Located at the southern end of the Outer Banks, Ocracoke Island is a special place. Bikes wheel along quiet streets and picket fences shaded by live oak trees, boats come and go in the picturesque harbor, and the rhythm of the days are measured by the sun and tides. The island’s unspoiled beaches are consistently ranked among the nation’s best and are renowned for their unspoiled natural beauty and first-class fishing.
The majority of Ocracoke is part of Cape Hatteras National Seashore, with the exception of Ocracoke Village, a small community of about 800 residents located at the southern end of the island. Famous for its relaxed, laid-back lifestyle, the 16-mile-long island is accessible only by boat or private plane or by one of the three state ferry routes, including the 40-minute free ferry from Hatteras Island.
Ocracoke Village and nearby Ocracoke Inlet are rich in history and played an important part in early Colonial American development. The Inlet was one of the principal ports of entry along the treacherous North Carolina coast. Hundreds of ships passed through the Inlet every year, relying on the experienced sailors of Ocracoke to help guide them through the maze of shoals and sandbars lying just beneath the water.
Just across the Inlet from Ocracoke lies the deserted village of Portsmouth, located on the northern tip of Portsmouth Island. During the 18th and 19th centuries, Portsmouth rivaled Ocracoke in size and importance. But time was not kind to Portsmouth. The formation of Hatteras Inlet in 1846, along with the construction of the Intracoastal Waterway, and the creation of more reliable mainland railroad lines, gradually reduced the importance of Ocracoke Inlet.
The slow but steady stream of residents leaving the Island ended in 1971, when the last two Portsmouth Islanders left. In 1975, Portsmouth was incorporated into the newly-formed Cape Lookout National Seashore. Today, much of Portsmouth Village is preserved for future generations. It can be reached by either of two privately-operated passenger ferries operating out of Silver Lake Harbor.
Over the years, Ocracoke has attracted the attention of more than honest merchants and mariners. The notorious Blackbeard was just one of the pirates prowling the waters off the Carolina coast in the early 1700s. British Navy troops killed Blackbeard, also known as Edward Teach, during a furious battle just inside Ocracoke Inlet in 1718.
Ocracoke Island remained relatively isolated until the 1930s when the village harbor was dredged and the Civilian Conservation Corps constructed the dunes along the ocean beach. The establishment of a U.S. Navy base on the island during World War II, and the creation of Cape Hatteras National Seashore in 1953, brought a steady influx of outsiders, along with the island’s first paved roads.
Although not as secluded as it once was, Ocracoke remains a special place to those who visit or call it home. It’s a place where you can stroll along streets of an historic village, relax in a quiet restaurant, or lose yourself on a deserted beach. It’s a place where pelicans, ibis and egrets are as common as pigeons in the city, and where sea turtles and dolphins are the folks next door. Most of all, it’s a place where life moves at a different pace and where the modern world seems so very, very far away, indeed.
Joan Huffman, Toano, VA
“This is pure paradise!! Keep it going! Thanks. Loved the quilts.”