A History of Bolivia, North Carolina

Brunswick County Courthouse - Bolivia, North Carolina

In 1977, the county seat of Brunswick County was moved from Southport to Bolivia, North Carolina, and a new Brunswick County Government Complex was erected as a result. This removal of Southport as the county seat led many locals to petition the state of North Carolina for a new county, to be named Smithville, be carved out of the existing Brunswick County. Their request was denied.

The town of Bolivia was established in the 1890s and was incorporated in 1911. There was an effort for re-incorporation in the late 1930s to early 1940s, indicating that there was a problem with the initial process. There are several versions of how the town received its name and the most prevalent offering is that during the 1880s there were so many boxes of tar and turpentine stamped "Bolivia," whereby the locals were transporting these items overseas to the burgeoning country development in South America. Since so many of the locals worked in the naval stores industry for over a century, they could not help but notice where their products were being shipped, and they liked the sound of the name of the South American country that they adopted it as their town's name.

From the end of the nineteenth century to the middle of the twentieth century, the town of Bolivia was essentially nothing more than a minor crossroad of the only highway from the Cape Fear region to South Carolina - specifically from Wilmington, North Carolina to Georgetown, South Carolina. Wilmington was a bustling city and the major port of North Carolina. Georgetown was the next large town to the south of Wilmington, and a center for naval stores, pulpwood and paper products, as well as a significant port of South Carolina.

The original King's Highway, as conceived by Charles II early in his reign, was eventually built all along the North Carolina coast, from Suffolk, Virginia over to Edenton, North Carolina in the northern part of the state, to New Bern, to Wilmington, and on to South Carolina at Georgetown and completed at that time in 1734. This significant dirt path eventually grew into what later became US Highway 17 in the late 1920s and one of the earliest well-paved "highways" of North and South Carolina. This highway was only two lanes until the 1980s, when most of it was finally expanded to four lanes.

Almost halfway between Wilmington and the South Carolina state line, along a major "highway," Bolivia still had no great reason to grow into anything more than a "significant crossroad" along the way. In the 1930s, Greyhound and Trailways busses did stop at Bolivia to take on new passengers and to drop off people who had taken the bus to Wilmington for a day's shopping. There was a gas station with a certain young man who would check your oil and fill your tank with a smile - one who didn't mind the "yankees" taking his photograph and chat him up as their boredom almost got the best of them. Of course, this gas station was also a general store, with just about anything and everything that the locals might ever want, unless it was a new Easter dress or a tailor-made suit.

The Wimington, Bolivia, and Southport Railroad took passengers and freight between the three towns. There was a very nice station in Bolivia behind the Ford dealership on Highway 17, and folks would take the train to Wilmington for a day's shopping.

During the 1930s and early 1940s, there was a thriving steam-powered sawmill and planing mill in Bolivia. When World War II arrived, the US Government issued many contracts to this operation for the production of shipping crates that the military used to ship goods all over the globe. At this time, there were two country stores, one restaurant, and Mrs. Long's Boarding House, with a regular dining table fare for her customers. There were two churches - the Presbyterian and the Methodist Church. And during this mini-boom time, there were two car dealerships - Ford and Chevrolet.

After World War II, things slowed down a bit, but soon there was a brand-new Ford dealership at the crossroad, and a couple of newer gas stations were erected. A snew mall restaurant came and went, others to make their attempts in the same location as the years crept on by. Of course, there was a small brick highschool, built during the Great Depression, and of course it started out teaching all twelve grades. The people who lived in and around Bolivia had lived there all their lives, not choosing to develop fancy-schmancy housing subdivisions, simply choosing to live near their ma or pa, or their cousin so-and-so, on lands that their great-great-grandparents had owned and handed down to successive generations.

As US-17 was expanded to four lanes, it bypassed the sleepy little town of Bolivia, and the crossroad seemed to lapse back into the late-nineteenth century, even more laid-back and less frequented by those traveling down from the north to Florida. The Ford dealership was abandoned and the small restaurants closed their doors. The locals went back to doing what they had been doing for decades. The first bank arrived in the 1960s - prior to that everyone banked in Southport, twenty miles away.

That all changed in 1977 when a county-wide referendum voted to move the existing county seat from the far end of the county to a more central location - the only logical choice had to be the sleepy little town of Bolivia - smack-dab in the middle of Brunswick County. Certainly, not everyone was happy with this new choice - particularly those in the old county seat of Southport - but, also some of those in Bolivia, who did not want the hustle and bustle that a county seat would bring to their area.

But, the Brunswick County government seemed to have gotten it right. A modest, but well-conceived Government Complex was built on the outskirts of Bolivia, and the traffic was managed such that Bolivia was not terribly upset at the new responsibilities brought to the town. Not long afterwards, the new Brunswick Community College was built on the outskirts of Bolivia, and the new county seat began to slowly grow once again - not ostentatiously, but modestly - in concert with the attitudes of its people.

Since the completion of the new Brunswick County Government Complex and Brunswick Community College arrived, a new car dealership came to Bolivia. So did some new gas stations and restaurants, and even the Faircloth Zoo. Nothing fancy-schmancy - just modest enough to suit the fine people whose families had been in the same location for perhaps two centuries.



© 2007 - J.D. Lewis - PO Box 1188 - Little River, SC 29566 - All Rights Reserved