Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Miss Elsie

A number of roads, creeks, cottages, and businesses on Ocracoke are named after prominent islanders. Among others, they include Irvin Garrish Highway, Old Quawk’s Creek, Howard’s Pub, Lawton Lane, Sarah Ellen Drive…and many more. Starting today I will periodically be writing blog posts about the folks memorialized in the names of these island landmarks.

Today I have chosen to write about Elsie Ballance Garrish.

Many of our readers will have noticed “Elsie’s House” a small historic cottage on Howard Street. This was the home of EIsie Garrish and her husband Irvin (more about Mr. Irvin in a future post).

Elsie Dean Ballance was born January 4, 1915, the daughter of Elisha and Emma Balance. She was the eldest of nine children. As a young woman, Elsie left the island to attend nursing school at Rex Hospital in Raleigh. She graduated as a Registered Nurse in 1938. In December of that same year she married another islander, Irvin Garrish. Although Irvin’s work took them up north for a while, the couple eventually returned to Ocracoke.

At that time Ocracoke was without a doctor, so Elsie devoted herself to providing health care for her friends and neighbors. She delivered a number of babies, administered hundreds of tetanus shots, and stitched up many a wound.

In 1979 Elsie was awarded the annual Community Service Award for her dedication to the people of Ocracoke. Principal Ernest Cutler, in presenting the award, noted that Elsie had “touched the lives at sometime of almost all families who make Ocracoke their home. She is definitely a public servant with one exception -- she is not paid. If something happens to a child at school, their parents always ask, ‘Has Miss Elsie seen the child.’ If she has there is a sigh of relief.”

Miss Elsie lived to see the establishment of a Health Clinic on Ocracoke Island. Thus, with a paid doctor or other health care provider in residence, Elsie could devote more time to her family and other community and church activities. Elsie Garrish died January 23, 2003. She was 88 years old. Her two daughters and their families continue to live on the island.

When you pass “Elsie’s House” on Howard Street, remember this dedicated public servant who provided health care and “plenty of TLC” to our island community.  

Elsie's House is now a rental cottage. More information is available here.

This month's Ocracoke Newsletter tells the delightful story of the 19th century "Stovepipe Hat" wreck. It has been told for years in books & magazines, but it probably never happened. You can read the story (and my research) here: http://www.villagecraftsmen.com/news072115.htm.


  1. Marie from PA6:55 AM

    Thank you so much for this story and those stories to come about the names and people of Ocracoke. As an off islander, I know the names I see have significance to Ocracoke but don't know all the details. Now I will know more. Your information ties in beautifully with the article Connie wrote for the Observer explaining the history of the names of various streets. I'm always looking for more information about your lovely island. Thanks again for starting my day with a smile.

    1. There is more about Ocracoke street names here: http://www.villagecraftsmen.com/news111905.htm. At the bottom you click to read Part II.

  2. I received the following email this morning:

    "I guess it was sometime in the late 50's we were heading out of the creek for a morning's fishing when I as a young boy managed to get a fish hook impaled in my finger. My dad and uncle ran it through and cut off the barb and then headed back to Jack's [Jack Willis' store on the dock]. Jack said 'he needs to go see Ms Elsie.' We went and knocked on the door. She dressed the finger and gave me a tetanus shot. When dad asked what he owed her she said 50 cents for the medicine. He paid her, we all thanked her and we were off to fishing. Great times and a great lady." Robert

  3. Anonymous8:39 AM

    Spent many summer of my youth on that porch. My parents and I would listen to the stories Elsie and Irvin would tell. I love that house. Elsie kept an immaculate home, too. Not a speck of dust.

    I remember hearing Irvin say when he was in the Navy, he'd eat a pound of butter a day because he hated it so much. He was hoping to gain enough weight they'd discharge him. Ha! He went on to become a ferry Captain! Guess he didn't hate sailing as much as he professed.

  4. Anonymous11:54 PM

    That is a fetching handbag she has. Any information on the woven accessory she carries?

    1. Elsie is holding the basket used by island midwife, "Aunt Hettie Tom" (1822-1899) to carry her supplies. See http://www.villagecraftsmen.com/news082112.htm.