January 17, 2008
This month I provide our readers with a brief glimpse into the past with a reprint of an article published on April 11, 1942 in The State
magazine. Keep in mind that this article appeared just three
months before the US Navy established their amphibious base on the
island. The World War II naval presence on Ocracoke had a significant
impact on the island, the village, and the community. The navy
dredged the harbor (thereafter the wide but shallow Cockle Creek became
the present-day deep-water Silver Lake), filled in the tidal "guts"
that divided the village into two main sections (Around Creek &
Down Point), brought more than 500 military men (and a few women) into
the community, and gave many residents their first taste of the
Today, Ocracoke still boasts a level of isolation unusual in the
twenty-first century, and perhaps more importantly, a vibrant sense of
community more reminiscent of bygone days. But the island now
enjoys most of the conveniences of modern life, including dependable
electric power, telephones (land line and cell), municipal water,
Internet service, fire & rescue services, and much more.
Imagine Ocracoke in April of 1942 Without ferries the only way to
the mainland and back was by way of the daily four hour mailboat trip
across Pamlico Sound. By today's standards visitors were few and
infrequent. Most folks walked to visit relatives or friends, or
to go to the general store. Drinking water was dipped or pumped
by hand from round wooden cisterns. Bathrooms were outside, behind the
house. Wild ponies meandered through the sandy lanes
and children sometimes rode their horses to school. Well-tended
gardens graced practically every yard, and chickens were as
common as sparrows. Dramatic shipwrecks were still vivid memories, and
life proceeded at a slower pace. Join me now as we look at island
life from a visitor's perspective in 1942 (I've added the photos!):
"[Ocracoke] has been a favorite summering place with large numbers of
people, particularly those who live in Washington, Greenville, New
Bern, and other towns in the eastern part of the state. Hunters and
fishermen have visited it from all parts of the country.
It has no paved streets, no power, except that which is supplied by
private plants, no sewerage or water systems, none of the many civic
improvements that you will find elsewhere, but it's the grandest place
in the world to visit and, if you listen to the natives, it's also the
grandest place in the world to live. The houses are mostly
two-story frame structures, each of them being immaculately clean and
most of them well painted. Practically every house has its small
garden and chickens. The entire population of the island-- it's
around 700--depends upon the sea for its livelihood. No, not
quite all either because there are a number of men who are in the Coast
Guard or else have been retired with pensions.
Unpaved Howard Street, ca. 2004:
Wahab Village, originated by Stanley Wahab, local boy who made good in
the big city of Baltimore, has a first-class hotel [now known at
Blackbeard's Lodge, but then called the Wahab Village Hotel], cottages
[now part of Edward's Motel], and other accommodations. It promises to
be quite a development.
Ocracoke lighthouse is one of the oldest on the coast. The Coast
Guard station is located on the sound side of the island.
We didn't get to go there on this trip through Hyde County, but we have
been there any number of times in the past. There are no people
anywhere whose friendship we value more highly than we do that of those
hardy, whole-souled folks at Ocracoke. If you've never been there
you have missed one of the most interesting of all places within the
boundaries of North Carolina."
I'm sure I speak for most, if not all, of our island residents when I
echo the words of this sixty five year old article, that Ocracoke is
"the grandest place in the world to live."