Friday, September 30, 2016

20th Century Entrepreneurs, Continued

More from Ocracoke's Register of Historic Places, United States Department of the Interior:

"A number of enterprising [Ocracoke] residents were able to make a good living [in the early 20th century] by combining service-related jobs with nontraditional maritime occupations. "The John Wilson McWilliams family, for example, owned livestock at free range 'down below,' in the marshes between the village and Hatteras Inlet to the northeast, and had such products as sheep wool for sale to markets in Newport News." (See our blog post for September 07, 2016.)

Cows being herded "Down Below"

"Will and Sigma Willis had a store on Cockle Creek and operated a mailboat. Walter O'Neal built a second house in 1918 which was an elaborate foursquare style. O'Neal was a fisherman, a hunting guide for visiting mainlanders, and operated a freight boat and a mail boat to Hatteras."

This month's Ocracoke Newsletter is about earthquakes that have affected Ocracoke and the Outer Banks. You can read the newsletter here:  


  1. Anonymous9:17 AM

    Free range herd? Free range herd on their own property or land that was just there? If the cattle owner did not own the land did they compensate the owner/town in any way shape or form for the use of the property -if the cattle owner did not own the land?????? At first it Sounds similar to the Guy that owes the Bureau of Land management thousands of dollars in Back payments( John Q. Public/taxpayers) that guy out West in the Great USA thinks he is entitled because it is there. I suppose everything is local and if you can get away er the locals look the other way er, Ambivalence rules here and not there then go where there is ambivalence. Also, not much has changed plenty of folks today have more than one occupation/income stream i.e, real estate house flippers and the The Waco Texas couple featured in Texas Monthly talk about multi-tasking an income stream. It is a good read not a puff piece.

    1. Before the US National Park Service purchased the majority of land on Ocracoke the property "down below"(anything north of the village) was privately owned, but generally considered of little commercial value, and by common consent was available for free-range livestock. There was definitely a communitarian spirit among villagers.

    2. Anonymous8:32 AM

      US Park Service Purchased the land down below, wow, the communitarian spirit evaporated when Uncle Sam saw value in the land the notion of communitarian spirit did not translate into donating the land to the Park Service. So someone owned the land, allowed the free range herds, certainly in the communitarian spirit there must have been some quid pro quo. I am curious as to the quid the cattle owner parted with if any but then there is a sucker born every minute but in the end Uncle Sam and the American Public has a park on OI open to others not in the "community." this private land owner in the end I hope is not looked upon as Selling out and all OI residents early on did not resent Uncle Sam buying into the community.

    3. Anonymous11:38 AM

      In economic theory there is value to everything. The commercial value of the land was valuable to the business man that did not own the land but gained full value as it fed his sheep and he made money from the wool. If others did not benefit from this enterprise I fail to see the communitarian spirit unless the shepherd tended to the human flock at times.

  2. Anonymous9:33 AM

    If one steps back one can imagine a host of reasons Uncle Sam discovered OI. This free range cattle herd got out of hand, there was some friction as the land changed hands and the new owner did not want free range herds on the property, there was a congress person got on the Park Service Band wagon, World War II and the Navy base and the decommissioned steps ceded the property ... you no doubt have revealed the tantalizing details in the past but how did OI go from sleepy free range cow country to Dr. Beaches top ten list-- in a conch shell if that is possible can you winnow it down to a few Freakanomics steps?? Thanks PH.

    1. I know I cannot do justice to this topic in just a few sentences. However here are a few comments:
      --- Property values (especially "down below") were historically very low. That was true even in the village until the latter part of the 20th century. E.g. in the mid 1950s my parents' property tax for a lot on Howard Street was 65 cents!
      --- I do not remember any fences around private property down below. However, there were small settlements there in the 19th century.
      --- Although I am not aware of any specific "friction" between owners of property down below there was a program (around the turn of the 20th century) to remove free ranging livestock because grazing was contributing to what old-timers called "the time of the blowing sand."
      --- Modern methods of transportation and communication (paved roads and ferry service) as well as the coming of electricity, telephones, a municipal water system, the internet, and other changes led to an increase in visitors...which helped spur the establishment of Cape Hatteras National Seashore...which, of course, brought more recognition to Ocracoke, and more visitors.
      --- Today most of Ocracoke Island is National Seashore.

    2. A clarification: Electric service on Ocracoke predated the NPS. Ferry service on the Outer Banks (Oregon Inlet, then Hatteras Inlet...private operations at first), and paved roads (e.g. Hwy 12 on Ocracoke), arrived just before and/or right about the time of the establishment of the National Seashore. The water system was installed in the mid-1970s; the internet, of course, came to Ocracoke at the same time it came to the rest of the country.

  3. Anonymous8:33 AM

    So glad you mentioned the municipal water system because November 19th is World Toilet day. It seeks to educate the public that there are millions of people that lack proper sanitation avenues and of the inroads to technological advances in biological means to treat the 21st century port-a-potty Matters. Which reminds me, what is the population density on OI? World Toilet day, think about it. And then thank Your lucky stars.