The story of Ocracoke’s Island Inn begins with the construction of a meeting house for Lodge No. 194, Independent Order of Odd Fellows, in 1901. And the story of the Odd Fellows Lodge is directly tied to the story of Michael Lawrence Piland (1861-1920), a Gates County, NC, native, the son of a farmer, who moved to Ocracoke Island when he was in his early twenties. Oral history indicates that he left Gates County after his fiancée abruptly canceled their wedding. After moving to Ocracoke, Piland was recruited by members of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, as their choir master. He introduced new hymnbooks (with musical notes) which precipitated a division in the congregation. A new church, affiliated with the Methodist Episcopal Church (islanders referred to this as the “Northern Church”), was soon established. Piland continued to play an active role in the life of the new church.

In 1887, when he was 26 years old, Piland married a well-to-do widowed Ocracoke native, Lucretia Wahab Farrow (b. 1848), and soon established himself as a prominent citizen and entrepreneur. By 1888 M. L. Piland was owner of the oldest general merchandise store on the island which housed the island Post Office. He was appointed postmaster on February 28, 1888.

In 1897 Piland was instrumental in the establishment of Ocracoke Lodge No. 194, of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, a non-political and non-sectarian international fraternal order founded in 1819 by Thomas Wildey in Baltimore, Maryland. The fraternity’s motto, Amicitia, Amor et Veritas (Friendship, Love and Truth), is symbolized by three interlocking links. Lodge No. 194 was instituted on September 28, 1897, by Achoree Lodge No. 14 in Elizabeth City, NC.

By 1900 Lodge No. 194 was sufficiently established that the trustees purchased from James and Zilphia Howard a one-acre tract of land “for use as a Lodge room or such other purpose as they may deem proper.” A two-story wood frame “Greek Revival” building, the center section of which later became the main section of the Island Inn, was built in 1901 by island carpenter Charlie Scarborough. Formal By-laws were adopted on October 21 of that year. The building housed the Odd Fellow’s Lodge on the second floor. A poster displayed by Lodge No. 194 stated, “Our Wildey Has Not Lived in Vain. We Command you to Visit the Sick, Educate the Orphan, Relieve the Distressed, Bury the Dead.” Public school was held on the first floor.

Ocracoke Lodge No. 194 and Schoolhouse, ca. 1901, Elizabeth Howard Collection, Ocracoke Preservation Society

Few early records of the Lodge survive, but we know that M. L. Piland served as the Chairman of the By-laws Committee in 1901, and as an early Noble Grand (Presiding Officer). In 1907 sixty-two island men, including business owners, entrepreneurs, clergy, and a railroad/steamship agent were members. Weekly meetings were initially held on Mondays; later, on Fridays. Lodge No. 194 continued to thrive for two decades, until shortly after Michael Lawrence Piland’s death in 1920, when it became dormant.

I.O.O.F. Ceremonial Stole, Ocracoke Preservation Society Collection

According to the “Proceedings of the Grand Lodge, May, 1921,” “For the past two or three years we have been putting forth our best efforts to revive several of our dormant lodges. We have had considerable correspondence with the officers of these lodges and in some instances have succeeded in getting them to resume work, but we have found it necessary to take up the charter… of [several, including] …. Ocracoke [Lodge], No. 194….”

Shortly thereafter, according to the Annual Session of the Grand Lodge of North Carolina Independent Order of Odd Fellows for 1923, “Ocracoke Lodge No. 194, at Ocracoke in Hyde County was reorganized May 11, 1922, by Past Grand J. R. Jinnett, special deputy.” Almost immediately, “A communication [to the Grand Lodge] was presented from Ocracoke Lodge No. 194, requesting permission to sell a part of their lot for $15. It was stated that this land was only good for pasture and was of no service to the lodge. On recommendation of the committee on Appeals and Grievances the Lodge was authorized to complete the sale.”

The continued existence of Lodge No. 194 was short-lived, however. The Grand Secretary’s Report of May, 1925, stated that “Other lodges that have ceased to function since [April 1, 1924 include] Ocracoke No, 194….”

In a letter from W. L. Whitley, Supervisor, dated April 13, 1925, to Brother S. L. Whitmore, Grand Master Greensboro, NC, Whitley writes, “Ocracoke Lodge was defunct at the time of my appointment, and no effort to revive it seems to have been availing. Its active membership has transferred to the lodge in Beaufort.”

Soon after the dissolution of the Lodge, islander Benjamin O’Neal (1880-1939) bought the building for use as a private residence for his family. He contracted with Charlie Scarborough to move it about 600 feet to its present location. When the O’Neals moved to Morehead City, in about 1940, another island native, Stanley Wahab (1888-1967), bought the building for $700.

Home of Benjamin O'Neal and Family
Home of Benjamin O’Neal and Family

Soon thereafter Stanley Wahab opened the first commercial business in the building, the Wahab Coffee Shop, with soda fountain and ice cream bar. It quickly became a popular island gathering place. Rooms upstairs became a boarding house. During WWII (1942-46) the upper floor was rented as a Navy Officers Club called the ” Crow’s Nest.”

Wahab Coffee Shop

After the war Stanley turned the building into a hotel. He called his enterprise the Silver Lake Inn. In 1948, Stanley moved decommissioned former Navy barracks to the property, and attached them to the southwest side of the building for use as a dance hall (dubbed the Beachcomber’s Club), and later, apartments. In the 1950s he added a two-story wing on the other side of the building for more guest rooms and a dining room. Stanley advertised the “New Silver Lake Inn” as offering “rooms with private or connecting bath, studio apartments furnished for housekeeping, complete restaurant, and excellent cuisine.” Liz Styron and Muzel Bryant were the first cooks.

Silver Lake Inn

During the war Stanley Wahab hired mainlanders, Mr. & Mrs. Godfrey, to manage the Inn. Mrs. Godfrey was murdered while on a visit with family and friends on the mainland. The crime was never solved. Mr. Godfrey remained at the inn for a while, but claimed his wife returned nightly to haunt him, and he soon departed. In subsequent years guests at the inn frequently reported strange encounters with Mrs. Godfrey’s ghost.

In 1957 Ruth and Bill Cochran moved to Ocracoke to manage the Silver Lake Inn for Stanley Wahab. Bill also operated a charter plane service on the Outer Banks. In the winter he cooked breakfast for guests at the inn. During the warmer months he flew so frequently that he had no time to cook. At that time Wilbur Gaskill worked in the kitchen. Gaynelle Tillet and Geneva Odom were two of the waitresses, and Lizzie Scarborough served as housekeeper.

By 1960 entrepreneur Doward Brugh had purchased the property and re-named it the island Inn. He owned the inn for only a few years. Pennsylvania natives, George and Emilie Wilkes were the next owners. They operated the inn from about 1965 to 1970, then sold the inn to Bill and Helen Styron. JoKo, a popular artist who owned property on the island, decorated the dining room in a piratical-nautical theme. Walls were stained to look like the inside of a sailing ship, fishing nets and buoys were hung from the ceiling, and two large paintings (one of Blackbeard holding his severed head in his hands, and a beach scene) adorned the end walls.

Island Inn ca. 1965

In 1978 native islander, Larry Williams, and his partner, Foy Shaw, bought the Inn. One of Larry and Foy’s first major projects was to add a modern apartment on the back of the building. They made a number of other changes, including redecorating the dining room. The fishing nets and other nautical decorations were removed, and for a while an aviary (with a parrot, parakeets, and peacocks, as well as plants and vines) was installed on the porch. In 1978-79 Alan and Liz Piper, an English couple who had sailed to Ocracoke in their 48’ ferro-cement ketch, managed the restaurant. When Alan and Liz returned to England the next year island native Chester Lynn was hired by Larry and Foy to manage the restaurant. In 1986 Chester leased the restaurant and dubbed it the Dew Drop Inn. The restaurant thrived under his oversight. In 1988 Larry and Foy had luxury suites and a swimming pool built across the road. The suites were later converted to condos.

In 1990-1991 two couples, Buffy and Ann Warner and Bob and Cee Touhey, leased the Island Inn. Chester’s lease of the restaurant was not renewed. One year later Buffy & Ann Warner bought Howard’s Pub, and relinquished their interest in the Inn. In 1992 Bob and Cee purchased the property outright. Cee’s sister-in-law, Sally Newell, was enlisted to help manage the inn and restaurant.

Over the next several years personal, financial, and banking issues conspired to jeopardize the Island Inn. A foreclosure auction in 2010 threatened the future of the property, but Thomas Storrs, a member of the extended family, purchased the inn. Family members operated the business for several years, but by 2015 the inn was again on the market. Unfortunately, major repairs and renovations to the century-old structure were now necessary, and the island community feared the historic building would be torn down by new owners, and this iconic example of Ocracoke Island history would be lost forever.

Island Inn ca. 2015

In 2018 an ad hoc committee was formed to save the Island Inn from destruction. As of this writing in April, 2018, negotiations are on-going for Ocracoke Preservation Society, with help from Hyde County and the Ocracoke Occupancy Tax, to purchase the Island Inn.

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by Thomas E. MacDonald

I was finally embarking on my much-anticipated vacation to my favorite destination and knew what to expect, or so I thought.

After being on the road for eight-plus hours, I would arrive at the Inn on Ocracoke Island after hours to find the office closed. The key to my room would be in an envelope with my name hand written and taped to the door. I would haul my luggage up the steep wooden stairs leading to a spacious second floor porch with slatted rocking chairs and let myself in. I would then go to room #21 enter and settle in for the week. During the week I will reacquaint myself with friends, both islanders and tourists alike, that I have come to know over the last decade and a half. Maybe sometime during the week I will officially check in at the office with a signature and such, maybe not. Some folks down here are more than a tad laid back.

The Island Inn Today:

Did I mention that I specifically requested room #21 and why? No, I didn’t. The spirit of a past innkeeper reportedly haunts the Inn and room #21 is said to have the highest probability of paranormal occurrences. Objects have been known to be unexplainedly moved and sometimes even disappear, only to be discovered later in other parts of the Inn. Bathroom spigots have been known to turn on by themselves. Pictures on the wall are occasionally found to be askew in the morning. Sounds of an undetermined source have been heard and doors have been known to open and close unassisted. Rarely there have been reports of a full-bodied apparition going around the beds tucking the guests in. I was hoping to at least get some photographs of hazy silhouettes. Her name is Mrs. Godfrey and it is reported that she doesn’t choose to interact with men. What little I know about her history, I can understand why.

The Island Inn Before WWII:

During the Second World War the Inn’s owner, Robert Stanley Wahab hired Mr. and Mrs. Godfrey from the mainland to manage his hotel. The Godfreys lived in an apartment in the hotel and reportedly had many public domestic spats “fighting like cats and dogs.” The Islanders did not approve of such public displays for one should not air one’s dirty laundry. As my grandmother used to say, “You don’t wear your heart on your sleeve.” Some matters are best kept behind closed doors.

During the War, Mrs. Godfrey decided to visit with friends and family on the mainland for a few days. Back then travel to and from the Island was a task in and of itself. There was not the luxury of hourly ferries and such. The daily mail boat, the Aleta would leave from the docks with passengers shortly after sunrise and arrive in Atlantic in late morning. There the Aleta would be unloaded and then supplied for the return trip and would always return to Ocracoke by the late afternoon. Mr. Godfrey went down to the docks on the day that the Mrs. was to return and she was not there. Mr. Godfrey thought little of her absence, assumed that Mrs. Godfrey had changed her plans and would stay on the mainland a bit longer to visit. He looked forward to the continued respite from their squabbles. A week later Mrs. Godfrey’s body was discovered in an abandoned house on the mainland. Her throat had been slashed. Her killer was never found.

Mr. Godfrey soon returned to his duties at the Inn. It seems that no sooner than Mrs. Godfrey was interred, Mr. Godfrey would become haunted by her ghost. He would see her walking about the Inn and awaken in the midst of the night to her accusing stare. Doors would open and forcefully slam shut. Her cosmetics would be found rearranged on the dresser. The alcohol could not dull Mr. Godfrey’s senses enough and he could take no more. He left. She stayed.

The sun was rapidly closing in on the horizon beyond Silver Lake as I parked my car in front of the Inn on this comfortable early November evening. There was minimal lighting emitting from the Inn as dusk enshrouded the Island. The walkway and entrance basked in the glow of external lanterns and on the second floor the lights were on in the hallway and the corner room (which was not mine).

I fetched the room key from the envelope taped to the door of the closed office, as expected. I hauled as much of my luggage as I could handle up the external wooden stairs past a sign that read “ Please use handrails. Stairs are steep.” How well I knew. I grasped at the handle to the porch door that would allow my entrance. It would not turn. I tried the knob again more forcefully, but did not wish to break it.  This was not expected. I set my gear down on the wooden rocker and tried my room key on the door. It would not fit. I called the provided number on my cell phone, but the call was not forwarded. Instead the call went to the voicemail. This was not expected. I gazed through the door window with its gossamer curtain as I left a message on the other end. “Hi Cee, this is Tom from Wilmington, the one in Delaware. I’m here at the Inn and the upstairs porch door is locked and I can’t get in.” My voice was taut with frustration as I said, “I just don’t know what to do.” As I spoke those words in despair, I heard a very distinctive click come from the doorknob. I hung up my phone and tried the door once again. The knob turned with ease and allowed my entrance to the Inn. The hall was well lit and if someone were on the other side of the door, I would have seen them. I saw no shadows or movements or anything that could be attributed to optical illusions. Nobody was there.

As I entered and made my way to the rear of the Inn where room #21 awaited, I saw that the doors to all the rooms were closed and secured, with the exception of mine. The door was slightly ajar and the inside lights were on as if someone were awaiting my arrival. I then said aloud, “Thank you Mrs. Godfrey!”  Not once during my stay did I feel as if I was being watched or someone else was present. The room was furnished with antique furniture, figurines, and eye pleasing prints adorned the walls. I felt as if I was staying in someone’s home and settled in for a comfortable night.

A Typical Room in the Island Inn:

The following morning I encountered Rusty who assists with the daily operations of the Inn. He inquired if was comfortable and if I needed anything. I related my experience of the previous night. He asked if I had tried to call the number provided and said that it would have forwarded the call. I related that it did not and went to voicemail. Rusty then mentioned that he has locked that door only about three times in the last five years and admitted that he did indeed leave it locked the day before. He then asked how I got in. I ventured to guess that Mrs. Godfrey’s duties as the past innkeeper superseded her reluctance to interact with men. Rusty replied that that was the only explanation for I was the only living being in the building last night. Nobody was there.

The author would like to gratefully acknowledge Philip Howard of Ocracoke, NC and the proprietors of the Island Inn for the historical information used in this writing.

Information about the Island Inn is available here: http://www.ocracokeislandinn.com.

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