Clouds Over Varnamtown

When you think of shrimp and the Carolina shore, one family comes to mind: the Varnams. Their name is synonomous with family life and family shrimping and Varnamtown is their town. From the very first moment I followed google maps looking for this musterious town down to the end of the road where it meets the Lockwood Folly, I’ve been in love with Varnamtown. The setting along the river and the marsh is idyllic…feelings of peace & serenity easily overcome you. 

But back to the shrimp…the shrimpers of Varnamtown have been bringing in their bounty for over 60 years. It hasn’t been an easy task, nor a very profitable one at times, but the families continue the tradition to this day even knowing that the future may be in doubt with some of the younger generations of shrimpers choosing to move in different directions and vocations. Some interesting details of Varnamtown:

  • Varnamtown was incorporated in 1988.
  • Varnamtown is 2 1/2 miles from Holden Beach.
  • Until 1954, Varnamtown was home to a salt factory. Hurricane Hazel destroyed the factory and it never reopened.
  • According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Varnamtown is home to 481 people and covers 0.97 square miles.
  • Varnamtown was once home to schools such as Stanbury School (a three-room schoolhouse) and Hog Bay School (with six rooms). Hog Bay later became Cedar Grove School, for black students during the era of segregation.

Just below you can watch a very interesting story about life on the shrimp boats of Varnamtown.


A recent pre-dawn morning brought me back out to V-Town hoping for a glorious sunrise over the Folly and the shrimpers. My hopes were dashed as I got closer to Holden and saw the cloud cover hovering over the entire area. Thankfully, a cloudy morning on the quiet docks of Varnamtown is a darned sight better than a sunny day in the smog of the city! My color turned to (mostly) monochrome but that may add to the sense of peace and calm that comes over you in the quiet morning of Varnamtown. 

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Although shrimping in Varnamtown and other coastal towns along the Carolina shore may be suffering and close to extinction, there are people who are trying to keep the history alive! One such person is Tony Alderman, a local Durham, NC based artist who is keeping the life and times and their memory alive through his paintings. A little over a year ago Tony completed his extensive Varnamtown collection of paintings and it culminated in a spectacular exhibit for the townspeople of Varnamtown at the Varnamtown Town Hall. In his own words:

“My vision is to preserve on canvas, for future generations, the visual history of this way of life. The men and women in the little fishing towns of North Carolina have made their living from the sea for centuries. Varnamtown is one of these small dying fishing communities along the eastern coast of North Carolina. Unfortunately, this way of life is rapidly disappearing and an important chapter in our history will soon be lost with little visual record of its existence.”

Just below you can watch as Tony takes you on a short visit to the docks at Varnamtown. I was honored one day to be able to spend a day on the docks at V-Town and watch him perform his magic with brush and pallet. I will post more about that wonderful experience in a later post. You can read a wonderful article about Tony’s project in the Wrightsville Beach Magazine and  you can see more of his work on his webpage.



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