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The long road to Hatteras: A Lighthouse Keeper Travels Home

Devaney F. Jennette and Grandchildren

The letter head reads, Department of Commerce and Labor, Light-House Establishment…

On April 9th, 1909, at Smith Point Light Station, 2nd Assistant Lighthouse Keeper Devaney Farrow Jennette, wrote to Commander Robert L. Russell, of the United States Navy. Russell, at that time was the Lighthouse Inspector of the Fifth District and located in Baltimore, Maryland.

Sir:-

I want to take a month to go home to see my family and if you will grant me the privilege you can send a man to fill my place and I am willing for him to draw my full payment. I would like to go by the third of May and will return back the third of June. Hoping that you will except of my going.

Yours truly

(Signed) Devaney F. Jennett.

J. B. Williams

Keeper.

It was a long haul from Smith Point Light Station, which was located in the waters of Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay, to the village of Buxton, located on Cape Hatteras, NC. This was the home of Devaney’s childhood. A place where generations of his family had lived and toiled as fishermen, lighthouse keepers, and Surfmen. The sea was part of their every breath. They led a life which often took them away from their families for days, weeks, and months at a time.

On April 17, 1909, Inspector Russell wrote a letter to The Lighthouse Board in Washington, D.C. describing the perils of travel which Keeper Jennette, would endure in order to make his way home to his loved ones…

Sirs:-

I have the honor to enclose a letter from Mr. Devaney F. Jennette, Second Assistant Keeper at Smith Point Light-Station, Va., applying for one month’s leave of absence, beginning May 3, 1909, for the purpose of visiting his family. In this connection, I would state that in October last, Mr. Jennett was appointed Assistant Keeper at Thomas Point Shoal Light-Station, Md., where he served up to the 9th instant, and has had no leave except to come ashore for the mail and for other purposes.
Mr. Jennett’s family resides at Cape Hatteras, N.C., and he has not been able to visit his people since his entrance into the Light-House Service. In order to reach his home, it is necessary for him to come to this city by boat, then take a steamer to Norfolk, Va., and go by rail and boat to Roanoke Island; and to reach his home from the latter place, he has to procure passage in an open gasoline boat for upwards of forty (40) miles. This journey is slow and expensive and in view of the time and money involved in reaching his home, I would recommend that the restriction of to 15 days be waived in his case, and that he be granted a full month’s leave of absence with the usual provision that he furnish a competent substitute during his absence. The return of the enclosed letter is respectfully asked.

Respectfully yours,

(Signed) Robert L. Russell
Commander, U.S.N.
Light-House Inspector


Pop’s career in the lighthouse service began in 1908 and ended upon his death in 1932. Page after page from his personnel file tells of his travels up and down the coast, from beacon to beacon, during this time. By 1917, transportation was not much different than when he had began his career all those years earlier. The road from Carney’s Point, NJ., to Hunting Island Light Station, SC., was no exception…

As I read and re-read the letters and documents, thoughts of today’s NC Hwy 12, come to mind. Often we grumble when we have to wait in line as repairs are made to the road. Or wonder what in the world will we do when bits and pieces of asphalt are taken out by nor’easters or hurricanes such as Irene. If only we had to travel as Pop did. But then, Lighthouse Keepers spent much of their lives enduring. A hardly lot, indeed.

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Memories in clay ~ An interview with Ms. Dixie Burrus Browning

Ms. Dixie Burrus Browning with clay Coast Guardsman statue she created.

Ms. Dixie Burrus Browning, grew up in a small island village known as Hatteras. She has fond memories of a childhood spent fishing and exploring what she considers today, a place that belongs to it’s people. The stories I heard today, she has passed down to her children and they to theirs. But her stories have not solely confined themselves to spoken words. No…glimpses of them are present in the years she spent as a romance writer. Her novels are mainly based on places she has been and the place she calls home. And then…there is her art.

One can tell by studying her water color paintings that she truly cherishes the marshes and beaches that make up the Hatteras landscape. The various shades of blues, greens, and browns lead one down winding paths to scenes that can only be painted by someone who has studied their characteristics and kept each detail, consciously or subconsciously, in that special corner of their mind that only harbors the memories that are solely meant for safe keeping.

This past year Ms. Dixie’s daughter, Elizabeth “Liz” B. Fox, donated to our society, another type of artwork her mother created sometime in the 60’s. The painted clay bust is that of a Coast Guardsman. Liz believes that it’s eyes and ears are reminiscent of her Father’s, Leonard L. Browning Jr. But after Ms.Dixie gave a quick side view glance of her profile, I can definitely state that yes…the statue does have a Burrus nose.

I asked Ms. Dixie what inspired her to create the piece. The answer was quick. She didn’t know. At that time she had been doing a lot of painting and teaching art and it was quite a bit later that she sought out making a living from her talent as a writer. She never examines why she writes or paints. “The inspiration is just there and it just bubbles to the surface”, was her only explanation. It was the only one I needed.

We went on to discuss the Coast Guardsman’s hat, which is real by the way. She had painted it with metallic paint and gave it a tilt as she placed it on his head. Memories of where she bought her paints and what she made them out of came back to her. As a child she would buy them from Sears. But she also found natural sources as well. Moss and poke berries were often used and she would have used Mercurochrome, if she’d of had it.

Our visit lasted about an hour. It is always a pleasure to sit and listen to the stories told of how things were on the island by those who were born many years before my time. Ms. Dixie is one of our most fascinating treasures and I am very fortunate to be able to call her my “kin”. The history of this place fascinates her as it does most of us. She feels an undeniable connection to this place and it’s people. Just ask any butterfly that crosses your path (wink).

Thank you again, Ms. Dixie. Perhaps we’ll visit and chat again real soon.

Ms. Dixie’s original artwork and prints may be purchased at Indian Town Gallery in Frisco, NC.

Dawn F. Taylor

 

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Hurricane Irene ~ A storm to remember !

Mirlo Beach, NC

As I sit here trying to come up with the opening words to write this blog, I can not help but think of all that has happened on Hatteras Island, since Hurricane Irene hit. By now, most of you have heard through the news media about the destruction here. Many homes and businesses were destroyed. Lives are now changed in so many different ways. But just as our ancestors have done over the years, we will persevere. We have pulled together and once again shown our strengths as a community. I am so proud and so thankful for all who have rolled up their sleeves, put on their waders and boots, in order to selflessly lend a hand. We are so blessed…

Tide coming in...Avon, NC

Dad and I have weathered quite a few storms together in our home. We live in my late Grandparent’s old place in Avon. We feel secure here. This house is built like they used to build them…strong…sturdy…made to endure harsh winds and storms. Dad did however, have the house raised after dealing with it being only three feet off the ground. Only so many times of carpets ruined, walls warped, and furniture and appliances trashed, can one take. So up it went…12 feet into the air.

About a week before Irene hit, all eyes pretty much stayed glued to the weather. A lot of the islanders, especially the old timers, are pretty good at predicting where storms are going and what should be done in order to prepare. With that said, Dad and I made several trips to the grocery store for canned goods and other items that might be needed during and afterwards. We gassed up the trucks. Made sure the generator worked. Moved the camper and both trucks to higher ground. Secured all outdoor items…and then waited.

Waiting for the storm to hit has always seemed the hardest part to me. Not knowing what the storm is going to do to your home, your family, your friends…it’s nerve racking. So Dad and I, along with quite a few others, were feeling quite happy when Irene had dropped to a category 1. But boy, big things do come in small packages. The winds shifted around from the south east to the north west and a mean punch came a long with it. From Avon Village all the way to Manteo, there came a surge of ocean and sound tides. Irene was on a destructive path. A friend of mine who lives in New York called several days after…even the town he grew up in about an hour north of him was destroyed by her. Irene had left a mark.

Gerald Williams home place ~ Village of Avon

The above photo shows the home place of the late Gerald Williams. His house is located directly across the road from us. As you can see, the tide paid a visit to many of the homes and businesses of our village. Dad and I were lucky. Many others weren’t. Piles of household items now lay along side the road with signs that read “Do not take away”. Residence are waiting for insurance adjusters to arrive in order to receive aide in restoring what has been destroyed. Dad and I can deal with the stench of mud in the yard. We can deal with no air conditioner. No tv. No phone. Even the loss of the oil tank which heats our water and house, But to imagine dealing with the loss of treasured family photos, family heirlooms, and those things that help one get through everyday life, is hard to comprehend.

And what is more hard to comprehend is the loss of loved ones through such disasters. Saturday night, our family almost lost two very dear members. Celia and Roger Meekins were owners of the house known as, Sentinel on Pamlico. It was their dream home. Located at Mirlo Beach, it was a landmark with it’s tower that resembled a majestic lighthouse. But most of all, it was a place where they went to relax and enjoy the beauty of the island. Below is a link you may follow to read in detail about the fire that occurred there Saturday night and also the flood waters that Celia and Roger found themselves swimming through in order to reach the safe harbor of their nearby neighbors. It is through stories like theirs, that one realizes that there are still those in this world who would give their dearest possession, which is their life, in order to save others.

Story of Celia and Roger Meekin’s and the loss of their Sentinel on the Pamlico

Remains of the Sentinel on the Pamlico ~ Home of Celia and Roger Meekins

So here we are, recovering. The villages of Avon, Buxton, Frisco, and Hatteras…are all being powered by one generator. The village of Waves had a generator delivered but at this point, I am not sure if it is up and running yet. The people who evacuated are still waiting to return home to see what is left of their lives. Re-entry will start this coming Sunday for those of the village of Buxton. Residence of Frisco and Hatteras will be allowed to re-enter on Monday and Tuesday. Dare County Emergency Managements has posted travel info on their website.

Dare County Emergency Management

Our recovery will be a long one. Yesterday, Elizabeth B. Fox and myself, took a ride up to Rodanthe to see for ourselves the destruction that had occurred. Between the two of us and Liz’s mother, Dixie Burrus Browning, we put together three totes to take with us that consisted of clothing, shoes, lanterns, and unopened over the counter meds, and various other items, to donate. The Salvation Army has brought in relief efforts in order to help. But there were also many natives and locals, such as the Gaskins family of Avon, the men and women of the Cape Hatteras Electric Company, the Avon Volunteer Fire Deptment,and many others to numerous to mention who gave of themselves in order to help us along the path of recovery. A heart felt “Thank you”, is in order.

I’ll end this Hurricane Irene blog with photographs taken yesterday, of the breach at Mirlo Beach. Please continue to keep us in your thoughts and prayers…

Dawn F. Taylor

Mirlo Beach ~ Tradewinds Cottage

Anne and Donny Bowers ~ Owners of Indian Town Gallery ~ Frisco

Mirlo Beach

Mirlo Beach sign

Mirlo Beach ~ The Breach

Mirlo Beach

Mirlo Beach

Mirlo Beach

Mirlo Beach

 

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From Hatteras to Ocracoke…

Ocracoke Preservation Society Museum ~ Ocracoke Island, NC

There is a connection between Islanders of Hatteras and Ocracoke. No, I don’t mean the ferry that carries tourist across the inlet by the masses. Course, I do love that ride in the Fall of the year…once things have slowed down and it seems that the “island time” clock has been reset to normal.

The connection I am speaking of is one of blood. One of generations of islanders, whose ancestors left Hatteras to go live on Ocracoke, or vise versa. It’s surnames like Oneal, Fulcher, and Burrus, that can be found in census and birth, marriage, and death certificates, that prove our people…our history…are one.

This past Thursday, two friends and I decided it was time to head to Ocracoke, mainly to enjoy the day and soak up some Ocracoke vibes. Course the day was hot and humid. It was August, after all. But we still enjoyed meeting up with friends, making new ones, and visiting historical sites, as I searched for hints of the ancestral past of those who left Hatteras, a long time ago.

Phillip Howard and Dawn Taylor

Our first stop was at the Village Craftsman, which is owned and operated by Phillip Howard. Phillip is also a published author and local historian who takes villagers and visitors alike, on walking tours of the island. Check out his store’s website and internet journal for more info…

http://www.villagecraftsmen.com/index.htm

While at the Village Craftsman, Amy, Lesley, and myself, spotted a cemetery across the sand road from the store. Course I couldn’t resist and headed straight for it.

Howard Cemetery

Now any of you that know me, know that the first question I usually ask even before we leave the house is, “Where are we going to eat ?” Due to a friend’s recommendation, we took our chances on eating at the Flying Melon. Loved it. Especially the roosters ;p

The Flying Melon

After a lunch of Creole Shrimp and grits, we headed on over to the Ocracoke Preservation Society’s Museum. Had the pleasure of meeting DeAnna Locke, who is the OPS Administrator. What a wonderful job they have done with preserving the David Williams House. In 1989, it became their home office after they moved it from just north of the Anchorage Inn, to it’s present location.

Ocracoke Preservation Society Museum

Ocracoke Preservation Society Museum

For information on the Ocracoke Preservation Society and visiting their Museum, please follow the link below.

http://www.ocracokepreservation.org/

In all, it was a wonderful day spent on the island. For anyone that happens upon our blog and would like to share their Hatteras/Ocracoke family info, please check our group’s Facebook page out, or email HIGPS at the following address:hatgensoc@yahoo.com

Hope you enjoyed the journey.

Dawn F. Taylor

 

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Buxton Village Books ~ An island’s history in literature

Buxton Village Books ~ Buxton, NC

Buxton Village Books is by far, one of my favorite stops on Hatteras Island. Whenever I find myself wanting to step back in time to an island of yesteryear, all’s I have to do is enter through the door of this enchanting house of books.

Yes, it really is a house of books. Or should I say a kitchen of books ? Recently, I asked Gee Gee Rosell, owner of Buxton Village Books, if she would be willing to answer some questions for our readers. She quickly and excitedly, accepted. Of course, one the first questions I asked was about the building in which her charming book store is housed.

Q: Buxton Village Books, is housed in an old island home. By chance do you know anything about it’s history ?

A: The center two rooms were the detached summer kitchen of a home that burned down years ago. I’ve added the other rooms over the years as my business has grown, but tried to keep the island vernacular architecture in tact.

Q: How long has Buxton Village Books been in business and is it’s current location where it all began ?

A: I started Buxton Village Books in 1984, right here in this building. It was only two rooms then and today there are seven.

So now the questioning had turned to my favorite part of any house…or should I say “home”. The kitchen will always be what I consider to be the heart of it’s existence.

Q: Now most of us islanders love those old recipes that our Mothers and Grandmothers, passed down to us from generation to generation. They are as much a part of our heritage as our brogue or any other trait that makes us Kinnakeeters or Trenters. With that said, what books do you have cooking on those shelves that visitors, locals, and natives alike, can pick up and learn the culinary ways of Hatteras Island, past and present ?

A: “Kinnakeet Kitchens” is one of my favorites. The cover is a lovely painting by Denise Gaskins. Also “Outer Banks Cookbook” by Elizabeth Weigand. Elizabeth isn’t a local but she has done a great job of collecting Outer Banks recipes and the history behind them. Also, Hatteras Island Cancer Foundation, publishes a cookbook titled “Seasonings”. That has contributions from every
village…so it’s full of local food ways too.

Now Gee Gee isn’t a native. But from talking to her, it seems like she should be. I had wondered from where and when she came to this little sandbar. So I asked her…

Q: Where is Gee Gee Rosell originally from and how long have you been on the island ?

A: I moved to Hatteras the day after college graduation in 1974. I went to school at West Virginia University.

In 1974, I was seven years old. Probably playing pick up sticks on my Grandparents wrap around porch in Kinnakeet, when Gee Gee landed on our sandy soil. With all her years spent on Hatteras, there is one thing she has learned…island history. Being a history lover myself, I often stop by to see what is new on the book store’s shelves. I am never disappointed.

Q: You have a wide selection of local and state history, culture, and folk lore books. Would you mind giving our readers a run down of some of your favorite titles and their authors ?

A: There are so many ! So the first thing I’ll do is steer you to our website: http://www.buxtonvillagebooks.com, where you’ll find a complete list of local titles under “Hatteras Bookshelf”. Two authors you don’t want to miss are Charles Harry Whedbee and David Stick. Whedbee collected lore and legends during his time as a District Court Judge, in eastern North Carolina. He published 5 books in his lifetime. Stick wrote the definitive history of the Outer Banks in several volumes including a book of essays he edited “Outer Banks Reader”. An author still with us and carrying on the tradition is Kevin Duffus. His “Lost Light” is a great Civil War history centering on the Fresnel lens from the first Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. That just barely skims the surface. Go to our site and take a closer look.

Many times I have been searching through the titles at Buxton Village Books, when in walks a family or couple from as far away as Canada or as close as Manteo. How wonderful it is to see people from far and near, stopping by to learn about the people and culture of Hatteras Island. But often, more so than not, there is a cultural exchange and a friendship begins that will last through years of returned visits to this island bookstore.

Q: I bet Buxton Village Books, has had visitors from all over the world. Do you have any that left a lasting impression and if so, would you mind telling us a little bit about them ?

A: Last winter, Simon Winchester, was here doing research for his book “The Atlantic”. I’ve sold his books for years and love his travel writing. So it was a pleasure and a surprise to meet him. It never fails that an author I hold in high regard will come through the front door on the day I’m grubbing around under the building repairing the wiring ! It’s humbling to say the least to shake the hand of a world traveler when you have your wire cutters in your back pocket and dirt on your face.

Buxton Village Books, has found it’s place among the people of this island. On it’s shelves sits our stories. From ship wrecks, to Civil War heroes born and bred here, to islanders who remember through poetry and family legend…they are all waiting for you to read about them. So why not stop on by. Gee Gee will be waiting for you.

Buxton Village Books ~ local and state history, culture, and folk lore

 

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