Monday, December 18, 2017

An Editorial about Preservation

A few days ago I wrote these two brief sentences and published this photo: “In 1917 a new schoolhouse was built at the location of the present-day building.

1917 Schoolhouse

The current school house was built in 1971.”

A reader left this comment: “PH are you testing your readers as to our early morning reading comprehension? The 1917 school building was knocked down torn down moved to make way for the 1971 structure??. In all this preservation talk a 1917 school house (of a most interesting vernacular) is gone? Only pictures remain? 1971 five years before the bicentennial celebration everyone was preparing for and a historical building is demolished??? Say it ain't so PH :)”

I am afraid it is so. The 1917 school house was a beautiful building with pleasing lines. Numerous islanders, myself included, were saddened to see it demolished. With that said, I have a few observations.

As much as I champion preserving historically significant structures, there are reasons many of them are not, or sometimes even should not, be saved. Numerous factors must be considered by individuals, businesses, and community & governmental agencies regarding historic buildings. Money is a big consideration. It is often more costly to rehabilitate an older building than to construct a new one; and money is not always readily available. It is often not easy or even possible to add modern conveniences (HVAC systems, bathrooms, kitchens, e.g.) without altering the existing footprint and/or floorplan. Even after rehabilitation, maintenance and repair costs (for historically accurate windows, doors, locks, etc.) can be much higher for older buildings.

Regarding the Ocracoke School, the 1917 building was designed for about forty children. Today nearly 200 students are enrolled. In addition, today the school provides several amenities and programs not even considered in 1917, including bathrooms, a regulation-size gymnasium, high school, art and shop classrooms, pre-K and Kindergarten classrooms, and IT equipment. If the building had been saved on its original location, it today would be so significantly added on to that its historical fabric would be much compromised.

It could have been moved, one might reply. But to where, and at what cost? And for what purpose? A private residence? A community building? Unfortunately, no one with enough money, resources, vision, and/or influence was available in 1970 to preserve the 1917 schoolhouse.

If we look back in time we might recognize a number of significant island structures worthy of preservation. The 1917 schoolhouse would undoubtedly be among them. But we wouldn’t want to save everything. New times almost always require new visions and new goals. We must live in the present. Every generation wants a reasonable chance to make a decent living. We want opportunities for convenient transportation. We want to enjoy the benefits of modern advances. We want a modern health clinic, a well-equipped fire station, and a ball field for our youth. At times the old and the new may be in conflict.

That is what makes preservation so important. We can’t save everything, but we can attempt to save and preserve those ionic buildings that remain, and that represent our past and our heritage. Several turn-of-the-century island homes have been rehabilitated to preservation standards, Jack’s Store (the Working Watermen’s Exhibit) and the Community Square are now owned by a non-profit organization (the Ocracoke Foundation), the Ocracoke Fish House thrives and encourages preservation of the island’s fishing tradition, and the Ocracoke Preservation Society archives significant historical photographs and documents, and employs its revolving fund to help save old island structures.

An opportunity was missed when the 1917 schoolhouse was torn down. Today several historic buildings are high on a list of structures worthy of preservation. The Island Inn is one. Not only would its preservation be a palpable link to Ocracoke’s past, but it could provide the community with meeting space, a venue for fundraisers, rooms for community art & music events, public restrooms, and more.

With support from islanders, business owners, visitors, property owners, and dedicated volunteers we have an opportunity to save this significant historical building for present and future generations.

This month's Ocracoke Newsletter is my analysis of a sentence penned by surveyor Jonathan Price in 1795. The sentence reads, "Occacock was heretofore, and still retains the name of, an island. It is now a peninsula; a heap of sand having gradually filled up the space which divided it from the bank."  You can read my analysis here:   


  1. Anonymous10:30 AM

    Honestly, was that the thinking in the 20th century. Just tear it down, Rural re-newal? Now there are Virtual class rooms a short 40 years later. My point, it seems there was a rush to judgement. Was there building shaming going on? When I was in High School 40 years ago there were "Portable Classrooms" The school board spent money to rent the buildings and grouped them near the main building. The rush to judgement to tear the historic structure down puzzles me. Is the property the school Board owns so small planning for the future too costly to expand someplace else on the island? Perhaps, The mentality that a school has to be in one place is rooted in a sense of entitlement. In my county the elementary is split the lower levels in one building the upper grades in the newer location. Yeah that was a can of worms. Now we have Charter Schools funded by the taxpayer --that movement did not happen over night-- I can see it now a Charter School in the Coast Guard building. That would relieve the overcrowding at the K-12. I wonder what is the ideal capacity for the 1971 school. Regulation size gymnasium - regulation for High school association sanctioned games. How many Girl team Sports are played in this regulation sized gymnasium?? The coaches, how many are female? 1971 was before title Nine. I find the salaries paid to High School Athletic associations staff questionable.The squeaky wheel gets the grease. Swan Quarter has a college prep county program what's up with that??

  2. Anonymous7:15 PM

    From Robb Foster about the editorial: Very well put. Have a great day!

  3. Pardon my editor side but did you really mean to type "ionic" (grin)