a visit to the Ocracoke Preservation Society Museum this summer
and fifty years ago, the American Civil War made a brief but
significant visit to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Confederate
forts were built on Hatteras and Ocracoke islands, but Union troops,
eager to impose a blockade along the coast, attacked. By the end of
1861, both Confederate forts were defeated, and the islands remained in
the hands of federal forces till the end of the war.
The Ocracoke Preservation Museum recently opened its doors for the 2011
season with a new exhibit depicting Civil War activity on Ocracoke and
Hatteras. The exhibit, which is in keeping with the country's focus on
the sesquicentennial of the war, includes illustrations from 19th
editions of Harper's Weekly and the Illustrated London Times. The
illustrations depict Fort Ocracoke, the earthen, 20-gun fort built on
Beacon Island and several views of the Battle at Hatteras.
is also an artifact, found near the fort in 1958, which has been
identified as a bar or chain shot, used to disable sailing vessels.
It has been almost 30 years since a small group of Ocracoke residents
with a vision of preserving Ocracoke's heritage set out to make their
vision of the museum a reality. They had noticed that the sleepy little
fishing village was attracting more and more visitors, and, as a
result, its character was changing. David and Sherrill Senseney,
Phillip and Julie Howard, Linda Scarborough, and Anita Fletcher were
among those who realized that unless caring people acted, Ocracoke
would lose the character that made it unique.
They formed an organization which they called the Ocracoke Preservation
Society (OPS) and set about creating a fine museum. Since then, OPS has
expanded its original goals and supports many projects.
Today, OPS is a non-profit, community based organization with more than
450 members, including full and part-time residents, property owners,
and visitors who love Ocracoke. It has a board of directors and a staff
consisting of an administrator, DeAnna Locke, office manager Chrisi
Gaskill, and a bookkeeper, Marcy Brenner.
The many volunteers who help staff the gift shop and participate in
other activities are the backbone of the organization. The mission of
OPS is to preserve the island's cultural, historical, and environmental
heritage. Based in a historic island home, it provides opportunities
for residents and visitors alike to learn about the things that make
The Ocracoke Preservation Society Museum was originally the home of
David Williams, the first captain of Ocracoke's U.S. Coast Guard
Station. The two-story, clapboard house, built around 1900, was a
typical Ocracoke home.
OPS obtained the building in 1989 and moved it onto National Park
Service property across from the Swan Quarter and Cedar Island ferry
docks at the end of Highway 12. With donations of time, money, and
family heirlooms, it was carefully restored.
The museum, which charges no admission, officially opened in 1992. It
offers a view into island life at the turn of the last century, as well
as exhibits on World War II submarine activities off the Outer Banks,
the Ocracoke brogue, a seashell collection donated by Ruth Cochran, and
Muse Bryant, Ocracoke's beloved African-American
Also housed in the building are a gift shop, the OPS offices, and a
research library. Behind the museum is an exhibit which features a
traditional 1936 Ocracoke fishing boat, the Blanche.
The gift shop focuses on items of local interest, such as island music,
artwork, and books about Ocracoke. Other popular items
homemade island fig preserves, locally hand-made potholders, and
Ocracoke's traditional drink, yaupon tea.
The Ocracoke Preservation Society was instrumental in creating the
Ocracoke Historic District. This irregular area surrounding Silver Lake
Harbor, deemed a part of “the cultural heritage of our nation,” was
entered into the National Register of Historic Places on Sept. 28,
1990. It consists of 232 contributing buildings, 15 contributing
cemeteries, four contributing structures (the lighthouse, cisterns,
picket fences, and docks), 139 non-contributing buildings, and one
non-contributing structure. (Contributing buildings and structures are
ones that were built before 1959 and have not had their integrity
compromised by subsequent additions and changes.) Inclusion in the
Historic District is not a mandate but a form of recognition.
In keeping with its commitment to support the Historic District, OPS
recently purchased a 100-year-old island home so that it would be
preserved. The house, located on Lighthouse Road, has been in the
O'Neal, Styron, and Gaskins family for those years. The house is now
for sale at $264,900 to someone interested in purchasing and restoring
it. If interested, call 252-928-8029.
OPS also gives an annual Historic Preservation Award for restoration of
an old island structure. Tom and Carol Pahl received this honor at the
last membership meeting for their work on the Uriah and Maude Garrish
house on Highway 12.
Two recent fundraisers were successful in raising money to
support OPS. On April 1, storyteller and author Donald Davis
entertained a good crowd with his stories and donated the proceeds –
more than $5,300 -- to the organization. On April 20, an auction at the
museum, raised more than $2,100.
Other upcoming events include the OPS spring membership
This semi-annual gathering will be on May 10, with a potluck dinner and
“Stories of Ocracoke Island” by several storytellers.
Summer activities will include the always popular free OPS Porch Talks
in June, July, and August, typically on Tuesday and Thursday mornings
(best to check ahead, though, in case of schedule changes.)
Children’s programs, which are funded by the Ocracoke Arts Council,
will also be on the agenda.
If you plan a visit to Ocracoke Island, or live here now, make sure to
put a visit to the Ocracoke Museum on your agenda and try to attend at
least one of the special events.