Category Archives: history

Down Under Down

Over the years I’ve seen restaurants here come and go. Some fail faster than others, and it’s not an easy business to achieve success. It’s about quality, quantity and customer satisfaction, among other things.

One of the most successful restaurants in our town was started at a location where several other restaurants had come and gone. The Rodanthe pier complex had reincarnations of restaurants in the same building with names like Cross Currents, Under Currents, JL Seagull and Down Under. There were others prior whose names have escaped me.

Undoubtedly the most successful was the Down Under, founded by Skip and Sheila Skiperdene. The name was coined by Australian ex-pat surfer Skip, who married Sheila a North Carolinian, and they began the Aussie-themed restaurant. It took a year or so to catch on, but with planning and hospitality it became hugely popular. Most summer evenings had dozens of patrons lined up outside the front door waiting to be seated. This went on for about ten years, when personal circumstances ended the epic run of Down Under circa 1999.

This 1989 aerial photograph shows the pier complex, including the restaurant building under the arrow. The proximity to the ocean made a dramatic venue for diners, but also contributed to it’s demise.

An aspiring restauranteur then bought the trademarked name and stepped in to continue to operate the business. Something however was missing and the restaurant was not quite the same. A few years later, things really went south when Hurricane Isabel pummeled the property.

After continuous battering from high seas, storm surge from Hurricane Isabel finally took it out in 2003. This photograph taken by my wife, was probably the last shot ever taken from the upper deck of the restaurant. It was a harrowing experience.

An aerial image shows the newly built Gallery restaurant circa late 1980’s. It featured local art, and a home-grown herb garden. The Gallery made national news when a man died from eating bad tuna there, ending that venture.

The Gallery was sold to a new owner and renamed Waves Edge. They employed local chefs preparing great meals. This 1991 photo was taken during their hey-day. It was popular with locals and visitors alike. That lasted until personal issues forced another sale, this time it was changed to Blue Water Grill, featuring an upstairs wine bar.

The new Down Under owner wanting to sustain the business, bought the building in Waves that had previous lives as The GalleryWaves Edge, and Blue Water Grill.

The new Down Under struggled for several years and eventually landed in foreclosure. It sat vacant and unmaintained a few years until it was bought by an adjacent property owner then demolished on June 27, 2017.

Going, going… pretty much gone!

Down Under is history. And it all began with Skip.

Mac Midgett

Hatteras Island has produced a unique breed of people. The isolation, especially before a bridge was built, required residents to be particularly resilient. To say they are interesting folks is an understatement. Among the most colorful characters I ever met was Mac Midgett. He was a big man with a heart of gold.

His stature could intimidate people, but once you got to know him those feelings faded. Born and bred in the village of Rodanthe, he was a part of the place. Everyone knew or knew of him.

With his wife Marilyn, he built a business that was essential for providing goods and services to locals and visitors alike. He was a caring person and that became more evident when he ran for county commissioner and won a seat on the board. He got things done because he put his heart into it.

I took this picture in 1978 when Mac had been fishing his nets with Dalton O’Neal. They were just arriving at the Creek in Rodanthe to unload their catch.

In 1984 I caught him taking a break in his dory after beach fishing.

                                The Old Christmas celebration in January of 2000 found Mac leading Ole Buck around the dance floor. It was unusual in that Ole Buck’s normal caretaker John Edgar, was indisposed that night.

It was a sad day in 2006 when Mac passed away. He was iconic. I thought he’d be here forever. In a way, he’s still around, because he was so much larger than life.

 

 

The Writing on the Wall

Growing up as a Navy dependent, I was almost always near the ocean. Yet I never met a commercial fisherman until I moved to Hatteras Island. My first encounter was in 1974 when a new found friend, Bruce Midgett, took me along to fish his gill nets off Bay Landing, south of Salvo.

I brought my Yashica camera along and took a few shots. I’ve always been excited looking at this picture of Bruce holding a speckled trout. It revealed another world to me and I’ve embraced the small commercial fisherman ever since.

Early one morning in 1978, 65 year-old Burgess Hooper took me fishing on the Pamlico Sound. I was impressed at his knowledge and vitality out on the water.

                                My favorite shot came later that morning while Burgess hauled in his favorite cotton net, made for catching bluefish. He always took Princess with him. She was just as anxious to see what was caught. Burgess passed away about ten years later, and a week after that Princess died.

In 1977, my good friend Roger Wooleyhan was also fishing the Pamlico Sound and he always took his faithful black lab, Moose.

Calm water usually means not much of a catch, but the glassy conditions always make for a pleasant boat ride.

                              A 1985 assignment for an Outer Banks Magazine story, hooked me up with crabber Scott Bridges pulling his pots near Hatteras Inlet.

The labor of a commercial fisherman never ends. Maintenance of gear is a constant. I happened to visit Bruce Midgett at home in 1982 as he was mending a pound net.

In the Fall of 1982 I was driving by Bay Landing and stopped to watch Raymond Midgett and his son Robin, also known as Tater, hauling in after drifting a gill net.

The Spring of 1980, I tried a stint at commercial fishing and did okay. As I was fishing a net, Burgess Hooper dropped by to say hello. A week later my motor broke down and he had to tow me in. The commercial fishermen looked out for one another and generously gave fish to their friends and neighbors.

Today with commercial fishing, the writing is on the wall. Times have changed. They are being more regulated and eventually their livelihoods will be jeopardized, if not gone. I’ve been a witness to something that will not happen again as it did decades ago.

 

Days of Old Christmas Past

When I first moved to Rodanthe, I heard about Old Christmas. It took me a while to understand the roots of this tradition and it’s anachronism to modern times. Dating back perhaps 200 years, it has much to do with the adoption of the Gregorian Calendar and the isolation of the Outer Banks.

I’ve enjoyed Old Christmas over the years and have never seen anything quite like it. These days it consists of an oyster roast, dinner, music, dancing and anything that might come with it.

Decades old photographs that I shot at the event have become windows into a vintage past. Most of the pictures shown here were taken in 1985.

j-henryLocals gathered at the Community Building parking lot to begin celebrating. Anderson Midgett is on the far right checking out a shotgun. Jim Henry, the grey-haired man in the middle who did much at Chicamacomico Station, loved mingling with the crowd.

timIt almost took a village to start a fire for roasting salty oysters. Tim Merritt looks on as Larry Midgett and Rudy Gray get cooking.

dbBill Midgett, DB Midgett and John Edgar Herbert tailgated at the oyster shoot.

larryLarry Midgett took aim to win a bushel of oysters.

jobob“Jobob” Fegundes and Bruce Midgett shared responsibilities over the fire.

macEveryone enjoyed the oyster roast, including Mac and Steve Midgett.

old-buckAnd of course the culmination was the appearance of Old Buck, here being led by John Edgar. There are 2 well-known photographers in this shot too. Drew Wilson, a staff photographer for the Virginian Pilot is on the right wearing a brown hat. David Alan Harvey, a staffer for National Geographic, is behind the man in the tan sweater sitting on the stage. David was loading more film. So I was shooting in good company that night.

This year Old Christmas will be on January 7th, beginning with an afternoon oyster shoot, and continuing into the night.

In Rodanthe, Christmas is celebrated twice a year.

Salvo Relics

There were some things  around in the 70’s, remnants of folks living in Salvo long before me. In retrospect I wish I had taken a lot more pictures of those relics. Each year that goes by brings change. In with the new, yet the old ways deteriorate and eventually are gone. I always enjoyed the rural feeling, especially in the village of Salvo. There were remains there that I saw nowhere else.

mr. perry's                                            The old homesteads were simple and functional. Mr. Perry Farrow’s place was a hundred yards from a trailer that I rented. Cisterns were a common source for water. They called it sweet water.

whidbee houseAt the south end of town, the Whidbee place sat in a gorgeous, well sheltered maritime forest. Years later when the surrounding property was sold to a developer, most of that pristine forest was cut down.

outhouse                                        Nearby stood an outhouse that no longer served a purpose.

fire truckThe Salvo fire truck was parked in a lot next to the long-abandoned Community Store that was beginning to fall apart.miss kitty'sI never met Miss Kitty, but her old home next to Dan Leary’s store was covered in briars, honeysuckle and poison ivy.

church                                      One of the most well-maintained buildings in town was the “Little Church with a Big God”. I remember hearing about Lucy Hooper salvaging timbers from shipwrecks to build it. She was a pillar in the community and by the time I met her, she was getting quite old.

hattie creefIn the old days, the Hattie Creef was a mainstay of Outer Banks travel, and even played a role in bringing the Wright Brothers to Kill Devil Hills for their first flights. The boat was brought to Salvo and made into a most unusual restaurant.

fishermen                                    Fathers fished for a living and passed it down to their sons. One day in 1975, I watched as I D Midgett was getting underway from a Salvo creek in a wooden skiff with his sons. This just doesn’t happen here any more.