Monday, June 02, 2014

Silver Lake

Native islanders almost always refer to our harbor as "The Creek." More formally it is called "Cockle Creek," a name used for generations. Prior to WWII this picturesque body of water was shallow...not more than four feet deep. On the southeast border of the creek two languid streams (the "Big Gut" and the "Little Gut") ebbed and flowed as they carried brackish water toward the "bald beach."

The harbor was, and still is, a tidal creek that is connected to Pamlico Sound by "the ditch," the narrow opening used by ferries and other water craft. In the 1930s, and again during WWII, the Creek was dredged to provide a suitable harbor for larger boats and US Navy vessels. In the process, the two streams were filled in.

Local oral history suggests that native islander and entrepreneur Stanley Wahab re-christened the harbor "Silver Lake" after the initial dredging operation in order to attract tourists. There is no doubt that Stanley Wahab popularized the more colorful name in order to promote his new "Wahab Village Hotel" (now Blackbeard's Lodge).

The designation "Silver Lake" is older than that, however. In an 1890 newspaper promotion in The Daily Journal (New Bern, NC), the Spencer brothers, new owners of the Ocracoke Hotel (1885-1900), refer to "Silver Lake, a beautiful sheet of water...immediately in the rear and offer[ing] a sail for the timid who fear the sound or ocean, a bath for those who dread the surf, and fishing for any one who prefer to angle for perch rather than trout or blue fish."

The Ocracoke Hotel, 1898

The Spencer brothers were from Washington, NC, and it took many years for islanders to feel comfortable with the new name for our harbor. Even today, most O'cockers continue to call the harbor "The Creek."

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the curious story of Vera/Charlie Williams. You can read it here:


  1. Anonymous12:26 PM

    Perch??? I had to laugh at that. Around 1985 or so while "trolling" behind the Kathleen or Katherine fishing boat I snagged a 11+lb flounder. The captain was not too happy about that for a reason that escapes me now. Any all the others on the boat for a days fishing were happy about this. They all wanted to throw their lines over the side as we were beginning to dock. That flounder was all that was caught on that boat during our trip....By the way we threw him back over the side - the flounder not the captain.

  2. Anonymous9:02 AM

    Interesting story about "The Creek".and the persistent local use of that name through many years. Let's hope that other long-time native names for places and areas and features of the island persist.

  3. Anonymous8:34 AM

    Philip - You show a photo of the Ocracoke Hotel at the end of the 1800s. Where was this huge building located? Your text says that the rear of the building faced Silver Lake. Any idea why? You would think the grand front porch would have the water view. Is there any part of this building still around, recycled for some other use?

    1. The hotel sat near where the US Coast Guard Station/NCCT building is today. It faced Pamlico Sound. Steamers brought visitors to the island in the late 1800s. They docked at a "lay boat" in the sound...and later at the end of a long wooden dock. Look for an up-coming Ocracoke Newsletter about steamboats and Ocracoke, sometime in the next several months. The Ponzer (or Ponder) Hotel burned to the ground in 1900. Nothing remains.