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01 July . 2016

How RiverLights™ Got Its Name

Few could dispute the unique beauty of the 1,400-acre site of Newland's planned Wilmington, North Carolina, community called RiverLights. The Cape Fear River region is filled with history, culture, and even mythology. And it’s that history that helped find the perfect name for this new community.


In the past, Wilmington was a site of Native American battles, a center of commerce, and a hideout for pirates, including Blackbeard himself. The RiverLights community was largely named for the little lighthouses that helped guide ships safely through more than 20 miles of dangerous shoals to reach the Wilmington port.

Just before the Civil War, the federal government worked with the state of North Carolina to build a group of lighthouses to help guide vessels safely through Cape Fear. These little lighthouses were called “river lights.” Although there were only about seven pairs of these guiding structures, they helped ships identify the primary channel so the vessels could steer clear of dangerous rocks.

A main lighthouse located on Bald Head Island marked the entrance to the channel. Once a ship entered, the captain of the vessel would need to look for the first set of river lights.

The lights were grouped in sets of two. The light in front was unoccupied, but a caretaker who lived in the space below the light manned the lighthouse in the rear. As a ship traveled through the channel, the person steering the ship would direct the vessel by keeping the two lights perfectly aligned in their vision. As long as the lights were lined up in view, the ship was in line with the center of the channel.

Once a ship was beyond the first set of river lights, the next pair would appear. Using the same technique, the captain would align the lights until the next group appeared, and thus, the ship would be guided safely to the port.

During the Civil War, the seven pairs of small river lighthouses were destroyed to help prevent Union troops from raiding the area. Only the ruins of one river light still remain. It’s the Price's Creek Lighthouse that can still be seen near the shore as you travel toward the ferry landing on the Fort Fisher ferry. The glass of the lighthouse was destroyed long ago, but the bricks that form the base of the structure still stand.

Natural Light

The other foundation for the RiverLights name is the natural beauty of the Cape Fear area. There is a special way that the light strikes the water, illuminating it in a manner that is so beautiful that it can seem surreal.

This area, which is the only land between Snow’s Cut and Downtown Wilmington that is available for development, has a special presence. You can’t help but be mesmerized by the splashes of waltzing lights on the water during sunset or the playful splotches of sunshine filtered through canopies of large oaks. It is hypnotic and magical.

The site called for a name that encapsulated the unique union of the commerce, history, and nature that defines it. No name seemed more appropriate than RiverLights.