The United States Life-Saving Service established the first station on Ocracoke Island in 1883. The station was located on the north end of Ocracoke, on “Cedar Hammock,” near Hatteras Inlet. The original station crew consisted of six surfmen and the keeper, James W. Howard, who gave all orders, was in charge of training and discipline, commanded all rescue operations, and filed a thorough wreck report after every sea disaster. Many of the surfmen built modest homes near the station.

Hatteras Inlet Station1883
Hatteras Inlet Station1883

Keeper Howard retired after twenty years of faithful service. David Williams replaced him, and served as keeper from 1903 until 1905, when he was appointed keeper of the newly completed station in Ocracoke village. David Barnett assumed the position at Hatteras Inlet in 1905, and remained at the station until 1917 when the US Life-Saving Service was merged with the Revenue Cutter Service to create the United States Coast Guard.

Shipwreck Report
Shipwreck Report

In 1917 the 1883 station was demolished, and a new Coast Guard Station was built at the inlet.

1917 Hatteras Inlet Station
1917 Hatteras Inlet Station

By 1951, erosion at the north end of Ocracoke was so severe that the Coast Guard station was no longer considered safe during storms. On Wednesday, October 3, 1951, the entire crew of the station was evacuated to Hatteras Island. Rising sea tides had destroyed part of the station yard bulkhead, and the high-water mark was close to the building’s foundation.

Hatteras Inlet Station 1951
Hatteras Inlet Station 1951(Photo from “The Story of Ocracoke,” 1976)

In 1953 the station was decommissioned.

Over the next few years attempts were made to save the station, and a new rehabilitation project was begun in July, 1955. Sand fences were erected around the station in hopes of rebuilding the eroding beach. Unfortunately, the first hurricane of 1955 destroyed the sand fences. A second storm followed in short order, and washed away more of the beach. Plans were made to move the station several miles westardly from the ocean, but the station collapsed into the surf during Hurricane Ione before it could be saved.

Hatteras Inlet Station 1955
Hatteras Inlet Station 1955 (Photo from “The Story of Ocracoke,” 1976)

Eventually, all of the station and the outbuildings were completely destroyed and washed away. Nothing remained but the pilings. Over the years the shoreline periodically advanced and retreated. As late as the 1970s sand had built up around the pilings, and it was possible to walk, or even drive a vehicle, completely around them.

Over the next fifty years the shoreline steadily retreated. Today, the pilings are hundreds of feet from the shore, completely surrounded by water. They are visible in the lower center of this aerial photo taken in June, 2023.

Hatteras Inlet Pilings June 2023
Hatteras Inlet Pilings June 2023 (Photo by Kirsten Zapotek)