Category Archives: history

Over and Over

The storm that recently shut down highway 12 reminded me of the fragility of the place where I’ve lived most my life. The road was closed about 4 days until highway crews could clear  accummulated sand, allowing traffic to once again, exit or enter the island. Many do this cautiously, maneuvering through corrosive sea water. I’ve been watching and photographing this for years, over and over again.

When I first settled on Hatteras Island in the early 70’s, it seemed idyllic. I loved combing the beaches and riding the waves. Gradually I began noticing the dynamic nature of a barrier island. I saw how wind and water combine to move sand, sometimes lots of it.

The blizzard of March 1980 brought a hundred mile an hour northeaster exploding with a foot of snow. My Rodanthe house at the time, was surrounded by sea water barreling through the dunes and raging down highway 12. Even to this day, I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

Later I was to experience more storms significantly impacting the island. A good example is just north of Rodanthe where the main road takes a few bends. That’s where the pavement has been moved a number of times due to encroaching seas. A vegetated dune line helped protect the area, but not for long.

In 1984 Hurricane Josephine completely removed the dune line at the S-Turn. My surfing buddy Robin Gerald and I were in awe of nature’s power.

The road there began closing more and more often.

One vehicle after another became trapped in slurries of sand and sea water.

North Carolina Department of Transportation has tried in vain to keep traveling corridors open even in the harshest conditions.

A storm in March of 1989 created a breach at the north end of Buxton as volunteers worked desperately to force the ocean back with sand bags. It didn’t work well for long.

The Halloween Storm of 1991 was another hallmark. This lot in Rodanthe was as oceanfront as property can get. Any takers?

Spring of 1992 brought more woes for highway 12 on Pea Island and sandbagging was once again implemented as a short term solution.

1999 was a banner year for destructive storms as Hurricane Dennis spun offshore for several days, resulting in a number of demolished homes on the oceanfront. Over the years, I’ve seen dozens of them succumb to the sea.

At the same time, a long stretch of road north of Buxton was completely taken out, pavement and all.

Dennis racked up additional casualties at the S-Turn.

Since that time, I’ve seen average water levels in the Pamlico Sound behind my home increase from knee deep then, to waist deep today. That doesn’t bode well for attempts at controlling future onslaughts to the island.

Today the Rodanthe skyline consists of huge cranes building a multimillion dollar remedy to a problem that never seems to end.

Man is not master of this domain, but is more like a slave to it.

 

The Live Oak of Springer’s Point

Most of my visits to Ocracoke include a walk through the maritime forest at Springer’s Point. My favorite tree there is a large live oak near the shore of Pamlico Sound. It’s been said that tree was there when Blackbeard bivouacked nearby at Teach’s Hole over 300 years ago.

During Summer months the forest is lush and green. Under the canopy one feels sheltered, safe and protected. This is how it looked when I photographed it in 2004.

The old live oak is large enough to take 3 or 4 people putting their arms around the trunk.

The big tree was tucked well back into the forest along a nature trail near Pamlico Sound. The North Carolina Coastal Land Trust purchased the 31 acre property in 2002 to preserve and maintain it for the public to enjoy.

I photographed it again in December of 2007.

The following Spring of 2008, I saw it bursting with new foliage.

One year ago in March of 2019, I shot the tree again from the same general perspective.

When I returned two weeks ago, Hurricane Dorian was 6 months gone. The environment on Ocracoke was transformed from what I had known in the past. The oak that I admired for years was ravaged by wind and sea.

Cedar trees along the edge were torn out by the roots, eroding into the forest.

The oak tree was still rooted, leaning over into the woods.

It seemed the only thing holding it upright was the big limb supporting the old giant, like a kickstand. Now that it’s vegetated buffer is gone, I wonder how many more years it can survive.

The barrier islands are a frail yet tough place. It changes here every day, some days more than others.

 

 

Old Christmas 2020

For most, the holiday season ends with a celebration of New Year’s Day. But in the villages where I live, many of us extend the festivity to  another lesser known holiday. Old Christmas is a remnant of the Julian carried over to the Gregorian calendar. In Rodanthe it occurs the first Saturday after New Year’s Day, has a local history dating back a couple hundred years, and is celebrated at our community building.

Originally an early 1900’s schoolhouse, the building has been renovated and expanded to serve the community.

Festivities start with the oyster shoot where participants fire shotguns at paper targets. Whoever has a pellet closest to the bullseye wins a bag of oysters.

Folks mill around and wait for their turn to shoot.

Young Owen O’Neal tries his luck at a bag of oysters. Old Christmas has long been part of his family heritage.

                                        Santa wants a bag of oysters too.

Skating is an activity recently added to the events.

 Joey O’Neal shovels oysters roasting on his homemade grills.

  Eddie O’Neal and Eric Anglin are some of the first to shuck a few.

Empty shells begin to pile up under the table.

                                      Phillip Beck shucks one out for a youngster.

Cooks in the kitchen prepare a traditional meal of stewed chicken and pie bread.

The deserts are to die for!

   By the time night falls, the shells continue to fall.

Joey has gotten his groove on the grills. I’d give him an A+.

Back inside, the band Chicamacomico plays on in anticipation of Old Buck.

Justin O’Neal prepares the legendary bull before entering. Like ancestors before him, Justin has become Old Buck’s latest caretaker.

The appearance of Old Buck is an evening highlight.

Kids love meeting him.

Briggs McEwen sets his son on Old Buck’s back for a fun ride. But as soon as he came, he’s quickly gone for another year.

    In the end, I asked if Old Buck needed a ride home, so we loaded him into the back of my Toyota. It was another Merry Old Christmas!

 

 

Shad Boats

Since my early days on Hatteras Island, I’ve been drawn to remnants of the times past. Old wooden boats have been particularly fascinating. Some are still operating and some lay derelict or forgotten. One of my favorite designs is the shad boat.

They were first built in the 1870’s on Roanoke Island by George Washington Creef. Designed for local sound waters and commercial fishing hauls, demand for shad boats increased. So other regional boat builders began constructing their own versions.

On June 15, 1987 the North Carolina General Assembly adopted the Shad Boat as the official State historical boat of North Carolina.

On a 1992 visit to Wilmington, I saw a newly built replica sailing down the Cape Fear River.

When I took this shot in 1980 at the Beasley fish house in Colington, surviving shad boats had long since had their sails replaced with motors.

One day the same year, I photographed the Beasley crew long-hauling Pamlico Sound at Rodanthe. They caught 10,000 pounds of fish, and bailed them by hand into a boat called Old Shad.

The Rodanthe harbor was Beasley’s base of operations. That’s OLD SHAD on the left with REDFIN rafted up next to it.

Hatterasman Michael Peele uses his shad boat for pound net fishing. I took this photo in 1982. To this day, he still uses it.

About the same time, I had a job at Mike Scott’s Buxton Woods Boat Works where we restored Lee Peele’s old workboat. More recently built, it had a hull with hard chines rather than the more traditional rounded bottom. It was beefed up with a durable West System epoxy treatment.

On the Outer Banks it’s not unusual to see a boat in someone’s yard. In 1999 while riding my bicycle around Ocracoke, I admired this beautiful boat blocked up for maintenance.

Spring of 2000, I shot an assignment for CoastWatch Magazine, concerning the Museum of the Albermarle’s restoration of a 1904 Shad Boat. It was built by Alvirah Wright, a logger, decoy maker and boat builder from Camden County.

The restoration was extensive. All good wood was left intact, but most of the boat was replaced. Today the finished product sits in the lobby of the museum as a permanent exhibit. Before that, it had been in a Wright family relative’s yard, rotting away.

In 2002 the North Carolina Maritime Museum in Manteo had an 1883 George Washington Creef Shad Boat on display. It was used as a model to build a new boat with the same lines.

The new boat was built next to the 1883 boat.

Fully planked, it was made with scarce, aromatic Atlantic White Cedar, commonly referred to as juniper.

Just before it’s christening, I saw the new boat all finished except for the bottom paint.

When I first met John Herbert, he was one of the Rodanthe old-timers. I knew him as a friend, a former duck hunter and the Keeper of Ole Buck. He was also a cook at Chicamacomico Coast Guard Station during the 1918 Mirlo Rescue. He told me how they used to have sail boat races on the Pamlico Sound and most of the time he won with his shad boat. It was a bit smaller and faster than most, and must have been a grand sight under sail. In 1985, I marveled at it, high and dry in the marsh at Rodanthe.

 

 

 

A Legacy of Bravery

Moving to Rodanthe decades ago, I noticed how common the name Midgett was. Businesses were owned by Midgetts or their descendants. My first 3 landlords were Midgetts, and ultimately the property that I bought to build my house, was purchased from the Clarence Midgett family. Many of my friends have had, or descended from families with, that same last name. It’s believed that the first Midgett to arrive here in the 1600’s was likely a shipwreck survivor.

The family is engrained in local history. Many enlisted in the early US Lifesaving Service, and later the Coast Guard. Heroic deeds of the Midgetts on the Outer Banks have been well- documented. Most renowned is the Mirlo Rescue of 1918 led by John Allen Midgett, Jr. from Chicamacomico Station.  For this act of valor, Midgett and his 5-man crew were awarded prestigious Gold Lifesaving Medals and Grand Crosses of the American Cross of Honor. In 1921, the British government bestowed Gold Lifesaving Medals to the men as well as a silver cup to Keeper Midgett from the Board of Trade.

In 1971, to honor the former keeper at Chicamacomico, a 378-foot Hero-class Coast Guard Cutter was launched, named John Allen Midgett, Jr. Since then it has served the varied missions of the modern day Coast Guard. It continues to do so, currently using the name,  John Midgett.

Earlier this month a new US Coast Guard Cutter was docked at Nauticus in Norfolk for a pre- commissioning ceremony. Midgett descendants and friends were invited to tour the newly christened John Allen Midgett, Jr. At 418 feet, it’s a Legend-class cutter whose mission is maritime homeland security, law enforcement, marine safety, environmental protection and national defense. It is the successor to the first Midgett Cutter and is to be based in Honolulu where it will be commissioned next month.

Everything about the John Allen Midgett, Jr. is strictly business.

A 57 millimeter gun turret sits on the foredeck.

Gunner’s Mate Patrick Reinholz displayed a mounted machine gun and took questions on the port side.

Maritime Enforcement Specialists Francisco Rubio (in front) and Michael Midgette explained their roles and weaponry. Midgette, originally from Manteo, is a descendent. There have been several spelling variations of the Midgett name going back to common ancestry.

The stern launch held one of two cutter boats. This is the 35-foot Long Range Interceptor.

A state-of-the-art control panel on the bridge reminded me of a powerfully sophisticated video game.

Captain Alan McCabe addressed visiting guests and crew on the ship’s helicopter pad.

The ship’s Sponsor is Jazania O’Neal, granddaughter of Captain John Allen Midgett, Jr. She initialed the keel plate as the  John Allen Midgett, Jr. was being built. Jonna Midgette is Jazania’s daughter and Matron of Honor. They will travel to Hawaii for the commissioning.

From the bridge, I photographed the assembled family descendants and crew. At 98 years old, the eldest was Lovie Midgett of Rodanthe. She attended the commissioning of the original Cutter in 1972.

Despite the new Cutter’s actual namesake, it is a tribute to all Midgetts with connections to the Coast Guard, as well as all Outer Bankers who take pride in local history and lifesaving.

Touring the ship was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.