Columbia Marina offers Picture of Past,Present, and Future

Published 4:20 pm Tuesday, July 23, 2013

This continues a series of stories begun last year on businesses in the Tyrrell County Chamber of Commerce.The old Columbia Marina is pictured above

The Columbia Marina offers a vital service for local boaters in Tyrrell County.The marina bears a long history worth retelling

David Finch, a former area resident, was involved with the original building of the marina.

Finch mentioned that the Columbia Marina was quite different in the 1970’s.

“I came to Columbia by boat, a sailboat, in 1975 at the invitation of Charlie
Ogletree whom I had met at the Anglers Cove Restaurant on the Yeopim River
during a gathering of the founding members of the Edenton Yacht Club. Our house is on the river, the one with the green shutters,’ he said, ‘Come and see us’. So we did,” said Finch.

When Finch and Olgetree sailed up the Scuppernong to Columbia for the first time, there at the dock, beside the Mary S., his converted Albermarle Sound Shad boat, was Carley Spencer, a legend in Tyrrell County even in his time.

“With two blonde little girls in the family, we were given a very warm welcome indeed. We tied up the boat and trooped off to Carley’s Cafe for dinner. I realized immediately what a gem of a town Columbia was,” Finch said.

In those days the management of the Edenton Marina was rather casual, and Finch needed to be sure of electricity and hot water for his two very young girls.
Columbia seemed the ideal spot. Olgetree and Finch developed a plan to build a small
marina for sailboats where we could keep our own boats –Olgetree’s Pearson Triton and his Grampian – safely and provide a haven for other sailors.

The following year Carley Spencer died and because of Charlie’s friendship with him – and, Finch suspected, Spencer’s fondness for his daughters – his widow Mary agreed to sell Finch and Olgetree his building and its slips on the river.

“It was not so easy to buy property in Tyrrell County in those days; for an outsider impossible. So this was marvelous,” said Finch.

But in order to make it possible to build a basin with enough slips to make the project feasible, Finch and Olgetree needed a small piece of extra river frontage.

Enter another Tyrrell County legend, George Dawkins, who sold them a narrow strip of land on the south side. Plans started to become a reality.

Finch prepared the drawings and the plan of the marina. He and Olgetree applied to the Corps of Engineers for a permit.

The construction first involved pulling down Spencer’s building and excavating the deep basin for the slips. Such a thing would never receive permission today, but fortunately it was given.

This was good not only for Olgetree and Spencer but also for the town, as the sailboats tied up there have been an attractive part of Columbia’s landscape ever since.

“I remember only too well what the waterfront was like in those days. Carley’s Warehouse, the old bowling alley, and the Riverview cafe were the last remaining commercial buildings on that section of the waterfront; Braxton and Virginia Voliva’s Exxon oil tanks and warehouse building (still serving fuel to boats on the river) were to the north, and Furlough’s fish house to the south,” said Olgetree.

Those were the last days of the herring runs, with salted herring for sale on Main
Street in March and April. At the height of the herring runs as many as nine hundred pounds of fish some days were landed at Carley’s brother Jennis’s fish house that used to stand on the piece of land where Finch’s wife built Pigeon House in 1992. Today, the pound nets in the middle of the river – owned and operated by the Davenport brothers and now by Willy Phillips – are the last remaining trace of what was once a thriving industry in Columbia.

The old Swing Bridge was still in position, with its famous sign reading something like

“‘This bridge can be opened on seven days notice or, in an emergency, twenty-four hours’!

Finch mentioned he could still hear clearly in his imagination the sound of the cars and pick-up trucks rumbling across the stone-covered steel deck of that bridge, with his sailboat tied up not a hundred yards from it.

The ramp leading up to this old bridge has now become part of the Town
Commons, and the Town of Columbia offices have moved into the old Exxon station that stood there. Next door the old Columbia Hotel was still standing, with the barber shop on the ground floor empty but still furnished with the chairs and the equipment belonging to Mr Ward.

In the early seventies there was little recreational interest in the water; this took off with the dawn of the fiber-glass boat. There were few boats on the Sound: fishing boats with their nets, crabbers, and timber and grain barges. Columbia’s waterfront was home to only two boats: Charlie’s sailboat and Carley’s fishing boat.

“Things really started to change when we built the marina. Charlie took charge of the construction, which was organized by L.A. Davenport who, with only a large backhoe and a team of enthusiastic helpers, laid out the slips and pilings to the most astonishing degree of accuracy. L.A. was a good friend to have. In the summer of 1978, on the day the marina was declared open, we presented him with a silver tankard inscribed with the words ‘World’s Greatest Marina Builder.’

Since then, over the years dozens of sailboats, and even a wonderful old tugboat, have made Columbia Marina their home port and from there enjoyed sailing the waters of the Scuppernong River and the vast Albemarle Sound and its tributaries, as well as extended trips north and south.

“The most persistent and enthusiastic sailors in the marina, six of us and our wives, formed a loose association named the SCUPRATS (Scuppernong River at Tyrrell): Sam S. Woodley (Commander), Rob Johnson, Jim Pickrell, Alby Anderson, Charlie Ogletree, and myself. The center of activity was of course the Albemarle and the Pamlico, our sailing waters, but the gathering place ‘after hours’ was Davenport’s Bay, and none of us will ever forget the happy evenings spent there,” Finch said.

Charlie ran the Marina for over thirty years while Finch visited as often as he could from his home in Canada; it was one of the most pleasant and happy partnerships anyone could hope for. But time passed, and everyone became older and less active. In 2005, the property was divided.

“The northern part of it, now under the ownership of Tom Clancy, has been wonderfully restored to its former glory. Columbia has breathed a sigh of relief. Charlie and I and the other Scuprats hope that a new generation of sailors will continue to enjoy the marina and all it has to offer with Tom at the helm,” said Finch.

The marina still has much to offer.

“There are ten slips available. It is just mainly for people to keep their boats,” explained owner Tom Clancy.

The marina has restroom facilities available with a shower as well as laundry facilities.

Clancy used to live in the Columbia,NC area in the 1990’s and fifteen or sixteen years later he saw the opportunity to buy the marina on the waterfront.

Cypress Cove Marina is a full-service marina available to boaters in Tyrrell County.  Boaters can get repairs and fuel.

“The attractive thing about Columbia marina is that it is right here in town. Everything is close by,” said Clancy.

Charles Ogletree was involved in the initial building of the marina in 1978.

“A guy named David Finch and I formed a company called Columbia Marina Inc. We took the purchased property where the basins and the piers are. A warehouse and a roadhouse dwelling were removed,” said Ogletree

Ogletreee said that the marina was utilized by area citizens.

“It was full. Both sides of the basin were used. There were probably 12 boats in there at the peak,” Ogletree said.

For over 15 years, the Greater Tyrrell County Chamber of Commerce has supported the businesses and community in Tyrrell County.  TheChamber also supports the website, county tourism projects,  educational programs, community events, seasonal bazaars and River Town Christmas.  Business and individual memberships are always available.  The Chamber Board meets on the third Thursday of every month at the Columbia Crossing Restaurant (8:00 am).  For more information, contact Chamber President, Monica Mauffray at 252 796-6777.