Before WWII Silver Lake Harbor was a wide, shallow tidal creek. Older islanders still refer to the harbor by its traditional name, Cockle Creek (or just “the Creek”). Although the Creek was only 3-4 feet deep, it was as wide as it is today. Then, as now, the harbor was connected to the sound by the “Ditch” (the narrow inlet adjacent to the old Coast Guard Station/North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching).

Two narrow streams (or “guts” as islanders called them) flowed from the Creek toward the bald beach. Most likely, the term “gut” dates to at least the 18th century. According to a Virginia Historic Preservation document* a creek on Daingerfield Island, Virginia, “was originally mapped as a ‘gutt,’ a term used for a slow-moving, marshy body of water. The gutt separated the island from the mainland.”

On Ocracoke, the two streams, the Big Gut (or Aunt Winnie’s Gut, so named for Winnie Blount, who lived nearby) and the Little Gut, effectively divided Ocracoke village into two main areas (Down Point, the area that includes Springer’s Point and the lighthouse; and Around Creek, the area that includes Howard Street, the present-day Methodist Church, and the Community Square area).

The Little Gut flowed through the village about where Hwy 12 is now, and the Big Gut was parallel to it, just southwest of the old Odd Fellows Lodge/Island Inn. Both guts were filled in by the Navy in 1942 when they dredged the harbor to accommodate their vessels.

A friendly rivalry developed between Creekers and Pointers that continues to some extent even to this day.

Eventually simple foot bridges were built across the guts in several places.

Bridge over Gut
Bridge over Gut

Although some of the bridges were eventually widened to accommodate horse-drawn carts, most of the bridges were only built for foot traffic, .

Bridge over gut
Bridge over gut

The two guts led to some interesting island stories. The following story was told to me by islander Al Scarborough, about his grandmother and her sister.

Miss Sue (Susan Gaskill Scarborough, 1878-1954) and Miss Lyzee (Eliza Gaskill Thomas, 1866-1946) were sisters. Miss Sue and her husband, Charlie Scarborough, lived “Around Creek” (on the northeast side of Cockle Creek/Silver Lake):

Scarborough House
Scarborough House

Miss Lyzee and her husband, Capt. Bill Thomas, lived “Down Point” (on the southwest side of Cockle Creek/Silver Lake):

Thomas House
Thomas House

Miss Sue and Miss Lysee had a clear view of each other’s houses across the harbor.

Although the foot bridges had been constructed by the time Miss Sue and Miss Lysee were married, the journey by foot (through soft sand and across the rickety bridges) from one side of the harbor to the other side was not taken lightly. When Miss Sue took a notion to visit Miss Lyzee (usually only once or twice a year) she intended it to be a proper visit, and that meant packing her valise for the journey. After walking for more than an hour she wasn’t about to turn right around and return home. She always stayed several days with her sister before walking back to her home on the “Creek” side.




Imagine Ocracoke with no paved roads, no ferry service, no visitors…and no residents. Imagine the landscape defaced with huge craters, homes and other buildings destroyed, windows and doors blown out, roofs torn away. Imagine the lighthouse a pile of rubble, cedars and live oaks scorched, and birds silenced.

That might have been the scene today if the 1948 report by the military liaison to the Atomic Energy Commission had recommended Ocracoke as their new site for stateside nuclear weapons testing.

And it almost happened.

1946 Nuclear Test on Bikini Atoll:

After World War II Sandia Base, on the southeastern edge of Albuquerque, New Mexico, was the principal nuclear weapons installation of the United States Department of Defense.

In January of 1947 Secretary of War Robert Patterson and Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal established the Armed Forces Special Weapons Project (AFSWP) at Sandia Base. The AFSWP assumed responsibility for all of the military functions that had formerly belonged to the Army’s component of the Manhattan Project, the research and development program that produced the first atomic bomb during World War II.

Within AFSWP a small group of Army officers oversaw the post-WWII design, assembly, storage, and delivery of atomic weapons. In early 1948 they supported atmospheric tests in the Marshall Islands, a nation of atolls and islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. In April and May of that year three nuclear tests, dubbed “Operation Sandstone,” were conducted on Enewatak Atoll.

Still, by 1948 only a handful of nuclear weapons had ever been detonated, including the July 1945 “Trinity” test in New Mexico, the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that ended World War II, Operation Crossroads, a series of nuclear weapons tests conducted by the United States at Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands in mid-1946, and Operation Sandstone.

Much useful data had been collected in the South Pacific, but the Atomic Energy Commission, citing concerns about geography, weather, security, and safety, ordered its military liaison to prepare a secret report outlining possible US continental test sites.

The military was aware of growing public sentiment and fear of radiation and nuclear fallout. In May of 1948 Rear Admiral William Parsons had written to the Joint Chiefs of Staff about what he called “substantial public relations and political difficulties…[surrounding a] dangerous and unjustified fear of atomic detonations.”

The search for a suitable location for testing, codenamed “Project Nutmeg,” commenced in late 1948, under the direction of expert meteorologist and Navy Captain Howard B. Hutchinson. The government was looking for a place where nuclear tests would have little impact on the American people or the American economy.

Five primary sites were considered:

  • The Dugway Proving Ground/Wendover Bombing Range in Utah
  • The Alamogordo-White Sands Guided Missile Range in New Mexico (“a state conditioned to nuclear work; and with easy logistics from the center of atomic bomb storage at Sandia”)
  • An area in Nevada from Fallon to Eureka
  • The Tonopah-Las Vegas Bombing and Gunnery Range (the site finally chosen)
  • The Pamlico Sound area off the coast of North Carolina, along the coastal strip between Cape Hatteras and Cape Fear

Coastal areas in Maine, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia had been dismissed because of high population densities and robust fishing industries. The Outer Banks, however, was given very serious consideration. For a time North Carolina was considered the most favorable location because of several factors. According to Captain Hutchinson:

“In this region population is not dense, meteorology is favorable during two-thirds of the year between 20% and 30% of the time; and the waters of the Gulf Stream will remove the waste products to the open Atlantic Ocean with no possibility of second order effects through biological processes. Cape Hatteras is a possible site for nuclear tests…. This area should be investigated first, at least, for continental test sites….”

Consequently, the Pamlico-Core Sound area received extensive scrutiny. Three specific locations were considered by the research staff, as noted by Captain Hutchinson:

“Cape Hatteras….To the northwestward of Cape Hatteras and extending northward and westward are 100 square miles of sand flats. Most of these flats are exposed at low tide….Cape Hatteras is made up of old strand lines and is apparently building seaward. There are Coast Guard installations and the Light House as well as about 50 buildings in the total area. About half the total area is covered with vegetation while the remaining area is beach sand and sand dunes. A road exists, along the island southward from Oregon Inlet. Rollinson Channel crosses the flats from Pamlico Sound to the little hamlet of Hatteras, some 7 miles to the west. Rollinson Channel has a controlling depth of 6 feet at mean low water. Avon Channel crosses the flats to Avon some 7 miles to the north. Avon Channel has a controlling depth of 5.5 feet at mean low water. Cape Hatteras is a possible site for nuclear tests. It is relatively accessible by water, yet could be easily placed ‘out of bounds’ for security control.

“Ocracoke Island….extends for some 15 miles between the ocean and Pamlico Sound. It has a width ranging from a quarter to a half mile and is bordered on its landward side by some 45 square miles of sand flats. These flats contain Howard Reef, Clark Reef and Legged Lump, composed of hard sand. The aerial photographs show a [sand] road along the entire length of the strand. There are but one or two installations on this island, except the little village of Ocracoke on the southwest end at Ocracoke Inlet. Ocracoke Inlet has a controlling depth of 10 feet at mean low water. It is extensively buoyed and lighted. Ocracoke village has a boat basin and two piers.

“Portsmouth Island, Portsmouth Bank, and Core Bank. Extending from Ocracoke Inlet to Cape Lookout in a southwesterly direction, is some forty miles of sea strand….Between this strand and the mainland extends Core sound through which exists a dredged channel having a controlling depth of 6.5 feet at mean low water. Core sound has an average width of three miles or more. It is believed that an exceptionally favorable site for nuclear tests could be constructed on Portsmouth Bank. If a site were chosen at about 34-55N, 76-14W, a radius of 10,000 yards can be swung without including any important installations, yet there are plenty of adjacent points for observation of the tests. This place is of easy access by water from the Beaufort-Morehead City rail terminus. It is adjacent to the town of Atlantic, opposite Drum Inlet, open to the sea. Atlantic has an air field. The large Marine Corps Air Base of Cherry Point, North Carolina, is 25 miles west of Atlantic. The Beaufort-Morehead City air field is 18 miles southwest of Atlantic. The extensive Cedar Island area, as well as Portsmouth Bank, is apparently under government control since it is called a “danger area” on the aeronautical charts. This last described area seems to hold the most promise for sites on the southeastern Atlantic seaboard because from here southward to Florida, the strand-like islands, separated from the mainland by sounds, are replaced by marshy islands integral with the mainland. It is believed the Pamlico-Core Sound area should be investigated first, at least, for continental test sites, when the desire is paramount to avoid fall-out of radioactive waste upon the population or the commercial fisheries of the nation.”

In spite of North Carolina’s “most favorable” status, the Pamlico-Core Sound area was eventually dropped from consideration. The Soviet Union tested their first nuclear weapon on August 28, 1949, and the Korean War broke out in June 1950. Both events put increased pressure on the US government to select a continental nuclear test site quickly.  By 1951 the Outer Banks region was no longer a candidate because of the difficulties and lengthy delays anticipated for acquiring property for the US government.

The Tonopah-Las Vegas site was finally chosen, in large part because the government already owned the land, and that choice would not require the removal and relocation of entire towns and villages.

Ocracoke residents and visitors can today be thankful that our beloved village and island is not a nuclear wasteland, pockmarked with craters and saturated with radioactivity.

But it almost happened.

1946 Nuclear Test on Bikini Atoll:

References: (Report on United States Nuclear Tests, by the Natural Resources Defense Council, 1 February 1994)

An Outer Banks Reader, David Stick, editor, 1988 University of North Carolina Press, Section: Man versus Nature, pages 55-57


James Harvey Doxsee (1825-1907), sixth great grandson of Englishman James (“the Vicar”) Doxie, grew up on a four hundred acre farm in Islip, New York.

James Harvey Doxsee:

(Courtesy the Doxsee family.)

In 1865 at the age of 40 he established the first Doxsee Clam Factory in his hometown on Long Island. His canned clam chowder, whole clams, and clam juice were marketed under the name “Doxsee Pure Little Neck Clams.”

The Original Clam Factory in Islip, NY:

(Courtesy the Doxsee family.)

In the late 1800s, as the quantity of clams diminished in New York’s Great South Bay, one of James Harvey’s sons, John (b. 1868), began an independent ocean fishing enterprise that continues to operate today as the Doxsee Sea Clam Company.

Meanwhile, James Harvey’s eldest son, Henry (1851-1905), moved the main operation to Ocracoke Island in 1897/1898.  Henry and his wife Carrie had five children. At least two children, James Harvey (1876-1963), and Helen (1886-1971) accompanied their parents to Ocracoke.

The Doxsees built their new clam processing plant close to Pamlico Sound, on the southern shore of the “ditch” (the entrance to Cockle Creek) in Ocracoke village. It was, by island standards, a large operation. Local fishermen harvested clams, which they brought to the Doxsee’s dock. From there the clams were carried to a nearby building and steamed. The steamed clams were then taken to a long shed building and dumped onto wooden tables. Most of the island’s young, unmarried women, as well as several widows, worked at Doxsee’s picking clams. Empty shells were simply tossed out of the windows.

Doxsee Clam Factory, Ocracoke, NC:

Alton Ballance in his book, Ocracokers (see pages 223-225), relates the recollections of Miss Lillian Jackson who worked at the factory when she was a young woman. She explained that old Mr. Doxsee (Henry) would walk around the building looking for clams that had been thrown away. If he saw any he would throw them back through the window.

Picked clams were placed in wooden boxes. From there they were dumped into a tub to be washed twice. Next the clams were packed in their own juice. Finally lids were affixed to the cans before being shipped off the island. They were labeled as quahaugs, and were marketed as originating in Islip, NY.

An Early Doxsee Advertising Booklet:

(Courtesy the Doxsee family.)

The Doxsee Clam processing facility also had several other buildings including a hunting lodge, boarding house, and a private dwelling for Henry and his family. The house, two stories tall with an attic, faced Cockle Creek. Doxsee’s became a focal point for island social life when square dances were held at the lodge.

The Doxsee family attended the Methodist Episcopal Church and were remembered as friendly, outgoing people.

Soon after their arrival on the island Henry and Carrie’s newly married son, James Harvey Doxsee (1876-1963), and his wife, Lottie James Doxsee, bought property from the Tolers on the north side of Cockle Creek, and built a two story home there, where the Harborside cottage sits today. They had ten children, more than half of whom were born on Ocracoke. Their fourth child, Henry Birdsall Doxsee, was born 1905, and died 1907. He was buried in the yard, and later moved to the Community Cemetery.

By about 1910 clams in Pamlico Sound had become over-harvested and the factory was soon shut down. The operation was moved, first to Sea Level, North Carolina, and then, by 1911, to Marco Island, Florida. At least three Ocracoke natives associated with the Doxsees accompanied them to Florida: Charlie and Sue Scarborogh and their nephew Thad Gaskins. Charlie and Thad, both accomplished carpenters, helped build the Doxsee’s facilities on Marco Island.

The property on Ocracoke was abandoned. By 1930 the house was gone and everything of value carried off. The processing buildings and other structures were in serious disrepair, windows and doors having been removed by unknown persons.

Shard of Doxsee Glass Jar Found on Ocracoke in 2006:

Two members of the Doxsee family remained in North Carolina. James Harvey and Lottie’s daughter Carrie Viola Doxsee (b. 1899) married Samuel Harris from nearby Carteret County. Helen Doxsee (1886-1971) wed Ambrose Burgess, pastor of the Ocracoke Methodist Episcopal Church.

More information about the Doxsees and their clam factories can be found at the following web sites:

In September, 2009 Jan Auleta published a book, The Doxsee Legend, about the Doxsee family from Islip, NY.


A brief genealogy of the Doxsee family:

James Harvey Doxsee (1825-1907; Founder of the Doxsee Clam Factory in Islip, NY) m. Almira Smith

Henry Smith Doxsee (1851-1905)

Milton Spencer Doxsee (b. 1854; died before 1897)

Eugene Doxsee (b. 1856; died before 1897)


Children by second wife, Almira Smith Jennings:

John Cook Doxsee  (b. 1868)

John Harvey Doxsee (1871-1872)

Frank Cooper Doxsee (b. ca. 1872)

Frederick S. Doxsee (1874-1874)

Sarah Elsie Doxsee (b. 1879)

Grace E. Doxsee (1880-1881)

Almira Bell Doxsee (1885-1909)

Anna Jennings Doxsee (1886-1889)
Henry Smith Doxsee (1851-1905) m. Caroline Peters

Charles Oscar Doxsee (1874-1965)

James Harvey Doxsee (1876-1963)

William H. Doxsee (1879-1966)

Mabel Emma Doxsee (1884-1911)

Helen C. Doxsee (1886-1971)
James Harvey Doxsee (1876-1963) m. Lottie Mae James

Carrie Viola Doxsee (b. 1899)

James Harvey Doxsee (1900-1992)

Lottie Mae Doxsee

Henry Birdsall Doxsee (1905-1907)

Dorothy A. Doxsee

Ruth Emma Doxsee

Ralph Clinton Doxsee (1912- 2007)

Mabel Charlotte Doxsee

Nellie Robena Doxsee

John Irvin Doxsee