Thursday, April 07, 2011

Question 3

Our third reader question from several days ago is "How was the village different from the way it is today?"

Actually I've addressed this in some of my answers to the previous questions. Before I was six years old the mailboat (or a private boat) was the only way to get to Ocracoke. There were no ferries...and no paved roads (except, as I mentioned, the concrete road the Navy built in 1942). After WWII Ocracokers brought Army surplus Jeeps and Dodge Power Wagons to the island. They, at least, could negotiate the sandy roads.

In those days virtually everyone living on Ocracoke was related in one way or another...often in several ways. There were a number of double first cousins.

There were a few hotels and restaurants (the Island Inn & Coffee Shop, Wahab Village Hotel [now Blackbeard's Lodge]...and by the 1960s, the Harborside Motel, and the Pony Island Motel & several tourist homes that had catered to hunters and fishermen for years). Old Jake Alligood and his wife Myra ran a hangout with a jukebox for teenagers (ice cream, snow cones, candy, soft drinks, etc.) where Sunflower Studio is today.

We teenagers seldom wore shoes. I was always impressed when an islander stomped out a cigarette with his bare foot. Few of the boys wore shoes to school...and during hunting season they would simply prop their weapons up against the classroom wall.

After the roads were paved Ocracoke got a deputy sheriff. The boys put a pebble behind deputy Archie Wahab's hubcap so they would know when he was approaching.

The "bald beach" extended right up to where the Variety Store is located today. From there to where the NPS campground is now there was nothing but a wide tidal flat from ocean to sound...with an occasional dune here and there. This area is call "the Plains." Hundreds of terns and other birds nested on the bald beach.

There was also much less vegetation in the village. I remember sitting in the sandy lane in front of the house I now live in, with a pad of drawing paper on my easel. I drew a pen and ink sketch of the newly built Berkeley Castle (now the Castle B&B). Today I can't see past my neighbor's trees and garage.

Visiting neighbors and relatives was an important part of island social life. There was no TV or air conditioning, so we visited. The major social event of the day was greeting the mailboat when it pulled up to the dock in the late afternoon. It seemed like the entire village would turn out to see who was on the boat...and, of course, to get their mail.

This may be difficult to imagine, but there was a movie theater on the island in the 1950s. It was in the ground floor of the Wahab Village Hotel (Blackbeard's Lodge).

Ocracoke is different in 2011...but still a great place to live.

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is a list of traditional island remedies. You can read it here:


  1. Anonymous8:02 AM

    What lovely pictures you paint with your words.........Thank you.

  2. Anonymous9:16 AM

    Would you go back to that way of life, if given the choice. It sounds magical.

  3. Anonymous9:34 AM

    If they put fees on Hatteras ferry, we may see the old Ocracoke again. Write letters and make phone calls; we can't let this happen!

  4. It is always difficult (maybe impossible) to go back to another, simpler, way of life. My house, e.g., no longer has a cistern...or a privy! And my livelihood is now dependent on my craft gallery, Village Craftsmen. Looking at nearby Portsmouth Island, we see that that community wasn't able to survive in the modern world without electricity, paved roads, ferries, etc. No one lives in Portsmouth village today.

    No question, Ocracoke was a magical place in the mid-1950s. It is fun to imagine those times again...but, sadly, it is not to be.

  5. Anonymous3:32 PM

    Your description, Philip, creates such an iconic way of life on the island, even though "modern conveniences, paved roads, etc" have changed daily living from what it was. Improvements, they say.

    I have several most interesting books in my "Ocracoke Collection" that I've gathered through the years which also illustrate life how it was decades ago. I never tire reading or viewing the vintage photographs about life on Ocracoke through these favorites:

    "Precious Memories of Ocracoke" by Dolores Cullifer Snead; "Ocracoke Island: Peeking Through The Keyhole of Memory" by Myrtle G. Doolittle; "Ocracoke in the Fifties" photographs and narrative by Dare Wright; "The Outer Banks in Vintage Postcards" by Chris Kidder in cooperation w/ The Outer Banks History Center Associates; "Ocracoke Album" by Jack Dudley, purchased @ The Village Craftsmen last October. Of course, Philip's book: "Digging Up Uncle Evans...History, Ghost Tales & Stories from Ocracoke" is always a fun & most enjoyable read.

  6. Anonymous4:03 PM

    Back then you were deprived of so many things, but obviously you never felt deprived. Maybe that's the "MAGIC".

  7. Anonymous4:17 PM

    Philip, you mentioned hunting season on Ocracoke. What would you hunt? I know Ocracoke has squirrels, but I thought those were newly introduced. The only other wildlife I remember seeing are the ponies and the birds.

  8. Squirrels are, indeed, new arrivals on Ocracoke. They have never been hunted.

    Ducks and geese were (and still are) hunted on Ocracoke. Years ago it was also legal to hunt shore birds.

  9. Anonymous9:27 AM


    Your replies have been wonderful and eye-opening, full of rich detail (the pebble in Archie Wahab's hubcab) and--as is the payoff of any good interview--fodder for more questions.

    You mention the almost-impossible-to-imagine broad tidal flat that extended from the Variety Store to the NPS campground. What caused that geographic feature to disappear from the island? Previous posts here would lead me to suspect construction of manmade dunes, by the NPS I believe.

    Also, you recalled the absence of modern amenities like TV and air conditioning. Here in PA, where sumnmer temps typically top out in the upper 80s and shade trees are plentiful, life before a.c. was occasionally steamy but rarely...debilitating. How did folks like you get along day-to-day under Ocracoke's often blistering sun and scorching temperatures?

    And what of insect repellant?!?

    Thanks for indulging my questions, Philip. Whether or not you realize it, your feedback continues to add color to a place and a lifestyle that so many of us appreciate.

  10. I will reply to the question about tidal flats in an upcoming post. Look for "Another Question" in a few days.

    I will address the summer heat (without A/C), and bugs & insect repellent in my post about "Question 5" also coming up in a few days.

    Thanks for the questions.

  11. Anonymous7:12 PM

    To read about the hunting tradition on Ocracoke, see the article written by Pat Garber for the Island Free Press a few months ago -- -- is the website address.