November 21, 2017

Kinnakeet Home – Windmills along the Sea


My last article was of memories of my childhood spent along the soundside of Kinnakeet. These memories came from the fun we had playing in the water in an area we called “Irene’s Landing.”

I was recently thinking of the connection that “landings” historically had to village life. There were several places along the soundside of Avon where boats would come in close to shore to bring supplies and mail. These areas were called landings. The mail and freight boats had to anchor offshore in the channel because the water was so shallow. Villagers picked up the cargo by using a skiff propelled along by poles. Much excitement and activity was centered around the landings, and each landing had a sandy road leading to whatever general store was closest. A horse and cart was used to transport the supplies.

The landings were also locations for church “camp meetings,” which were held for a week at a time, and were always well attended as social gatherings. Much excitement and activity was centered around the landings during these days of isolation from the outside world.

Commercial fishing was the chief occupation. In 1870 the census recorded that fishermen made up 60% of the residents. The fishermen would take their boats and cross the sound to the mainland with their catch - oysters, salted spot, and mullet. They would barter the seafood for staples: corn, wheat, molasses, salt pork, coffee.  

In 1715, the Act to Encourage Windmills was passed by British officials for the Carolina colony. This act granted one-half acre of public land to anyone who would build a windmill on it, with the condition that the windmill be operational within two years. Windmills were built on Hatteras Island as well in order to grind the corn and wheat that the fishermen received as barter.

The first windmills on the Outer Banks, according to David Stick’s book The Outer Banks of NC, were probably built in the late 1700’s, as that is when deeds started referring to them as landmarks. There were different sizes of windmills with different capacities.  Windmills were used for almost 200 years on the Outer Banks.

The windmills on the Outer Banks were “post mills.” These mills were mounted on a central post that would allow the structure to be turned into the wind. The windmills’ vanes could also be set to current wind conditions. They were reported to have a sail diameter of 40 feet. The mills had two grindstones, made of sandstone shipped in from Barbados.

By the mid-19th century, there were approximately eight windmills on Hatteras Island. Fish and oysters were traded for corn and wheat from farms around Stumpy Point. They would bring their corn or wheat to the mill owner, who would grind it for them in exchange for a portion of the meal.  

According to The Kinnakeeter, by Charles T. Williams, II, Pharaoh Farrow had more than one windmill in Kinnakeet. Two of his mills were sold to the Miller and Scarborough families.

The Hurricane of 1899 destroyed most of the windmills along the Outer Banks.  According to David Stick’s book, Graveyard of the Atlantic, this hurricane named San Ciriaco made direct landfall near Hatteras. It had recorded winds on Hatteras Island as high as 140 mph before the measuring equipment blew away. 

By that time, local windmills had begun to be phased out because large mills on the mainland were providing a supply of affordable flour and cornmeal.

Avon was the only village with an operational mill by 1904. There were two windmills in Avon in the early 1900’s, one at Zeb Miller’s landing (in the southern part of the village), and one at Farrow Scarborough’s landing (my great-grandfather.)

I am including a map provided to me by Mary Jane Tutzauer, a local history buff. She used the county GIS map as a base, then added in the locations of mills in Kinnakeet. These are approximations based on her research into historical records.

Each village of Hatteras Island was once a community unto itself, with ties to the mainland only by boat. The villages were somewhat isolated from each other because the roads were simply trails through the sand.  

This made for tightly knit communities that somehow kept its roots and not only survived, but also experienced times of prosperity. I heard someone say that you still have to be somewhat “quirky” to enjoy living here. I agree. Synonyms for quirky are eccentricity, individualism, and oddity. And yes, the people who lived here historically can be characterized in that way, and those of us who choose to live here can be as well. Our cultural heritage is by no means homogenized, but is richly seasoned by the salt of the sea.

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