My German-speaking maternal grandfather, Joszef Guth, immigrated to the United States from Hungary in 1912. He was 21 years old and had trained as a butcher in his native land. When the captain of the wooden ship on which he was traveling learned of my grandfather’s trade the captain offered him employment on the voyage. As grandpop always told it, “der butcher var drunk; he don’t showed up!”

In New York City grandpop was reunited with his childhood sweetheart Julianna Pohlmueller who had arrived the year before. After they married they traveled to Allentown, Pennsylvania, where Joszef’s fellow-apprentice Louie Laszlo had recently settled. It was there that grandpop established his first business. In addition to maintaining a retail butcher shop, grandpop (now known as Joseph Guth) made home deliveries from his horse-drawn wagon.

Joseph Guth, Butcher
Joseph Guth, Butcher

Joseph and Julianna eventually had three children, Joseph, Jr., Helena, and Kunigunde, my mother.

By the time my mother was old enough to help in the family business grandpop routinely sent her out into the immediate neighborhood to deliver cuts of meat to customers. On one memorable occasion my mother was dispatched to a wealthy neighbor who invited her into her home. When my mother stepped onto the thick and richly colored oriental rug she was enthralled. She had never seen such luxury and beauty. Right then she decided that one day she would own such a rug.

Eventually my grandparents moved to Philadelphia. It was there, when my mother was nineteen years old, that she met and married my father, Lawton Howard, a native of Ocracoke Island. He had left home when he was just sixteen years old, and, like so many of his island peers, secured a job with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, working on dredges and tugboats on the Delaware River.

After my dad’s retirement in 1966 my parents moved back to Ocracoke where they immersed themselves in the community and enjoyed fishing from my dad’s hand-built wooden skiff. Around 1977 my dad purchased a new outboard motor for his boat.

In that same year Sam Jones, wealthy entrepreneur and businessman, died. Sam, a native of Swan Quarter, North Carolina, had married Mary Ruth Kelly, daughter of Capt. George Gregory Howard of Ocracoke Island. Sam was the owner of Berkley Machine Works in Norfolk, Virginia. On the shore of Lake Lawson, Virginia Beach, he built a 14,500 sq’ 30-room brick mansion, which housed much of his art collection, including paintings, Victorian antiques, Art Deco furnishings, Persian rugs, rare books, and custom-built furniture. Sam also built several large structures on Ocracoke, including the present-day Castle Bed and Breakfast and Berkley Manor. These were furnished with valuable antiques and numerous Persian rugs.

After Sam’s death his family offered many of his island furnishings for sale. Interested buyers were invited to tour Berkley Castle to view the items. When my mother learned that Persian rugs were for sale she immediately decided she wanted to see them. After all, she thought, her husband had just bought an expensive outboard motor; maybe she would splurge and get a Persian rug. When she arrived at the Castle in her signature cotton house dress (with two large patch pockets) Sam’s son-in-law dutifully led her from room to room to peruse the rugs although he was convinced she was an extremely unlikely buyer. At the end of the tour my mother asked to return to one of the upper rooms. She pointed to the 10’ X 12’ “Hunting Scene Rug” there, and inquired, “How much is that one?” On being told the price was $1,000 she reached into her pocket, retrieved $500 cash, handed it to Sam’s son-in-law, and announced that she would be back momentarily with the remainder of the money.

The hunting scene rug design is an ancient weaving style originally produced for royalty and nobility. It is no ordinary rug, but an exquisite piece of art that tells a story. For several years the rug graced my parents’ modest island living room, but, because my mother found the fringes difficult to keep straight and tidy, she eventually gifted it to me. When I restored my grandparents’ 150-year-old, 1,100 sq’ Ocracoke cottage I placed the rug in my living room.

On Friday morning, September 6, 2019, as Hurricane Dorian was churning the waters of the Atlantic Ocean off our coast and whipping up winds near 100 mph, a neighbor sent me a text: “The tide is coming up in our yard!” I opened my front door and looked down the lane directly across from my house. In a matter of minutes tidewater came rushing down the lane. It looked like a small river. Almost as quickly, rushing water came from the right and the left. As water rose ever higher on my fence I sensed the coming catastrophe. When the tide breached the top points of my picket fence I knew it would be only a matter of seconds. Water cascaded onto my porch. I shut the door and used towels to help keep the tide from pouring under the door. It didn’t help. Water flowed into my first floor and bubbled up between the old floor boards

I stepped back onto the Persian rug. It was floating.

The tidewater receded almost as quickly as it came in. But the damage was done. Insulation under my floors and in my walls was soaking wet. Several of my electric outlets were submerged. My washer, dryer, and refrigerator were destroyed.

I looked at my Persian rug, wondering if it could ever be salvaged. It was saturated with sea water, and it began to smell after just a couple of days. But it was too heavy to carry out of the house. Even four strong men were unable to lift it. After several days I developed a plan. We were able to fold the rug into a manageable size, about 32” wide. I tied it up and cinched a sturdy strap around the bundle. To that I tied a strong length of rope which I attached to my pickup truck which was in the lane directly across from my front door. With a little bit of amateur engineering skill we were able to pull the rug onto the porch and manipulate it over the railing so it could dry out.

That is where the rug stayed for about a week. My living room floor now had a chance to dry out, but I still despaired about saving the rug. How could I rinse it, clean it, and dry it? I didn’t have the space, the equipment, or the expertise to clean and restore this beautiful Persian rug. And I didn’t have any way to transport the rug to a professional cleaner. I didn’t even know where I could take it, and Ocracoke is almost three hours by ferry just to the mainland. Besides, both of my vehicles had been flooded.

That’s when Heather and Hilman Hicks, and their daughter Abby, showed up. They are frequent visitors to Ocracoke. They love island history, have participated in our Ghost and History Walking Tours of the village, and have purchased several items from our craft gallery, Village Craftsmen. They were on the island as volunteers with the faith-based group Samaritan’s Purse. When they saw and heard the story of the Persian rug…its rarity, its beauty, its provenance…they decided they had to help.

With the assistance of Samaritan’s Purse volunteer, Curt Wall, and other helpers, Heather and Hilman were able to wrestle the now almost dry rug off the porch, and into the bed of their waiting pickup truck. From there it was transported to the ferry line where an islander in another pickup agreed to take it onto the boat. In Swan Quarter, where Curt had left his vehicle, the Persian rug was transferred to his pickup truck for the ride to Pettyjohn’s Professional Rug Care in Wake Forest, North Carolina.

Below are several photos of the rug-cleaning process:

Not quite two weeks later Heather and Hilman (above) brought the rug back…dryer, cleaner, brighter, and lighter than it had been in decades.

Hunting Scene Persian Rug
Hunting Scene Persian Rug

According to Katie Pettyjohn Reuther, the rug “lost [about] 90 pounds (of sand and shells) while it was on vacation!” Petyjohn’s workers said they had never seen a rug with fragments of oyster shells embedded in the fabric.

Heartfelt thanks are in order to Heather and Hilman Hicks, Curt Wall, all of the other volunteers with Samaritan’s Purse, and the fine folks at Pettyjohn’s for their skill and professional handling of my hunting scene Persian rug which once again graces my living room floor.

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Long before the electrification of villages on the Outer Banks, islanders built small screened “houses” that they mounted on posts in their yards. Called cool houses, milk houses, or screen houses, they were designed to protect food from spoiling, for at least a day or two. Although pie safes, root cellars, and spring houses served the same purpose in other communities, the small, elevated and screened outdoor “cool house” seems to be unique to coastal North Carolina.

In 1925, Ocracoke native and respected hunting and fishing guide, Mr. Stacy Wilson Howard (1885-1968), built a cool house which he installed in his yard on Howard Street.

Stacy Howard
Stacy Wilson Howard

Some years later it was rebuilt by Stacy’s son-in-law, Guthrie Jolliff. It fell into disrepair in the 1970s and lay neglected for a number of years.

Mr. Stacy's Cool House, 2018
Mr. Stacy’s Cool House, 2018

After Mr. Stacy’s daughter, Blanche Howard Jolliff (b. 1919), died in 2018 Philip Howard acquired the cool house and repaired it.

In conversation with Ms. Blanche in 2014 she described the cool house this way: “If you’re going to kill you a chicken on Saturday, you put them in this box to keep them cool till Sunday. It was to keep food cool so it couldn’t spoil. Mama used to keep her salt pork in it on the bottom shelf. A lot of people had them. They made them themselves.” Fish, vegetables, fruits and pies are among several other items typically stored in a cool house.

A sign on nearby Portsmouth Island describes the preserved cool house pictured below as a Portsmouth “refrigerator.” “A cool breeze and the protection from the sun of this ‘house’ were relied on to keep perishable items fresh.”

Portsmouth Island Cool House
Portsmouth Island Cool House

In 2019 Philip Howard repaired Mr. Stacy’s cool house.

Repairing the Cool House
Repairing the Cool House

Today the Cool House has been repurposed as a Little Free Library. The Cool House/Free Library is located in the front yard of Village Craftsmen, Ocracoke Island’s award-winning craft gallery on historic Howard Street, not far from Mr. Stacy’s homeplace.

Mr. Stacy's Cool House/Library
Mr. Stacy’s Cool House/Library

Screens cover the windows and door of the cool house, as they did originally, which were designed to keep flies and other critters from getting to the food. Additional glass panes have now been installed to protect the books from inclement weather. Otherwise, no changes have been made to the design of the cool house.

Mr. Stacy’s Cool House is a public book exchange. Stop by anytime to take a book to read or to leave one for someone else to find.

We like to think that Mr. Stacy, who was an avid reader, would be pleased to see his cool house used today to promote reading.

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As early as 1785 records indicate that Ocracoke residents were concerned with education. On August 20 of that year the estate of Jobe Wahab made a payment of 4 pounds, 16 shillings to Henry Garrish* for “gradeschooling” his son, Thomas Wahab. Henry Garrish, who likely hailed from New England, had served as a private in the American Revolution.

On October 15, 1787, two years after arriving on Ocracoke, Henry Garrish married Elizabeth Howard, granddaughter of William Howard, Sr., colonial owner of Ocracoke Island. In March of 1788 Elizabeth’s father, William Howard, Jr., deeded 50 acres of land to his son-in-law. In 1790 Henry Garrish joined with four other men to deed one acre of their land for the purpose of erecting a lighthouse, although the beacon was eventually built elsewhere.

Henry and Elizabeth’s second child, James C. Garrish (ca. 1789 – 1833), was the father of Simon Garrish, Sr. (1834 – ca. 1870), and the grandfather of Simon Garrish, Jr. (1865 – 1935) who married Sarah Emeline Howard (“Ma Sade”).  In about 1888 Simon Jr. and Ma Sade built their home on a portion of the William Howard, Jr., tract on Howard Street. The house, which today is owned by Bob and Kathy Phillips, is currently known as “Miss Elsie’s.”** It was constructed from timbers salvaged from a shipwreck, and brought from the beach by horse and cart. The brick in the chimney was originally ballast on a cargo ship that had been “lightered” on nearby Shell Castle island.

Simon Jr. served as a surfman in the United States Life-Saving Service.

Simon’s son, Myron Arrington Garrish (1888 – 1929), enlisted in the US Navy as a young man. In 1910 he was serving as a “coal passer” on the USS West Virginia, a 503-foot-long Pennsylvania-class battleship with 41 officers and 850 men.

USS West Virginia

Myron later entered the Merchant Marine service as a steam vessel pilot with Wilson Steam Line in Wilmington, Delaware. Wilson Steam Line offered excursion trips across the Delaware River between Wilmington and Philadelphia. He eventually attained the rank of captain. In 1915 he married Agnes Scott (b. 1898), a Georgia native whom he met on Ocracoke. We don’t know the details, but on June 5, 1917, Myron claimed exemption from the draft due to “physical disability.” In 1919 Myron’s wife, Agnes Scott, died in Galveston, Texas, where Myron may have been working with the US Army Corps of Engineers.

By 1920 Myron had remarried, and was living in Norfolk, Virginia. His occupation on the census was listed as “seaman.” In about 1929 he had a modest bungalow built next to his family home on Ocracoke. The small cottage was built from lumber salvaged from the George W. Truitt, Jr., a four-masted schooner that came ashore in 1928. Capt. Myron Garrish died from tuberculosis in 1929, soon after his house was completed. His widow, Nora Casey, later married Ocracoke native, Thurston Gaskill. Bob and Kathy Phillips purchased the Myron Garrish cottage in 2017.

We are not sure when Myron Garrish met Agnes Scott, but we know that sometime around the turn of the twentieth century members of her prominent Georgia family discovered Ocracoke Island.

In 1870, Agnes Scott’s grandfather, Alfred McIIvaine Scott (1839-1876), and her granduncle, Col. George Washington Scott (1829-1903), both Pennsylvania natives, settled in Savannah, Georgia, after serving in the Confederate Army and later pursuing various business ventures in Georgia, Alabama, and Florida. Although the Scotts made and lost a fortune in cotton, G. W.’s businesses eventually flourished.

In 1889, concerned for the education of young women, Col. Scott offered a resolution among members of his church to “establish at once a school of high character.” Thus, the Decatur Female Seminary was opened in September of that year. The following year Col. Scott donated $40,000 “to provide a home for our school.” The school’s charter was amended and the name of the school was changed from Decatur Female Seminary to Agnes Scott Institute (later, Agnes Scott College), in honor of the donor’s mother, Agnes Irvine Scott.

Agnes Irvine Scott was born June 5, 1799 in Ballykeel, County Down, Ireland, to devout Presbyterians. When she was seventeen years old Agnes and her sister Susanna sailed to America with their mother fleeing famine and poverty as the result of massive crop failures in Ireland. They arrived in Alexandria, Pennsylvania, where relatives had previously settled. There Agnes Irvine met and married John Scott, Sr., a tanner and shoemaker who served as a major in the War of 1812, was a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives from 1819-1820, and served as a member of the 21st US Congress from 1829-1831. They had seven children.

Agnes Irvine Scott’s son, Alfred, died of yellow fever in 1876. After the death of her husband, Clare Maria Scott (b. 1846 in Cumberland, Pennsylvania – d. 1926), relocated to Wake County, North Carolina. She brought her one surviving son, Ralph Bucher Scott (1868-1929) and one daughter, Carrie Irvine Scott (b. 1870).

Ralph and Carrie discovered Ocracoke Island in the early twentieth century. In 1913 Carrie Scott purchased thirteen acres of sound front land on which she built a summer cottage. Over the next several decades various members of the family ventured to the island. Ralph Bucher Scott (“Mr. Scott” to islanders) and his wife, Jennie Law Mallard, had seven children, Jennie, Billie, Clare, Agnes, Elizabeth, Carol Louise (‘Weeza”) and Allie (“Teenie”).

Ralph and Jennie’s daughters, Agnes (b. 1898) and Allie, who hailed from Kirkwood, Georgia, “an area of beautiful suburban villas” on the east side of Atlanta, were particularly smitten with the island. Agnes also fell in love with Capt. Myron Garrish. They were married in 1915. Agnes and Capt. Garrish had one son, Irvine Scott Garrish, who was born in 1916.

Tragically, Agnes Irvine Scott Garrish died in Galveston, Texas, in 1919 while her husband was working there. She was just twenty-one years old. Her body was brought back to Ocracoke and she was laid to rest in the Garrish family graveyard along Howard Street.

Agnes Scott
Wife of Capt. M. A. Garrish
Born May 8, 1898
At Kirkwood, Ga.
Died Aug. 30, 1919
At Galveston, Tex.
Closed are thy sweet eyes
from this world of pain.
But we trust in God
To meet thee again.

Capt. Myron Garrish died in 1929.

Capt. M. A. Garrish
Nov. 12, 1888
June 14, 1929

Irvine (often spelled Irvin) Scott Garrish, Myron and Agnes’s only child, grew up on Ocracoke with his grandparents, but moved to Philadelphia as a young man. He worked with the US Army Corps of Engineers, then returned home to serve as one of the first captains of North Carolina’s sound class ferries. He was later elected as Ocracoke’s first County Commissioner. NC Highway 12 (Irvin Garrish Highway) is named for him. He died in 1997.

Today, at least nine direct descendants of Myron A. Garrish and Agnes Scott (great-granddaughter of Irish-born Agnes Irvine Scott, namesake of Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia), call Ocracoke home. Several others visit the island frequently and/or own property on the island.

 

Henry Garrish (ca. 1760-ca. 1796)
/
James C. Garrish (ca. 1789-1833)
/
Simon Garrish, Sr. (1834- ca. 1870)
/
Simon Garrish, Jr. (1865-1935, m. Sarah Emeline Howard)
/
Myron A. Garrish (1888-1929, m. Agnes Scott [1], Nora Casey [2])
/
Irvine (Irvin) Scott Garrish (1916-1997, m. Elsie Dean Balance)

 

*The Garrish surname is of early medieval English origin, and is one of a large group of early surnames that were created from the habitual use of a nickname. Garrish was the nickname used originally of someone who was considered to be wayward, wild, or capricious. It is derived from the Middle English word “gerysshe,” meaning fickle, changeable, or wayward, and is a derivative of “gere,” meaning “fit of passion.” The name is thought to be ultimately of Scandinavian derivation (see https://www.surnamedb.com/Surname/Garrish).

** Elsie Ballance married Irvine Scott Garrish. They lived in the house built by Irvine’s grandparents, Simon Garrish, Jr., and Sarah Emeline Howard Garrish (Ma Sade).

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