Sam Jones, Island Legend

A small cemetery, enclosed by an unpainted, cedar picket fence, lies in the middle of the Springer’s Point Nature Preserve on Ocracoke Island.

Ikey D was buried there in the 1960s. For years no tombstone marked the spot.

In September of 1977 another body was laid to rest beside Ikey D. His tombstone reads:

“Samuel G. Jones, July 31, 1893 – September 27, 1977, I shall pass this way but once. Any good therefore that I can do let me do it  now for I shall not pass this way again.”

His footstone reads:

“’SAM’ When Morning gilds the Skies I’ll Be Looking Home to You. In Loving Memory From Your Many Friends.”

By all accounts Sam was a colorful character. Born in Swan Quarter, the principal town in the county of Hyde, in coastal North Carolina, Sam was only thirteen years old when he quit school and left his hometown to seek his fortune.

Sam soon found his way to Norfolk, Virginia. There he secured work at Berkley Machine Works and Foundry. He was industrious, enterprising, creative, and endowed with a strong entrepreneurial spirit. In 1919, when he was just 26 years old, Sam purchased Berkley Machine Works. Shortly thereafter he invented a stoker for coal-fired steam locomotives, a product which proved to be in great demand. As a result he soon found himself a wealthy man.

In his mid-20s Sam married Mary Ruth Kelly, daughter of Neva May Howard and a Maryland mariner, Captain William Kelly. Neva May was the daughter of Captain George Gregory Howard of Ocracoke Island. Captain George, great-great-grandson of William Howard, Sr., colonial owner of Ocracoke, and a seafaring man (he owned several coastal schooners), lived in a large, two-story house on Howard Street.

In the early 1930s Sam established Sajo Farm, an 800 acre estate in Princess Anne County, Virginia. The original home was a log “cabin” with seven bedrooms and two bathrooms. Eventually he built a 22,000 square foot brick mansion with 30 rooms. It was situated on the shore of Lake Lawson, and housed his growing collection of antiques, paintings, Persian rugs, rare books, and custom-built furniture. He was especially fond of Victorian and Art Deco pieces.

In addition to his home, Sam had a state-of-the-art woodworking shop built on the estate. There he employed two of Norfolk’s best known furniture makers, Rosario Cicero and George Houmis, who constructed, among other items, impressive five-foot and six-foot diameter lazy-Susan tables of walnut and cherry.

Books and artwork comprised a significant portion of Sam’s collections. He was an ardent student of American history, and his extensive library housed a large collection of Abraham Lincoln memorabilia, as well as works related to America’s Founding Fathers. Numerous oil paintings by early 20th century artists adorned the walls. Sam has been described as “a voracious and eclectic collector.” “He bought some crazy stuff,” it was said, “but it was all really cool.”

Mary Ruth and Sam had five children, Samuel, Jr., William, Mary Ruth, Howard, and Charles.

According to Sam’s own account he had visited Ocracoke island “as a boy on the Fourth of July which was a big occasion,” and prided himself “as one of the old-timey square dancers.” After his marriage he began making regular visits to Ocracoke in the early 1930s and soon fell in love with the island and its people. He would often speak of the “easy-going solitude and unique flavor” of Ocracoke Island and the simple folk who lived there. Over the next several decades he would have a significant impact on the life and economy of this isolated barrier island and small village.

Sam Jones’ impact on Ocracoke is immortalized in a subtle verse of a local song, Paddy’s Holler, about a “party part” of town many years ago that was named after a taproom in Philadelphia.  Written by Ocracoke Island native, Walter Howard, and popularized by his banjo-picking brother, Edgar, the fourth verse goes like this:

“Now in the olden days nobody offered praise
For anybody livin’ up the holler
As the years rolled by, moved in on the sly
Now it’s Mrs. Jones of Paddy’s Holler.”

Mrs. Jones, of course, was Mary Ruth Jones, Sam’s first wife, whose Howard family property was on the edge of Paddy’s Holler.

In 1941 Sam purchased more than fifty acres of maritime forest at Springer’s Point on Pamlico Sound. This Point was the site of the earliest settlement on Ocracoke, and several dilapidated structures still stood, including an old house, a stable, a jail or storage shed, and a round brick well. Although Sam made use of some of the lumber for projects elsewhere in the village, he never developed the Point, preferring instead to allow the live oaks, cedars, and other vegetation to reclaim the area.

Sam acquired several more tracts of land on Ocracoke, some in the village, and at least one in what is now the National Seashore Park, where he built his Green Island Clubhouse for entertaining hunters and fishermen.

In about 1951 he commenced construction of the first of four large structures in the village, all of which reflected his unique architectural style… Colonial Revival combined with distinctive shingled towers and numerous dormers. One wag from Hatteras Island remarked that Sam Jones had “shingled Ocracoke.”

The Manor:

(Courtesy Ocracoke Library [Mike Riddick Collection].)

Berkley Manor, with more than twenty rooms, a dozen chimneys, many fireplaces, and a four-story tower, was constructed around the old Dezzie Fulcher home on the northeast shore of Silver Lake harbor. Walls and ceilings were finished in clear, hand-picked cypress. Quarter-sawn oak was laid down on the floors. Federal-style mantels, decorated, as was the ceiling trim, with dentil moldings, gave the Manor an air of quiet elegance. Outbuildings included smaller guest quarters (the Ranch House), stables for the several dozen horses he owned, storage sheds, a traditional privy, and buildings for boat storage.

Sam Jones’ Stables and Compound:

Courtesy Outer Banks History Center [Aycock Brown Collection])

In 1953 Sam became embroiled in a campaign to prevent the establishment of the National Seashore Park, realizing that his Green Island Club property would be subject to purchase by the US government. In testimony before a committee in Raleigh he stated that his clubhouse was worth $70,000. The Coastland Times, in March of that year, editorialized that “[i]f that is true, then Hyde County is losing a lot of taxes that Mr. Jones ought to pay, for the total property valuation on Ocracoke Island last year, which included everybody’s property, amounted to only $124,371…. Mr. Jones’ new home, now being built in the village outside the park boundaries, will cost another $70,000. So his properties are worth more than the whole of Ocracoke Island on the Hyde County tax books.”

Sam Jones lost his battle with the National Park Service, and Green Island is now part of the Seashore Park.

Sam became passionate about more mundane issues also. It was said that around 1948 he was known for a “vigorous and colorful campaign against daylight savings time,” another battle that he lost.

Sam’s interest in art also led him into battles (literally). According to an article in the October, 2010 issue of “Virginia Living”  Sam’s patronage of the famous American portrait artist, Alphaeus Phelemon Cole (1876-1988), resulted in a CBS TV national interview with Cole. When the interviewer asked Cole about affairs he may have had with his models Sam Jones became incensed and “emerged from backstage brandishing a broom and began swating the interviewer and the production crew. The interview was unceremoniously aborted.”

By the mid-1950s construction had begun on the second of Sam’s palatial residences, Berkley Castle, halfway around the harbor. As with Berkley Manor, the Castle was built entirely by island carpenters according to the same style. There is no evidence that Sam ever employed the services of an architect. Nor did he have blueprints. More often than not he would simply stand on the property with his work crew and tell them what he wanted. Sometimes he would make sketches on the back of an envelope, or draw designs in the sand.

The Castle:

(Courtesy Ocracoke Library [Mike Riddick Collection].)

Stories are told about how he told his carpenters, one morning, where to put the windows…then had them move them the next day…only to direct them to put them back in the original location the following day. Perhaps as a result of this daily, short-term vision Sam’s Ocracoke buildings are often quirky and unconventional. Rooms were originally arranged in a somewhat haphazard way, frequently with few hallways. As a result it is sometimes necessary to walk through one room to get to another.

In the Manor the dining room was reached only by traversing the huge kitchen fitted out with several large commercial gas ovens. Dormers in some rooms in the Castle are positioned directly across from other dormers, separated by only a few feet. Stair steps in all of his buildings have very short risers, exactly the arrangement that for Sam was most comfortable. Although his buildings appear symmetrical at first glance, a closer look reveals subtle idiosyncrasies. For example, the gable ends and roof lines on the left and right wings of the Castle are remarkably different.

After completion of the first stage of construction, the Castle became Sam’s guest house, while the Manor was used mostly for storage.  When he brought friends, clients, business partners, employees, and politicians to Ocracoke for hunting and fishing trips he would nearly always lodge them in the Castle. These trips often included lavish parties with music provided by local performers. It was not uncommon for Sam to require women to wear ankle-length colonial-style dresses which he personally selected from his well-stocked closets. At times he would even bring professional square dancers down from Virginia to entertain his guests in the 18’ X 60’ ballroom designed expressly for that purpose. During daylight hours 15-20 people could sometimes be seen playing croquet on the well-kept lawn in front of the Castle.


Party at the Castle (Sam Jones standing):

Courtesy Ocracoke Library [Mike Riddick Collection])

Sam’s wife, Mary Ruth, died in 1956. A year later he married Ursula Brandt, a native of Bremerhaven, Germany.  They had two children, Selby (born 1959) and Carolyn (born 1960).

On November 4, 1958 Sam Jones was indicted on charges that he had evaded more than $275,000.00 in federal income taxes. He was accused of falsifying income figures on individual and corporate tax returns for the years 1952, 1953, and 1954.

A ten day trial was held in US District Court in May of 1959. Jones’ defense was that his holdings on Ocracoke were not used for personal pleasure, and were therefore tax deductible. He claimed that they were used to entertain prospective customers in lieu of national advertising. Nevertheless, Sam Jones was convicted of tax evasion. He was fined $30,000 and sentenced to five years in the federal penitentiary in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania.

The presiding judge ordered a study to be made of Jones because of his “unusual conduct” during the trial. Sam was described as “outspoken,” and frequently cited for contempt. The study was to focus on Sam Jones’ background, abilities, and mental and physical health.

In the midst of Sam’s troubles with the IRS he was engaged in a feud with Ocracoke native, Stanley Wahab, an adjacent Ocracoke property owner who had constructed a dock on Silver Lake with a “T” on the end. Sam then built a dock extending from their adjoining property line, past the “T.” In the process he hemmed in Wahab’s small boat, preventing him from getting out or in, except by hauling the boat over land. As a result Wahab filed a $10,000.00 damage suit ($7,500 actual damages, and $2,500 punitive damages), which was settled in his favor. Sam Jones’ dock was dismantled.

Meanwhile Jones had filed an appeal with the United States Supreme Court regarding his conviction for income tax evasion, but on March 20, 1960 the court refused to hear his case.

In August of 1960 Sam was granted a conference with his trial judge, the Honorable Walter E. Hoffman. Dr. Edward H. Jones (no relation), pastor of First Presbyterian Church, was there, and he described Sam as a man of “integrity, honor, and morality.” Sam reiterated that he had “not taken advantage of anyone.” He recounted his boyhood years growing up on a farm in eastern North Carolina, his years of labor, and his many philanthropies.

Judge Hoffman stated that he believed that Mr. Jones did not think he did anything wrong by charging off numerous personal expenses as business costs. He was “puzzled,” he said, because what Jones had done was “obviously wrong.”

“Frankly, Mr. Jones,” Hoffman said, “I don’t know what to do with your case.” He refused to grant probation or suspend the sentence, and Sam Jones surrendered to the US Marshall days later to begin serving his time.

At some point his sentenced was reduced, although he served more than six months before he was released from prison.  Maggie Brydges, in her “Virgina Living” article quotes Sam after his release: “They didn’t know anything about running a prison up there. They should have let me take a crack at it.”

Sam soon returned to Ocracoke and began more building projects.

Eventually Sam constructed two additional structures, a large home in the style of the Manor and the Castle, on the west side of Silver Lake that he dubbed the Homeplace (this is where he and his family stayed when on the island), and the Whittlers’ Club (a smaller building designed with local bird carvers in mind). He envisioned them gathering on the three open porches where they could swap stories and whittle decoys and small birds for the tourist trade. A few years later he installed floor looms inside, thinking island women would learn to weave (Ursula was an accomplished weaver), thereby providing additional income for their families. This never happened.

Whittler’s Club Membership Card (front & back):

(Courtesy Ocracoke Preservation Society [James Barrie Gaskill Collection])

Sam continued to add on to his island buildings, especially the Castle, for the next two decades. Eventually the building encompassed 12,500 square feet. The story is told of the time Sam gave instructions for an addition he wanted, and promptly left the island for a week. When he returned he discovered that most of the men had remained on the job, performing admirably, but a few less responsible workers had gone off and gotten drunk. He paid his best carpenters their regular wages. The scofflaws were paid time and a half!

Sam Jones had a mercurial personality. He might not be seen on Ocracoke for months. Then, suddenly, he’d call Fowler O’Neal at 2 o’clock in the morning and tell him his pilot would be flying him down to the island so Fowler could cut his hair. For days or weeks Sam would then become a commanding presence on Ocracoke, visiting friends, planning events, and suggesting civic improvements.

Sam was an early promoter of a paved airstrip on Ocracoke Island. With the help of Albert W. Cowper, Resident Superior Court Judge of Lenoir County, and an avid sailor who frequently visited Ocracoke, Sam made contact with Kinston attorney, Thomas J. White, chairman of the NC Advisory Budget Commission and chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.  White, incidentally, was an avid fisherman and hunter who loved Ocracoke Island and the Outer Banks.

As the result of considerable lobbying by Judge Cowper, Mr. Jones, and others, appropriation for the 3000 foot paved airstrip was approved, and it was built in the early 1960s.

In 1964, Sam Jones, newly enthusiastic about easier air travel to the island, commissioned a sign to be placed at the airport.  It read, “White-Cowper Airport.”

Sam is reported to have remarked, “I named the Ocracoke airstrip ‘White-Cowper Airport’ because Senator Tom White got the money appropriated, and I named it for Judge Albert Cowper for getting Tom White to do it.”

One Thursday evening in the 1970s Sam arrived on the island unexpectedly and hurried over to the Methodist church. He marched down the aisle while the choir was practicing, accompanied by several employees from his company. Each man carried several white boxes. Sam picked up the boxes, one by one, and presented them to the ladies of the choir and the organist. Inside were dresses of the finest quality, each one especially picked out by Sam for specific ladies.

In addition to having an eccentric streak, and sometimes a fiery temper, Sam Jones was incredibly generous. As well as providing employment for many islanders as carpenters, cooks, cleaners, gardeners, and maintenance men, he donated the first ambulance and fire engine to the island in the mid-1960s. He also gave money to support the country’s only mounted Boy Scout Troop, Ocracoke Troop 290.

It was said that Sam would never give money to anyone who asked, but it was not unusual for him to spontaneously pay a widow’s grocery bill at the Community Store, or finance the inoculation of the wild ponies. An attender at both the Methodist and Assembly of God churches, he donated money regularly, purchased new carpets, and replaced both organs.

In many ways Sam could be manipulative, as well as eccentric. By offering sometimes excessive fees to islanders for routine favors (e.g. $50.00 for saying grace before a meal) he acted as if he were then entitled to more subservience. He frequently gave money away, but he seldom did it anonymously.

Sam was known to insist that all of his off-island guests accompany him to church on Sunday mornings. They would typically arrive as a group just as the service was starting, and, with some fanfare, Sam would direct them to sit in the pews at the very front of the church. As the congregation was singing the opening hymn Sam would stand up, pull out his wallet and pass a few dollars to each of his quests to deposit in the offering plate.

On one memorable Sunday morning Sam was visibly distracted and seemed not to be paying much attention to the liturgy. During the sermon he fidgeted and squirmed. About ten minutes into the homily Sam stood up abruptly and addressed the preacher, Rev. Jimmy Creech. Jimmy had no choice but to stop and acknowledge Sam, who then proceeded to compliment Jimmy on the wonderful job he was doing as pastor of the Ocracoke Methodist Church. Jimmy politely thanked Sam for his kind words, and Sam sat back in his seat as Jimmy picked up the thread of his sermon.

Jimmy frequently organized local get-togethers with island musicians at the church recreation hall.  On hearing word of one such event Sam offered a room in the Castle that included a small stage. He wanted his guests to enjoy the local talent. Jimmy, who never compromised his integrity for a handout from Sam, explained that this was a church event, and he would accept Sam’s gracious offer on the condition that he not interfere.

Sam agreed, but remaining in the background was not Sam’s style. During one of the livelier songs Sam removed his hat and strolled among the crowd soliciting donations. He reached into his own wallet if any of the guests were unable or unwilling to contribute. With a flourish he placed the hat at the feet of the musicians. At the end of the evening Sam picked up the hat, but with no intention of distributing the money among the entertainers. He presented it to the preacher for the church.

In addition to Sam’s trademark, light grey, broad brimmed planter’s hat, he routinely wore imported, white shirts pleated down the front, with band collars. At times he embellished his shirt with a bow tie; at other times he wore a simple black ribbon of cloth crossed beneath the collar. A lanyard typically hung about his neck, the end tucked neatly into his breast pocket. No one can remember what it was attached to (perhaps eyeglasses or a wallet). It was said that he ordered his shirts in quantities, and seldom altered his sartorial choices.

Parties at the Castle were wholesome, but lively, affairs. Smoking was absolutely forbidden, and drinking, though tolerated, was discouraged. Invitations were typically sent on his Berkley Machine Works 8 ½” X 11” stationery. Only a tiny white space was available for correspondence. Over the years Sam produced several different versions of his stationery. Some had as much as a 4 ½” X 4 ½” block for writing; others as little as 4 ½” X 2.” Surrounding that was a catalogue of Sam’s favorite sayings and quotations (in several different fonts) including a paragraph promoting the 1610 “Ham House” in Surry, England, Abraham Lincoln’s 1861 Message to Congress, and quotations by Ben Franklin, Epictetus, and others. Several quotes by Sam Jones himself (e.g. “Everything comes to him who hustles while he waits.”) adorned the margins.

Sam’s “Landlord’s Invitation” was displayed prominently at the top center of the paper: “Here’s to Pa’ nds PenDas’ OCI alh OURin ha! RMLes, Smirt ha ND Fun le TFRIE nd’s HIPRE ign B eju ST an DKIN –dan Devils PEAK of N’ one.”

Sam Jones’ Stationery (front):

The back side of the stationery was almost completely covered by Sam’s eclectic history of Ocracoke Island, including a geography lesson, the story of Blackbeard, the legend of the Lost Colony, and personal anecdotes.  Interestingly, different “editions” recounted different stories. In one he praised Mildred’s clam chowder and apple pie, then remembered his “friend Homer Howard’s singing – Sister Susie’s sewing shirts for soldiers, such saucy soft short shirts for soldiers Sister Susie sews. Some soldiers send epistle, say they’d sooner sleep in thistle than the saucy soft short shirts for soldiers Sister Susie sews.”

Sam’s history ended with these words: “Ocracoke remains in its primitive state; it clings to its easy-going solitude. It is different. Ocracokers don’t object to some modernization but they aim for their island to retain its unique flavor. They glory in doing things the old, hard way. They are friendly, unhurried, and welcome visitors to the island. By – Sam Jones”

Below the history was Sam’s short essay on “Being Thankful” that attributed his success to his mother, his father, and his Maker. For Sam, faith and hard work were always two sides of the same coin.

Sam Jones’ Stationery (back):

Sam had his Landlord’s Invitation, as well as his admonition against smoking (“Please Do Not Smoke. Smoke Destroys the Flavor of our Good Food”), both attributed to him, cast in bronze, and hung on the wall in the Castle.

During dinner Sam was frequently moving about, helping his servers and making sure his guests were happy and satisfied.  It was not unusual for him to walk around the table and sample food from guests’ plates.

For years he had occasionally brought his favorite horse, Ikey D, into the parlor to stand around the organ and enjoy sing-alongs with his family and friends. Needless to say, Sam’s wives were less than enthusiastic about this arrangement.

Sam, Ikey D, and Friends in the Parlor:

(courtesy Outer Banks History Center [Aycock Brown Collection]

Sam Jones died in September of 1977, after suffering complications from an automobile accident. He was 84 years old. As he had wished, he was laid to rest at Springer’s Point, beside Ikey D. Family and friends gathered to bid him adieu, just as they had gathered years before when Sam made arrangements with the local Assembly of God preacher to conduct a funeral service for Ikey D.

Sam Jones with Ikey D at the Manor House:

(Courtesy Outer Banks History Center [Aycock Brown Collection] to view larger image.)

Today a statue of a horse, reared up on its back legs, marks the horse’s grave. On a concrete disc in the shape of a hoof print at the foot of the grave someone has inscribed “In Memory of Ikey D.”

After Sam’s death most of his furnishings were sold off, and are now scattered around Ocracoke and beyond. This article is being written on one of the lazy-Susan tables that once graced the Castle. One of his many Persian rugs lies nearby.

Sam’s Ocracoke real estate lay vacant for nearly twenty years.

Today the Manor, which had been converted to an elegant bed & breakfast some years ago, is owned by a developer who appears to have fallen on hard times. The estate is overgrown with weeds, and the building shows significant signs of neglect*.

The Castle, on the other hand, is in the hands of capable and committed owners, and is enjoying its rebirth as an outstanding bed & breakfast.

The Whittlers’ Club has been a private residence for some time, and continues to be well maintained.

Springers’ Point was sold out of the family after Sam died. After changing hands several times, the Point was finally purchased by the North Carolina Coastal Land Trust and is now a public nature preserve. The Land Trust maintains the graveyard where Ikey D. and Samuel G. Jones are buried.

* 2020 update: The Manor has been rehabilitated and repaired since this article was first published.