November 30, 2009
Place Names on Ocracoke island
In the 1970s Ronnie Midgett and his wife Diane moved to Ocracoke.
Ronnie had been called as pastor of the Assembly of God church.
Although Ronnie was from coastal North Carolina, neither he nor Diane
had spent much time on Ocracoke Island. They had a lot to learn --
people, customs, traditions, distinctive vocabulary, and island place
names. All of this could be confusing to any newcomer.
Names of places
and areas on Ocracoke continue to befuddle visitors and new residents.
In the village there are two major areas, Around Creek (on the
north side of Cockle Creek [since about 1940 frequently referred to as
Silver Lake Harbor], including where the Community Store, Howard
Street, and the school are located), and Down Point (on the south side
of Cockle Creek, including Albert Styron's Store, the Assembly of God
church, and the lighthouse). There is also Up Trent (a vaguely defined
area beyond the end of British Cemetery Road, toward the Oyster Creek
development, and north of the Community Cemetery).
Within these sections of the village lie Nubbin's Ridge, Cat Ridge,
Paddy's Holler, Springer's Point, Windmill Point, Gun Barrel Point,
Base Docks, and other areas.
Springer's Point, (Down Point):
The Community Store ca. 1944, (Around Creek):
Beyond the village are creeks, hills, knolls, and woods each with its
own distinctive name. They include Loop Shack Hill, Scrag Cedars, The
Plains, Outer Green Island, The Wells, Quawk's Point, Cedar Hammock,
Old Hammock, and Billy Goat Hill, to name but a few.
Oak at Old Hammock:
Nearby, in Pamlico Sound, you can visit Hog Shoal and Howard's Reef, as
well as Stone Rock, Legged Lump, Wallace's Channel, and closer by, the
Ocracokers refer to the entire area of the island north of the village
with one general term, "Down Below." If you are traveling to the
lifeguard beach, the NPS campground, the Pony Pen, or nearly anywhere else in
the park you are going down below. But curiously, if you are traveling
beyond Hatteras Inlet you are going "up the beach" (but definitly not
"up beach" [a particulary egegious error] as any native islander will
quickly point out to new residents!).
After moving to the island, Ronnie and Diane Midgett immediately
immersed themselves in the community. Before two weeks had passed
Ronnie could often be seen about the village, visiting parishoners,
chatting with folks at the Community Store, and frequenting the fish
house. One day around noon Diane was expecting Ronnie home for
lunch. When he didn't appear she called Tradewinds Tackle Shop, where
Ronnie often stopped to talk with Wayne Teeter. Louise O'Neal answered
the phone. When Diane asked if she'd seen Ronnie Louise said Wayne had
mentioned that Ronnie could probably be found down below. Not
understanding the local reference Diane immediately worried that the
islanders had already, at least figuratively, assigned Ronnie to
If you are interested in learning more about Ocracoke Island place
names be sure to get Len Skinner & Debbie Well's "Complete,
Illustrated Map of Ocracoke Island." They have researched the geography
of the island thoroughly and have included many of the traditional
place names, as well as contemporary landmarks, roads, and buildings.
Click on the photo below for more information.
I recently discovered two articles written by C. A. Weslager who visited Ocracoke in 1949 (see our October, 2009 Newsletter
for his observations about that visit). He was also fascinated with the
many place names he encountered. You can read his article, with lists
of many of the names by clicking on the link below.
(Click here to open the PDF file, "Place Names on Ocracoke Island," 1949, by C. A. Weslager.)
Weslager completes his survey of Ocracoke Island place names by
commenting that "It would be highly interesting to compile a list of
the Ocracoke place names twenty to fifty years hence for comparison
with those of today." In fact, most of the names Weslager cites
are still in use today. However, some of the features have eroded or
completely disappeared due to wind and tide. For example, some creeks
have simply dried up. Other features have changed dramatically because
of human activity.
Today many residents identify places "down below" by referencing
recent, man made features; for example, Lifeguard Beach, the
Campground, Pony Pen, etc., as well as NPS ramps and mile markers.
Nevertheless, local names for many geographical areas persist,
especially among native born O'cockers.