Ocracoke has a long tradition of elevating and moving houses and other buildings. By our current count, more than four dozen houses and other structures on the island have been moved. Many more have been elevated, especially after major flooding from Hurricane Dorian in 2019.

In the nineteenth century most houses, stores, or outbuildings to be moved to another location were first jacked up two or three inches at one corner and secured with shims. This was repeated at the next piling or pier until the entire house was elevated a few inches. The process was repeated as many times as necessary to raise the house high enough to add supports. It was then lowered onto rollers and pulled to its new location by horses.

Occasionally, an entire house might be disassembled, then rebuilt on a different lot, or even moved across the inlet from Portsmouth Island to Ocracoke.

In 1898 Aliph O’Neal married Homer Howard. For a wedding present, Homer’s parents, James and Zilphia Howard, purchased an unfinished house from “Thomps” Bragg located on School Road (near where Books to be Red sits today). They had the house dragged to its present location on Lawton Lane by a team of horses. The house was later elevated after sea water washed through the windows during the September 1933 hurricane. It was raised again in 2005 (by a neighbor, the old way, a few inches at a time), but not quite high enough to prevent two inches of sea water from inundating the house during Hurricane Dorian in 2019.

Homer & Aliph Howard House
Homer & Aliph Howard House

Homer & Aliph Howard House

The mid-19th-century Kugler Cottage is believed to be one of the oldest surviving houses on Ocracoke. The house, in the “Windmill Point” area on the northwest side of the village, has a commanding view of the sound, and, according to oral history and deed research, was moved to this site in the early 20th century, probably about 1915, for use as a summer cottage.

Kugler Cottage
Kugler Cottage

Kugler Cottage

In her book, A Blessed Life, Della Gaskill (b. 1937) describes moving an island home many years ago:

“When my grandmama and my grandfather, Papa Cas [Richard Caswell Williams (1884-1959)] and Zilphia [Zilphia Gray Styron (1886-1966)], were going to get married, my grandfather built a house around the other side of the Island by what we call the Creek (Silver Lake Harbor.) The house was built around where Chris and Mabel Gaskill lived [near British Cemetery Road]. After my Papa built the house they were getting ready to get married and my grandmama told him that she weren’t going around the Creek to live, so my grandfather had a boat, and he had to take that house down piece by piece and bring it around the shore side in back of my mama’s house and bring it piece by piece down where the old home place stands now… I guess there probably were men that helped him take it down and move it by boat until they got it all down there where they built it on the land where it sits today, the old home place [near the Assembly of God Church].”

Della Williams Gaskilll Homeplace
Della Williams in front of the Williams Homeplace

Della Williams Galkill in front of the Caswell & Zilphia Williams House

Blanche Howard Jolliff (1919-2018) recounted that her father, Stacy Wilson Howard (1885-1968), was helping move a house in May of 1903 when word spread through the village that the Vera Cruz VII, a two-masted brig carrying illicit liquor and nearly 400 immigrant passengers, wrecked at Ocracoke Inlet. Someone ran to the house movers bearing the news and a barrel of rum. “That was the end of the house moving,” Blanche said with a smile.

Sometime around 1915-1920, Eliza Styron O’Neal convinced her husband, Ivey O’Neal, to dismantle their house, which was situated near Northern Pond, and rebuild it “Down Point” on Loop Road, close to Eliza’s extended family. According to Ivey and Eliza’s grandson, Ivey sawed through the wooden pegs to disassemble the house. The lumber was carried by horse and cart to the shore of Pamlico Sound, loaded onto a barge, ferried to a landing Down Point, then unloaded onto another cart and carried to its present location, where it was reassembled with iron nails.

Ivey & Eliza O'Neal House
Ivey & Eliza O’Neal House

Ivey and Eliza Styron O’Neal House

In November 1927 Ivey O’Neal, his brother Billie, and two companions were fishing nets when “heavy seas and a roaring gale” swamped their boat, drowning Ivey, Billie, and one other. Blanche Howard Jolliff explained that Billie O’Neal (1889-1927) and his wife, Eliza Scarborough O’Neal, lived on the north side of Silver Lake Harbor (“Around Creek”), near where the Back Road is now. They had purchased a lot on the road now called Lighthouse Road, and were having their 1910 house dismantled when Billie died. After the funeral, the carpenters, Thad Gaskins and Charlie Scarborough, asked Miss Eliza if she wanted them to stop and re-build the house where it was. She decided to continue having the house dismantled. The lumber was carried to the new lot and reassembled.

Billy & Eliza O'Neal House
Billy & Eliza O’Neal House

Billy & Eliza O’Neal House

The 1901 building that housed the Ocracoke Odd Fellows Lodge (subsequently used, variously, as a school, private residence, coffee shop, WWII officers’ quarters, and finally the Island Inn) was moved soon after the dissolution of the Lodge in 1925. Islander Benjamin O’Neal (1880-1939) bought the building for use as a private residence for his family. He contracted with Charlie Scarborough to move it about 600 feet to its present location. Today it is being rehabilitated to serve as a community gathering place.

Odd Fellows Lodge
Odd Fellows Lodge/Island Inn

Odd Fellows Lodge/Island Inn

After WWII many of the buildings that were part of the Ocracoke Navy Base were dismantled and/or sold, moved and repurposed. One such building, formerly a barracks, is the Methodist Church recreation hall.

Methodist Rec Hall
Methodist Church Rec Hall

Methodist Church Rec Hall

Another was the old school recreation hall which was moved again to become part of Capt. Ben’s Restaurant (later the Ocracoke Oyster Company) when a new school gymnasium was built. That building was demolished after it sustained major damage from Hurricane Dorian in 2019.

The separate kitchen from the 1904 Life Saving Station which had been repurposed as a morgue by the US Coast Guard during WWII, was sold in 1947 and moved behind Wahab and Elizabeth Howard’s house (on the corner of Back Road and British Cemetery Road) for use as an outbuilding.

USLSS Morgue
USLSS Morgue

USLSS Morgue

Native islander, Maurice Ballance (1927-2014) recalled that after WWII the Navy stationed a night watchman to “guard” their abandoned facility on the island.  The watchman spent much of his time selling liquor and getting drunk.  After dark, Maurice said, you could hear the sound of muffled hammers and other tools as old iron nails squeaked when they were being pulled out of the buildings in the process of retrieving windows, doors, and other items. He called it “The Midnight Requisition.”

One enterprising islander hauled off an entire building in the middle of the night with a Dodge Power Wagon that he’d bought from the Navy. He made it to about where present-day “Over the Moon” is located when his truck quit.  He unhooked the trailer with the building on it, and pushed the Power Wagon to his house on the Back Road.  He left the building in the road (this was the one-lane concrete road that the Navy built).  Neighbors looked out first thing in the morning to see a “big” building sitting right in the road in front of their house.  The Navy sent someone to investigate. The investigator was given a tip and accused Bud Styron of the deed. Bud insisted he wasn’t to blame. “It wasn’t me,” he said. “It couldn’t have been me.  My Power Wagon won’t even start.  How could it have been me?”

A small single-story frame summer cottage is located on the shore of Silver Lake. Oral history attributes the construction of this cottage to Washington, North Carolina, native, Togo Wynn. The story is that Leonard Meeker purchased the cottage after WWII and had it moved to its present location, extending it over the breakwater. Additional oral history suggests that Meeker incorporated other materials salvaged from the Navy Base in the late 1940s or early 1950s.

Wynn/Meeker Cottage
Wynn/Meeker Cottage

Wynn/Meeker Cottage

Island natives, Van Henry & Bertha O’Neal, who were living on Portsmouth Island in 1945, dismantled their home after it was damaged during the hurricane of 1944, and built a craftsman style home on Back Road using materials from their Portsmouth Island home as well as other materials from historic structures on Ocracoke. The house was later moved to Sunset Blvd and remodeled.

Van Henry and Bertha O'Neal House
Van Henry and Bertha O’Neal House

Van Henry & Bertha O’Neal House

Down Point Decoys (formerly Capt. John’s Junque Shoppe, and later the Merchant Manner Gift Shop) was built ca. 1950 as part of the Green Island Hunting Club located “down below” in the marshes several miles northeast of the village. Wahab Howard moved it to its current location near Captain’s Landing Hotel. It served as the first dedicated gift shop on the island.

Decoy Shop
Decoy Shop

Decoy Shop

A few years after schoolteachers, David and Sherrill Senseney, moved to Ocracoke in 1973, they had an opportunity to acquire an historic island home in exchange for moving it. This early 20th century house was originally built by Thad Gaskins (1887-1961), noted local builder, on the opposite side of Silver Lake and moved “Down Point” near the lighthouse several decades later. The Senseneys had it moved a second time, in 1976, from across the street from the lighthouse to its new location, where it sits today, several hundred feet southeast on Lighthouse Road.

Senseney House
David & Sherrill Senseney House

David & Sherrill Senseney House

In 1978 the warehouse section of the Community Store was detached from the main building and moved to the back. You can read about that move here.

Community Store Stockroom
Community Store Stockroom

Community Store Stockroom

Today, modern house movers position steel beams under buildings, then, with an array of computer-controlled jacks, elevate the building, as a unit, as much as eight or ten feet in a matter of several hours. Once elevated, the building can then be lowered onto a heavy trailer and moved to a new location, or positioned on sturdy wooden cribbing until new pilings or piers can be built.  The structure is then lowered onto the new foundation.

Sometime in the late 1970s two houses, including the former home of Lorena and Bert Williams (and later, Jean Scarborough), on Irvin Garrish Highway were moved to make room for the construction of the Boyette House Motel (now Boyette Condos). The Williams/Scarborough house was cut into three sections by island carpenter Calvin Wilkerson, moved in pieces, and re-attached in the Oyster Creek neighborhood, just over the first bridge, and christened “Horatio Too.”

Horatio Too
Horatio Too/Williams House

Horatio Too/Williams House

In 1984 when the Silver Lake Motel & Inn was built, two two-story historic island homes were relocated. The Walter and Armeda O’Neal house was moved to Irvin Garrish Highway, near the 1718 Brew Pub. Walter O’Neal (1885-1976) was a prominent local storekeeper and hunting guide.

Walter & Armeda O'Neal House
Walter & Armeda O’Neal House

Walter & Armeda O’Neal House

The Tommy and Bessie Howard house was moved to a lot directly behind the bank. Mr. Tommy Howard (1878-1972) retired in 1941, after serving as Ocracoke’s postmaster for almost forty years.

Tommy & Bessie Howard House
Mr. Tommy & Miss Bessie Howard House

Mr. Tommy & Miss Bessie Howard House

Some years earlier Miss Bessie’s small wash house had been moved to the end of O’Neal Drive in the Trent Woods section of the village. Local carpenter Calvin Wilkerson expanded and remodeled the wash house according to his own creative vision. The cottage was elevated after being flooded in Hurricane Dorian.

Miss Bessie's "Washhouse"
Miss Bessie’s “Wash House”

Miss Bessie’s “Wash House”

Mermaid’s Folly gift shop on the harbor (formerly the Gathering Place) is another historic building that was moved to accommodate a new motel.  When the Anchorage Inn was built in 1981 the historic William Ellis Wiliams (1878-1934) house was relocated to the shore of Silver Lake in the Community Square.

Mermaid's Folly/Williams House
Mermaid’s Folly/William Ellis Williams House

Mermaid’s Folly/William Ellis Williams House

The Ocracoke Preservation Society Museum is located in the former home of Capt. David Williams (1858-1938) and his wife Alice Wahab Williams. Capt. Williams was the keeper of the Ocracoke United States Life Saving Station from 1905-1915.  The substantial foursquare house, built about 1900, originally sat facing the harbor, and was moved in 1989 to National Park Service land in order to make room for the Anchorage Inn.

OPS Museum/Williams House
OPS Museum/David & Alice Williams House

OPS Museum/David & Alice Williams House

In the mid-1990s the author acquired a 100-year-old wash house that was located behind Lightkeepers Guest House on Creek Road. With the help of several friends and a borrowed trailer and heavy-duty truck, the 28’ X 16’ building was hauled away and relocated behind my house. Maneuvering the building around the back corner of my house and into position was a challenge until a neighbor suggested sandwiching strewn sand between two sheets of plywood laid on the ground. We positioned the trailer wheels on the strategically placed plywood, disconnected the trailer from the truck, then, using the sand as primitive ball bearings, swung the building into position.

Philip Howard's Outbuilding
Philip Howard’s Outbuilding

Philip Howard’s Outbuilding

Sorella’s Restaurant (formerly Ocracoke Pizza Company), which had for many years been the homeplace of Herman and Flossie Spencer, is a rare example of the coastal cottage. It was moved from the corner of Irvin Garrish Highway and School Road.

Herman & Flossie Spencer House/Sorella's Restaurant
Herman & Flossie Spencer House/Sorella’s Restaurant

Herman & Flossie Spencer House/Sorella’s Restaurant

When the local Assembly of God made arrangements to build a new church in 2003, the original 1942 building, along with the marquee, was moved to Irvin Garrish Highway across from Jason’s Restaurant, and remodeled as a rental cottage.

Assembly of God Church/Rental Cottage
Assembly of God Church/Rental Cottage

Assembly of God Church/Rental Cottage

At the same time, the parsonage was relocated behind Sorella’s Restaurant.

Assembly of God Parsonage/Rental Cottage
Assembly of God Parsonage/Rental Cottage

Assembly of God Parsonage/Rental Cottage

In about 2015 the early 20th century George W. Simpson, Jr. House which originally sat beside Corky’s Store on Creek Road, was moved to First Avenue. It is now the home of year-round residents.

George W. Simpson, Jr. House
George W. Simpson, Jr. House

George W. Simpson, Jr. House

In about 2000 the Benjamin Joseph Garrish, Jr. House (built ca. 1920), which was originally located behind Corky’s Store, was moved to Ocean View Road.

Benjamin Garrish House
Benjamin Garrish House

Benjamin Garrish House

Houses, outbuildings, stores, and other structures continue to be relocated on Ocracoke. The 1934 Alonzo and Cora Louise Burrus bungalow was moved from its original location near the intersection of Creek Road and Silver Lake Drive to the sound shore near the Kugler cottage in the spring of 2023.

Alonzo & Cora Louise Burrus House
Alonzo & Cora Louise Burrus House

Alonzo & Cora Louise Burrus House

More than two dozen additional buildings have been relocated on Ocracoke Island. We have every reason to suspect that more buildings will be moved in the future.

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Ocracoke Island’s 19th postmaster, Thomas Wallace (“Mr. Tommy”) Howard (1878-1972), was appointed October 21, 1902. Soon after his appointment Mr. Tommy built a small building close to his home (near where the Silver Lake Motel is located today), one of Ocracoke’s four dedicated post offices. Mr. Tommy held the position for nearly 40 years, until he retired in 1941.

Mr. Tommy counted among his ancestors O’Neals, Williamses, and Jacksons, all early settlers on Ocracoke Island. His great-great-great-great-grandfather was William Howard, Sr., colonial owner of the island. As a child, his grandmother regaled him with stories of pirates and seafarers. His father, Robert Howard, served in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. After the war Robert was captain of a schooner carrying rice between South Carolina and North Carolina. During one of these journeys he contracted tropical fever, perhaps dengue or malaria, and never fully recovered. He died in 1878 when Thomas Wallace was just nine months old.

Thomas Wallace and his four older sisters were raised by their mother, Minerva O’Neal Howard, with help from their grandmother. Minerva operated a tourist home and did sewing for neighbors. Like most island families, they raised their own vegetables and kept chickens, sheep and at least one beef cow.

In many ways Ocracoke was a dynamic small community during Tom Wallace’s youth. Thirty-eight years before Thomas was born, a post office was established on the island. In that same year, 1840, more than 1400 sailing ships were recorded as having passed through Ocracoke Inlet. By the late nineteenth century, steam-powered excursion boats, as well as sailing vessels and freight boats, could be seen anchored in Pamlico Sound. Well-heeled tourists were coming from New Bern, Greenville, and other cities to the new Victorian hotel located on the shore of Silver Lake.

According to Ursula Loy and Pauline Worthy in their 1976 book, Washington and the Pamlico, “Ocracoke Island in those days was very much more interesting, exciting and pleasurable than today…. People would inhale the fresh salt air and feel a sense of freedom soon after arrival. They would fish and swim in the daytime and square dance every night…. The island was crude and undeveloped, the natives were friendly and would go out of their way for everyone to have a good time. They had a brogue peculiar to the coast and the sea, which the visitors loved, but could rarely imitate or impersonate.”

Young Thomas had an inquisitive mind and a remarkable memory, and he took every opportunity to engage sailors and visitors in conversation. In spite of an extremely limited formal education, he read anything he could get his hands on.

In October 1889 the Pioneer, one of the last wooden steamships, wrecked on Ocracoke beach. Unlike most commercial vessels of the time which hauled a single commodity, the Pioneer was carrying general cargo. One contemporary news article claimed, “it was like manna from heaven” when the vessel Pioneer was wrecked off Ocracoke in a violent storm. Everything from Bibles to cabbages floated ashore. Hams, bananas, barrels of flour, casks of alcohol, bladders filled with snuff and a great deal of canned food came into the island, which was flooded by the tide. “Everywhere folks were knee-deep in water sweeping up valuable debris as things washed by them.” One gentleman threw away his old shoes when he spied a new pair drifting toward him, only to find the new ones were both for the same foot. One woman gathered up enough bladders of snuff to fill a barrel which she proudly kept upstairs in her house for all to marvel at.

The ship struck during the daytime and was plainly visible from the shore as she broke into pieces and disappeared into a raging sea. Tom Wallace’s entire family joined their neighbors and the ship’s crew, all of whom were saved, salvaging whatever goods had washed ashore. When they returned home, Minerva and the girls emptied their bags to reveal bolts of cloth, cured hams, canned vegetables, hoop cheeses, and an assortment of other comestibles. Eleven-year-old Tom Wallace brought home a box of books. Although his mother was disappointed with his acquisition, Tom Wallace was nurturing his passion for reading, an obsession that eventually led to his employment as Ocracoke’s longest-serving postmaster.

As a lad, Tom worked in the local general store, and used his spare time to improve his reading.

For a time, Tom Wallace also joined other young island men fishing and oystering, even serving on a fishing vessel off the Philadelphia and New Jersey coast. He returned home when he was twenty-four years old to accept the job as island postmaster (click here for a history of the Ocracoke post office).

Mr. Tommy's Post Office
Mr. Tommy’s Post Office

Throughout his career, mail arrived at Ocracoke by boat. At times “Mr. Tommy,” as he was now known, carried mail from Ocracoke to the Hatteras Island village of Avon in a 22’ sail skiff, sometimes rowing the entire way if the wind did not cooperate.

When he was thirty-three years old Mr. Tommy married Nancy Elizabeth Williams, a native of the mainland town of Creswell. “Miss Bessie,” as she was known, accompanied her husband to Ocracoke, assisted at the Post Office, and immersed herself in the community and the Methodist Church.

In 1937 Mr. Tommy had the honor of sending the United States’ first airmail letter. On October 12 he dispatched a letter by airplane to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, the scene of the Wright brothers’ historic first flight in a heavier-than-air machine.

Both Mr. Tommy and Miss Bessie were staunch members of the Ocracoke United Methodist Church. Mr. Tommy served as Sunday School teacher and superintendent, choir leader, and member of the Church Council. He was also a loyal member of the Ocracoke Civic Club. Although Mr. Tommy developed significant hearing loss in his old age, his mind remained sharp and his wealth of local knowledge was prodigious. Friends, visitors, and journalists sought him out for fascinating stories about island history and people.

Mr. Tommy and Miss Bessie had two sons, Lafayette and Robert Wahab, and one daughter, Eleanor Nell. When Mr. Tommy died in 1972 at the age of ninety-four, he was the oldest island resident.

Mr. Tommy’s granddaughter, Betty Helen Howard Chamberlin, and her husband, George, own and operate Captain’s Landing Motel and Captain’s Cargo gift shop on the site of the old Ocracoke Store (across the street from the site of Mr. Tommy’s post office).

 

Mr. Tommy at his Post Office
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The following autobiography by Helena Parsons (1917-1979) recounts the joys and hardships of living on Ocracoke Island in the early 20th century. It describes a loving, close-knit family, the pain of child mortality, the impact of the Great Depression, a first-hand account of the destructive hurricane of 1933, and the harrowing story of her two-year-old twin brothers (Roy and James) who were carried out into the sound in a leaking galvanized tub. Some of our readers will remember Roy (1921-2007) telling that story at the Ocrafolk Opry.

I was born August 6th 1917 on Ocracoke Island, North Carolina, a small island off the Outer Banks. My mother was Mary Eliza [ne. Jackson] Parsons [1892-1963], a native of the island. My father, James Parsons [1891-1939], was from New Bern, NC, on the mainland. My mother’s father was William Andrew Jackson [1859-1916], also an island native. My grandmother, Polly Anna O’Neal, was from Scotland [other sources indicate Polly was an island native].

My [grand]parents had two [other daughters], Rosa and Sally, [and] three [sons], Wilson, George and Oscar. [Another son], Andrew, died as a baby.

My father’s mother was named Mary Helen Dixon, from Bridgeton, NC. My father’s father was James Everette Parsons. My father had a brother named Frederick, a sister Essie who died as a baby, [and] a sister Alice who died at thirteen.

My great-grandfather had a business making boat sails in New Bern, NC. My mother said that when she was a young girl a fortune teller that came [to the island] one time told her that she would marry a man from across the water, and she did.

My parents had three sets of twins. I had six brothers and four sisters, my oldest sister Essie Mae, then me, then William Thomas, James Raymond, Leroy McDonald [James and Leroy were twins], Mary Susan, Everette, Marion Madora, Herbert Bonner [Marion and Herbert were twins], Sally Belle, and George Lewis. [Another] set of boy twins was stillborn. The name McDonald came from our next-door neighbor [on the mainland?]. The last set of twins were born in Norfolk, VA. Marion Madora was the name of the nurse that came to the house to deliver the last set of twins. Herbert Bonner was my uncle’s name on my dad’s side. He lived in Morehead City at the time. I was four years old when the first set of twins were born.

Roy Parsons
Roy Parsons

[The 1950s photo above is of Helena’s brother, Roy, a popular entertainer at the Ocrafolk Opry until his death in 2007.]

At that time my dad was a tugboat engineer working in Norfolk, VA. We had a colored maid that summer that we called Aunt Fanny. I had two things happen to me that summer. I stuck a big splinter in my foot. A Mr.Harrison cut it out with his pocket knife and even to this day I have trouble with my foot. Sometimes it bothers me real bad. I believe there is still a piece of the splinter in my foot. My sister was six and I was four and our job was to do the dishes, so she washed them and I dried them and stood on a box to put them away. One day the box turned over and I fell and stuck a nail in me. Mom sat me in a pail of cold water [because] I was bleeding so bad. When my eldest brother was eighteen months old he fell out of the door and cut his tongue almost in half. The Dr. put four stitches in it.

The house we rented was an apartment house with an empty room upstairs. Essie and I played in there. I was up there one day when the door slammed shut and locked. I couldn’t get out so I climbed out the window but could not get down. I was afraid to jump. The outhouse was under the window but the roof was covered with old tarpaper torn from another roof with the nails sticking up. I began to cry. My mom saw me and was afraid that I would fall on all those nails before she could get to me. She told me to hold on. She got an axe and banged the door open and pulled me in. The beating that I got then I haven’t forgot to this day.

We moved back to Ocracoke. Mother had bought a two-story, six-room house with three acres of land, for three-hundred dollars while dad was away working. She let it be a surprise for him when he got home. He thought that was great. Dad got home for two weeks every six months. He made fifty dollars a week which was good money for them times[1].

After we moved back home the twins were born. We children had about two years difference in our ages. Mary Susan was next, then Everette. She was two and a half or almost three when she was taken sick and died. She was my dad’s favorite at that time. She was very close to him. He had just been home for his two weeks and had just left when she was taken sick. Mama sent for him but she died and was buried before he got home. We didn’t have telephones or transportation back then so it took two or three days to get home from Norfolk. He had to take a train from Norfolk to Morehead City, take a bus to Atlantic, then take the mailboat to Ocracoke. There was no undertaker so people sometimes had to be buried almost right away. She was very loving, bright, sensible, with long blonde hair, blue eyes. It was a sad time. My aunt Lillian and another woman sat up with her the night she died. My aunt said that she saw a real bright light (like a star) fall on the windowsill when she died. Soon after that we moved back to Norfolk as mama wanted to be with daddy all she could, and he wanted to be with her and us.

[My father] was very devoted to his family, a good kind person, that everyone thought well of. He never drank, cursed, or used dirty language. I never saw him angry with my mom or any of us children. Nights when he was home, she would play the accordion, he the harmonica, and we would sing. We enjoyed being together. The last twins were born that April, [when] I would be nine in August. We all had our jobs to do around the house. Everette was still in diapers when the two babies came along, we were washing baby clothes, cooking, and all.

My hands were so small that I couldn’t work up much dough at one time so I would make as many [biscuits] as I could twice each meal. When daddy got off the boat and came home and saw what a time we were having, he went and got a colored maid, but we still helped her out a lot. Me and my sister did all the washing. We started taking mama’s dresses, my dad’s long underwear, and food and things like that, so when dad got back the next time, he let he go. We got along much better without her. She was mean to us. She beat us, and would lock the smaller ones in an old dark closet and wouldn’t give us much to eat.

That coming September one of the twins, Marion Madora, died in her sleep one night. My dad was at home that time. Mom was so upset that she had her clothes on wrong side out. So, in a few days we were on our way back to Ocracoke to bury her in the family cemetery. That was the last time we ever went back to Norfolk to live after that. We soon had another sister, Sally Belle. It looked as if she would be the last one, for seven years went by. It seemed so good not to wash diapers and bottles every day, but here came another one, George Lewis.

The Depression years were creeping up on us. With nine children mom and dad had a rough time. The tugboats were tied up, so dad didn’t have any work. We couldn’t buy milk for the baby so he fared worse than the rest of us. We had to feed him anything we could get, but that didn’t work so well. He got sick and died at the age of six months. Somehow it seemed harder to give him up. We all had more time to love and enjoy him. He was so far between babies, as the rest came so close together. I remember that twice in our home we had three babies at one time in diapers and bottles. Mom took it so hard the day he was buried. My dad was not the only man with a large family that was out of a job. Finally, the W.P.A. came around so men were put to work digging ditches and planting oysters. So many things happened in my childhood that stays with me. I could write a lifetime and never get it all wrote down.

We two older girls caught the hardships and hard work. We had to stay right with the younger ones all the time and look after them. We lived right on the edge of the water, so we had to keep a sharp eye on the ones big enough to get into the water. We were allowed to play in the water. We had an old wash tub that we would put the twins in and ride them around in the water at low tide. The sandy banks and shoals were our attraction. We would dig holes [and] make sand castles. [The] twins [Roy and James] were about two or two and a half years old at that time. One day we had the twins in the wash tub pulled up along the shore and we had forgotten about the tide rising. I looked up and the tub had drifted way out. I tried to get to it but it was too far out. We screamed for mama and she came running. We were all screaming. She ran down to a place where the fishermen kept their boats. She saw one man mending his nets and told him. He got in his boat and went after them. They were way out in the channel by then, in deep water on the sound side where we lived. He got to them in time. The tub had a small leak in it and it was almost filled with water when he got there.

We saw a lot of bad things happen. One day a boat with four men in it was passing by. They had been to their nets when all of a sudden a big wave came up over the boat and sank it. Three of the men were drowned. One made it ashore.

We had lots of bad weather at times. Hurricanes, we called them storms in those days. We had no electricity, no T.V. or radio to give out the weather. The older people went by the stars, the clouds, the roar of the ocean. We had the sound on one side of us and the ocean on the other.

The Depression was a bad thing to go through, being so hungry we couldn’t sleep at the night, the smaller ones crying for something to eat, no energy to do anything. I remember three days went by with nothing to eat. I couldn’t stand it any longer. I wasn’t sorry for myself. I was sorry for the rest, mama mostly. One night as I lay in bed trying to think what to do the Lord showed me or told me what to do, and gave me the strength to do it. I got up early and got dressed, combed my hair and went down the road with a feeling that I had something within me more than just myself. I went to a lady’s house that I had helped her clean, and had did some washing for at one time. When I walked in they were all having breakfast, bacon, eggs, toast jelly and coffee. It looked so good. She was so pleased to see me. She said, “Oh how glad I am to see you this morning. Come on in and have breakfast with us this morning. It was so hard to get the words out, to say, “No thank you.” My heart was so filled with sorrow I couldn’t eat with all my loved ones home starving. I was so close to them. I loved them more than I loved myself. We were all that way when we were growing up. The lady said, “Honey, can you wash some clothes for me today?” I said, “Yes, that’s what I came for. I thought you might want someone to wash for you.” So I began to get out the old washboard [and]get the tubs in place [to] carry the water, bucket after bucket-full. Then [I] got a fire started under the old lard stand to heat the water to boil the clothes in.

Along about three o’clock in the evening I got through. She paid me my twenty-five cents and I headed straight to the store. For five cents I got five pounds of meal and for ten cents I got a pound of lard, and I still had ten cents left. I hurried on home. My dad made a fire in the cook stove while mama stirred up the meal into bread and fried the dough in the lard. We all sat down together and ate the fried cornbread, and it was better to us than cake is now. That night I slept because we all had bread that day and had all shared alike. I was happy in my soul.

The closest neighbors were an old man and an old lady. They were like grandparents to us. They loved us and we loved them. We would go to the store or do anything for them, and they the same for us. They had a lot of big fig trees, and in the summer they got us to pick figs for them. We were ready to do so as they paid us fifteen cents a day. We picked about two days a week. They sold them to the hotel, the Pamlico Inn, the only one on the island. It was on the south end of the island and we lived on the north end. They had a dance hall, but I had never seen anyone dance.

The old man and old lady, Mr  Alex and Miss Epherenia, had two sons, married and living in Philadelphia. They would come home during the summer around the fourth of July. One was Cal, and his wife, Ida. She was so jealous of him. He had strayed away from her and gone to the dance. Ida came and asked mama if I could walk with her and another lady, Mrs. Martha Frances, to the dance and make him come home before he got drunk. I was about fourteen then, and mama said that I could. Martha and I stood on the outside on the road. She then went up to where he was and told him to get home. I saw them dancing at a distance. It seems I could have watched them all night. It was such a pretty sight, but it was for them, not me. I knew that I would never be allowed to go in a place like that. I thought then that some day I would grow up and get married and go to a dance. They were just day dreams.

The most exciting thing here then were the hurricanes we called storms. The first one I remember, I was small but I don’t recall how old I was[2]. One day I saw my aunt Sue and uncle Mark coming up the road. I had never seen them come to our house before, and each one was carrying a bundle. Uncle Mark had a bag of sweet potatoes he had dug that day. They knew the storm was coming so they, knowing daddy was away, had come to be with us. Our house had the sound only a jump away from the back door, so that night mama put all us children in what we called the eastern bedroom. We lay all crossways in one bed. We had two double beds in that room. Mama had the other bed for aunt Sue and uncle Mark if they wanted to lie down. Mama never went to bed in bad weather. Many a time she would wake us young’uns up and go to a nearby house in a thunderstorm. She was frightened of a thunderstorm. Some time that night the storm struck. Mama, aunt Sue and uncle Mark had their rocking-chairs in the big hall next to our room. They had one kerosene lamp in there and one in the bedroom. When the hard flaws of wind shook the house the kerosene in the lamps would shake, the window panes would blow out, and mama would stuff a pillow in it. When the tide came up, we could hear the slabs of wood under the house bumping. We would get our wood from Washington on the freight boat. We would get a cord or a cord and half of slab pine for cook wood, and stack it under the house to keep it dry, but when the storms came the tide would wash it away.

We had bags of coal down on the shore side that we hadn’t gotten up to the house yet. They were gone too the next day. Sometime that night after the tide came up we heard somebody at the window banging away and calling, “Mama.” Uncle Mark went to the window and it was Mr. Charlie Garrish and his brother, Preston. They were in a boat and had come to see if we needed any help. To this day I cannot understand how they got there in a boat in a time like that, as dark as it was, facing the wind and rain, with no light to see the way, and the island covered with water. I don’t remember what year that storm was.

But I do remember the bad one in 1933[3]. I was sixteen years old then. That was the worst one that I have ever seen, before or since. I hope that we never have another one that bad. My dad was home at that time. My grandma and my uncle lived on Portsmouth Island, and in August I was staying with them for a few weeks. While there, we had a bad storm. We worked hard getting things done, the rugs up off the floor, and things the tide might ruin. That night it really got bad. The house shook. I was scared the house was going to turn over. Portsmouth Island is smaller than Ocracoke. My mind was on home. I wanted to be home so bad. So in about a week they took me home.

[Grandma and my uncle] would come over pretty often to get groceries. Mama did sewing for them sometimes. When things got tough they would come stay a few days with us. Mama would see the need they had, and would go out of her way many a time to help them. We had credit with the store and mama would get them a box of groceries to take back with them. They would go back happy.

In September it started getting clouds built up over the ocean, what the old folks called “double headers” that they kept an eye on during storm season. The ocean would roar day and night when a storm was making up. My uncle was afraid of those clouds and would never leave in his boat. Sometimes water spouts would form out of those clouds. He would never leave grandma alone. He always took her along.

When he came, he would leave Portsmouth early in the morning, so one evening almost or about sundown, the young ones came running in saying, “Mama, here comes grandma and uncle Fred.” She said, “I don’t believe it. It can’t be.” They said, “Yes, it is too.” Mama said to me, “Go and see.” So off I went to the shore and sure enough it was. I ran so fast to tell her it was them, so everyone went down to the shore to greet them. We were all wondering what was wrong, being they came so late, as bad as the weather looked, although it wasn’t raining or blowing, but the thickest black clouds all around the sky. We all got settled down. Mama, my sister, and I started fixing supper for them, and my uncle said, “Something is going to happen.” I know mama was so anxious to know what it was all about. Even before he got it told, he said that the night before he had a dream that something had told him to leave. It was a warning. All that day he tried to think it was only a bad dream, but something kept on telling him to leave the island. He was afraid also. The sky looked so bad he didn’t trust his old boat, but he cherished his mother so much, and wanting to protect her, he finally left, and a good thing, too, for that night the big storm hit. We had it bad. The windows blew out and we had to take the slats off the bed to nail across the door so it wouldn’t blow in.

The wind blew so many shingles off the roof that everything and us too were all wet. We had to hang a blanket over a chair and put a kerosene lantern under the blanket, leaving a little opening to see by. If the rain broke the lantern shade it would be a bad time to be without light. We were all in one room. The house had an “el” with two rooms, a kitchen and a bedroom that we couldn’t sleep in because the rainwater was about two inches deep in the bed. I was in a corner on top of a trunk, with bed quilts, trying to sleep. There were twelve of us all together, not knowing the best place to get. Daylight finally came and what a sight to see, and it was getting worse. The tide was coming in fast. My dad swam out to his boat and finally got it up to the house. He said we all better leave, as we were so close to the sound that we might get washed away. I thought that it would be a relief to see daylight after waiting through the long night, frightened that the next gust would blow the house down. The kitchen was already going. The blocks had washed out from under it. The chimney had blown down, [and] the floor was bowed like a rainbow. It was a bad time to even think about going out in. Grandma said she was going to stay. Everyone wasted no time getting into the boat when dad came with it. The tide was getting higher now. Grandma said, “No! I’m afraid to get wet. I’ll get sick,” so my dad got a bed quilt and put it around her and sat her in the boat. It was blowing and raining so hard we couldn’t hear each other talk.

Just a short distance from our house a big cedar tree blew down just as we got past it. It almost got us. We went over the marsh like nothing until we came to the trees. The boat got caught between two trees and was jammed. We couldn’t go either way for a while. When the trees would blow in the wind we could hear the boat crack. With the older ones helping, we finally got the boat out. We were going to Mrs. Sarah’s house further back in the woods. We went right over her fence and up on the porch, and the bow of the boat went right in her doorway. She was glad to see us. When we passed the Alligood’s house the windows were blown out and they were hanging halfway out of the windows waving for us to come and get them, so dad put us out and went and got them. Altogether there were twenty-two people there at Mrs. Sarah’s house to wait out the storm. All that day it was bad. The next day the storm was gone….but not forgotten for a long time afterwards.

 

*Annotated and slightly edited for clarity

 

[1] I did a little calculation. If a worker today makes 15 times $50/ week, or $750/week (about $39,000/year), the current equivalent cost of the house and acreage on Ocracoke would be $4,500 (15 x $300).  Not a bad investment!

[2] Likely, the storm of August 25, 1924. The highest reported winds were at Hatteras, where a maximum velocity of 74 mi/h was recorded. Ocracoke was partially inundated by the high water.

[3] The Hurricane of September 15-16, 1933. It struck the coast a little west of Hatteras about 8 a.m. on the 16th. Wind gauges on Hatteras were blown away. Winds in New Bern were estimated at 125 mi/h. High winds and waves piled up water in the Pamlico and Albemarle Sounds, causing several deaths on the coast, and left hundreds without food or shelter.

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