A few days ago a neighbor asked me why older islanders refer to the one-lane unpaved road between NC Highway 12 (Irvin Garrish Highway) and the School Road as “East Howard Street.” “Why not just ‘Howard Street’…….and where is West Howard Street,” she wondered.
The historic name for this picturesque lane shaded by ancient live oaks and bordered by Howard family cemeteries is indeed, East Howard Street. There is no West Howard Street.
Prior to 1835 island homes and businesses were concentrated on the southern side of Cockle Creek (now called Silver Lake). Early in its development a public road had been laid out on that side of the village, starting at the original sound-side settlement of Pilot Town at “Williams’ Point” (now, Springer’s Point), past the lighthouse (built in 1823), and including present-day School Road, then continuing north towards Hatteras Inlet. This was the only public road on the island.
According to a legal petition of 1835 this public road “served the purpose of all the inhabitants since [its establishment], however the population of Ocracoke have greatly increased,” and the petitioners were requesting permission to lay out a one-lane public thoroughfare on the north side of Cockle Creek from “just North of Thomas Bragg’s House” (near the School Road) to “John Pike’s garden” (in the vicinity of the Preservation museum), and then all the way to the Sound, about a half mile. Originally this was merely a foot path, but now it was to be widened to accommodate a horse cart, and would include what eventually became historic East Howard Street.
The northern side of Cockle Creek had, by 1835, “become thickly settled and the business of the Island both and Public and Private have become much divided and where formerly there was no store, there is now three.”
It seems that there was some strife surrounding the “passing and repassing” on this footpath, for James Taylor the attorney for the petitioners notes that “This track passes through the lands of not less than ten or twelve private persons who have it in their power at any time either for convenience, intrest or spite to stop all communication to the business part of this side of the Island and even to deprive those settled near this path from a pass way to the nabourhood church…..Unfortunately in most communitys there are to be found evil disposed persons who are always ready to meddle with every persons business but there own (which is generally neglected altogether).”
We can only wonder who the “evil disposed persons” were.
In due time the court, recognizing the importance of a public conveyance on the North side of Cockle Creek, ordered the road to be laid out. At one time it was known simply as the Main Road.
In 1957, the state of North Carolina began paving most of the village roads, including the road around the harbor. In the process they paved the western section of the “Main Road,” including that section that passes in front of the Community Store and continues to the Cedar Island/Swan Quarter ferry terminal. The eastern end of this road was left untouched. Almost immediately Mr. Stacy Howard nailed a homemade sign to a tree in front of his house and dubbed this “East Howard Street,” a privately maintained, though public, road. At that time at least eight Howard families, all descendants of William Howard, Sr., colonial owner of Ocracoke, lived along this street.
Until about thirty-five years ago, East Howard Street was deep, soft sand in many places. Residents would walk barefoot through the ruts left by horse-drawn carts, and later, automobiles. Today the road has been stabilized with shells and gravel.
Few people remember that more than sixty-five years ago this unpaved lane was part of a once longer road. Nowadays it is mostly only old-time Ocracokers who still call the road by its “full and proper” name, East Howard Street.
Maybe it’s time to revive the historic name.