Saturday, January 22, 2011


Several days ago a reader asked how Ocracokers heat their homes. Many years ago islanders used fireplaces and wood burning stoves. In an 1808 deed William Howard grants the subscribers of the shoolhouse the "priviledge of giting wood for the benefit of sd [said] School house as far as get enuff for the use of the house of any kind except live oak and cedar..." Shipwrecks were also a source of firewood, although islanders could never count on that supply.

Because of the limited supply of firewood on Ocracoke coal eventually became the popular fuel for home heating. Coal was brought to the island from the mainland by boat. Coastal schooners also often carried coal as cargo. Still today lumps of coal can occasionally be found on the beach, the remnants of long ago shipwrecks.

Later on, kerosene heaters were introduced to Ocracoke. "Ziegler" heaters were popular beginning in the early part of the twentieth century. A few older islanders still heat with Zieglers, though it is difficult to keep a whole house warm with just one heater in the parlor. One islander, who left to work in Philadelphia in the early decades of the twentieth century, was amazed to discover that it was possible to stay warm on both sides of his body at the same time!

Whole house, fuel oil furnaces eventually replaced many space heaters. These were mostly installed in the 1960s and 1970s.

Today, most island homes are heated with heat pumps, either electric or LP gas. Heat pumps also provide air conditioning in the summer, a luxury my grandparents couldn't have even imagined.

A number of islanders also have gas wall heaters, gas log stoves, electric space heaters, or wood burning stoves for auxiliary heat.

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of Sam Jones, Island Legend. You can read it here:


  1. Anonymous7:15 AM

    Thanks so much, Philip, for taking the time to answer this NC mainlander's question regarding typical methods of heating homes on Ocracoke, now and during the decades gone by. I am quite amused at the man who moved to PA and commented he was "amazed" one could stay warm on both sides at the same time!!!!!

    Speaking of warmth and cold....just heard Ocracoke might get a dusting to possibly an inch or two of snow tonight! Tell Lachlan to get ready for another rare snow event on Ocracoke! My wintry weather doesn't arrive until Monday or Tuesday.

    Again, many thanks for the info! Most interesting!

  2. Anonymous9:02 AM

    Best part of my day-a mug of coffee & the Journal

  3. It is snowing right now as I write.

  4. Anonymous11:19 AM

    Wow!!!!! How exciting!

    Please include some photos after the snow, if you can!

  5. Anonymous11:45 AM

    I believe you, Philip! So, I checked out the airport web cam, as well as Ocracoke Harbor Inn web cam after reading your comments about the snow. It's sticking, too! What a raw, but beautiful day on Ocracoke!

    I called my mother-in-law (89) who lives near Belhaven and shared the Ocracoke weather news with her. She was most surprised!

    Good day to stay inside and enjoy looking at the snow from a toasty warm house!