Ocracoke Island, on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, was first settled by Europeans in the mid 1700’s.  In 1759, at nearly 60 years old, William Howard purchased the entire island for £105, and moved here.

Over the years the village grew.  Families built modest homes, a church was established, schools were built, and businesses flourished as shipping, fishing, and, eventually, tourism blossomed.

Many island homes in the nineteenth century were constructed from materials salvaged from schooners that wrecked on Ocracoke’s beach.  These and other historically significant structures are included in an area of approximately 200 acres around Silver Lake harbor.  In 1990 the Ocracoke Historic District was established, with more than 200 contributing structures identified.

The Homer and Aliph Howard home is one of these contributing structures.

In 1893, Homer Howard (great-great-great grandson of William Howard) married Aliph Dean O’Neal (great-great-great-great granddaughter of William Howard).  As a wedding present, Homer’s father, James Howard, purchased a nearby small home and had it moved to his property on Howard Street.

(This house is being rehabilitated.  As work proceeds, additional information and photos of the project will be posted here.  Please scroll down, and check back periodically to follow our progress.)

You can click on most of the photos below to view a larger version.

The Homer & Aliph Howard Home, on the left, as it appeared ca. 1932, and, on the right, January, 2004:

House

This house is representative of the basic island home, the historic “story and a jump,” a diminutive frame house, one and a half stories high. In typical fashion, it has a front porch and a one-story shed addition in the rear.  It was built ca. 1860 for Thompson Bragg (born ca. 1837/38), who never married, and it originally sat where the School Road lies now, not far from NC Highway 12.

Homer and Aliph Howard had 13 children.  Although only eight of these children lived to attain maturity (listed below in bold type), all of them were born and reared in this 1000 square foot home.  The house was heated, first by wood, and later by a kerosene space heater. There was no indoor plumbing and the kitchen was a separate building connected to the rear of the house by a wide wooden boardwalk. Aliph prepared meals on a cast iron wood-burning cook stove. Family members obtained water from a pitcher pump that was connected to a large round wooden cistern.

Name

Sex

Birth Date

Death Date

Aliph Dean O’Neal Howard

F (Mother)

March 19, 1876

December 13, 1950

Homer Howard

M (Father)

June 21, 1868

May 15, 1947

Agatha

F

May 11, 1894

March 11, 1986

Marvin Wyche

M

September 11, 1897

March 26, 1969

Failing H

M

November 04, 1899

July 14, 1900

Beatrice

F

March 04, 1901

Died at birth or soon after

James Enoch

M

January 21, 1903

January 04, 1972

Evans

M

October 26, 1905

January 21, 1923

Cordelia Zilphia

F

May 16, 1908

April 19, 1993

Neva May

F

June 09, 1910

Died at birth or soon after

Lawton Wesley

M

October 10, 1911

March 23, 2002

Thelma Gray

F

December 23, 1912

Aliph Carena

F

May 13, 1915

July 22, 1915

Homer Rodheaver

M

July 13, 1917

May 29, 1966

Aliph Dean

F

September 26, 1918

October 12, 1918

Thelma Gray Howard Babb (Aliph & Homer’s tenth child), a feisty, witty, active, and fun-loving woman who turned 91 years old in December of 2003, lives in Texas.

Homer & Aliph Howard with Thelma’s daughter Becky (note round cistern behind Homer), 1939:

This house was sold outside of the family in the mid 1960’s (about a decade after Aliph died), but Philip Howard, Homer and Aliph’s grandson, bought the property again in 1990.  Although several people have owned this house, and even more have lived in it, no truly major renovations were ever made.

In the mid-1930’s the small open porch on the rear shed addition was converted to an indoor kitchen.  And in the mid-1950’s a small bathroom was added on the first floor, the roof was replaced, and plywood was nailed to all of the floors and to most of the walls and ceilings.  Otherwise, few alterations were made.  As a result, although the house shows the effects of nearly 150 years of wear from humans, critters, and storms, it remains remarkably well preserved.

In 2003 Philip obtained approval from the North Carolina State Historic Preservation Office for an historic rehabilitation of this significant island structure.  Work was begun in January 2004.

 

Use the links at the top of the page to see a record of ongoing work done on the Homer  & Aliph Howard home.

Check back periodically for additional photos and more information about the progress of this project.

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Spring greetings from Ocracoke Island!

As warmer weather approaches, we are beginning to see many familiar faces returning to the island for rest and rejuvenation.  Welcome back!

Many of you knew my father, Lawton Howard, a member of the early-morning coffee contingent on the Community Store porch, and a frequent, afternoon, behind-the-counter visitor at Village Craftsmen.  He died on March 23, at age 90, in his own home, next door to where he grew up, surrounded by family and friends.  Many people, both on-island and off-island, will miss him and his fabled good humor.

In past newsletters I have chronicled some of his history and amusing stories.  You can read these accounts by following the links below:

The Story of Lawton Howard

Amusing Stories About Lawton Howard

Lawton Howard:
Lawton Howard

After my father suffered a mild back injury several years ago he stopped driving.  My daughter, Amy, or I would take Dad for a daily ride.  Almost every day he wanted to go “down below” to the pony pen and watch the horses.  He was always interested in the health and well being of the herd.  He knew that one of the mares was pregnant and commented on this nearly every day.  On April 5, two weeks after my father died,  a new filly was born.

Ocracoke’s newest member of the pony herd:
Filly

Interest in the once-wild Banker Ponies is a long tradition in the Howard family.  My father often told me about the time in 1926 when he was 15 years old.  It was July and the annual Independence Day pony penning was in jeopardy of not happening because several of the young men were squabbling about something and no one was prepared to round up the horses.  My dad and his best friend, Ansley O’Neal, though still teenagers, decided that they were old enough to tackle this responsibility.  They mounted their ponies on July 3 and rode all the way to Hatteras Inlet (this was long before there were any paved roads on the island) where they camped out under the stars.  Early the next morning the two boys began chasing the first small herd southward, toward the village.  As they encountered each succeeding herd they forced them to join the others.  Occasionally some of the animals would swim out into Pamlico Sound and make the boys’ job much more difficult.  Finally, after a grueling day of hard riding in the blazing summertime sun Lawton and Ansley rode proudly into the village behind several hundred stampeding Outer Banks ponies.  It was a proud day for them both, and a fond memory for my father until the day he died.

After the National Park Service purchased the majority of Ocracoke Island in the 1950’s the herd was reduced to a more manageable size and eventually confined to a penned area in the middle of the island.  I remember helping my Uncle Marvin build the first pony pen in the late 1950’s.  Captain Marvin was a native O’cocker who spent many years away from home sailing throughout the world, and then retired in the early 1950’s back home to Ocracoke.  He is well known on the island as a champion of young people and scoutmaster of the renowned Mounted Boy Scout troop.  He wrote the following article, “Ocracoke Horsemen,”  which is reprinted from “The Story of Ocracoke Island.”

Captain Marvin Howard, c. 1960 astride his pony, “Lady:”
Marvin and Lady

“Ocracoke Horsemen,” by Captain Marvin Howard:

We hear a lot about the fishermen of the Outer Banks of North Carolina, but few stories deal with the equestrians of the Outer Banks.  Surely some of them deserve to be proclaimed as among the world’s best for their daring feats on horse-penning occasions.  This is particularly true of the old days when as many as two-hundred ponies were penned on Ocracoke Island alone.

There have been wild horses roaming the Outer Banks since the landing of the Sir Walter Raleigh adventurers.  None of these wild horses were ever large except the Pea Island pony which came from the original quarter-bred horse.  (The quarter-bred horse, which has been developed as the finest cow-pony ever known, originally came from the Carolinas where they were bred for the quarter-mile race.)  However, the ponies of the Outer Banks did vary in weight from five hundred to eight hundred pounds.  They lived on the range the year round as wild as deer or wild horses can ever be.  For sustenance they had only the salt grass, the boughs of live oak and red cedar, and when the winters were severe, they dug in the sand hills with their hoofs to get the succulent roots of the sea oats.  These ponies no doubt had strains of Arab steed for in numbers of them there was untold beauty in color and build.  They were fleet of feet, hardy, well lined, and full of muscle.  They made fine saddle horses when properly trained.  In recent times, two Ocracoke horsemen stand out.  One was Homer Howard, the other was Monroe Bragg.

Homer Howard, (Lawton’s & Marvin’s father) c. 1942, aged 74:

Homer Howard

Homer Howard with his Coast Guard Horse, 1912
Homer Howard and Horse

There are many people on Ocracoke who can recall their daring feats.  People who have seen jockeys in America and England and have been to numerous horse-shows, carnivals, circuses, fat-stock shows, and rodeos in California, Texas and Mexico say that only on Ocracoke on the Outer Banks of North Carolina does the catching of wild horses with bare hands take place.

Captain Jim Howard was keeper of Hatteras Inlet Life Saving Station for a good many years.

Captain James W. Howard, (Homer’s father) c. 1888, aged 49:
James Howard

He owned quite a few cattle and wild ponies on Ocracoke.  Jim bought a two-year old Arabian horse from somewhere on the mainland.  His son, Homer Howard, broke and trained this horse for running the wild cattle and penning the wild ponies.  His name was “White Dandy,” though he was mottled with gray.

James Howard astride his horse, White Dandy, c. 1888
James Howard and White Dandy

On “White Dandy” Homer on many occasions started at the north end of the island in the cool of the morning, driving the herd of wild ponies south. He rode merrily along across Tar-Hole Plains.  There he would come upon a second herd of ponies headed by “Old Wildy,” a long, rangy stallion.  This herd, too, he would start driving southward.  The third herd he encountered at Scraggly Cedars, then the Great Swash.  After passing Great Swash he came to Knoll Cedars where the sheep pen used to be, and from there on southward the driving got touchy and more strenuous for the herds from the north were reluctant to go farther south and would try to cut through the thickets or sand hills back northward.

There were about two-hundred wild ponies in those days. They had to be driven over sand hills, through bogs, across creeks, through marshes, and through woodland thickets of myrtle, cedar, oak and yaupon. At about ten o’clock in the morning of pony-penning day, the horses could be seen spread out on the plains around “First Hammock Hills,” just north of Ocracoke Village. Each little band was headed by a tough and stringy stallion. They ran hither and thither, their manes and tails flying, heads held high, ears pointed forward, and necks arched to meet a foe. And whenever the stallions met, they did battle-biting, kicking, pawing — until the rider closed in. Then, they veered off from each other, returning to their herds. It was no easy task to drive these wild ponies sixteen miles southward to the corral in Ocracoke Village.

Ocracoke boys perched in a big live oak tree with one limb at least thirty feet long to get the first view of the ponies as they were driven down the sandy road to Cockle Creek, the harbor. There were no docks in those days; the ponies were herded along the shore and in the shallow water to the corral by people on shore and in boats. After all the horses were penned and the bars closed, the people went home, ate dinner, and then returned for the branding and selling of the stock.

There were buyers from the mainland who wanted the ponies for saddle horses or for farm use.  As soon as people began to climb the corral fence, a general movement among the stallions started.  Hoofs began to fly, and teeth snap, with much squealing and snorting.  Then, suddenly someone on the fence would yell “Homer’s caught the motley roan over there.”

To catch a wild stallion with nothing but bare hands took wit, agility, strength and stamina. Homer Howard would walk quietly through the mares, slapping them on the rump, working his way between them slowly, gradually — getting closer and closer to a great stallion — crouching panther-like, ready, alert — and in a flash he was astride the stallion, holding its mane with his left hand, throwing his elbow over the horse’s withers, hooking his knee behind the elbow of the horse’s front leg, reaching out with his right hand to catch the horse’s lower face just above the nostrils, clamping down tight, and sticking there with the tenacity of a bulldog. The stallion would rear, pitch, squeal, snort, paw the air for thirty of forty minutes, but finally, out of wind, tired, and afraid, he stopped his violent struggling. Slowly the horseman eased his grip; immediately, the stallion lunged and reared. Only after several attempts did the horse admit his defeat. “Old Widdie”, “Guthrie Sam”, and “Rainbow” and others were truly great stallions and had the spunk and grit to put up terrible battles. Their tusks, or cutting teeth, were long from age and could be used to cut and slash, and their forefeet and rear hoofs held a wicked kick.

They used mostly McClellan saddles in those days, never western. Here again, Homer Howard was a master horseman, as he crawled astride and called for the blindfold to be snatched off.  Then with a mighty heave the wild horse began to buck or run or sun-fish — backing, twisting, turning, rearing — coming to a full stop with head down, stiffened legs or standing on his hind feet, groaning in every nerve, his body sweat-soaked from his efforts, nostrils extended, expanding and contracting like a bellows.  But finally he was out-mastered by the victorious horseman.


On your next stop to visit the Ocracoke pony pen try to imagine these stories of outstanding horsemanship, Fourth of July Pony Pennings, and the long history of the Outer Banks ponies.  And be sure to look for the new filly.

Until next time, our best to you all from

Philip and the entire staff at Village Craftsmen

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Last month I shared with you a short story about Julius Bryant and one of his floundering adventures in the mid-50’s.  Below is a more recent photo of Julius and a 21 pound flounder he caught several years ago. 

Julius Bryant & Flounder, photo courtesy of Ann Ehringhaus:
Julius and Flounder
This photo was taken by Ann Ehringhaus, and is included in her book Ocracoke Portrait.  When you have a chance to look at Ann’s book be sure to read the accompanying story.  It is a hilarious account of Kenny Ballance and Julius’ sister Babe taking the frozen flounder on a plane to New York City.

All of us at Village Craftsmen hope you had an enjoyable summer.  In spite of several rainy spells, especially in early August, the weather on the island has been generally warm but pleasant.  We are looking forward to a very nice Fall as it begins to cool off a little.

We were informed recently that “Bon Appetite” magazine will be publishing an article in their November issue that features two craft galleries in each of several regions of the U.S.   We were pleased to hear that their staff had discovered our web site and intend to use the Village Craftsmen as one of the two shops for the Southeast region.

We have sent them a Hatteras Peppermill for them to photograph.  Look for the article–and the picture.  It should be on the newsstands by mid-October.

Bon Appetite also requested some of our Wild Cherry and Stainless Steel Kitchen Utensils.  We understand these will be included in their December issue.

Many readers of this newsletter will remember when Jack Willis ran a small grocery store on his dock on Cockle Creek (now sometimes called Silver Lake).  O’Neal’s Dockside tackle shop operated in the building for a while and Rudy and Donald Austin continue to tie their boats to this dock for their excursion tours to Portsmouth Island.

Jack’s Dock
Jack's Dock

More than forty years ago this dock was the scene of a funny encounter between my father’s youngest brother and an unnamed island visitor.  I hope you enjoy the following story I wrote several years ago:

“Uncle Homer, my father’s youngest brother, was known by all as a wild and crazy character.  Even as a youth, among his own kin, he had a reputation for unpredictability and foolishness.  The youngest of the fourteen children, he was spoiled and pampered by his aging father.  Unfortunately, at an early age he flirted with and was seduced by alcohol.

The island was legally dry when he was growing up so store-bought beer, wine and hard liquor could be difficult to come by even after Prohibition was repealed in 1933.  As his addiction progressed,  “Little Homer” as he came to be called, sought out unconventional, and often dangerous sources of alcohol.  After-shave lotion, cough syrup and vanilla extract were perennial favorites in those days.  At first, the booze only heightened his playful nature, providing hours of stories and good-natured tales for the old men who sat on the porch of the general store or on benches out on the docks, whittling small birds. These birds were carved out of cedar with wings cut from the appropriately curved wooden ice cream spoons provided with every small container of the now-available Mayola ice cream.  (Lemon was my favorite!)

On one occasion before tourism had become a major industry on the island Homer was standing on Jack’s dock .  Jack Willis ran a small grocery and general store that was supported by creosoted pilings out over the harbor.  The dock ran past the store and wrapped around beyond the back door,  providing copious space for embarking or disembarking from the fishing boats that tied up there, as well as room for cleaning fish, swapping stories or just hanging about to visit.  It was a warm summer day. Homer was leaning with his back against the store, his left leg bent at the knee, the sole of his left foot resting lightly against the building.  He was wearing a white tee-shirt, the tattoos on his muscular arms advertising his status as a seasoned mariner. His dungarees were rolled up to mid-calf so he wouldn’t step on them as he walked barefoot through the deep soft sand lanes that connected the homes and stores in the village.  Of course he wore his traditional white sailor’s cap. He had served in the navy and he often wore his distinctive hat.  Beside him stood his friend and companion, “Little Edward.”

Presently, a stranger wandered by.

At that time the mail boat made the trip from the mainland only once a day.  In addition to mail, ice, pepsi-colas, and a limited number of groceries, the “Aleta” carried a few passengers.  Mostly these were islanders or relatives who had moved away and were returning to visit family and friends.  Occasionally, however, a brave soul from the mainland found his way to this strange land that time had temporarily forgotten.

Everyone noticed a stranger.

As the newcomer approached Homer, his mischievous mind pondered the possibilities.  Without a word, he stood up straight when the stranger came alongside him.  Just as quietly, he turned with a fluidity of motion and stepped forward in the same direction as his new companion.  And then, as if it were not only socially acceptable, but also expected, he wrapped his left arm around his new friend’s waist and proceeded to accompany him on his journey down the dock.  It happened so suddenly and so nonchalantly, that this bewildered fellow was too startled to hesitate or resist. Joined in newfound, but congenial camaraderie by a curious but perversely likeable native he could not imagine what lay ahead.

Trustingly and naively, this gentleman from the land of courtesy and good manners was not prepared for Uncle Homer’s island humor.  He could hardly believe it when, at the very end of the pier, Homer held tight and they continued to walk, like two quintessential cartoon characters, directly out over the water until even Homer’s good humor could not sustain them and they plunged, side-by-side, feet first, into the harbor.”

No one can remember how the stranger reacted, except to note that he did not drown, and he was not injured!  In those days no one was concerned about lawsuits.  It was just one more excuse to enjoy a good laugh thanks to the unpredictable and impish nature of one of our own.  And, of course, it was one more story to pass down through the generations.

The next time you walk out onto Jack’s dock try to imagine what you would have thought if Uncle Homer had been your first introduction to Ocracoke!

Those of us who live on the island frequently hear folks tell us how much they wish they could move here.  (Frankly we’re glad not too many do–there just isn’t enough room on this tiny sand bar.)  But just in case you are thinking seriously about such a move we have decided to show you a little inside peek at island life.

Below is a recent photo of Travis relaxing in the Village Craftsmen employee lounge.

Travis in the employee lounge:
Lounge

And a close-up of our modern, high-tech lounge chair.

Village Craftsmen employee lounge chair:
Chair

We present these photos just in case you might be feeling smug about your fancy office building in one of our great metropolises.  We want you to know that we enjoy nearly every luxury you have–and maybe a few more, besides.

Until next time, all of the staff at Village Craftsmen send you our wishes for a great fall and we hope to see you soon, or at least next season.

Philip

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