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.





On Tuesday, September 10 tropical storm Gustav visited Ocracoke.  The winds were moderate (probably no gustier than 60 mph), but the trajectory of the system and the counterclockwise rotation of the winds pulled water from Pamlico Sound up into the harbor and into the small creeks in the village.  By late in the afternoon the water from Silver Lake was flowing over the road around the harbor and inundating surrounding properties.

Water covering Hwy 12 in the village:
TS Gustav

Silver Lake overflowing onto the road:
TS Gustav

Not long after that the creeks overflowed and salt water poured into yards, roadways and even into a few structures.  By 5:00 p.m. the Back Road was impassable.

The Back Road under water:
Gustav Back Road water
(Photo by David Tweedie)

Water stood thigh-deep in places and lumber, tubs, wooden-handled tools and other debris went floating past the houses.  Some automobiles nearly floated away as water rose up to the seats.  A few hearty kayakers braved the wind and rain, and ventured down the newly-formed waterways.

Front Yard Scene:
Gustav Kayaks
(Photo by David Tweedie)

The ocean breached the dunes on the north end of the island, and reports indicated breakers crashing onto Highway 12.  One driver attempted to cross in front of the surf and learned the folly of his decision only when a wave hit the car and rolled it over.  No one was seriously injured.

Luckily, the storm surge hit the island at low tide.  Had it been six hours earlier or later many houses and businesses would have had significant damage from rising water.  As it was, Ocracoke suffered relatively little damage from the storm.  Within a few hours much of the water had receded, leaving only wet and soggy yards, as well as branches and assorted debris to clear away.

Of course, we all hope this is the island’s last brush with tropical weather this season.  In case you were wondering, all is well on Ocracoke and we are looking forward to a beautiful and pleasant Fall.

Hoping all is well with you, too.

Philip and the gang at Village Craftsmen


Summertime greetings from Ocracoke Island!

For those of you who haven’t been to the island recently, this month we share with you news about some recent events and island happenings.

Just over a month ago my daughter, Amy, and “Molasses Creek’s” own, Fiddler Dave, were married on a beautiful, warm and sunny afternoon in the side yard of the Rondthaler House, an old island residence originally belonging to my grandfather’s sister and her husband, “Aunt Sabra and Uncle Dan.”  Over 200 people attended the ceremony which was performed by Ocracoke’s best known storyteller, Donald Davis.  After the wedding, guests gathered at Julie Howard’s house for a backyard feast and several hours of great music.  Ocracoke’s Martin Garrish played guitar, along with Gary Mitchell, Wes Lassiter, and Bill & Libby Hicks.  David even joined in, and played fiddle for his very own love song, “Howard Street,” which is on Molasses Creek’s latest Album, “The Best of Molasses Creek.”

Amy and David on Their Wedding Day:
Amy and David Wedding
Speaking of music and Ocracoke, the “Ocrafolk Festival, 2002” is scheduled for June 8 & 9.   Beginning at 10 a.m. on Friday, along Howard Street and the School Road, you will find music, storytelling, and demonstrations at three stages.  In addition, artisans, performers, and craftspeople from all over coastal Carolina will be displaying wares and giving performances and workshops.  On Friday evening, at 8:30, we will gather for a traditional Ocracoke square dance in the school gym.  On Sunday morning performers will host a hymn/gospel sing-along at the Live Oak Stage, followed by a fundraising auction at 1:00 p.m. in the gym.  Admission to all events is free.  We hope you can join us.  If not this year, perhaps you will want to plan next year’s vacation around the Ocrafolk Festival, 2003.

In other news, “Friends of Portsmouth Island” held their “every-other year” reunion this Spring.  Several hundred friends of the island were on hand strolling through the village, visiting with old friends, and  remembering life as it once was on Portsmouth.  A church service was held at 11 o’clock with a potluck dinner on the lawn at noon.  For a brief history of the island click on either of the two photos below.

Portsmouth Methodist Church:
Portsmouth Church

One highlight of the day was the opening of the U.S. Post Office.  Friends of Portsmouth Island, along with the National Park Service, have spruced up the building with a new coat of paint, period furnishings and other repairs.

Portsmouth Post Office:
Portsmouth Post Office
All day long, folks stood in line to mail postcards, letters, and notes from the small wooden structure.  This was the first time since 1959 that mail had been posted from Portsmouth Island.  Ocracoke’s postmaster, Ruth Jordan, and clerk, Melissa Fulcher, were on hand with other helpers to assist the steady stream of customers wanting to send mail on this historic day.  A special postmark was created with the words, “Portsmouth Island Homecoming, Portsmouth Island Station, April 6, 2002, Ocracoke, NC  27960.”  We mailed a number of envelopes from Portsmouth that day and have them for sale ($5.00 each) on our web site.  All proceeds will go to “Friends of Portsmouth.” You can click on the image below to order one for yourself.

Portsmouth Island Covers:

If you are traveling from Cedar Island this season you may notice renovations made to the ferry “Silver Lake.”  Although the vehicle deck has remained unchanged, the vessel looks much larger.  The entire superstructure has been rebuilt with a spacious passenger lounge (three times the size of the former lounge) with more tables and a commanding view across the bow.  The “Silver Lake,” which took almost three months and nearly two million dollars to renovate, even offers a handicap accessible elevator to the upper level.

Motor Vessel “Silver Lake:”
Silver Lake Ferry
The public was invited to tour the ferry several weeks ago.  The captain and crew welcomed us on board and encouraged us to wander throughout the vessel, including into the pilot house.

Silver Lake Pilot House:
Silver Lake Pilot House

And even into the engine room.

Silver Lake Engine Room:
Silver Lake Engine Room

The Silver Lake is 200 feet long on deck and is powered by twin 800 hp Caterpillar diesel engines.  She makes the run between Ocracoke and Cedar Island in about 2 1/2 hours.

Whichever route you take on your next journey to Ocracoke, be sure to stroll down Howard Street, and stop by the shop to say hello.

Until next time, all the best to you from the entire staff of Village Craftsmen.