OCRACOKE, NC — An overnight stay on this southernmost point of North Carolina’s famed Outer Banks, or at least the southernmost populated point, is always a treat. It never seems quite like the rest of the Outer Banks to me. The other villages are on the windswept Atlantic coast, with sand dunes and rough surf. I love them, too. But Ocracoke, tucked away on the inland side of the island, is just different. More like a New England village, maybe. Surrounding a lake. Walkable. The past and the present intertwined.
Here are some photos. We’ve just had a quick but memorable visit, the layover point between two long, long, long days of delivering books to stores. We hadn’t seen Ocracokee in two years, since the devastation of Hurricane Dorian in September 2019. (Covid wiped out the need for our delivery trips last year; we mailed smaller shipments instead.)
Instead of writing about it, though, I thought pictures would handle things nicely.
The next morning, fortified by coffee from the Magic Bean, left, we walked the village for an hour and a half. Ordinary sights don’t seem so ordinary here. In the middle, that’s a good use for an old boat on Ocracoke, isn’t it? (And there are a lot of old boats on Ocracoke.) On the right, that’s the old Albert Styron store. Lot of puddles on Ocracoke that day. And there are a lot of puddles on Ocracoke. It had just rained but, really, there are puddles often now on Ocracoke. The water is higher than it used to be. More on that in a moment.
A couple of Ocracoke’s historic sites. On the left, of course, is the nearly 200-years-old lighthouse and keepers’ quarters. On the right is the entrance to famed Howard Street, bordered by many cemeteries and a few shops. Not only is Howard Street famously unpaved, it is twisting and narrow, enough so that the (mostly hidden) warning sign in the middle of the picture says “Drive Real, Real SLOW.” You should.
The British Cemetery, one of the few foreign-owned plots within the United States, contains the bodies of those killed aboard the HMT Bedfordshire when it was torpedoed by a German U-boat off the Outer Banks in 1942. Other than the lighthouse, it is probably the island’s second most known “attraction.” Or possibly the pony pens are. (All this stuff is in my Ocracoke book and other publications.)
This is the famed 1901 Island Inn, which is being renovated for public use by the Ocracoke Preservation Society. It began life as an Odd Fellows Lodge and schoolhouse, and has been a coffee shop, a couple of inns, and several private residences over the past century-plus. (You can read much more interesting stuff about the inn HERE.) I didn’t know the building had already been lifted. But you can see that it’s about five feet in the air now. Eventually it will be lifted to about 14 feet so pilings can be put underneath, then lowered back to this five-foot level. Of course, with the rising waters, many Ocracoke buildings have begun being lifted since Dorian’s devastating floods.
Amy Howard (pictured at right), formerly the administrator of the preservation society and now manager of the Village Craftsmen shop, estimates that about 75-100 buildings have been lifted already on Ocracoke. Many others are on the waiting list. Historic buildings have tended to be raised only 5-6 feet, while others are more likely to be raised about 8 feet, which allows parking underneath. Some needing storage are being raised 16 feet. “David and I had talked about raising our house for a while. we knew the tide’s rising and we were living on borrowed time, but still felt sort of safe for a while. …” Dorian changed all that and the couple had their house raised. “No matter where you live, you’re going to have something: floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, fires, avalanches. I’d rather live here,” she says. Tourists this year have been swarming Ocracoke, eager to get out after a year of tight Covid restrictions. Not only is it a safe vacation spot, she says, but there’s “the friendly disposition of Ocracoke. People are so tired of being stuck inside and seeing negative doom scrolling. Ocracoke people are friendly. … It makes you feel good.”
Speaking of feel good, here are a couple scenes that make you feel good, around the lake at the center of the village. The third one just seemed appropriate for the day. No, I promise that is not my license plate.
And finally, if you go to Ocracoke, you MUST have your picture taken with the lighthouse. I’m pretty sure it’s the law.
Ray McAllister, former columnist of The Richmond Times-Dispatch and former editor of Boomer Magazine, is the award-winning author of six books, including four on North Carolina’s islands. Through Beach Glass Books, he is also the publisher of 10 books by other authors.