Saturday, July 18, 2009


Friday morning I enjoyed breakfast with Charlie Jones and his extended family. Charlie's great-grandfather, Captain George Gregory Howard, built the large house with the widow's walk and red trim which is visible from Howard Street. Charlie's mother, Mary Ruth (Captain Howard's granddaughter), married Swan Quarter native, Sam Jones. Sam was quite enterprising and creative. As a consequence of inventing an improved stoker for steam locomotives in the early years of the twentieth century he eventually came to own Berkeley Machine Works in Norfolk, Virginia.

Sam loved Ocracoke and made many contributions to the community and people of the island. He is remembered for many good deeds, including significant financial assistance to our budding fire department nearly a half century ago, vaccinations for all of our wild ponies when they were first corralled in the 1950s, and major improvements to both island churches. Sam also built several impressive buildings...Berkeley Manor (near the OPS museum), Berkley Castle (now the Castle Bed & Breakfast), and the Homeplace (on the western shore of Silver Lake).

Sam had a mercurial personality, and everyone who remembers him has a story to tell -- how he chose to serve jail time rather than pay taxes he didn't believe he owed, how he built the Castle and other structures without plans or blueprints (he would just tell his crew what he wanted done that day...then tell them to re-do it if he changed his mind the next morning), how he rode his horse into the living room just because he felt like it, or how he'd call Fowler O'Neal at 2 o'clock in the morning from Norfolk, and tell him his pilot was flying him down to the island so Fowler could cut his hair.

Sam died in 1977 and is buried at Springer's Point, next to his favorite horse, Ikey D.

Sam's impact on Ocracoke is immortalized in a local song, Paddy's Holler, written by Walter Howard many years ago, and popularized by his brother Edgar, and later, by Molasses Creek. Some of our long-time visitors to Ocracoke will be familiar with the song.

The fourth verse goes like this:

Now in the olden days nobody offered praise
For anybody livin' up the holler
As the years rolled by, moved in on the sly
Now it's Mrs. Jones of Paddy's Holler.

Mrs. Jones, of course, was Mary Ruth Jones, whose family property was on the edge of Paddy's Holler, and who was Sam Jones' wife.

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the second half of my father's short journal. I call it Remembering Growing up on Ocracoke. You can read it here.

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