PO Box 248
November 19, 2005
Ocracoke Street Names
Ocracoke Island has only had official street names for a few years; and
street signs for just several months. Not so long ago folks from off-island,
particularly first time visitors, would often wonder how we ever managed without
New Street Signs in the Village:
The truth is that we did have street names. They were simply unofficial,
flexible, often multiple, and frequently confusing. In short, they suited
most Ocracokers just fine.
For example, the road directly across from the fire hall was among the very
first streets paved on the island. When the US Navy established their base here
in July of 1942 they found the deep soft sand lanes unsatisfactory. They created
an ammunition dump along the ridge that now connects the Oyster Creek
development and Jackson Dunes. In short order they paved a one-lane concrete
road from their base on the harbor to the dump. A few of the aprons that served
the dumps are still visible on present-day "Cutting Sage Road" and
"Trent Drive." That section of road directly across from the
present-day fire hall was dubbed "Ammunition Dump Road" by locals.
Later on, after the fire hall was built, the road was sometimes called
"Fire House Road." In the mid to late 1960s Lloyd Harkum, from
Norfolk, Virginia, purchased property along this road and divided it into small
lots. He officially named this thoroughfare "Sunset Drive." In the
1970’s, before the trees had grown so tall, the top of the lighthouse was
clearly visible as you were driving west on this road. A few folks referred to
it by its most confusing moniker, "Lighthouse Road."
"Cutting Sage" [an alternate spelling of "Cutting Sedge,"
a member of a family of tufted marsh plants, Cyperaceae] is the traditional name
of the road referred to above, the road that leads from Sunset Drive to Oyster
Creek. Confusingly, the road over the first bridge in Oyster Creek, which
intersects "Cutting Sage," is named "Cutten Sage Lane."
The southeast extension of Cutting Sage is called "Trent Road." One
historically major section of Ocracoke village included this area near Pamlico
Sound and beyond the present-day community cemetery. It is called "Up
Trent" and, although all of the homes there today are relatively new, years
ago quite a few islanders lived amongst the trees there. Hence,
The main part of Ocracoke village has traditionally been divided into two
distinct areas by native islanders. "Down Point" refers to
"Springer’s Point" (where the first European settlers built modest
homes in the 1700s) and that part of the community on the south side of the
harbor. This area was originally called just "The Point" and later
"Williams Point" or "Howard’s Point" depending on who
owned it. In 1883 E.D. & Clara Springer, from South Creek, North Carolina,
purchased this tract of land. Although they never made this their permanent home
, the point still bears their name.
The road that today carries the name "Lighthouse Road" was
traditionally called "Point Road." In fact, when official Ocracoke
street names were first introduced this was designated "Point Road."
Only because several residents objected (they had already established their
addresses as "Lighthouse Road") was the current name officially
Ocracoke's Most Recognizable Symbol:
Sometime prior to 1835 an increasing number of residents had built homes and
businesses around the north side of "Cockle Creek" as "Silver
Lake" was originally called. This was a wide but shallow tidal creek. The
periphery of the creek was dominated by marsh grasses. The tidal flow extended
toward the bald beach in the form of two guts or streams. They effectively
divided the village into two distinct sections – "Down Point" and
"Around Creek." After "the creek" was dredged by the Navy in
1942 to accommodate larger draft vessels, and the spoil was pumped into the
village to fill in the guts, its official name became "Silver Lake
At one time Howard Street was referred to as the "Main Road." In
1835 what had been merely a foot path was widened by court order and made a
public thoroughfare. It extended from close by the present-day "School
Road" all the way to the Sound (in the vicinity of today’s National Park
Service Visitor Center). Several stores were located in this area – Mr.
Blackwell’s store, John Pike’s store, and Willis Williams’ store and
tavern. The area "Around Creek" grew considerably, especially since
the post office and mailboat dock were located there.
Once the state of North Carolina took control of the ferry operations in the
mid-1950s and decided to pave many of the island’s sandy lanes Ocracoke’s
destiny began to change. Much was in the offing. Early on the pavement was
extended around the harbor from the Navy’s concrete road. Where once there had
been little more than a foot path, there was now a hard surface road (where
Highway 12 is today).
This meant that the western end of the "Main Road" (in front of the
Community Store) was now paved. And that left the eastern end of the road still
a one-lane sandy path lined by family cemeteries and embraced by cedars and
gnarled old live oaks.
It wasn’t long before Stacy Howard nailed a hand-painted sign to a tree in
front of his house. "East Howard Street" it read. The new name stuck.
Of course most of the residents there were Howards, and it was the eastern end
of what had been the "Main Road."
Stacy Howard's "Howard Street" Sign:
Still today, many older residents refer to our quintessential village lane as
"East Howard Street" though maps and common usage are generally
satisfied simply with "Howard Street," content to ignore or forget the
reason it was once designated as "East."
Statewide Enhanced 911 Emergency Service now dictates that Ocracoke, like the
rest of the state, have official street names and road signs posted throughout
the village. It is taking many of us a while to adjust to this type of
"progress." It is still common to hear O’cockers talk about the
"Point Road," or the "Ammunition Dump Road," or perhaps
"Ollie Syron’s Road" simply because that’s where she lived.
And we can’t always remember the new names of our island roads. So we’re
likely to give directions something like this: "Turn left on that corner
where you’ll see the old wooden skiff piled up with conch shells; pass the
Back Porch Restaurant and then turn right at the fire hall (the Coffee Shop is
on the left corner); make the second left; then turn left again (if you drive
into the cemetery you’ve gone too far); it’s the house on the right with the
green porch swing."
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