Ocracoke preservationists are concerned about the century-old Island Inn
By PAT GARBER
Auction, Ocracoke Island Inn" reads the newspaper ad
local newspaper. "Sold at public auction to the highest bidder on the
courthouse steps, October 21, 2010."
For over a century, the lovely Island Inn has stood in quiet elegance
in Ocracoke village, not far from the Lighthouse, an island institution
of historic proportions. Listed now on the National Register of
Historic Places, it is the oldest inn on Ocracoke and has been claimed
to be the oldest continuously operating inn on the Outer Banks.
The property where it stands was deeded by Janus and Zyphia Howard. The
original center portion of the inn was built in 1901 by Charlie
Scarborough, a prominent carpenter, using, in part, lumber salvaged
from shipwrecks. The first floor served as a schoolhouse until 1917 and
the second floor as the Odd Fellows Society meeting room
In 1920, Benjamin O’Neal bought the building and had it moved across
the street through the deep sand.
Blanche Howard Jolliff, an Ocracoke native who grew up on the island,
recalls the move, saying, “How in the world they moved it, I don’t
It became their private residence until the O’Neals moved to
Morehead City. Sometime around 1940, Ocracoke native Stanley
bought the building for $700 and opened the Wahab Coffee Shop,
making it a great success.
Blanche Jolliff remembers a barber shop located in the
for a short while, dances that were held there, and buying homemade
ice cream to take home to her parents. She remembers seeing a
picture of the old schoolroom which included her uncle, Lawrence
Howard, when he was a student there.
During World War II, Stanley Wahab rented the upstairs of the coffee
shop to construction crews brought in to build the U.S. Naval Base. The
building became the Officers Club --known as the "Crow’s Nest"
-- from 1942-46.
After the base closed, Wahab bought some of the barracks and moved them
to the property, using them as a dance hall and later apartments. When
he moved back to the island, he added a second floor, a dining room,
kitchen, and more bedrooms, calling the establishment the Silver Lake
While away, Wahab hired a couple, Mr. and Mrs. Godfrey, to manage the
place. One day Mrs. Godfrey mysteriously disappeared, and she was later
found murdered. Her ghost is said to still haunt the old
Silver Lake Inn was a favorite destination for many visitors
the island in those years. Wahab eventually sold the building to Doward
Brugh who re-named it the Island Inn, and he later sold it to Bill and
Helen Styron. Over time, an east wing and a dining room were added, as
well as a swimming pool.
In 1978, Ocracoke native Larry Williams, along with his partner Foy
Shaw, bought the Inn and spent nearly 20 years redecorating and
upgrading it. They built an additional 19 rooms on the other side of
House Road. They sold it in 1990 to Cee and Bob Touey, who moved their
family to Ocracoke and took over running the establishment.
The Island Inn’s dining room has been featured in such publications as
Southern Living, Cuisine, The Saturday Evening Post, and Fodor's, and
has housed such notable guests as entertainer Jimmy Buffet, actress
Michele Pfeiffer, and astronaut Scott Horowitz, according to a story by
Kevin Scott Cutler.
The economy and banking woes have not been good for the Island Inn,
however, and the historic building is in jeopardy. The foreclosure
auction planned for 12 noon, Oct. 21, at the Hyde County Courthouse
will place the inn in the hands of whoever bids the highest.
There are concerns that someone who does not care about the island or
the significance of its historic inn will place the highest bid with
thoughts of tearing it down.
In the past, many people who love Ocracoke have stepped up to try and
save those places that make the island special. As far back as the
‘50s, when the Cape Hatteras National Seashore was created and
Ocracoke’s magnificent beaches preserved, Ocracokers have supported
They have come together to help save many of the island’s historic
buildings, including the Community Store, the Ocracoke Fish House (now
Ocracoke Seafood Company), the David Williams home (now the Ocracoke
Museum), and most recently, the Emma and Simon O’Neal house, located on
The creation of the historic district, of which the Island Inn is a
part, provides an incentive for individuals to preserve and restore
Ocracoke’s historic buildings, as Phillip Howard, Tom and Carol Paul,
and many others have done.
The Ocracoke Preservation Society presents an annual award to encourage
such preservation efforts, and winners include, among others, John
Thomas and Mildred O’Neal and Blanche Howard O’Neal. The attainment and
preservation of the beautiful and historic property, Springer’s Point,
is another example of how people who loved Ocracoke came together,
working with the North Carolina Coastal Land Trust, to save a wonderful
Presently the Ocracoke Foundation is working on a grant to preserve the
Community Square, of which the Community Store is a part.
such effort, saving the Berkeley, has not yet succeeded.
The Island Inn is a much loved Ocracoke icon that most islanders and
visitors would like to see preserved, and it is hoped that whoever bids
on it on Oct. 21 will do so with this goal.
Blanche Howard Jolliff expresses the view of many when she says that "I
hope very much that whoever gets it will not tear it down, but will
continue to run it as an inn."