Located on the west bank of where the Brunswick and Cape Fear rivers converge is the Town of Navassa. Incorporated in 1977, and named after one of the fertilizer factories that was instrumental in providing employment throughout the region for over 100 years, this rural town is consciously striving to maintain its small town identity while working to provide urban amenities and improve the quality of life of its citizens.
The Navassa community first formed because of an ideal location and the economics of the 19th century. Before the advent of automobiles the major modes of transportation were boats and trains. The fast growing seaport in Wilmington in the pre-civil war era was isolated from the inland farmers in western North Carolina because trains could only come as far as Belville where the tracks stopped and the freight had to be manually transported across the Brunswick and Cape Fear Rivers.
Because of the “high bluffs” that came right to the edge of Cape Fear river from the west, and a land mass between Navassa and Wilmington, that would allow the construction of Railroad tracks across Eagle’s Island, the Railroad Company decided to build a bridge across the Cape Fear at Navassa two years after the Civil War ended in 1867. Because of the war, the south’s economy was struggling and the cost of land was cheap. Building this bridge allowed two railroad companies (Atlantic Coast Line and The Seaboard Airline) to connect Wilmington with Charlotte and the interior counties of South Carolina. Some prudent businessmen led by Donald McRae realized the distinct advantages of locating a fertilizer factory at this location. For years the turpentine industry had been shipping their products to the West Indies without having a product to bring home upon their return. In 1856 large guano deposits were discovered on Navassa Island a small barren island about 15 miles off the coast of Jamaica. McRae and his business partners made arrangements to have the returning ships loaded with the guano and consequently built the Navassa Guano Factory in 1869, which is named after the island. They were then able to use the railroad to ship fertilizer to the interior of the state for sale.
A small village sprung up around this fertilizer factory and in 1885 the U.S. Postal Service name this village Navassa because of the huge fertilizer plants at that location. Armour Fertilizer was built in 1919, followed by Royster Fertilizer in 1927 and finally Smith-Douglas Fertilizer in 1946. These four now defunct fertilizer factories employed over 4,000 workers at one time. Industries world wide have recognized the physical and geographical advantages of locating their industry in what is now known as Navassa. An abundance of local waterways, high dry land (25’ above sea level), railway access, close proximity to one of North Carolina's most historic and beautiful urban areas (less than 5 miles from the City of Wilmington), large single tracts of affordable land with available infrastructure, and a local government that encourages economic development are all benefits that will keep the Town of Navassa as the Industrial Capital for Brunswick County.
Incorporated in 1977, with a Mayor and five council members as the governing body, the Town of Navassa has continued to prosper. The original village that was located near the old fertilizer site not longer exists. Instead, the citizens have moved about a mile west of that site onto two subdivisions that were built in the 1920’s. The land in and around the old factories is now zoned for industrial development with the intent of maintaining the original lure so that the town can sustain economic viability. The population of the Town is now about 1,800 citizens. That number includes two newly annexed communities of Phoenix and Old Mill. A large boat building company has chosen to locate on one of the old fertilizer sites. Another fertilizer site has a conglomeration of five small companies located where it formerly was. A large waste treatment plant was just completed. City water is accessible from anywhere with the town’s limits and sewage collection lines are installed. An interchange for I-40 on Cedar Hill Road will be built within the next few years providing increased highway access to the town. Navassa is located within 3 miles of great public schools and has 2 major parks for recreation. One of those parks has public access for small boats to the Cape Fear River. A Community Center building is planned and a bicycle path has recently been constructed.