Last month I took the opportunity to share some island history by explaining how several of Ocracoke’s street names came to be. Other names are just as interesting. Consider these.
On your visits to the island you may have noticed “Ocean View Road” and ” Old Beach Road.” The Pony Island Motel sits between these two roads. If you’ve been coming to the island for a while you are probably aware that “Ocean View Road” has no view of the ocean, and that “Old Beach Road” does not take you to the beach.
Present-day View from “Ocean View” Road:
When the signs went up earlier this year many of us imagined first-time visitors to the island vainly driving down these roads looking for the beach.
Even more confusing, there is a narrow, unpaved road just off of the “Bank Road” (actually the official name is “Cedar Road” though most islanders still refer to it, for obvious reasons, as the “Bank Road.”) called “Beach Road.” Not only does this road not lead to the beach, it terminates in a dead end. Residents along this road worried that the green road sign would lure countless tourists on a fruitless quest for sun and surf.
The “Beach” Road:
Why these misleading names? It turns out that Ocracoke’s topography was quite different years ago when these roads acquired their names. When the Variety Store was built in the early 1960s it sat right on the edge of the bald beach. From there to the Park Service campground was a vast tidal flat, virtually devoid of vegetation. In fact, the traditional name for this part of the island is the “Plains.” Today this stretch of land is covered with myrtles, yaupons, cedars, and many varieties of grasses.
NC Highway 12 & The “Plains” in 2005:
No doubt Ocracoke Village is situated on what was once a separate “inside island” that was gradually fused to the advancing “sandy banks” as sea level rose. Islanders living today can remember fishing in a slough between the village and the banks. My father remembers folks shaking their heads when Thurston Gaskill built his home (now the Thurston House Bed & Breakfast) on what they considered “the edge of the beach.” The Thurston House is not 1600 feet from Silver Lake Harbor.
In fact the three roads mentioned above, “Beach Road,” “Old Beach Road,” & “Ocean View Road” all lie between Thurston’s house and the beach. For many years they did provide access to and views of the ocean beach. Today they are but reminders of the way Ocracoke used to be.
“Nubbins Ridge” is a curious name for one of the island’s narrow lanes. It turns out that Carey, Elnora, and Delphin Williams, whose family home was located here, named this road years ago for an area they were familiar with in Richmond, Virginia.
“Paddy’s Holler” is another peculiar Ocracoke name. There is no street named for this area of the island, if only because this one-time public lane is now little more than a footpath & driveway. Years ago this lane passed from the school and church to the intersection of “Fig Tree Lane” and the “Back Road.”
Paddy’s Holler was at times the “party part” of Ocracoke village. Many a game of poker was played in the woods near the lane, and many a crock of homemade meal wine was brewed in the vicinity.
Walter Howard immortalized Paddy’s Holler in a song, and his brother Edgar, after he retired and moved back home, popularized it in the 1970’s. Ocracoke’s folk band, “Molasses Creek” has included this lively song in their repertoire.
There are, of course, no “hollers” anywhere on flat, sandy Ocracoke. I’m told that one of the old-time imbibers (was it Wid Williams?) named this area of the village after a pub in Philadelphia.
“Lawton Lane” intersects “Howard Street.” It is the narrow sandy lane where my grandparents lived in a small “story and a jump” wood frame house. I never knew the road to have a name until Libby & Bill Hicks rented the house in the 1990s and used “Lawton Lane” as their address, a tribute to my father who was born in the house. At that time he lived next door, on the corner of “Lawton Lane” & “Howard Street,” one of only a few people, I’m sure, to live on two streets, both of which were eponymous.
There is a story behind “Martha Jane Lane,” the short section of road that connects “Lighthouse Road” to the “Loop Road.” Martha Jane’s house is the small cottage sided with cedar shakes. Some years ago she was taken to Duke University hospital complaining of abdominal discomfort. She was diagnosed with a nervous stomach and sent back home. Some months later she took a snapshot of her “nervous stomach,” her newborn baby son, and sent it to the doctors at the hospital.
Martha Jane Lane:
Even if you’ve been visiting Ocracoke for some time you may not have had opportunity to drive down “Winnie Blount Road.” It is, after all, a dead end residential road and not very visible. Winnie Blount (affectionately known to islanders as “Aunt Winnie”) was the only black person to return to Ocracoke after the Civil War. She married another former slave from the mainland and raised two children on the island. Of her eleven grandchildren only three survive. Mamie lives in New York City, Annie Laurie lives in Swan Quarter, and Muzel stays on Ocracoke’s “Back Road” with Kenny Ballance. Muze is truly an island treasure. She will celebrate her 102nd birthday this coming March.
On a more contemporary note, I was discussing my research on island street names with Leslie Lanier (owner of “Books to be Red”) and I mentioned that I had no clue how “Lumpy’s Road” got its name. A grand smile came over Leslie’s face and she told me how delighted she was that for once she was able to fill me in on some island history.
It seems that when Leslie was pregnant with her first son, Andrew (born 1996), her husband, Beaver, would put his hand on her abdomen and jokingly comment on how lumpy it was. It didn’t take much before they were both referring to the unborn baby as “Lumpy.” And thus the name of the road where Leslie, Beaver, & Andrew (and now Kyle also) live.
As you drive, walk, or bike around the village, maybe you will have a different appreciation for our road signs now. They may not be aesthetically pleasing, but they at least preserve a bit of our island history.