Sunday, September 20, 2009

Bald Beach

I received the following comment on yesterday's blog: "Philip, I'm really interested in how Blackbeard's Lodge could have been on the beach. Did the beach come from the ocean or sound side? Has the land been filled in?:

In the 1940s and 1950s the area from the edge of the village (about where the Variety Store is today*) all the way to where the National Park Service campground is now located was primarily a large tidal flat. There were a few natural dunes with beach grasses and sea oats, but most of that stretch (and all the way to the South Point) was nothing more than sand & scattered shells. During exceptionally high tides and storms the Atlantic ocean would wash over that area.

After the state paved the road (NC Hwy 12) in 1957, and the NPS built the continuous row of artificial dunes between the road and the Atlantic Ocean (and planted sea grasses) the "Plains," as it was (and still is) called, gradually changed. The grasses held the sand in place, and the salt water seldom washed over, allowing bushes and shrubs, and later cedars and other trees, to take root and thrive. Today it has little resemblance to the Plains of 50-60 years ago.

When the Wahab Village Hotel (now Blackbeard's Lodge) was built the "bald beach" (sandy flats devoid of vegetation) extended from the Atlantic Ocean close to the front of the hotel. Private planes would land on the beach and taxi to within easy walking distance of the building.

On you next visit to the island take note of several street names -- Ocean View Road, and Old Beach Road, e.g. They are so named because years ago you could actually view the ocean or drive a jeep right to the beach from those roads. Today, many people are confused by the names because they seem so far from the ocean.

If you look at some vintage photos of the island (see, especially, Ocracoke Album, pp. 176-177) you will see what I mean. There is a telling photo (which I can't locate right now) of the WWII radar tower on "Loop Shack Hill" (just beyond Howard's Pub -- the concrete base of the tower [and remnants of other buildings] are still there, now covered by trees, but be careful walking there because of the prickly pear cacti). It clearly shows the wide expanse of bare beach stretching all the way to the ocean.

*My dad often told me that villagers thought Thurston Gaskill was crazy because in the 1930s he was building his new house (now the Thurston House B&B) right on the edge of the bald beach. Today, of course, this is in the heart of the village!

I hope this helps.

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is a small photo album with historic pictures, including the aftermath of the 1944 hurricane, the 1921 Ghost Ship of the Outer Banks, the 1935 wreck of the Nomis, the Island Inn, the Methodist Church, and the Wahab Village Hotel. I've added a short paragraph under each photo to help put them in historical perspective. You can see the pictures by clicking here:


  1. Debbie Leonard9:36 AM

    Thanks! That's very interesting. Makes you wonder what Ocracoke would be today had Highway 12 not been built.

  2. Anonymous2:22 PM

    I really enjoyed your posts! My husband and I are hoping to explore Ocracoke ourselves in a few weeks. As a writer and former teacher, I really like to get a "feel" for a place before I visit.
    Gerri Snyder

  3. Gerri,
    Hi, what kind of writer are you? Where will I find your work. I also am a writer and blogger. Lou Ann

  4. Anonymous6:42 AM

    Thanks that cleared some things up