the middle of the afternoon, lay down and take a nap and not be disturbed.” It sounded like he missed those days. Here I was, thinking I was living the country life, and Danny was complaining about the traffic.

I came from a complex, urban environment where you could buy just about anything you wanted, whenever you wanted it. At first glance, Southport didn’t seem to offer much beyond a few restaurants and some quaint shops. But slowly, as I started to shed my expectations and biases, the reality of Southport presented itself. Almost everything we need is, in fact, here. And if it’s not, it’s just a UPS truck away.

After five years here, I’m still not used to the heat of July and August, but I’ve developed a deep appreciation of the charms and blessings of Southport. I love its many quirks (like the four different streets downtown named Lord-Howe-Dry-I Am), its spectacular eating and drinking establishments, its music (check out “Live From R&B’s House” on YouTube), its casualness, its entrepreneurship, its history and its human scale. But most of all its people. Kit and I loved a night out on the town because we would invariably have met someone who surprised, amused, educated or entertained us with stories about Southport.

At this point, I’m somewhere between an outsider and a local. As a “local,” I’m leery of all the development that will happen over the next decade and hope we don’t turn Highway 17 into a little Myrtle Beach. But as an “outsider,” I also think there is room for improvement in Southport (can we please fix the flooding problem at the Yacht Basin?). One thing is certain — my appreciation and understanding of local culture continues to grow. And as it does, it feels more like home.

So, yes Paul, I understand what your t-shirt slogan means. With its patience, funkiness, charm, eclecticism and people, Southport has changed me, and I’m a richer person for it. I’m home.

Leave a Reply