Admiral Ross’s Lighthouses

Linda Garey, a teacher I met some years ago, recently sent me copies of some remarkable historical images of North Carolina lighthouses and lightships that were taken in and around 1899.  They are from her great-grandfather Rear Admiral Albert Ross’s extraordinary collection of magic lantern glass slides that he made while serving in the U.S. Navy. 

The Wreck of the Nomis

This is a photograph of villagers on Ocracoke Island, N.C., salvaging lumber from the shattered hull of the schooner Nomis in the summer of 1935.  At the time of her grounding, the Nomis was carrying 338,000 feet of lumber from Georgetown, S.C. to New York City. She came ashore just north of the current location of the island’s pony pens.

Songs on a Nags Head Porch

I recently visited with Gerret Warner and Mimi Gredy at a coffee shop in Durham, N.C. I had sought out the couple because I had learned that they were making a documentary film about two legendary collectors of American folk music who visited singers and musicians on the North Carolina coast beginning in the 1930s--  Gerret’s father and mother, Frank and Anne Warner.

Annie Hooper’s Vision: From Hatteras Island to the Smithsonian

I found Annie Hooper’s masterpiece in a warehouse in a small town in eastern North Carolina: thousands of hauntingly beautiful Biblical figures made out of driftwood, seashells, putty and plaster. All of them are part of large, elaborate scenes depicting stories from the Old and New Testaments. I had been hoping to see them for decades, and when I finally found them, they were together for probably the last time.

Memories of Nags Head Woods

Thirty years ago, Lu Ann Jones and Amy Glass wrote one of my favorite books on the history of the Outer Banks: “Everyone Helped His Neighbor": Memories of Nags Head Woods.  Long out of print, the book is now available again, thanks to its original publisher, The Nature Conservancy, and to its new distributor, the University of North Carolina Press.

The Color of Water, part 10– Racial Covenants

This is the final post in my 10-part  special series that I am calling “The Color of Water.” In this series, I am exploring the history of Jim Crow and North Carolina’s coastal waters, including the state’s forgotten history of all-white beaches, “sundown towns,” and racially exclusive resort communities.  Today-- racial covenants. You can find the … Continue reading The Color of Water, part 10– Racial Covenants

The Color of Water, part 5– Jim Crow from Nags Head to Wrightsville Beach

The story of Jim Crow and the North Carolina coast also extends to the state’s most popular beaches and beachfront communities. During the Jim Crow era, those popular vacation destinations barred black families from swimming in their waters, staying in their motels, buying cottages or in many cases even walking on their beaches.

The Color of Water, part 4– The Sign by the Old Ferry Landing

This is the fourth post in my special series “The Color of Water.” In this series, I am exploring  the history of Jim Crow and North Carolina’s coastal waters, including the state’s forgotten history of all-white beaches, “sundown towns” and racially exclusive resort communities. You can find the other stories in the series here. After … Continue reading The Color of Water, part 4– The Sign by the Old Ferry Landing

The Town Where Moby-Dick Began

On yet another trip to New Bedford, Mass., I crossed the Fish Island Bridge and explored Fairhaven. It’s a lovely town, with broad, shady avenues and a long row of shipyards and fishing wharves along the Acushnet River. In 1841 Herman Melville sailed from the old seaport on the whale ship Acushnet. He later drew on his experiences during that voyage to write his masterpiece Moby-Dick. 

Remembering Portsmouth Island

Today I am remembering a visit to the Outer Banks History Center on Ice Plant Island, which is part of the little town of Manteo, North Carolina. The OBHC is a relatively small branch of the State Archives of North Carolina, but it is home to a unique collection of books, manuscripts, and photographs that focus on the history of the Outer Banks and the coastal counties along the eastern end of Albemarle Sound.

Colington Island: An Outer Banks Fishing Village in the 1930s

In the late winter or early spring of 1938, a photographer named Charles Farrell visited Colington, an old fishing village on North Carolina's Outer Banks. Today Colington is surrounded by condominiums and resorts, but at that time Farrell discovered only a quiet, out-of-the-way settlement with perhaps 200 or 300 residents divided between two small islands, Little Colington and Big Colington.

The Birth of N.C.’s Coastal Wildlife Refuges

At the Denver Public Library's Western History Collection, I also found an even more surprising set of documents bearing on the history of the North Carolina coast— a collection of letters and maps from the 1930s that provide insight into the origins of some of our most beloved coastal wildlife refuges. I found them in a collection of papers that had belonged to John Clark Salyers, a U.S. Dept. of Agriculture biologist who is remembered as “the father of the national wildlife refuge system.”

An Island Visit with Stan Riggs & Orrin Pilkey

My head spins when I am listening to Stan Riggs and Orrin Pilkey. They are legendary geologists. Both have been studying coastal N.C. for more than half a century. Last week I spent a couple days with the two of them on Ocracoke Island and Portsmouth Island. When I listen to them, my whole sense of time changes. History to them is a whole other thing. They look at the state's coastal plain and what they see is a quarry near the small town of Fountain, in Pitt County. The quarry’s rock is the same rock that you’d find in Dakar, Senegal, a relic of a time more than 200 million years ago when what’s now eastern N.C. and what’s now West Africa nuzzled together....