On Monday, July 16, one of the initial phases of the
restoration of the old Island Inn on Ocracoke began with a bang as construction
crews demolished a large and dilapidated section of the once-sprawling
Work began at roughly 3:30 p.m., and within several hours, a
wing which once housed the former restaurant and an upstairs section of the
hotel had disappeared.
“I was amazed at how fast it went yesterday,” said Ken
DeBarth, President of the Ocracoke Preservation Society (OPS.) “And we had a
big crowd watching the progress.”
The effort to restore the Island Inn began months ago, when
the OPS Executive Committee agreed to purchase the Inn in order to save it from
future commercial development. The closing took place in May, and a plan was
put in place to transform the original center section of the building into a visitors
center, with upstairs offices.
This center section of the inn was built in 1901, and
initially served as the “Odd Fellows Lodge,” as well as a public school, which
was located on the first floor.
Over the ensuing decades, the building was used for a myriad
of purposes as additional structures were tacked on to accommodate its new
roles. At one point over the past century, the Island Inn was transformed into
a private home, hotel, restaurant, coffee shop, a gift shop, and even officers’
quarters during WWII. It remained a popular spot well into the 20th
century, and when it was put up for sale, a newly formed committee known as the
Island Inn Preservation Committee, (which included local businessman John Giagu,
Hyde County Commissioner Tom Pahl, Hyde County Manager Bill Rich, and part-time
resident Ed Norvell), started working to save the site from commercial
A multiple-year plan is now in place to revitalize the central
1901 building, but a chunk of that plan requires other structures that were
added on over the years to be removed. Now beyond repair, the wing to the right
of the building which was added in the 1940s, the left-hand wing which was
added in the early 1950s, and an additional apartment and kitchen structures to
the back of the property are all in the process of being demolished.
“Over time, things have been added here and there,” said
DeBarth. “When we’re done with the demolition, it will leave a fair amount of greenspace
“This is an important step of the long-term plan,” he added.
“All of these [structures] have fallen into such disrepair, and the structure
that was built in 1901 is actually in better condition than the structures that
were added later on.”
Though it took just a couple of hours on Monday for
contractor Darren Burrus to take down the entire restaurant and motel wing of
the property, DeBarth reports that the process required a lot of precision.
“The first part that was torn down was far from the structure
we’re trying to save, and it was like a dinosaur knocking everything down,” he
said. ”But when he got close to the building we do want to save, he was working
like a surgeon, picking off one board at a time. It was incredible.”
The demolition crew will be back to work again on Tuesday,
and then Hyde County will assist in removing all the debris from the property –
a process that will likely take a few weeks.
And though this initial step of removing the dilapidated
portions of the former inn is speeding along nicely, there’s a lot more work
involved - and donations needed – to complete the ultimate goal of turning the
inn into a distinguished historic landmark.
“This is just one of many steps, and the long-term plan is
to have a lot of greenspace, historically restore that building, and have it
serve as a visitors center with some offices upstairs,” said DeBarth. “We’re
also talking to the occupancy tax board about the possibility of getting funds
to add some restrooms on the property. The village needs to have more public
“Part of the process is that each step of the way, we need
to find funding to move forward,” he added. “We [will] have fundraisers, and
we’re looking at grants, but regardless, it’s a long project, and it will take
a while to get the historic renovation completed.”
How you can help restore
the Island Inn
Folks who are interested in making a donation towards the
Island Inn project can do so by checking out the Ocracoke Preservation Society’s
website at https://ocracokepreservation.org/support/.