Capt. Ben’s Waterfront Restaurant was established by Ocracoker Ben Mugford in the early 1970s. Situated on the end of a dock overlooking Silver Lake harbor, across the road from the Harborside Motel, the restaurant quickly gained a reputation for excellent cuisine, spectacular sunset views, and colorful native island cooks and wait staff. Unfortunately, the restaurant burned to the ground in a fire in 1977.The enthusiastic but woefully untrained and disorganized volunteer fire department was unable to extinguish the fire before it became a conflagration. Although no one was injured or died, it was a sad day for Ben and his family, and for the entire Ocracoke community. It was, however, a wake-up call for islanders.

In 2016 Jimmy Creech wrote the following account of that awful night, and the beginning of a new era that today boasts a well-trained and well-equipped volunteer fire department (

The Night Capt. Ben’s Restaurant Burned

By Jimmy Creech
March 2016

When Capt. Ben’s Restaurant burned to the ground, I was the pastor at the Ocracoke United Methodist Church.

There was no organized volunteer fire department at the time. We had an old fire truck, an old army surplus equipment truck, a collection of second-hand boots, coats, overalls and helmets, and a two-bay building to house it all. Womac was the fire chief, but no one ever showed up for the training he scheduled once a month. I certainly never had training! It wasn’t required back then – whoever showed up for a fire was welcome! Whenever the sirens went off, most always for brush fires started by discarded cigarettes thrown from passing cars on highway 12, we always had a good turnout and everything seemed to go well enough. Didn’t happen that way when Capt. Ben’s burned.

The sirens sounded shortly before midnight that Saturday. I jumped out of bed, pulled on a bathing suit and some sandals and ran to the fire hall. When I arrived, I discovered that those ahead of me couldn’t start the fire truck – the battery was dead. Someone tied his pickup to the fire truck with a rope and towed it down the back road toward Blackbeard’s Lodge. Once it was running, the driver drove the fire truck back to the fire hall to pick up those of us waiting to fight the fire. Word was there was a fire at Capt. Ben’s Restaurant.

While I waited for the fire truck to return to the fire hall, I put on a helmet, pair of overalls, coat and a pair of rubber boots, all much too large for me, but the best I could find. Don’t remember how many there were of us, but we all jumped on the fire truck as it came back by, siren blaring, and headed off down the back road toward Capt. Ben’s. As we passed cottages along the way, tourists, who had been partying, came running out to jump on the fire truck for the ride. Several young women in bikinis with beer in their hands joined us. Must have thought it would be something fun to do on a Saturday night, I guess.

When we pulled up in front of Capt. Ben’s, I jumped off, grabbed the nozzle, pulled the hose off the truck and ran with it toward smoke I saw coming out of a window at the rear of the restaurant on the edge of the lake. I stood at the window, smoke pouring out, and desperately yelled, “Water! Water! Water!” No water. The driver made the mistake of turning off the fire truck when he got to Capt. Ben’s and it wouldn’t start, so it couldn’t pump the water.

Capt. Ben's Fire, 1977Photo by Henry Raup (OPS Collection)
Capt. Ben’s Fire, 1977 Photo by Henry Raup (OPS Collection)

Suddenly, I realized the slack in the hose I was holding was fast disappearing – the fire truck was being towed again, and no one bothered to tell me. Not wanting to drop the nozzle and have it damaged by being dragged down the road around the lake, I took off running with it behind the fire truck, the much-too-large helmet bouncing on my head and my feet nearly coming out of the much-too-large rubber boots with every clomp along the road. The truck finally started about where Howard Street meets the paved road. The driver waited for me, pulled the hose in, then turned the fire truck around and headed back to Capt. Ben’s.

Again, I pulled the hose from the truck and headed back to where I saw the smoke before. Now, large flames were leaping out of the window. I turned on the nozzle and began spraying water through the window inside the restaurant. The flame just got larger, breaking through the roof and spreading throughout the building. To better get at the fire, I crawled beneath the back porch and began shooting a stream of water into the building through a gaping hole the fire had burned in the floor. Lying on my stomach, I aimed the water into the heart of the fire, hoping to knock it down.

In a few minutes, someone crawled under the porch next to me and said, “Jimmy, you’re getting everybody on the other side of street wet! Please lower the water!”

The crowd of people who came to see the fire stood across the street from Capt. Ben’s. Lying on my stomach beneath the opposite side of the building from the onlookers, I wasn’t just shooting water up at the burning structure, I was shooting it through the flames into the air and onto the people standing across the street.

Someone else crawled under the building next to me with an air pack for me to use to protect me from all the smoke I was inhaling. I put on the facemask, but couldn’t figure out how to put the tank on my back or how to turn the air on. So, I gave up and sent it back out. I learned later that I had the air tank upside down.

When it was obvious the fire had complete control of the building and there was no way to extinguish it, I crawled out and began to spray water on two large fuel oil tanks on the adjacent property while what was left of Capt. Ben’s burned. We didn’t want the heat to cause the tanks to rupture or explode.

Capt. Ben’s burned completely to the ground. At sunrise, after spraying water on the smoking debris to extinguish all live embers, I walked to the parsonage and began preparing to lead worship later that morning.

Aftermath, Cat. Ben's Fire, 1977Photo by Henry Raup (OPS Collection)
Aftermath, Cat. Ben’s Fire, 1977 Photo by Henry Raup (OPS Collection)

The following Monday night, the Civic Club held a special meeting to discuss Capt. Ben’s Restaurant burning down. The room was packed with Ocockers and the atmosphere was tense. Ben Mugford was there, understandably angry at the incompetence of the “fire department.” There was a lot of finger pointing to put blame on someone for the debacle: the deputy sheriff who discovered the fire; Womac, the fire chief; the designated fire truck driver who failed to keep the battery charged; etc.

I spoke and said I was to blame because I had never gone to one of Womac’s training sessions. I said I knew when they were scheduled but just didn’t make the effort to go to them. I then described what happened at Capt. Ben’s (pretty much what I’ve written above, but with more details than I can now remember). As I told the story, the atmosphere began to relax with laughter breaking the tension.

When I finished, the Civic Club discussion moved away from pinning blame for the failure of the Volunteer Fire Department to organizing to make it better. We didn’t want another property on Ocracoke to burn to the ground because we didn’t know what we were doing. It was clear that Womac wasn’t getting support from the community and that he couldn’t make people come to training.

Womac said he was ready to retire from his position – he’d been trying to retire for years, but no one would step up to take his place. So, we elected David Fletcher to be fire chief and created a committee to develop policies and procedures for the fire department. Following that meeting, those wanting to be in the fire department met to elect officers. We scheduled training sessions to be led by expert trainers coming from Raleigh, and made it a requirement for everyone to participate in all training sessions in order to be members of the Ocracoke Volunteer Fire Department. We also began fundraising to purchase new equipment.

The fire at Capt. Ben’s Restaurant was a major loss and embarrassment for Ocracoke, but it also served to initiate a trained and professional volunteer fire department for the island.


The Community Store was established in 1918 by Amasa (Mace) Fulcher. Under Fulcher’s management, the general store soon became a focal point of community activity on the north side of Cockle Creek (Silver Lake Harbor).  The original structure was a square building of less than 900 square feet. Although close to the sandy lane that would eventually be paved and designated North Carolina Highway 12, the main entrance to the store faced the harbor. A porch invited customers to stop and chat for a few minutes, or to sit for hours. Men congregated there to swap tales, tell jokes, carve small wooden birds, and talk about fishing and the weather.

Community Store, ca. 1944
Community Store, ca. 1944

The accompanying dock extended up to the store and connected with the front porch. A small barbershop operated by Gillis Riddick, Mace’s step-son-in-law, was erected alongside the dock, a short distance from the porch. A section of the dock was customarily lifted up to allow passage along a sandy footpath that led around the shore of the harbor. The removable section was lowered whenever a shipment arrived at the dock and boxes and barrels of new goods were hauled into the store. A fish house on the end of the dock served the growing number of commercial fishermen.

Mace Fulcher died in 1946. Shortly thereafter his widow, Maude Williams Fulcher, sold the Community Store to Mace’s sister’s husband, Isaac Freeman O’Neal (known by all as “Little Ike”), and Little Ike’s son-in-law, Jesse Woolard Garrish. Sometime in the early 1950s the new owners had the original building demolished and a new, larger store built in its place. Several years later the Community Store was enlarged. Although the store still catered to occasional customers arriving from the footpath close to the harbor, the paving of the road on the other side of the store and the increased use of automobiles on the island led to exclusive access to the store from the paved road. And that led to a problem.

The Community Store was shaped like the letter “L,” with the main section perpendicular to the road, and the shorter warehouse section parallel with, and close to, the paved road. A fence divided the store’s parking lot from neighboring businesses. The warehouse blocked the view of the porch and main door, and access to the parking area was only wide enough for one vehicle.

In 1978 Philip and Julie Howard purchased the Community Store. They realized something needed to be done to provide more convenient access to the store. The warehouse needed to be moved.

Ocracoke has a long tradition of elevating and moving houses and businesses. If a house or store were to be moved to another location in the nineteenth century, it was jacked up, then lowered onto rollers made from trees, and pulled to its new locations by horses. By 1978 that was no longer an option. Only one professional house mover served Ocracoke. Sixty-one-year-old Manteo native, Willie Rogers, was contacted and agreed to help with the move.

This is how the store looked before the October 1978 move, with the warehouse parallel with the paved road.

Community Store, Summer 1978
Community Store, Summer 1978

To prepare for the move, Philip crawled into the attic and began disconnecting the two sections of the store. After several days, the two parts were separated.

New framing members and braces were added to stabilize what were now two separate structures.

Community Store with Warehouse removed
Community Store with Warehouse removed

Willie Rogers, an old-time do-it-yourself entrepreneur, arrived with his equipment, including an old “half-truck” with a cab and bare frame rails, extra axles with wheels, jacks, and various lengths of well-used, not-entirely-straight steel I-beams. Everyone was amazed to realize his truck engine did not have any valve covers. Every so often Willie would climb up on the fender and pour engine oil onto the valves. That created an oily mess that never seemed to bother Willie.

Moving Community Store Warehouse, October, 1978
Moving Community Store Warehouse, October, 1978

In two days of much hard work, backing up & pulling forward, and tight maneuvering, the warehouse was repositioned behind the main section of the store, close to the harbor. From there it was just a matter of permanently attaching the warehouse to the main building, and nailing new siding where the warehouse had originally been attached.

Community Store Warehouse Reattached, October, 1978
Community Store Warehouse Reattached, October, 1978

Visibility and access to the store was now assured. The store’s next owners, David and Sherrill Senseney, purchased the adjoining properties, including Jack Willis’ store on the dock (now the Working Watermen’s exhibit) and the original generator plant (now Kitty Hawk Kites), and combined the parking areas in a unified square.

Today the Community Square is owned by the non-profit organization, Ocracoke Foundation (

The Community Store
The Community Store

The Community Store building serves as the island Thrift Store (, and the former warehouse has been repurposed as the Stockroom eatery ( with a small porch overlooking Silver Lake.

Stockroom, Summer, 2023
Stockroom, Summer, 2023

For more information about the history of the Community Store, see  and




Wahab Industries
Ocracoke Island, Ocracoke, NC


In 1958 Robert Stanley Wahab had letterheads printed promoting his business interests on Ocracoke Island. These interests included the Wahab Village Hotel (later renamed Blackbeard’s Lodge) which housed the Wahab Village Theatre, the Silver Lake Hotel (the original Odd Fellows Lodge, and later renamed the Island Inn, which included the Wahab Coffee Shoppe and the “Beachcombers” Club), cottages, apartments, and hunting & fishing guides, and boat rentals.

Wahab’s letterhead included “General Information” about Ocracoke Island in a side panel. In addition to praising the island’s weather, Wahab called attention to Ocracoke as “one of the finest fishing grounds in America,” and as a superb winter duck hunting destination. He also made special mention of his hotel’s conveniences, including electric lights and running water. Wahab directs his reader’s attention to the daily mailboat from Atlantic, NC, and the relatively new Hatteras ferry (“three round trips daily”). He also mentions the island’s “landing field,” but neglects to point out that it is simply a wide stretch of tidal flats leading from the surf directly to the front of the Wahab Village Hotel.

Wahab Hotel and Plane
Wahab Village Hotel (note the airplane which has taxied right up to the hotel)

Herewith Wahab’s Ocracoke Information:

Thirty miles off the coast of North Carolina lies Ocracoke Island, 16 miles long, with an average width of less than 1 mile. On the north it is bounded by Pamlico sound and Hatteras Inlet; on the east by the Atlantic Ocean; both ocean and sound form the southern boundary and on the west the sound only.

Ocracoke’s unique geographical position accounts for a climate different, perhaps from that of any other place in North Carolina. Mild winters predominate. The summers are delightfully pleasant due to the breezes from the gulf stream and sound that blow incessantly over the island, regardless of the direction of the wind.

Ocracoke is a picturesque community laid out with old world irregularity sheltered by a wealth of beautiful shade trees. It is geographically maritime and just as maritime by tradition. The pursuits of the sea occupy most of its population of 850.

Recognized as one of the finest fishing grounds in America, it also supplies sea food in great abundance and variety. More channel bass are caught at Ocracoke than at any other point on the Atlantic coast. Channel bass fishing is one of its greatest attractions and many prominent American sportsmen have made Ocracoke their headquarters for that reason and also for the fine duck, brant and goose hunting in the winter.

The Village of Ocracoke is on the south end of the island, adjacent to the inlet, and is built around a beautiful salt water lake which has recently been dredged by the Government to form the world’s finest small boat harbor for boats up to 14 ft. draft.

Ocracoke Island has daily mail service, and telephone service, [our] own electric power and ice plant.

A beautiful all year around resort on the beach facing the ocean, is known as Wahab Village. Here well-furnished, comfortable cottages may be procured at reasonable rates by the day, week or month, Electric lights, running water and proximity to everything on the island are added conveniences. Wahab Village Hotel [is] open all the year. Has excellent accommodations at very reasonable rates – European Plan.

Ocracoke is reached by boat, daily and Sundays from Atlantic. Also by free ferry for automobiles and passengers from Hatteras, three round trips daily.

On the beach, at Wahab Village, is a landing field for airplanes, about three-eighths of a mile eastwardly from Ocracoke Light House. For charter plane service, call or write Bill Cochran, Phone Ocracoke WA-8-3221.