July 21, 2008
Off the Beaten Path: 10 lesser known places to visit on Hatteras and Ocracoke

By DANIEL C. COUCH

But what about the lesser known places that only the locals or long-time visitors know about, the islands’ best kept secrets?  These inconspicuous spots reveal a side of the islands that many visitors might not see.  You don’t normally read about them in a visitor’s guide or in a brochure at the real estate office.

Maybe you’ve driven by these places time after time and wondered what was up with them.  Now, here’s your excuse to slow down the next time by and take a little trip off the beaten path. You might get a whole new perspective on Hatteras and Ocracoke.

SALVO DAY USE AREA

This area has not only one of the prettiest island cemeteries, but also plans are currently underway for a possible tourism interpretive center.  This big grassy land was once a National Park Service campground and long before that was home to a small settlement knows as Clarks before the name was changed after the arrival of the U.S. Postal Service on the island after the Civil War.  The name "Salvo" is accepted as coming from the repeated shots fired from a Union gunboat at retreating Confederates during the Chicamacomico Races, when Union and Confederate troops chased each other up and down the beach from Chicamacomico to Kinnakeet and back again.

This area was home to a handful of houses because good water wells were available and there were good fishing grounds in the nearby ocean and sound. A windmill belonging to the Hooper family sat nearby, used for grinding corn and hewing shipwreck timbers into usable wood products for home construction.  In addition to fishing, shipwrecking was a lucrative business here in the latter half of the 19th century.  The demise of these homes is testimony to the fury of the Hurricane of 1899.

Today the Salvo Day Use Area is a popular spot for islanders and visitors to picnic, swim in the sound, kiteboard or windsurf, or just hang out and watch the birds and the incredible sunsets on the Pamlico.




KINNAKEET VILLAGE

             

The charming village of Kinnakeet was officially named Avon in 1870 by a nostalgic postal supervisor with obvious English roots.  The name Avon comes from Stratford-on-Avon, on the River Avon, about 100 miles northwest of London. Kinnakeeters are mildly amused that their laid-back village was named for the birthplace of William Shakespeare, arguably the greatest force ever in English literature.

But before it was Avon, it was Kinnakeet.  Kinnakeet is generally accepted to be an Indian term of the Algonquian linguistic family meaning "that which is mixed."  Local oral history says that when the English explorer John Lawson visited the island in April, 1701, the Indian king who represented the natives was named Kinnakeet.  Lawson recorded that he was amazed to find "gray eyes and light compleksions frequently amongst these Indians and no others….and that several of their ancestors were white people, and could talk-in-a-book (read) as we do."

Lawson was the first person to put forth the theory that at least some of Sir Walter Raleigh’s lost colonists mixed in with the Hatteras Indians.  "I cannot forbear inserting here," he wrote, "a pleasant story that passes for an uncontested truth amongst the inhabitants of this place; which is, the ship that brought the first colonies, does often appear amongst them, under sail, in a gallant posture, which they call Sir Walter Raleigh’s ship; and the truth of this has been affirmed to me, by men of the best credits in the country."
 
You can read more excerpts from Lawson’s 1709 book, "A New Voyage to Carolina," in David Stick’s excellent book, "An Outer Banks Reader," under the story "Gray Eyed Indians." It is available in bookstores at Hatteras and Ocracoke.

Kinnakeeters enjoy an exceptional quality of life, where neighbors help each other and everybody knows one another because of generations of close family ties.  The old village is off Highway 12.  Turn at the stop light at Kinnakeet Corner.  It’s a wonderful walking tour of roughly two miles around the village loop.  Here you’ll find one of the last successful working fish houses of its kind on the Atlantic seaboard, practicing commercial fishing methods that date back 200 years.

Noticeable and unique in Kinnakeet is the architecture on many of the older homes, several of which were constructed from shipwreck timbers.  Timbers were roughly hewn lumber about 7 feet long, literally one step away from the original cutting down of ancient trees in forests throughout the southeastern United States.

After the Civil War, the top commodity transported by ships traveling the Gulf Stream just off the coast was these timbers.  A single shipwreck near Kinnakeet in the 1870s is said to have yielded 6,000 timbers.  This lumber was ripe for the picking with horse, cart, and manpower.  Sometimes whole families would gather along the beach after a storm to find the shore littered with timbers.  The wreck of the Ephraim Williams in 1884 yielded almost 4,000 timbers, and the Hurricane of 1899 produced more than 15,000 timbers from Cape Point to Oregon Inlet.  It is a documented fact that this mammoth hurricane was responsible for the loss of nine ships off Hatteras and Ocracoke whose crews and cargos were never accounted for.

An old family name on the island prevalent in Kinnakeet today is the Farrow family.  The patriarch of this great island family is Francis Farrow, who arrived in the area of Kinnakeet Banks during the Tuscarora Indian War of 1700-1713 on the mainland.  He had settled in the               area between Bath and Washington on the Pamlico River, known as Goose Creek.  Farrow and others had been trading on Hatteras Island and knew the island could protect families and                                                                                                       livestock from marauding Indian raids during the war.  In 1712 he received a land grant for the area known today as Avon, "from Kinneckid Inlet to Back Landing Creek" (the elbow of the island at the entrance to Buxton).  The Farrows became one of the wealthiest colonial dynasties in eastern North Carolina after the American Revolution by harvesting the great forests of Kinnakeet and rafting the material out of shallow Kinnakeet Inlet.  The Kinnakeet forest was used in the construction of ships and homes in New England, which recognized the value of the cedars and oaks for their natural resistance to the effects of coastal weather.  Cedar today remains a desired wood in boat building.


THE HAULOVER
 
Situated between the villages of Avon and Buxton is a nondescript parking lot within the confines of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.  It is the Haulover, also known as the Canadian Hole, and it is recognized worldwide as one of the best windsurfing and kitesurfing spots anywhere.  On any given day during the spring, summer, and fall seasons, one might see license plates from all over the country and Canada.  Visitors and islanders enjoy the pleasant Pamlico Sound beach, perfect for families with little children and others who don’t want to get knocked around by the ocean waves (and enjoy having the car nearby).  It’s also a great spot to see the sun set, and on clear evenings it is incomparable for night sky viewing.

There is, however, another aspect of the Haulover that many people visiting do not know.  This site is one of the thinnest parts of the 325-mile long coastline of North Carolina.  At the Haulover and the site of Isabel Inlet, the inlet opened between Frisco and Hatteras village by a hurricane in 2003, the Atlantic and the Pamlico Sound are separated by fewer than 150 yards.
As early as the 1750s, the Haulover served as a crossing point for shallow-draft vessels not wanting to take the time to sail down to Ocracoke Inlet, a passage that could take sometimes three or four days, depending on the fickleness of the wind. To circumvent the uncertainty of a long sail to Ocracoke Inlet, an enterprise credited to the Scarborough family was set up at the Haulover.
 
Vessels ranging from coasting schooners to centerboard skiffs could cross this narrow sandy patch.  The boats would simply sail straight in to shore until they struck bottom.  Cargoes were off-loaded onto wagons for transport across the beach, and the vessel was secured with ropes for pulling.

Large oak logs laid along a track served as rollers to lift the boat, as a team of oxen began the mighty tote across the sands, gently rolling the vessel along.  Once into the opposite body of water, the cargos were reloaded and the vessels resumed their voyage.

The heyday of this endeavor lasted until the opening of Hatteras Inlet during a vicious hurricane on Sept. 7, 1846.  Traffic at the Haulover began to dwindle after that, and it was used mostly by local fisherman chasing the migrating schools of fish offshore in the spring, summer, and fall.  By the turn of the 20th century and the practicality of powered engines, the Haulover fell into disuse.

A little known fact about the Scarboroughs of Hatteras and Ocracoke is that for many years the clan claimed an association with the Mayflower, the famous ship that brought the pilgrims to Massachusetts.  Indeed, the historical record bears some evidence of this.  It is documented that an Edward Scarborough was in the Massachusetts colony shortly after the landing at Plymouth Rock, and a descendant of his, also named Edward Scarborough, is listed in legal action for bankruptcy there in the early 1700s.  About 1724, an Edward Scarborough arrived in Williamsburg, Va., and it is thought that this is the same Edward Scarborough later listed in Currituck County tax records as living at Kinnakeet Banks.

A newspaper article in the Tidewater region once read, in its opening paragraph, that "The Scarboroughs didn’t just sail to America on the Mayflower - they owned her."

Research into this claim has uncovered that the owners of both Mayflowers (I and II) are documented and that the Scarboroughs were not among them.  However, a historian with the official Mayflower Web site says that the Scarboroughs were the leading shipwright family in Devon, England, from where the Mayflower sailed, in1620.  It is likely, he maintains, that the Scarboroughs took a leadership role in its construction.

That claim, descendants of Edward Scarborough living on the islands today say, is close enough!


BUXTON’S BRITISH CEMETERY


During the first six months of 1942, Hatteras and Ocracoke were closer to World War II than many of our troops overseas. Nearly a ship a day was lost, resulting in a staggering loss of life.  Counted among the casualties is the British ship, the San Delfino.

On April 9, 1942, the 463-foot tanker was chugging north past Kinnakeet as low-key as possible, well aware that packs of Hitler’s U-boats were in the water.  The Outer Banks had already gained notoriety in shipping circles as "Torpedo Junction."

Doing its best not to call attention to itself, the ship was, nevertheless, prepared for a fight, with a 4-inch deck gun, numerous machine guns fore and aft and crew members well-trained and capable in using them.  The San Delfino had left Houston a week earlier, hauling highly volatile aviation fuel bound for the Allied refueling station at Halifax, Nova Scotia.  It was an uneventful trip until Hatteras.  However, off the Outer Banks coast, the ship was running the gauntlet, and Capt. Albert Gumbleton, descended from a long line of British mariners, knew it.

At 3:30 a.m. on April 9, an elaborate drama began to play out as Capt. Rolf Mutzelburg of the U-203 lay waiting while the San Delfino approached Chicamacomico.  A tense 15 minutes later, with the ship silhouetted against the western sky, Mutzelburg gave the order, "Fire One!"  According to reports, the torpedo struck the San Delfino near the bow with no visible effect. Capt. Gumbleton cried out to his chief engineer, "Full speed ahead!" and began evasive action.

At 03:51 hours, a spread of two more torpedoes missed, and Gumbleton thought those 20 minutes just might be enough to escape.  As fate would have it, a final, desperate long shot from the U-203 hit the San Delfino amidships, and it exploded in a furious fireball as the high-octane cargo ignited.  All told, seven torpedoes were needed to send the San Delfino to the bottom in 200 feet of water. It was the ship that didn’t want to die.

Twenty-eight members of the crew of 50 perished, including several crewmen whose lifeboat drifted tragically into a mass of burning fuel. Twenty-two survivors were picked up by
HMS Norwich City mid-morning and were delivered into Morehead City bearing the terrible news.

On May 17, the body of Fourth Engineer Michael Cairns was discovered by children playing on the beach, who alerted a crewman on patrol from nearby Cape Hatteras Coast Guard Station.  Two weeks later, another royal merchantman was discovered in the surf, but the elements had ravaged his body and identification was impossible. These two valiant young men are interred in a tranquil site near the old Coast Guard Station, now headquarters for the Park Service.  The little cemetery is just past the entrance to the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse on the right.

Each year on the second Thursday in May, a small ceremony is held by the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum, the Commonwealth Graves Commission, the U.S. Coast Guard, the National Park Service, and children from Cape Hatteras School to honor the sacrifice these men gave in defense of liberty.  It is a "must-see" event, a poignant and enlightening remembrance well-attended by veterans who bring more than their share of tears.


CAPE POINT

One of the Outer Banks’ most outstanding geographical features is Cape Point and Diamond Shoals.  Although the "Point" is most easily accessible by four-wheel-drive vehicle, it is not an unreasonable walk, about two miles round trip.  It is definitely a good idea to check in with the Park Service during bird nesting season, since the area may have restricted access. This summer the access has been very restricted for ORVs and pedestrians, but that should change somewhat by the end of August.

Access to Cape Point is by either Ramp 43 or 44, which are down the road past the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse.  There is an area to park your car if you want to walk out.

Cape Point provided the cornerstone for the early stages of creation of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.  In the 1920s, Henry Phipps and his brother, John, donated approximately 2,700 acres, including the tip of Cape Hatteras and most of Buxton Woods maritime forest, to the Department of the Interior.  The Phipps brothers were the co-founders of what is now U.S. Steel with childhood friends Andrew and Thomas Carnegie.  The son of a Philadelphia cobbler, Phipps grew up in poverty yet became the proverbial American success story, achieving wealth beyond his wildest dreams. By the time of his death in 1930, Phipps had devoted his life and fortune to philanthropic pursuits. 
                      
Cape Point owes its origin to geologic processes dating back 17,000 years to the Ice Age.  As the Atlantic Ocean froze and expanded to the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, geologic runoff over 1,500 years pulled crushed sediments and sands along its trailing edge.  Once the water resettled into the Atlantic Basin, it left great deposits of sand we call the Outer Banks along the edge of the Continental Shelf.   

Natural forces have shaped Cape Point greatly, and change over the past 200 years has been dramatic.  Diamond Shoals, the long expanse of sandbars extending out several miles into the Atlantic, actually continued onto land as a huge dunal ridge formation almost as far as the end of Frisco.

In 1798, an English cartographer, Jonathan Price, who settled near present-day Elizabeth City prior to the American Revolution along with an associate, John Strother, mapped the North Carolina coast for use by navigators. In his notes, he referred to "three remarkable sand hills," called Stowe’s Hills locally at that time.  These hills were natural landmarks visible several miles seaward.

Coastal geologists have referred to these once large sand hills as a "mini Jockey’s Ridge."  Those hills are thought to have been named for Samuel Stowe, an early settler and landowner whose initial land grant encompassing Durants Point in Hatteras dates to 1743.
The demise of these sand hills, the largest of which later came to be known as Creed’s Hill, began with numerous hurricanes and northeasters in the first half of the 19th century. These weather systems blew down the hills and reshaped them into a series of smallish dune ridges that now make up the large expanse of natural dunescapes in the area of Frisco Campground and Billy Mitchell Airport.

A remarkable accomplishment that the National Park Service does not get its due for was the construction of the Frisco Campground in the 1960s.  It is a monumental achievement that this federal agency was able to construct a campground with a bulldozer and dragline and not alter the natural landscape significantly.  Today, this is the only area within the Cape Hatteras National Seashore that is a natural barrier island dune system, standing in contrast to the primary and secondary oceanfront dune system constructed by the federal government along the 72 miles of the seashore in the mid-1930s.
      
THE MARITIME FOREST
   
Whether you like a challenging hike or simply a pleasant stroll, Buxton Woods has much to offer nature lovers. 

The long-time standby is the Buxton Woods Nature Trail, built by the Park Service in the 1960s.  It is roughly a 3/4-mile loop on a gravel walking path through the woods.  There are all sorts of hardwoods through the trail, and it does a good job of showcasing the diversity of our
natural ecosystem, from woods to wetlands.
                      
Part of the trail is an old cart path used during the 1700s and 1800s by islanders when the weather was bad.  The beach during fair weather provided the quickest route from the Cape to Hatteras village, but when the tide was up, the wind blew, or a hot day sweltered, the sublime experience of meandering trails through the woods provided shelter.  The nature trail is about 20 yards past the entrance to the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, and there is plenty of parking.  The walk takes less than an hour, including the time to read the many interesting markers along the way.

Substantially more strenuous is the Open Ponds Trail, which is about 150 yards beyond the Nature Trail. It is a gorgeous 4 1/2- mile trail running all the way to the area of Frisco Campground.  Adjoining Open Ponds are various trails, including a horse trail and those of the Buxton Woods Coastal Reserve. During this walk you will see all sorts of wildlife, including a snake or two.  Be careful where you put your feet as you walk.  Open Ponds Trail is an old Indian footpath which became a horse-and-cart trail used extensively by the Scarborough, Farrow, and Jennette families in their timbering and livestocking work, beginning in the 1700s.
   
The island’s best-kept secret for great hiking or a leisurely walk is Buxton Woods Coastal Reserve.  Back in the 1980s, the state of North Carolina began buying up tracts of land until nearly 1,000 acres of rare maritime forest were destined for preservation.  It is now the largest tract of maritime forest in the state.  Maritime forests are characterized by dune ridges covered by pine, oak, and cedar, interlaced with swamps and unique low-lying marshy wetlands that the locals call “sedges.”  The maritime forest, too, is an ecosystem whose formation dates back to the Ice Age.
 
In addition to a great variety of uncommon plants and grasses, the Buxton Woods is an important resting place for migratory birds in the fall.  More than 360 species have been identified by the Cape Hatteras Bird Club, including bald eagles and peregrine falcons.  Animals you’ll stand a good chance of seeing are the elusive gray fox (at dawn and dusk), mink, river otter, and deer.

To access the site, travel south from Cape Hatteras School on Highway 12 until you see Old Doctor’s Road on your left, in the curve just past the Sandbar and Grille. There are several hiking trails that link up with Cape Hatteras National Seashore property on the oceanside.  For more information, call the Reserve office at (252) 261-8891.


HATTERAS VILLAGE

No village or municipality on the Outer Banks is richer in scope of history than Hatteras.  Today, that heritage has manifested itself into a community determined to shape its own destiny. Hatteras is a unique mix of upscale vacation homes, humble permanent homes, a working waterfront, and a quality of life shaped by pride and independence.

With its geography defined by the Atlantic Ocean, Hatteras Inlet, Pamlico Sound, and myriad winding waterways, Hatteras is as "watersports friendly" as any place on the Carolina coast.  The village has become popular with kayakers enjoying its serene waterways inhabited by aquatic birds of all kinds.  Even though Hatteras at one time was equal with Wilmington on the Cape Fear River with shipping tonnage passing through the inlet, today it is home to the world-class Hatteras charter fishing fleet, holder of numerous International Game Fishing Association world records.

Hatteras is also the home of the flagship of North Carolina’s renowned ferry operation, the Hatteras to Ocracoke Ferry, ferrying vacationers along the second largest inland body of water in the United States.  North Carolina proudly boasts the second largest ferry operation in the county, close behind Washington state.  The ferry system is the largest employer on the island, employing nearly 200 Hatteras and Ocracoke islanders during the height of the summer season.

One of the Civil War’s most critical military operations occurred at Hatteras.  At daybreak on Aug. 28, 1861, a Union flotilla began the most intense naval bombardment known to mankind up until then.  For more than four hours, it is estimated that a Union shell exploded in and around the fort every four seconds.  The importance of the capture of Hatteras Inlet was underscored by Admiral David D. Porter, President Lincoln’s most trusted military advisor: "The bombardment of Fort Hatteras," Porter told a biographer after the war, "was our first naval victory, indeed our first victory of any kind, and ultimately proved one of the most important events of the war, giving us a foothold on southern soil."

Until a hurricane opened Hatteras Inlet in1846, Hatteras and Ocracoke islands were joined, laying in part the groundwork for the close association the two villages enjoy today.  Many of the same family names, long prevalent on both islands, are still found there today.

The Hatteras waterfront was wiped out by the Great Hurricane of 1899, one of the most destructive storm systems ever recorded in the western Atlantic.  It destroyed wharves, warehouses, and 13 thriving seafood houses, including that of Alonzo J. Stowe, one of the largest seafood exporting operations between the Chesapeake Bay and Charleston Harbor, S.C.

Hatteras provides a great family walking experience around its approximately 2-mile loop.  Be sure and pick up a copy of the Hatteras walking tour brochure in one of the local stores.


SPRINGER’S POINT
       
Unquestionably, one of the most underappreciated areas of Ocracoke and Hatteras islands is Springer’s Point, a 122-acre nature preserve on the southern tip of Ocracoke, facing Teach’s Hole and Ocracoke Inlet.  It is a complex mix of native marshes, a gorgeous, thick canopy of maritime forest, a unique saltwater creek and a remote sandy beach. It is an important nesting site for all sorts of wading birds, such as ibises, egrets, and herons.

Springer’s Point also has a fascinating history dating back to the early settlement of the island.  Ocracoke Preservation Society historians Ellen Fulcher, Earl O’Neal, Chester Lynn, and others document the area as being the location of Pilot Town, the original village, established in 1715 by the colonial government.  The government authorized pilots to guide shipping in and out of Ocracoke Inlet, a tricky maze of shoals and good water.  In the early days of colonial Carolina, Ocracoke Inlet handled the entire economy of eastern North Carolina, serving as an outlet for produce, lumber, and naval stores and an inlet for Caribbean goods, such as sugar cane, molasses, spirits, and fruit.

It was this lucrative activity that attracted the notorious pirate Blackbeard to the Ocracoke Inlet in 1718.  Although he was the scourge of colonial shipping, to many subsistence residents of backwoods Carolina, he was money.  Blackbeard provided many luxuries of the day, such as cocoa, salt, pepper, spices and preservatives, and a host of other goods that otherwise the early residents might never see.  Therefore, the homefolks were inclined to keep their mouths shut. Blackbeard was a celebrity in Bath, the colonial capital, and moved about at will. Documents obtained on board the sloop Adventure after its capture and the death of the pirate in November, 1718, implicated the hierarchy of colonial government going all the way to the governor as being on Blackbeard’s payroll.

The big guy also knew how to party.  The largest gathering of pirates ever known on the American coast occurred just weeks before his death near Springer’s Point, where the pirates barbecued hogs, drank stolen rum, brought in a few ladies of the evening (willing and unwilling), established a roaring bonfire, traded with the locals, and generally blew it out during a week-long bash that became known as the original Pirate’s Jamboree.

Five of the most notorious pirates operating in the Atlantic and Caribbean at that time, the Brethren of the Coast as they called themselves, were in attendance.  They were the notorious killer Capt. Charles Vane, at about 5 feet, 2 inches, a diminutive yet bloodthirsty hoodlum; Israel Hands, sailing with Blackbeard but a captain in his own right; the flamboyant Capt. John "Calico Jack" Rackham, so-named for his passion for multi-colored coats and sailing with Vane as his quartermaster, and Capt. Robert Deal, Vane’s bodyguard and enforcer, also sailing with Vane as a mate.  When word of this gathering reached Gov. Alexander Spotswood of Virginia, the intelligence spurred him to action, since he feared the Brethren was setting up another "Madagascar" at Pilot Town.  Fewer than three months later, Blackbeard was killed within sight of the beach.

In the late 1740s, Spanish marauders blockaded the inlet and landed at Springer’s Point.  They looted several homes, pilfered gardens and livestock, burned boats, and killed a number of the citizens, including some women and children.

At daybreak on, July 12, 1813, Ocracokers were shocked to find a British flotilla and almost 2,000 troops anchored off the bar. The island had served as a base for privateers during the War of 1812 and as a "back door" gateway for supplies through the Albemarle, bypassing British patrols and the Chesapeake Bay blockade. The Brits invaded the island and terrorized the populace, abusing women and children and stealing anything of value. Although Ocracokers were spared any loss of life, the trauma of this invasion stayed with the people for years.

While visiting Springer’s Point is certainly an option, please be aware that it is surrounded by private property, and there is no parking whatsoever.  It is best to check in with the Ocracoke Preservation Society Museum by the ferry docks for information and suggested access.  You can park your car in the Park Service lot by the docks and walk or bike to Springer’s Point.

OCRACOKE’S BACK ROADS

Ocracoke, by its nature, is off the beaten path.  Still isolated even in these modern times, every day at this island paradise is a day of discovery.  That’s the feeling you’ll get as you walk or bike along the narrow back roads of Ocracoke.  One of the best little back roads is just that – the Back Road.  Here you’ll find some really neat little shops and merchants in them who know everybody and everything.  Ocracoke touts itself as a great little walking community, and it is, witnessed by the many walkers checking out the sights during the season.

Not only is there some great shopping, but you can see the smallest public school in North Carolina on the Back Road.  Its smallish size is actually a tremendous advantage, as Ocracoke students are well prepared for college life should they decide to go that way.  There are no school buses at Ocracoke, only an activity bus.

A couple of years ago, as my tour bus shuttled a group of retired school administrators from Connecticut down the Back Road, I was flagged over by a friend and native son who had graduated from Ocracoke School.  As the young man bounded exuberantly up the bus stairs to say hello, I had just started to tell the patrons about the smallest school in the state.
Before the Ocracoker could get his first words out, a lady sitting in the front seat asked him, rather abruptly, "Young man, where did you go to school?"
 
"Why, right over yonder," he replied in his familiar Ocracoke brogue.

 "No, son," she said, "I mean where did you go to college?"
 
He hesitated momentarily, realizing this well-intentioned retired education professional was not quite grasping the scope and context of Ocracoke School.
 
 With the slightest smile, he replied in complete courtesy, "Ma’am, I work for a living. I didn’t get to go to college, but I am extremely proud of the fact that I graduated third in my class."

Exalted, the lady jumped up and proceeded to holler to her colleagues that this exceptional young man had graduated in the upper echelon of his class, to an eruption of instantaneous applause from her fellow educators.

Little did she know that there were only three seniors that year.

The quaint architecture found on the Back Road reflects an admirable quality of Ocracokers.  Wood was a valuable commodity on the island in years past because of the difficulty of getting it there from the mainland. That is why many of the houses, even though they may be two stories, demanded traditional building practices using every piece of wood and any scraps as well.  This economy of wood still continues today with the limited amount of new construction on the island.

Ocracoke has more vegetation now than it has had since the days of Pilot Town, mainly because approximately 90 percent of the island is national seashore and there is no need for firewood anymore.


CEMETERIES
        
Hidden away in each of the islands’ eight villages are family cemeteries, silent sanctuaries sacred to the memory of those who have gone before.
 
Whether on the soundside, soaking in the peacefulness of a Pamlico sunset or the serenity of a wooded location, graveyards provide insight to life on Hatteras and Ocracoke at a time when things were a lot simpler.

Today, with the ability to cover great distances easily, we take for granted what our ancestors never did – family. Reading the hundreds of headstones throughout the islands’ cemeteries, visitors will uncover some of the most poignant poetry and tributes the human mind can conceive.  A short tribute inscribed on a marble or granite headstone was about the only thing a family member had to remember a loved one by.  Now, we have photographs and audio and video recordings with which to cherish memories. 

Cremations now are often a necessity as plots in these family graveyards are becoming a rarity.  One of the things that will strike you as you visit cemeteries is the care and attention given these sites.  It may be a freshly mended and painted fence, a formation of neatly arranged conch shells, or a vase that holds fresh flowers at important anniversaries.

A beautiful cemetery on Hatteras Island is the Midgett Cemetery in the northwest corner of the Salvo Day Use Area, on Park Service property.  Here you will also see some cedar markers, dating to a time prior to the Civil War when stone markers were not available simply because the family couldn’t afford it.  In time, soundside erosion will claim this site, but now it is quite convenient for the visiting public to catch a glimpse into the past.

Another fascinating cemetery is in Avon village, in the wooded thicket across the street from Avon Worship Center, the Miller and Gray family cemetery.  Although Kinnakeet, Avon’s historical name, is full of family graveyards, there is something special about this one nestled comfortably among the yaupon and oak not far from the shore of Pamlico Sound. Many of the stones face east here, in anticipation of the day when the angel Gabriel will set one foot on land and the other upon the sea and declare in the name of the Lord that time shall be no more.

In Buxton, be sure and visit the Quidley Cemetery located between Our Lady of the Seas Church and Cape Hatteras School.  It is a large cemetery and strategically located near the Methodist Church and the old Methodist Camp meeting site on nearby Pamlico Sound.  There are many lighthouse keepers and lifesaving servicemen buried here.

In Hatteras, while there are family graveyards in close proximity to each other throughout the village, one of most tranquil is the Rollinson Cemetery next to Burrus Red & White Supermarket and behind the restored Hatteras Weather Station.

In Ocracoke, there are many scattered along the back roads of the village.  Be sure to visit the Capt. David and Alice Wahab Williams Cemetery next to the British Cemetery on British Cemetery Road.  Beside this one is the Howard and Wahab cemetery. Here you’ll find the grave of Ann Howard, who lived to be 117 years old and is thought to be the daughter-in-law of Blackbeard’s quartermaster, William Howard.  Don’t miss the famous resting place of Warren Wahab, who died 17 years before he was born.  The humor of the undertaker’s misprint was not lost on his family, and they let it be.

We hope you enjoy these places a little less celebrated on Hatteras and Ocracoke islands.  Who knows, maybe in a few years, there will be more places like this?  Maybe you will discover one of them for the first time.  We welcome your ideas and suggestions for more places on Hatteras and Ocracoke islands that are "off the beaten path."          

                            
(Daniel C. Couch is a contributor to The Island Free press who has been writing about the history of Hatteras and Ocracoke islands since he was in high school.  He operates Hatteras Tours, which specializes in historical tours of the islands.)


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