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: https://www.villagecraftsmen.com/description-occacock-1795/.   

Friday, December 15, 2017

Oyster War

In 2015 I wrote about the 1890 Oyster War on Ocracoke Island.

Ocracoke December Oyster Roast, 2014















I recently discovered a Newspaper Abstract from The Economist - Tuesday, May 6, 1890; pg. 3, chronicling the Oyster War on the mainland of Hyde County:

"As peaceful as they look to be there is something about oysters that engender strife. A case, originating in oysters, occurred in New Bern on Wednesday in which an oyster patrolman named J.C. THOMAS whose headquarters were at Coinjock, Currituck County, was shot, but not mortally wounded, by Jones SPENCER of Hyde County who recently published an article in the Washington Gazette reflecting upon the character of THOMAS and charging that he was bribed while at his official business at Coinjock [portion torn] used harsh terms about him, when SPENCER pulled out a pistol and told THOMAS he would shoot him if he came nearer. THOMAS continued to advance when SPENCER fired and a ball struck his abdomen and lodged in his hip. THOMAS was badly wounded and SPENCER was arrested, bought before Mayor WILLIAMS, waived examination and was placed under a bond of $400 with Messrs. SIMMONS and MOORE as sureties. THOMAS was a patrolman at the oyster grounds, SPENCER was also a patrolman appointed by Hyde County and was ordered to Coinjock. SPENCER published the results of his investigations and charged corruption upon THOMAS and bribery by non-resident oyster pirates. This led to the difficulty between the two."

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: https://www.villagecraftsmen.com/description-occacock-1795/.  

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Narrow Side Halls

During our recent 2017 Ocracoke Island Holiday Homes Tour I had a conversation with one of the homes' hostesses about the narrow side hallway in this turn-of-the-20th-century home.


















We wondered about the purpose of this hall. There are several other older houses on the island with them, and a quick internet search yielded a number of references to more older homes with similar halls.

The wall with three windows (on the left side of the photo, above) is an outside wall. The room to the right is the dining room. Why were a few feet separated from the dining room to create this hallway?

Here are a few speculations:
  • Many of these halls seem designed to  provide access to the kitchen without passing through adjoining rooms. This makes most sense if the adjoining room or rooms are bedrooms. 
  • Perhaps the halls were originally open "breezeways" connecting the main house to a detached summer kitchen. Then maybe the two buildings were connected and the breezeway closed in.
  • Even if the house never had a detached kitchen, the narrow side hallway may be a design feature that persisted, although it had now lost its primary function. 

If any of our readers know the original purpose of the narrow side hallway, please leave a comment.

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: https://www.villagecraftsmen.com/description-occacock-1795/.  

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Ocracoke Schools

Last week I wrote this about Ocracoke village in 1877/1878: Although no Ocracoke schools were listed in that year's Business Directory, "[t]here were several small private schools on Ocracoke Island between the early 1800s and 1901, at which time a school was established in the building now known as the Island Inn."

A reader left this comment on that post: "NCpedia a resource for information cites 1839 as the year the common school law passed. Funding was to be state and local. The business directory lists many a taxable entity to generate funds for a public school in Ocracoke. What was the school age population back then I wonder...."

In answer to the reader's musings, I am reprinting a slightly edited blog post from 2015:

The first mention of a school on Ocracoke was in 1785 when school master Henry Garrish was hired to teach young Thomas Wahab. By the early 1800s a community schoolhouse was built in the vicinity of the Ocracoke Coffee Company. A new schoolhouse was built in the same area in 1825. Sometime before the Civil War there were two community schools on the island. In addition, Sarah Owens Gaskill operated a private school near the lighthouse.

In the late 1800s "Captain Wilson" taught school at the Life Saving Station at Cedar Hammock (near Hatteras Inlet), and a Mr. Manson gave private lessons in the village.

In 1901 the Independent Order of Odd Fellows built a new lodge (it is today the center section of the Island Inn). They met on the second floor, and a "consolidated" public school was held on the ground floor.

Photo: OPS, Earl O'Neal Collection















The 1880 Ocracoke census lists the number of school age children (6-14 years old; in those days the highest grade was grade 8) as about 59 (although some of those children may not have been enrolled). The photo above, taken about 1901 or 1902, shows approximately 40 pupils.  

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. It is the smallest pre-K - 12 public school in North Carolina.The photo below shows school secretary Lisa O'Neal Caswell outside during lunch break. Ocracoke School has no cafeteria, so children and staff either bring bag lunches, or go home for lunch.

Ocracoke School, 1971-Present















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: https://www.villagecraftsmen.com/description-occacock-1795/

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Meal Wine

Last week a reader asked about meal wine. I published the recipe in 2010. Here it is again:

Ocacoke Island meal wine recipe: Get a large crock, jug or clean trash can. Pour four gallons of water into the container. Add five pounds of sugar, four pounds of corn meal, three or four packages of yeast, a box of raisins, and some fruit (figs, peaches, blackberries, bananas, etc. work well).

Set the container outside where it can "work" for a week or more (it will work more quickly in the summer). Add a couple of pounds of sugar in a few days, and again a few days later. Eventually the solids will sink to the bottom and you will be left with a clear brew on top.

Meal Wine Brewing













You might want to strain your meal wine through cheesecloth (or an old lace curtain) to eliminate most of the ants. Fowler O'Neal always told me, with a wry smile, that sometimes when you get down to the bottom of the crock you might discover a drowned rat. A mainlander, Fowler said, might be tempted to pick the rat up by the tail and toss him into the woods before dipping another cup full of meal wine. An islander, Fowler assured me, would wring him out first, so he wouldn't lose any of his valuable product! Then he would toss him in the woods.

A visiting journalist who was invited to one of the Saturday night square dances at the old Pamlico Inn in the 1930s was offered a drink of Ocracoke meal wine. He described it as equivalent to drinking a lit kerosene lantern!

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: https://www.villagecraftsmen.com/description-occacock-1795/.  

Monday, December 11, 2017

Island Inn

For months one of Ocracoke’s most iconic buildings, the Island Inn, has been sitting empty and neglected. A “For Sale” sign fastened near the front door announces that its future is uncertain. Now an ad hoc committee of four concerned islanders, Johnny Giagu, Ed Norvell, Bill Rich (County Manager), and Tom Pahl (County Commissioner), have put together a proposal that could save the building and make it available for community use.

In 1900 James and Zilphia Howard sold the one-acre tract of land to the trustees of "Ocracoke Lodge No. 194 Independent order of Odd Fellows" for use as a "Lodge room or such other purpose as they may deem proper." A two-story wood frame building, the center section of the current structure, was built in 1901. It housed the Odd Fellow's Lodge on the second floor. Soon thereafter two island schools were consolidated to create one public school which was held on the first floor.

Odd Fellows Lodge, OPS Photo, Earl O'Neal Collection















Over the next 117 years the “Lodge,” as it came to be called, was added to and modified. Over the years it variously served the island as a private home, inn, restaurant, coffee shop, WWII officers quarters, and gift shop. In the early to mid-20th century it was the center of community social life. Islanders gathered there for Saturday night square dances accompanied by the music of fiddle, banjo, guitar, and triangle.

On December 7, 2017, the ad hoc committee (the “Island Inn Preservation Committee”) secured a purchase agreement from the property’s current owner which allows the committee 150 days to negotiate additional agreements with adjoining property owners, the Occupancy Tax Board, the Tourism Development Authority, Hyde County, and the Ocracoke Preservation Society.

Immediately Tom Pahl and Johnny Giagu met with the Executive Committee of the Preservation Society to present their proposal. At the meeting on December 7, 2017, the members of the OPS Executive Committee voted to “support the plan brought by the ad hoc committee … and … to work with the ad hoc committee toward accomplishing the goals presented,” which included using $150,000 of OPS’s “Save an Old House” revolving fund as down payment on the property, to accept initial ownership of the property, and to transfer the property, with conservation easements, to “another community entity” in the future.

Still to be negotiated during the 150-day period are funding to pay mortgage payments, demolition of the two badly deteriorated wings, and stabilization of the historic center section. Sale would not be final, nor funds committed, until those details of the project were established.

Although the initial goal is simply to preserve the historic center section of the Lodge, future plans might include turning the building into a visitors center with public restrooms, space for community meetings and gatherings, and “green” areas for picnicking and other outdoor activities.

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: https://www.villagecraftsmen.com/description-occacock-1795/.  

Friday, December 08, 2017

Business Directory, 1877-1878

Below are some interesting Hyde County statistics gleaned from Branson's North Carolina Business Directory for 1877 and 1878.
  • Ocracoke is listed as having the following organizations & services: 
    • 1 magistrate (there are 4 on the mainland)
    • 1 church (10 on the mainland)
    • 3 merchants (55 on the mainland)
    • 1 mill (11 on the mainland)
    • 1 post office (8 on the mainland)
  • The mainland has the following; Ocracoke has none:
    • county offices
    • hotels (5 on the mainland)
    • lawyers (3 on the mainland)
    • physicians (12 on the mainland)
    • schools (3 on the mainland; all private)*
    • farmers (52 on the mainland)
 *There actually were several small private schools on Ocracoke Island between the early 1800s and 1901, at which time a school was established in the building now known as the Island Inn. Perhaps there was no school on Ocracoke in 1877-1878.

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: https://www.villagecraftsmen.com/description-occacock-1795/