Fair Bluff, North Carolina

Coordinates: 34°18′45″N 79°1′59″W / 34.31250°N 79.03306°W / 34.31250; -79.03306
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Fair Bluff, North Carolina
Downtown Fair Bluff
Downtown Fair Bluff
Fair Bluff is located in North Carolina
Fair Bluff
Fair Bluff
Location within the state of North Carolina
Coordinates: 34°18′45″N 79°1′59″W / 34.31250°N 79.03306°W / 34.31250; -79.03306
CountryUnited States
StateNorth Carolina
 • MayorBilly Hammond
 • Total2.36 sq mi (6.11 km2)
 • Land2.36 sq mi (6.11 km2)
 • Water0.00 sq mi (0.00 km2)
Elevation62 ft (19 m)
 • Total709
 • Density300.55/sq mi (116.04/km2)
Time zoneUTC-5 (Eastern (EST))
 • Summer (DST)UTC-4 (EDT)
ZIP code
Area codes910, 472
FIPS code37-22240[3]
GNIS feature ID2406477[2]
WebsiteOfficial Fair Bluff, NC website

Fair Bluff is a town in Columbus County, North Carolina, United States that was devastated by coastal flooding from Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and inundated again by high water by Hurricane Florence in 2018.

Before the two events, the population was 951 at the 2010 census but is believed to be lower following the two disasters, some estimates going as low as 450 people.[4] The shrinking of town's size, and damage from the storms has led to a rapid decline in tax base.


Fair Bluff was the name originally given to a bluff overlooking the Lumber River. In 1807 plans were made to build a town upon the lands of John Wooton at the bluff to be known as Wootonton. The town was established but the name was never changed. The community was reincorporated in 1873.[5]

The Powell House was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.[6]

Agriculture has always been a mainstay of the economy in the town. Tobacco was a major commodity grown in the area. By the eighties, tobacco growing subsided. This caused a shift for the town and its citizens.[7] The downtown continued to thrive until the late 1980s when a car dealership moved from the business district to another location. Haphazard town planning saw a mixture of residential, business, and industry all over town. Tens of millions in US government grants poured into the city beginning in the mid-1980s until present day. But the town continued to decline and people left for better opportunities elsewhere. The decline in Fair Bluff was similar to neighboring towns of Tabor City, Boardman, Brunswick, Cerro Gordo, and Chadbourn.[citation needed] A town manager was hired to handle administrative duties of the town,[8][9][10][11]

In 1999, Fair Bluff experienced a devastating flood event.

Downtown Fair Bluff, largely deserted in 2020

In 2012, the Police Chief of Fair Bluff Marty Lewis was arrested, tried and convicted for selling and delivering oxycodone and possession with the intent to sell and conspiracy to traffic while acting as police chief. He was sentenced to a minimum of seven years in prison and fined $100,000.[12] On April 9, 2015, Marty Lewis filled an appeal of his case.[13] On November 3, 2015, the verdict was unanimously affirmed by the North Carolina Court of Appeals, leaving in place the 90 to 117-month prison sentence originally imposed. Lewis will not be eligible for parole before November 2022.[14]

In 2016, the town was devastated by flooding on the Lumber River caused by Hurricane Matthew, prompting the evacuation of hundreds of residents.[15] Floodwaters reached the town hall, police department, fire department, a grocery store, and a school.[16] As of June 2018, the rebuilding effort was still underway but several hundred residents who had fled rising floodwaters never returned and a number of businesses remained shuttered.[17]

In September 2018 Fair Bluff was flooded again by the impact of Hurricane Florence, again forcing evacuations and leaving the downtown area under water again,[18] and destroying 72 homes.[19] After Florence, many buildings in the downtown area of the town lay abandoned, with no plans to reoccupy or fix them.[20] The town's only factory closed several months later, and hundreds of residents moved away. The federal government bought out some residents' properties, straining the municipal government's tax base.[16] The town government drew up plans to level the historic business district and turn it into a park, and build a new business district further away from the river.[21]


Fair Bluff has a part-time town manager, assisted by the elected town mayor and town council. The town manager also works for five other deteriorating towns in Columbus County.[22][8][23]

Fair Bluff is in the 13th District for the North Carolina Senate, represented by Michael Walters as of September 2014,[24] and in the 46th district for the North Carolina House of Representatives, where, as of September 2021, they are represented [25] by Tabor City native and used car dealer Brenden Jones.[26]


Fair Bluff is located at 34°18′40″N 79°1′57″W / 34.31111°N 79.03250°W / 34.31111; -79.03250 (34.311212, -79.032387),[27] The town lies within the Carolina Border Belt, a regional network of tobacco markets and warehouses along both sides of the North Carolina-South Carolina border.[28]

According to the United States Census Bureau, the town has a total area of 2.2 square miles (5.7 km2), all land.


Historical population
2022 (est.)716[29]1.0%
U.S. Decennial Census[30]

As of the census[3] of 2000, there were 1,181 people, 505 households, and 308 families residing in the town. The population density was 547.4 inhabitants per square mile (211.4/km2). There were 588 housing units at an average density of 272.6 per square mile (105.3/km2). The racial makeup of the town was 59.27% African American, 37.93% White, 0.68% Native American, 1.19% from other races, and 0.93% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 1.44% of the population.

There were 505 households, out of which 26.7% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 37.2% were married couples living together, 20.8% had a female householder with no husband present, and 39.0% were non-families. 36.0% of all households were made up of individuals, and 19.8% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.32 and the average family size was 2.98.

In the town, the population was spread out, with 25.2% under the age of 18, 7.6% from 18 to 24, 24.1% from 25 to 44, 23.6% from 45 to 64, and 19.4% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 39 years. For every 100 females, there were 77.3 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 72.5 males.

The median income for a household in the town was $17,008, and the median income for a family was $22,969. Males had a median income of $20,764 versus $16,731 for females. The per capita income for the town was $9,829. About 31.8% of families and 37.1% of the population were below the poverty line, including 50.9% of those under age 18 and 24.3% of those age 65 or over.


  1. ^ "ArcGIS REST Services Directory". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved September 20, 2022.
  2. ^ a b U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: Fair Bluff, North Carolina
  3. ^ a b "U.S. Census website". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved January 31, 2008.
  4. ^ Graff, Michael (July 21, 2019). "The town fighting the climate crisis to stay afloat, one hurricane at a time". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved July 30, 2019.
  5. ^ Powell 1976, p. 166.
  6. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. July 9, 2010.
  7. ^ "Unemployment continued to rise in 1982 as the recession deepened" (PDF). Bureau of Labor Statistics. U.S. Bureau of Labor. Retrieved October 15, 2018.
  8. ^ a b McAdams, Ann. "Columbus Co. man works on 5 town payrolls". wect.com.
  9. ^ "Fair Bluff Town Manager doesn't like to see himself on TV; Won't address employee who wrecked car". February 7, 2013.
  10. ^ "Al Leonard, Jr". Ballotpedia.
  11. ^ Walton, Brett (June 5, 2019). "The Rural Dilemma: Q&A With Al Leonard, Fair Bluff Town Manager".
  12. ^ "VERDICT: Jury reaches verdict in Marty Lewis trial". wect.com.
  13. ^ Bynum, Elizabeth (May 18, 2015). "Former Fair Bluff police chief appealing drug convictions". WWAY. Retrieved October 9, 2019.
  14. ^ "NC Court of Appeals affirms guilty verdict in former police chief's trafficking case". WECT. Retrieved October 9, 2019.
  15. ^ "Flooding continues across area; Fair Bluff hardest hit; Waccamaw 'stable'". October 12, 2016.
  16. ^ a b Flavelle, Christopher; Belleme, Mike (September 2, 2021). "Climate Change Is Bankrupting America's Small Towns". The New York Times.
  17. ^ Futch, Michael. "20 months after Matthew, Fair Bluff 'like a ghost town'". The Fayetteville Observer. Retrieved September 24, 2018.
  18. ^ "Fair Bluff hit hard by second hurricane in two years". Retrieved September 24, 2018.
  19. ^ Martin, Edward (October 1, 2019). "Columbus County claws its way back from Florence's strike". Business North Carolina. Retrieved January 16, 2023.
  20. ^ Ross, Gabe. "3 Storms in 20 years: a look at Floyd, Matthew and Florence's impact on Fair Bluff". WECT. Retrieved July 30, 2019.
  21. ^ Schofield, Ivey (July 27, 2022). "Bringing southeastern North Carolina back to life, one downtown at a time". Border Belt Independent. Retrieved November 5, 2022.
  22. ^ "The Rural Dilemma: Q&A with al Leonard, Fair Bluff Town Manager". June 5, 2019.
  23. ^ "Fair Bluff Town Manager doesn't like to see himself on TV; Won't address employee who wrecked car". February 7, 2013.
  24. ^ NC General Assembly webmasters. "North Carolina General Assembly – N.C. Senators (2013–2014 Session)". ncga.state.nc.us. Archived from the original on March 8, 2018. Retrieved December 6, 2014.
  25. ^ NC General Assembly webmasters. "North Carolina General Assembly – N.C. House of Representatives Members (2013–2014 Session)". ncga.state.nc.us. Archived from the original on March 8, 2018. Retrieved December 6, 2014.
  26. ^ "Home". Representative Brenden Jones.
  27. ^ "US Gazetteer files: 2010, 2000, and 1990". United States Census Bureau. February 12, 2011. Retrieved April 23, 2011.
  28. ^ Yeargin, W.W. (2006). "Tobacco Belts". NCPedia. North Carolina Government & Heritage Library. Retrieved July 21, 2022.
  29. ^ "Annual Estimates of the Resident Population for Incorporated Places in North Carolina: April 1, 2020 to July 1, 2022". Census.gov. Retrieved April 23, 2024.
  30. ^ "Census of Population and Housing". Census.gov. Retrieved June 4, 2015.

Works cited[edit]

  • Powell, William S. (1976). The North Carolina Gazetteer: A Dictionary of Tar Heel Places. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 9780807812471.