Contributed by Travis Souther
From 1952 to 1961, the little floating restaurant situated at the foot of Princess Street was not well known outside of Wilmington. The 1961 arrival of the battleship changed all that.
The story of the Fergus Ark begins with its construction in the 1920s. Originally commissioned as the General Frederick C. Hodgkin, the 150-foot long vessel was built of steel-reinforced concrete and had 10,000 feet of deck space. The boat was supposedly first used as a banana boat, then a floating casino, and a floating barracks for United States Coast Guardsmen during World War II. From 1946 to 1951, it served as office space for the United States Maritime Commission. Eldridge Fergus acquired the Ark in 1951 and turned it into a floating seafood restaurant. The menu from the Ark seen here is housed in the North Carolina Room's collection.
1961 heralded the arrival of the USS North Carolina to the Port City. As the "The Showboat" was being moved into its permanent berth, the battleship had to swing wide in order to turn into its berth, in the process striking the Ark and severely damaging it in front of a crowd of onlookers. The damage forced the restaurant’s temporary closure. The incident caused quite the controversy as river pilots claimed that they had instructed Fergus to move the restaurant prior to the battleship’s arrival. The restaurant was able to reopen, however Fergus sued the state of North Carolina for $25,000 in damages. The lawsuit was settled out of court in 1965. That same year, the Ark closed so that a Coast Guard facility could be built in its place. The 1965 image seen here shows the Ark being moved away from its Princess Street mooring for the last time.
The Ark was eventually purchased by a series of Florida businessmen. Lee R. Bass bought the Ark for use as a seafood restaurant on the Tampa waterfront. A.P. Quails bought the boat moved it to Fort Walton Beach in 1974. James M. Tucker bought the boat in 1978. Renaming it simply “The Boat,” Tucker used the vessel for floating office space. Recent three dimensional photography by Google Maps shows the Fergus Ark still moored in Fort Walton Beach.