Harborside Park Story


The Harborside Services Building was constructed by Dr. Roscoe Mason in the early 1980’s as retail spaces (first floor) and an inn (second and third floors). There were roughly four boat slips associated with the building, and a large upper and lower deck area were eventually adapted for use as an outdoor restaurant and bar.

The building was purchased in 1988 by Friends of the Museum, Inc. (a nonprofit corporation that exists solely to support the North Carolina Maritime Museum) with $100,000 in donations and by taking on a $350,000 mortgage. The first floor was converted into a conventional classroom, a wet lab classroom, and a darkroom (primarily to support the dolphin identification program under our Cape Lookout Studies Program).

We could not get approval for use of the upper floors for the general public, as the floor load capacity could never be accurately determined. Nevertheless, the second floor was converted to four office spaces (Maritime Curator, Cape Lookout Studies Program Curator, CLSP interns, Friends of the Museum) and a conference room for the Friends of the Museum Board.

The massive deck area was used for many purposes, including display space for small watercraft, a staging area for all Museum waterborne activities, fishing classes, touch tables (for school groups to see and touch live organisms), the Annual Strange Seafood Exhibition, and the Annual Traditional Wooden Boat Show demonstrations. The use of third floor of the building was contested by the N.C. Departrnent of Insurance almost from the beginning, as the building was not equipped with a fire sprinkler system. The center room of that floor was used by the Museum Director, while the balance of that space remained essentially static, because of the State inspector’s objections to its use. This essentially unused space was comprised of two motel-type rooms, located on the “shoulders” of the third floor.

In 1992, the new Watercraft Center opened. The design was dependent upon the handicap ramp system, public restrooms, classrooms, deck and dock space provided by the Harborside building. The Museum’s waterfront exposure was now comprised of an interdependent two-building complex.

A violent Winter storm in 1993, carrying sustained winds of 90 miles per hour for a period of 20 hours, ripped the roof off of the Harborside building. Replacement cost of $5,000 was from the Repair/Replacement Reserve Fund.

Soon thereafter, the docks were declared unsafe for the large number of participants in events such as the Annual Strange Seafood Exhibition, and the Annual Traditional Wooden Boat Show, as the supporting pilings have been diminished from years of exposure to the marine elements. The pilings are jacketed in concrete at a cost of $5,000 from the Repair/Replacement Reserve Fund (for emergency repair or replacement of State buildings).

The building was used in essentially the same configuration from 1988 through 1994. The Museum lobbied all along to keep and renovate the building (to bring it up to code).

Then, the Department of Insurance insisted that the third floor be completely evacuated and sealed off from any use. The Director’s office was relocated, displacing most of one of the frst floor classrooms. Engineers from the Offices of State Construction further examined the building, and mandated that the second floor should also be evacuated, as the load-bearing capacity could not be determined with any accuracy. The Maritime Curator was squeezed into the one classroom with the Director. The Cape Lookout Studies Program was moved into the other classroom, and the Friends of the Museum relocated to the main Museum building. In 1995, we were told that the building could not be economically brought up to State Code as a public use building, and it was suggested that we apply to the State Repair and Replacement Reserve Fund to have the building replaced. Funds were allocated, an architect selected, temporary office space was leased in the Western waterfront business district (for its proximity to the Museum, and access to the water), and the building was vacated. Demolition was delayed until the tourist season was over. The building was torn down in the period from November 1996 through late Winter 1997.


This was much longer than anticipated, and was a result of the demolition company tearing it down by hand to salvage as much material as possible from the building. Although this was during the now-established “off-season”, the West Front Street merchants were upset by the project’s dragging along, and because the out-of-state crew maintained a sprawling, messy site that detracted from the Town’s normal atmosphere, and blocked access to their stores and parking spaces.

North Carolina Maritime Museum used the building for almost seven years as classroom and office space, fighting all along to renovate it. State refused, saying that it would cost too much to bring it up to State code for use as a public facility. The replacement facility actually contains fewer heated square feet than the old building; the “shoulders’ of the third floor having been deleted. The remainder is in the same configuration, and its rooms slated for the same exact use as in’ the building it replaces. There are three reasons the building may appear to tower over adjacent buildings. First, the “ground” floor had to be built 9 feet above mean sea level to meet code (be above the 100-year flood plain). It also has a pitched (rather than flat) roof (presumably to accommodate the elevator equipment). Most importantly, CAMA regulations forbid us from building to the same depth as the adjacent 100-foot deep buildings. Our building is essentially limited to the original 56′ wide by 26′ foot deep “footprint” of the otro ,’ it replaces.


The museum offers over 300 family oriented maritime and marine natural science public programs per year, most of which are water-related, and/or water dependent. This includes the Summer Science School for Children, which has been the introductory environmental education for thousands of children over ths past 30+ years. The building’s decks and docks were essential to providing our “Fish and Fishing, and “Catch-A-Fish Print-A-Fish classes, as it was the only public dock facility with a closed railing to protect the kids. The “Touch Tables” allowed for hand-on interpretation of live organisms for most school groups and many scheduled programs. The decks were an ideal secure outdoor classroom environment for larger, noisier functions, such as the Annual Strange Seafood Exhibition, the Annual Traditional Wooden Boat Show, and large school groups attending the annual “Mimi” shipboard educational programs.

The Cape Lookout Studies Program is the Museum’s primary experiential environmental education program. It operates out of a satellite facility (old Coast Guard station) at Cape Lookout, an island accessible only by boat. The program is dependent upon a mainland waterfront base from which to assemble, ‘load, and transport the,participaots;,fe6d,’and other supplies needed for the 3+o-5 day overnight programs. This program is also an essential link in other sea turtle, bird, and dolphin monitoring projects. It has been cited as the best and strongest link in the federal dolphin monitoring pfo$am. Having the mainland site on the second floor of the Harborside building has contributed to this success.

Employees could run down to the docks and jump in a boat to get the photographs needed to identify individual dolphins.

The Harborside building was not a stand-alone structure, but an integral part of the Museum complex. State building codes for public buildings required rtrmps and public restrooms for the Watercraft Center. These are provided in the adjacent Harborside building, which allowed us to dedicate more valuable space to boatbuilding activities. With the recent demolition, the Watercraft Center is now out of compliance. Last May, our 23rd Annual Traditional Wooden Boat Show was held with only old restroom (intended for use of the staff and volunteers) at the waterfront facility. The absence of the two classrooms and the decks and docks has been very difficult to work around, and has curtailed many activities. Summer Science and other educational programs are presently held in the museum’s auditorium and library, preventing patrons from viewing exhibits and videos, and denying access to research materials. Very popular children’s fishing classes, which were dependent upon the docks, have been cancelled. The one heavily used water tables have been disassembled for over a year.

Absorbing three offices into the main Museum building was impossible, ‘Already, twelve of the permanent staff requiring office space were squeezed into a building with only five formal office spaces. Temporary-style offices had already been reclaimed from storeroom, bookstore, exhibit, and even restroom spaces. In Spring of 1996, we began leasing space two blocks away from the Museum to replace offices lost to the Harborside condemnation. While it was expensive, we were able to keep phones in these offices tied into the main system. However we could not justify the over $3,000 it would cost to keep their computers tied to the main server. Leasing these offices presently costs $12,000 per year. This summer, we must re-advertise for space, may have to move yet again (perhaps still further from the main Museum site), and the rent may be higher still.

Town Creek is a roughly 38-acre site north of Beaufort which represents the future growth of the Museum for the next several decades. With the acquisition of this property which is also on the Intracoastal Waterway, we will gain much-needed space for buildings and large-scale exhibits, programs, and events. Assuming we are successful in negotiating the purchase, the mixed natural and former industrial site is i4 a very raw state.

Once purchased, it would belong to the Friends of the Museum, at least until they can pay off the outstanding, mortgage. At least a year of site preparation will be needed before any building construction could begin. Also, it has traditionally taken at least two years to get funding for even one building from the Legislature. Allowing time for selection of an architect, design development, project bidding, and actual construction, it would not be inconceivable that it would take four years to get even one building on the site, even if it were transferred to the State. Taking into account that it would require a significant presence on the site to support Museum programming to the degree that Harborside has, it is not practical to say, “Why not just build it at Town Creek?”

Even if we could build elsewhere, we would still need ramps, docks, and public restrooms built on the old Harborside site, as these are required to support the Watercraft Center. The only monies available to us are for replacement of the old structure on the same site, and in the exact same footprint.

Even if we could build elsewhere, I’m not sure we could still use repair/replacement reserve monies to build back the items (ramps, restrooms, decks, and docks) that would still be required on the old site, as we would no longer be replacing an entire structure there’