Swansboro, North Carolina
A Quaint Downtown, Abundant Water Recreation, Friendly Residents and a Simpler Way of Life Await in the Little Coastal Village of Swansboro, North Carolina
Cost of Living: Below the National Average
Founded in 1783 and nestled between the Intracoastal Waterway and the White Oak River on North Carolina's mid-coast, quaint, homey Swansboro (population 3,200) got its start as a shipbuilding center. After the Great Depression, it transformed itself into a fishing village and remains one today. Just 70 miles northeast of Wilmington, Swansboro has been growing but is still mostly off the national radar. Residents enjoy clean beaches, unspoiled boating areas, a cute downtown waterfront and plentiful fishing spots. Laid back and unassuming, this friendly community is popular with fishermen, families and reitees.
Forty percent of the population is age 45 or better, and most residents lean to the right politically. Thirty-two percent of locals hold at least a four year collge degree. The town has grown by nearly 30% within the last decade, and racial diversity is minimal. The crime rate meets the national average. The cost of living is 12% below the national average.
The median home price is $235,000, but as in most towns, prices depend on location. Houses close to the water generally cost more than homes a little farther inland. Properties range from early-20th century cottages to new brick dwellings. Most upscale neighborhoods and subdivisions have private community boat slips. Many residences are located within a flood plain and require flood insurance.
North Carolina is somewhat friendly when it come to taxes and retirement. Social Security is still exempt from taxation and some state and federal retirement benefits are exempt if the employee had five or more years of service as of August 12, 1989. Other retirement income is taxed at 5.75%, although singles receive a $7,500 exemption and married couples receive a $15,000 exemption. There is also a tax credit for long term care insurance premiums, up to $350 per person per year. Real estate is assessed at 100% of fair market value, but people age 65 or better with less than $31,500 annual income may have the greater of $25,000 or 50% of the appraised value of their home excluded from the taxpayer's assessment. For people earning $31,500 per year or less, property taxes are no more than 4% of their income. The state also has a circuit breaker tax deference program in place for residents age 65 or better. In Swansboro, the annual taxes on a $235,000 home are approximately $1,850.
Swansboro is on the southern end of an oceanfront stretch known as the Crystal Coast. This line of sand includes some Outer Banks coastline, some Inner Banks coastline where Swansboro is located and a handful of other beach towns. By land, North Carolina Highway 24 (NC-24) is the only way in and out of Swansboro. Even though this hamlet is known as "The Friendly City by the Sea," it is usually overlooked as people pass through on their way to a beach community named Emerald Isle, which is a little father east and directly on the Atlantic Ocean.
Swansboro residents, however, do not seem to mind that their home is often paid little attention by vacationers since it is this fact that has helped it retain its mellow charm. An estuary brimming with dolphins, herons and ospreys is just beyond the waterfront. Boats of all shapes and sizes bob in the water, and gentle waves lap at the docks. The sea air soothes, and the relaxed, authentic coastal ambiance entices. Before long, the spell is cast, and nearly all who enter Swansboro feel right at home.
Seventy-four of Swansboro's buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places, and architectural styles include Federal, Craftsman and Greek Revival. Although Swansboro is 237 years old and off the beaten path, the infrastructure is solid (although sewer capacity has been an issue), and roads are in good condition.
The historic downtown is cute and has kept the flavor of an earlier, seafaring way-of-life. The main street, Front Street, is lined with various shops and boutiques, including Russell's Old Tyme Shoppe, a fun gift and home-furnishings store. The Onslow County Public Library is small but has two dozen public computers with internet access.
There are enough service providers, such as dentists, veterinarians and handymen, to meet most needs. Retail chain stores such as Lowe's Home Improvement, Walgreen's and Wal-Mart are on town outskirts or within a short drive.
Residents also enjoy a good selection of delicious restaurants, including the fun Yana's Ye Olde Drugstore and Restaurant, which has a a 1950s-style lunch counter and great milkshakes. For fresh, healthy food, the downtown farmers' market is open Wednesdays and Saturdays from May through October.
The sea has provided a living for generations of Swansboro residents. Maritime culture is everywhere, and fishing (both salt water and fresh water) is still a way of life. Boating traditions run deep, and with three marinas, Swansboro sees plenty of boat traffic, some local and some transient.
Casper's, in the center of the waterfront, is the primary marina. Flying Bridge Marina is mostly composed of "boataminiums" (boat condos). Bogue Inlet has quick ocean access to deep sea fishing and SCUBA diving.
Residents enjoy a number of fun annual festivals, including Arts by the Sea, the Christmas Flotilla, Swanfest and the Mullet Festival, which celebrates fish, not the haircut. Numerous clubs and organizations, such as the American Legion, Rotary Club and Shriners, are active. Churches hold seafood potlucks and lobster festivals, and the Onslow Volunteer Center, located in Jacksonville 20 miles to the south, places volunteers in various jobs around Onslow County. There are also three nearby military bases. Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville is the largest.
There are dozens of public beach access points in and around town, and the beaches are clean and often uncrowded. Nearby Hammocks Beach State Park is a nearly 900-acre recreation area comprised of two islands and is a wildlife nature preserve and nesting area for loggerhead sea turtles. Access to nearby Bear Island is by ferry only but is worth the 15 minute trip and is an excellent spot for kayaking.
Swansboro does not have its own hospital, but Carteret General Hospital (135 beds) is in Morehead City, just two miles away. It is accredited by the Joint Commission and accepts Medicare patients. Onslow Memorial Hospital, with 165 beds and also accredited by the Joint Commission, is 15 miles away in Jacksonville. For military retirees, Jacksonville also has a VA outpatient clinic, but the nearest VA hospital in 105 miles away in Fayetteville.
Swansboro also does not have a senior center, but the Onslow Senior Center, a certified Senior Center of Excellence, is in Jacksonville and provides a number of services, including exercise programs, Meals on Wheels and medical and nutrition transportation throughout Onslow County.
The average August temperature is 80 degrees, and the average January temperature is 46 degrees. On average, the area receives 53 inches of rain each year. July is the wettest month and April is the driest. The sun shines 215 days of the year.
Of course, a Swansboro retirement has some drawbacks. There is no public transportation. The North Carolina coast is prone to hurricanes, and in 1996, Hurricane Fran caused damage to Swansboro's waterfront. Hurricane Irene, which came ashore in August, 2011, caused minimal damage. Hurricane Florence in 2018 brought significant flooding (and local leaders say that the storm damage was a climate change wake up call). Some people grumble that the area is growing too fast and worry that it could lose its idyllic quality in the years to come.
Despite these issues, for now, Swansboro's appeal is hard to deny. Retirees who settle in this seaside gem consider themselves a lucky bunch, no longer wandering in search of a perfect place to retire.
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