For this month’s Newsletter we are going to take a stroll down Lawton Lane and Howard Street and look at the many fences around houses, yards, and cemeteries. You can click on any photo to view a larger image. Enjoy!

Walking down Lawton Lane from NC 12 (which is in the background) you will pass my fence (left, below), then Amy & David’s (right, below).

If you look to the northwest you will see the private lane leading to “Cousin Elsie’s” On the corner is “Diabando” ( Marvin & Leevella’s).

Starting on Howard Street from the School Road, the Natural Selections chain link fence (covered with vines) is on your left; the Homer Howard cemetery (with vines growing on the gate) is on your right.

Next are several other graveyard fences with mosses and lichens growing on them.

Gates and fences surround each of the small family cemeteries.


The Village Craftsmen fence is a simple, traditional design.

Some fences are white.

Others are unpainted.

Blanche’s yard has a simple wooden fence around it.

Lela’s house is framed by another white fence;

Just up the lane is the fence around the old George Gregory Howard property, then the fence at the Methodist parsonage (with one of the largest live oak trees on the island).

Next to the parsonage is John & Elizabeth’s place, the old Stanley O’Neal house.

Then there is Betty & Chris’s fence around the old Virginia Howard home, one of the oldest houses on the island.
Lindsey Howard’s fence is one of my favorites. It is covered with lichens.

Next up is Matt & Michelle’s (Dicie’s House).

Across the lane is a simple “rope fence” strung between posts.

Elsie & Irvine’s house, now owned by Kathy and Bob Phillips, is next.

At the end of the lane is Fred & Ernie Westervelt’s fence, adorned with flowers this time of year.


Ocracoke’s first residents were Native Americans, members of the Wocon tribe. Some of the earliest recorded names for the island (Wococon, Wokokon) reflect this history. Eventually the “W” was dropped and spellings such as ‘Ocock’ and “Ocrcok” evolved into the present “Ocracoke.”

On November 11, 1719 John Lovick, Secretary of the Colony of North Carolina and a Deputy of the Lords Proprietors, was granted the island of Ocracoke, containing 2,110 acres, by the Crown. On or before 1733 Richard Sanderson acquired Ocracoke Island from John Lovick. He died in that same year and bequeathed the island to his son, also named Richard Sanderson. The island stayed in the Sanderson family for another 25 years. During this time Ocracoke was used chiefly for raising cattle and sheep. It was also a settlement for the pilots who transported goods to ports on the mainland. Larger vessels were unable to navigate the shallow Pamlico Sound.

Pirates continued to use the island as a temporary campsite even after the infamous Blackbeard was killed here on November 22, 1718. His quartermaster, William Howard, was not with Blackbeard and so escaped capture and/or death at that time. There is no definitive record of Howard’s whereabouts for at least another 40 years.

On July 30, 1759 a William Howard, of the Province of North Carolina, bought Ocracoke Island for £105. He was the first European owner to make his home on the island, and may already have been living here at the time of the purchase. Howard was born about 1700 and died in 1794 or 1795. Although there is no proof that William Howard the pirate was the same person as William Howard of Ocracoke, family tradition suggests that this is the case.

The Howard family has lived on Ocracoke Island continuously since at least 1759. Members of the 10th generation of the family reside here today.

For £52 10 shillings William Howard sold one half of the island to his friend John Williams, pilot, in September, 1759. Subsequently more parcels were sold and the village grew.

Before 1835 island homes and businesses were concentrated on the southern (or Lighthouse) 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. This was the only road on the island and it passed from the Sound, north towards Hatteras Inlet.

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.”

The petitioners were requesting permission to lay out a public road on the North side of Cockle Creek, from “just North of Thomas Bragg’s House” to “John Pike’s garden” 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 and would include what became historic Howard Street.

Apparently the Northern side of Cockle Creek had, by that time, “become thickley settled and the business of the Island both Public and Private have become much divided and where formerly there was no store, there is now three.”

Howard Street, ca. 2000:

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).”

Only one of the petitioners is a Howard, one Simon Howard who signed with an “X.” This is likely the son of William Howard, Sr., who remained unmarried and died without heirs. It seems that the “evil disposed persons” referred to in the petition probably included some of my own Howard ancestors who owned property along this footpath.

Ocracoke Map, ca. 1835:

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 as the Main Road. When the State of North Carolina paved most of the roads in the village in the mid 1950’s a section of this street was also paved (and is now that part of Highway 12 which passes in front of the Community Store and towards the Cedar Island/Swan Quarter ferry terminal). The East end of of the street was left unpaved, and remains as a privately maintained, though public, road. Shortly thereafter Stacy Howard nailed a wooden sign on a tree in front of his home that declared this road “East Howard Street,” the name by which it is still known today.

At the time Stacy posted his sign no fewer than eight families of Howards lived on or owned property along this street. In addition, numerous small Howard family cemeteries line the road, surrounded by moss-covered wooden fences and gnarled old live oak trees. Although no one knows were William Howard, Sr. is buried, his son, William, Jr., and many of his descendants are buried along Howard Street.

Until recently, 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 it has been stabilized with shells and gravel.

Howard Street is a North Carolina treasure. No other street has the history and charm it boasts. When visiting the island be sure to include a stroll down historic Howard Street.


Ocracoke Island has only had official street names for a few years; and street signs for just several months. Not so long ago folks from off-island, particularly first time visitors, would often wonder how we ever managed without street names.

New Street Signs in the Village:
Street signs

The truth is that we did have street names. They were simply unofficial, flexible, often multiple, and frequently confusing.  In short, they suited most Ocracokers just fine.

For example, the road directly across from the fire hall was among the very first streets paved on the island. When the US Navy established their base here in July of 1942 they found the deep soft sand lanes unsatisfactory. They created an ammunition dump along the ridge that now connects the Oyster Creek development and Jackson Dunes. In short order they paved a one-lane concrete road from their base on the harbor to the dump. A few of the aprons that served the dumps are still visible on present-day “Cutting Sage Road” and “Trent Drive.” That section of road directly across from the present-day fire hall was dubbed “Ammunition Dump Road” by locals.

Later on, after the fire hall was built, the road was sometimes called “Fire House Road.” In the mid to late 1960s Lloyd Harkum, from Norfolk, Virginia, purchased property along this road and divided it into small lots. He officially named this thoroughfare “Sunset Drive.” In the 1970’s, before the trees had grown so tall, the top of the lighthouse was clearly visible as you were driving west on this road. A few folks referred to it by its most confusing moniker, “Lighthouse Road.”

“Cutting Sage” [an alternate spelling of “Cutting Sedge,” a member of a family of tufted marsh plants, Cyperaceae] is the traditional name of the road referred to above, the road that leads from Sunset Drive to Oyster Creek. Confusingly, the road over the first bridge in Oyster Creek, which intersects “Cutting Sage,” is named “Cutten Sage Lane.”

The southeast extension of Cutting Sage is called “Trent Road.” One historically major section of Ocracoke village included this area near Pamlico Sound and beyond the present-day community cemetery. It is called “Up Trent” and, although all of the homes there today are relatively new, years ago quite a few islanders lived amongst the trees there.  Hence, “Trent Road.”

The main part of Ocracoke village has traditionally been divided into two distinct areas by native islanders. “Down Point” refers to “Springer’s Point” (where the first European settlers built modest homes in the 1700s) and that part of the community on the south side of the harbor. This area was originally called just “The Point” and later “Williams Point” or “Howard’s Point” depending on who owned it. In 1883 E.D. & Clara Springer, from South Creek, North Carolina, purchased this tract of land. Although they never made this their permanent home , the point still bears their name.

The road that today carries the name “Lighthouse Road” was traditionally called “Point Road.” In fact, when official Ocracoke street names were first introduced this was designated “Point Road.” Only because several residents objected (they had already established their addresses as “Lighthouse Road”) was the current name officially adopted.

Ocracoke’s Most Recognizable Symbol:

Sometime prior to 1835 an increasing number of residents had built homes and businesses around the north side of “Cockle Creek” as “Silver Lake” was originally called. This was a wide but shallow tidal creek. The periphery of the creek was dominated by marsh grasses. The tidal flow extended toward the bald beach in the form of two guts or streams. They effectively divided the village into two distinct sections – “Down Point” and “Around Creek.” After “the creek” was dredged by the Navy in 1942 to accommodate larger draft vessels, and the spoil was pumped into the village to fill in the guts, its official name became “Silver Lake Harbor.”

At one time Howard Street was referred to as the “Main Road.” In 1835 what had been merely a foot path was widened by court order and made a public thoroughfare. It extended from close by the present-day “School Road” all the way to the Sound (in the vicinity of today’s National Park Service Visitor Center). Several stores were located in this area – Mr. Blackwell’s store, John Pike’s store, and Willis Williams’ store and tavern. The area “Around Creek” grew considerably, especially since the post office and mailboat dock were located there.

Howard Street:
Howard Street

Once the state of North Carolina took control of the ferry operations in the mid-1950s and decided to pave many of the island’s sandy lanes Ocracoke’s destiny began to change. Much was in the offing. Early on the pavement was extended around the harbor from the Navy’s concrete road. Where once there had been little more than a foot path, there was now a hard surface road (where Highway 12 is today).

This meant that the western end of the “Main Road” (in front of the Community Store) was now paved. And that left the eastern end of the road still a one-lane sandy path lined by family cemeteries and embraced by cedars and gnarled old live oaks.

It wasn’t long before Stacy Howard nailed a hand-painted sign to a tree in front of his house. “East Howard Street” it read. The new name stuck. Of course most of the residents there were Howards, and it was the eastern end of what had been the “Main Road.”

Stacy Howard’s “Howard Street” Sign:
Howard Street sign

Still today, many older residents refer to our quintessential village lane as “East Howard Street” though maps and common usage are generally satisfied simply with “Howard Street,” content to ignore or forget the reason it was once designated as “East.”

Statewide Enhanced 911 Emergency Service now dictates that Ocracoke, like the rest of the state, have official street names and road signs posted throughout the village. It is taking many of us a while to adjust to this type of “progress.” It is still common to hear O’cockers talk about the “Point Road,” or the “Ammunition Dump Road,” or perhaps “Ollie Syron’s Road” simply because that’s where she lived.

And we can’t always remember the new names of our island roads. So we’re likely to give directions something like this: “Turn left on that corner where you’ll see the old wooden skiff piled up with conch shells; pass the Back Porch Restaurant and then turn right at the fire hall (the Coffee Shop is on the left corner); make the second left; then turn left again (if you drive into the cemetery you’ve gone too far); it’s the house on the right with the green porch swing.”