Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson State Historic Site is an archaeological site located on the Cape Fear River. Brunswick Town was the first permanent settlement on the Lower Cape Fear. The colonial town became the seat of significant exports in the region. The port at Brunswick Town thrived off exports of tar, pitch, lumber, and turpentine. The town was raided in 1776 by the British Army and never rebuilt. The area reminded abandoned until the outbreak of the Civil War. To protect Wilmington, the Confederates built a fort atop the old colonial town. They built two batteries along the Cape Fear. After the war, the area fell out of use again until it became the site of archaeological investigation in the 1950s. Archaeological work continues on the 18th-century town and 19th-century fort today. The property is also a North Carolina State Historic Site, welcoming visitors interested in learning about North Carolina history. 

Their location on the Cape Fear River near its mouth at the Atlantic Ocean exposes the archaeological sites to the threats of climate change. One of the most pressing threats is coastal erosion. Storms, heavy rains, and sea level rise contribute to the increased movement of water sediments along the shoreline. This movement erodes out the marshes and shores of the site. Over time, this erosion exposes buried sites and collapsed other shoreline sites. Erosion has uncovered two colonial wharfs and collapsed part of the northern fort battery. Heavy rains and storms also affect the interior portions of the site. Water pools in low-lying areas. This inundation followed by hot periods dries out the ground and causes it to settle. The ground settling leads to archaeological site degradation and changes plant growth. It also leads to the cracking of exposed archaeological remains, such as the remains of St. Philips Church. 

The southern shoreline of Brunswick Town at Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson State Historic Site
The southern shoreline of Brunswick Town at Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson State Historic Site. The shoreline has receded through sea level and storm surge breaking off large sections of marsh. This erosion has exposed two colonial wharves. The U.S. Survey marker in the foreground has been used to visualize the shoreline erosion overtime. (Image by NC Office of State Archaeology, 2021)


Climate change threats, particularly along the banks of the Cape Fear River, have been extreme over the last decade. In 2011, archaeologists and Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson staff began investigating ways to secure the shoreline. Stabilizing the shore would protect these delicate archaeological sites. Early methods included riprap (larger rocks piled along the shoreline) and marine mattresses (bundles filled with stone). These efforts focused on areas of significant erosion. 

The collapse of the Northern Battery of Fort Anderson at Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson State Historic Site
The collapse of the Northern Battery of Fort Anderson at Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson State Historic Site. The battery collapsed from shoreline erosion and storm surge. The rocks at the base of the hill have been put in place to stabilize this portion of the battery. (Image by NC Office of State Archaeology, 2021)


Even with these efforts, erosion continued. Site staff sought new methods for long-term shoreline stabilization with limited environmental impact. Working with engineers, the team employed a reef-maker system. This system uses a series of concrete blocks that invite marine life and plant growth. They also dissipate wave energy, dampening the effects of erosion. Since 2017, reef-makers have been installed along portions of the site’s shoreline. Their presence supports sediment retention and marsh growth. This growth protects shoreline archaeological features, such as the colonial wharfs. The Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson stabilization efforts demonstrate a means of protecting threatened shoreline archaeological sites and supporting shoreline restoration. 


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This material was produced with assistance from the Emergency Supplemental Historic Preservation Fund, administered by the National Park Service, Department of the Interior. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of the Interior.