Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Remember When . . . The Island Was Isolated?

Gracious, my blogging has been sporadic! Sorry about that, all. I came home from vacation and was completely swamped by work. A good thing, but I kept totally spacing what day of the week it was and what that meant concerning blogs. ;-)

But this being me, you can rest assured I spent my vacation being geeky and collecting history books about the Outer Banks. I found myself wondering as we drove along what the islands would have been like before the big bridge was built to connect them to the mainland. Where did they get their fresh water? (Cisterns and desalination shacks.) When did electricity arrive? (The 1940s!!!)

Well, I found so many interesting tales! One of my favorites was from the antebellum days, when the Outer Banks were an oft-forgotten outpost occasionally used, even then, as a resort. One young man told a tale of arriving on the island by boat for a stay at the hotel in Kitty Hawk. He describes with awe the great sand dunes he has to hike over to get to his lodging--the most sand he had ever seen in his life, and it went all the way up to his ankles while he walked.

He and the other guests found charming the laid-back island atmosphere...which wasn't so laid back when it came to meals. Being a sophisticated fellow, he was accustomed to supper being served at 8 o'clock or even later, but not so on the island. It was served at 6, and if you missed it, sorry 'bout your luck.

Houses on the island never had cellars, but what I hadn't realized was that early ones didn't have ceilings either. All the rafters were open, which this guest found lovely and pleasant when it was a matter of the frangrant breezes whispering to him...but when the wind kicked up, it would blow sand straight into the houses, filling beds, bowls, mouths, eyelids...

That's one part of history I'm happy to leave in the past, LOL.

Most of the gentleman who came to the islands did so for the duck hunting. And most residents of the island made their living from catering to these rich folks, or from hunting and fishing and selling it to New York or Philadelphia. So it was a huge setback to island life when a law was passed in the 1920s that severely restricted hunting. This was also near the time when the government first talked of making it a national park--and so, to preserve it, they constructed beach-side sand dunes to keep the island were it was.

The problem for locals? With the dunes came a law that animals were no longer allowed to run free. As a small, insular community, islanders had to be pretty self-sufficient, which meant keeping chickens, cows, pigs, etc. But it's not exactly fabulous pasture around there, so everyone let their livestock run free until this point--and were none too happy about this whole "park" idea when it began interfering with even their most basic way of life.

But the idea got derailed anyway. At one point after WWII they even saw oil prospectors arrive...but who found nothing. The park service did eventually turn part of the island into a wildlife preserve, and like people everywhere, the islanders adapted to the times as they changed. Eventually it was rediscovered as a vacation spot, and now, driving through the bustling towns of Nags Head, Kitty Hawk, and Kill Devil Hills, you can't see so much as a glimpse of the island's beginnings.

But it's there, hidden in the more out-of-the-way places. Still whispering on those sea breezes.


  1. Literally my favorite place on earth. I've lost count of the time I've spent on the south end of Hatteras Island, the place where "my soul is soothed" and I always feel like I've come home. Fun story... back during WWII, my great uncle was stationed on Ocracoke and my grandmother spent several months living there with him and his wife. What an awesome place to be!

    1. YES! The south end of Hatteras is the best!! We were in Buxton this year, but we really love it down farther.

      How fun about being stationed on Ocracoke!

  2. My wife and I visited last spring and I had the privilege of climbing to the top of Bodie Island Lighthouse, Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, and Currituck Lighthouse. While at the top of Hatteras, I chatted for a bit with the Park Ranger on duty. I asked about all the "shacks" out across the inlet. He said they were duck blinds. As you mentioned about hunting and fishing, these were grandfathered in when it became a National Park.