I have many memories of traveling from my childhood home in Virginia to my grandparents’ homes in Avon.
My earliest is of waiting in line for the ferry
that took cars over Oregon Inlet before the bridge was built.
Later memories include catching a ride with Basil Hooper, Sr. and his
family. Basil was from Avon as well, and would go home as often
as he could get away. On every trip, as soon as we crossed the
VA/NC border, he would pull the car over and get out of the car so he
could breathe that good North Carolina air.
One nighttime trip across the Bonner Bridge, I
remember the sky looking so dramatically different with a full moon
that I thought perhaps the “rapture” I’d been taught about in Sunday
School had occurred and left us all behind.
The longest stretch of highway always seemed to
be the stretch between Salvo and Avon. I can remember keeping my eyes
peeled for the Little Kinnakeet Life-Saving Station, because once I saw
that, I knew we were almost there. Driving with my own family
meant being stuffed in the back seat with my brothers and our dog, who
would scratch my legs with his claws as he nervously paced over our
Automobiles arrived on Hatteras Island sometime in the 1920s, more than 20 years before paved roads linked the villages.
Locals called the sandy trails “Route 101,”
because there seemed to be 101 of them crisscrossing the island.
Sand ruts and hard beach formed these routes. The roads changed
constantly due to blowing sand and water, and were dependent on tide,
wind, and weather conditions. It was routine to get stuck in the
sand and have to get out and push.
In 1938, T. Stockton Midgett began a bus line
that ran from Manteo to Hatteras for 35 years. He died two months
after beginning this endeavor and his sons, 18-year-old Harold,
14-year-old Anderson, and 10-year-old Stockton or “Stocky” carried
No one was worried about them being so young;
people were happy to have the transportation and these were fairly
unregulated times. Villagers paid about $2.50 for a one way trip
from Hatteras to Manteo. The young entrepreneurs would travel
north, endeavoring to keep their schedule of stops at designated stores
or post offices.
Travel from Hatteras to the Oregon Inlet ferry
took about four and a half hours. However, major delays could occur
from storms, flooding, soft sand, or breakdowns that could double the
amount of travel time. Occasionally the travelers had to spend
the night on the beach.
Once the bus got to Manteo, passengers could
travel further with the Virginia Dare Transportation company bus.
The young men kept their schedule 7 days a week with few
exceptions. The bus line continued operating until the
establishment of paved roads and the Oregon Inlet Bridge enabled
everyone to provide their own transportation. Their
entrepreneurial spirit took them to their next venture that continues
through today, Midgett Realty.
The first paved road was established in 1948
between Hatteras and Avon. Avon and Rodanthe were linked by 1950,
and Rodanthe to the Oregon Inlet Ferry by 1952.
The Bonner (Oregon Inlet) Bridge was completed in
1963. In 1990, the Department of Transportation built an
emergency ferry landing at the Rodanthe Harbor after the Bonner Bridge
was damaged and temporarily closed in 1990. Emergency ferries
have since been used when Highway 12 was damaged by storms.
Beginning in the 1920s, a private ferry was run by Jennings B. “Toby” Tillett.
Toby Tillett operated the Oregon Inlet ferry
service for 25 years, after founding it with his father. The
first ferry was a barge that was 30 feet long and had to be pulled
behind his fishing boat. The next ferry he operated was called
the Oregon Inlet, with its own engine and a capacity of two cars. His
third ferry was named the Barcelona and could carry up to fourteen
cars. In 1934, the N.C. Highway Commission began
subsidizing his business to keep tolls affordable. In 1950, he
sold his operation to the state.
Tourism was increasing on Hatteras Island as news
spread of the island’s great fishing and hunting. The N.C. state
run ferries increased their runs to keep up with demand, and by the
late 1950s, could carry 2,000 passengers daily. This proved to be
extremely expensive to the state at a cost of $500,000 each year.
Long lines were increasingly becoming a problem as well.
Because of this increasing demand, the state and
federal governments began planning what was to become the Bonner
Bridge. The bridge cost $4 million to build. The state of
North Carolina covered $1.5 million, and the federal government covered
$2.5 million. Part of this cost was put under the National Park
Service. North Carolina congressman Herbert C. Bonner was highly
involved in promoting this project’s funding. The opening of the Bonner
Bridge in 1963 ushered in a new era for Hatteras Island, quickly
transforming it from a quiet island of isolated fishing villages to a
tourism driven economy.
Highway 12 has earned the distinction of being a
scenic byway on both the state and national level due to the beautiful
landscape it travels through, as well as the unique culture of the
Outer Banks. Living and working on Hatteras Island affords us
beautiful scenery of sea, sound, and shore that enriches even the most
routine of days.