A eulogy for an old Hatteras village friend
By BUDDY SWAIN
in the quiet before dawn, you might hear them creaking and stretching
and groaning as they rouse to the sunrise. In the twilight calm after a
stormy day, they settle and sigh. In the magic between midnight and
morning, they are gently vigilant and perhaps whisper to each other,
the old houses of Hatteras, and, together, they are the heart of the
houses are symbols of a unique and spirited lifestyle, one often
arduous yet romantic — a way of life that sustained our parents and
grandparents, and their parents, and is now rapidly succumbing to
change and challenge. These houses, and their companions — the old
boats and the family cemeteries — have stories to tell us. The roles
they played in the history of Hatteras village deserve recognition.
Their preservation honors our heritage and carries the spirit of the
past into the future.”
Nunn in an Island Breeze article from July, 1999
March 10, 2012 -- 7 a.m.
all the joys of life, it is inevitable that we will experience times of
sadness as well. And it was sadness that I felt
morning just after daybreak as I grabbed my camera and headed out the
door to visit an old friend. I knew it would be our last time
I can’t remember the first time I met her. Time has taken
that. But I do recall my grandmother, Maggie, taking me by
hand on a hot summer’s day back in the 1940s and setting out on what
seemed like an unending one mile walk on the soft sandy road from our
house to visit her down at “Sticky Bottom.” We
the road,” the northern end of Hatteras village. My friend
her life in “Sticky Bottom,” the southern end of the village.
morning as I wandered up her lane, the only sound was that of an
unrelenting, cold north wind blowing through the trees. Framed by
gnarled oaks, yaupons, and water bushes, she slowly came into view,
sitting in the same place she had occupied for more than 150
years. She is a proud lady and rightfully so. Today
the oldest house in Hatteras village, but tomorrow she will pass that
title on to another.
She was built by Henry and Christina Stowe sometime around
The house was substantially remodeled ca. 1890-1910 when the one-story
structure became two stories with a detached kitchen. Later
the 1930s, a kitchen, dining room and a bedroom were added.
many Hatteras houses, holes were bored in the flooring to allow tide
water to easily enter and leave the structure in time of storms.
This prevented her from floating off her foundation.
One of Henry Stowe’s daughters, Janette, spent her 99 years living in
this old house. It was here where she and her husband, Irv,
raised a family. Mr. Irv, in his younger years, was captain
the Ethel, a freight boat that ran from Hatteras to Elizabeth
City. He was also a boatbuilder, and later in life, he fished
a living. Miss Janette stayed busy raising seven children and
serving as the island midwife, birthing three generations of children
on Hatteras and Ocracoke islands, many of whom bear her name.
to read a 1976 article that appeared in the “Sea Chest,” a publication
of Cape Hatteras School. It is about Miss Janette and her
the islands’ midwife. It was published six years before the
at Hatteras United Methodist Church tolled to honor her life and
announce to the village her death.)
morning, the Henry and Christina Stowe house, Number 16 in the Hatteras
Village Historic Homes Walking Tour brochure, didn’t appear to have the
same determination to defy the elements that she had withstood over the
last century and a half.
and time had taken their toll. Her foundation sagged, her
bowed, and her paint had cracked and peeled. For the past
she had been pretty much left alone. Occasionally, a curious
passerby would peer through her windows, walk around her footprint, and
wonder what tales she had to tell. However, there was no
reversing the damage of tide, time, and termites. She was
and nothing could bring her back.
I clicked a few photos, touched her walls, remembered my visits with
Miss Janette, and slowly turned my back on my tired old friend, knowing
that tomorrow she would be another of my heartfelt Hatteras memories.
2012 -- 10 a.m.
Another of the village’s landmarks is going up in flames -- and not
just any landmark, but the oldest one.
The Hatteras Volunteer Fire Department arrived early. With
precision of a surgeon, they went about their task of training new
recruits in the ways of handling fire under different
My old friend stood proudly while she made the last contribution of her
life in Hatteras village.
Quickly she became engulfed by the inferno, and with a gentle crash,
she succumbed to the flames. The north wind carried her ashes
across the island and out to sea.
Miss Janette’s great-grandson and his wife, who are the owners of the
old house, stood by wiping away tears as their family treasure became
smoke and smoldering embers. They inherited a heavy burden, but their
valiant efforts to restore the old place soon gave way to the reality
that nothing is forever.
The role this house played in the history of Hatteras village deserves
no more credit than any other old house here. But she does
deserve to be honored -- for she provided a place of comfort to those
who lived within her walls and a place of beauty for those who passed
We will miss you, my old friend.