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Preserve America Community:
Ocracoke, North Carolina

Ocracoke Island, North Carolina, one of the barrier islands of the Outer Banks of North Carolina, is accessible only by water or air. The village of Ocracoke (population 769) at the southwestern end was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1990 and includes the 1823 Ocracoke Lighthouse as well as several historic commercial buildings and over 100 homes. It is the oldest lighthouse still in operation in North Carolina, and one of the oldest on the Eastern coast of the United States.

Other historic attractions include the British Cemetery and the restored David Williams House (circa 1900), now home of the Ocracoke Preservation Society Museum.

On the eastern flyway of many migrating water and land birds, Ocracoke is a birdwatcher's paradise as almost all of island is designated as a Significant Natural Heritage Area.

The island, inlet and village called "Ocracoke" all were known as "Wokokon" at the time early English explorers came this way en route north to Roanoke Island. At least one of Sir Walter Raleigh’s expeditions first made landfall on Ocracoke. Many years later, Edward Teach, a young man from a fine English family, began his nefarious career here as the dreaded pirate “Blackbeard”. He is said to have had a residence on the island and was killed here in a naval battle on November 22, 1718.

Fort Ocracoke, located in Ocracoke Inlet just off the southern tip of the island, was built during the Civil War over batteries erected to guard the inlet during the Revolutionary and 1812 Wars. During World War II, a Navy base was built on Ocracoke Island. Nearby waters became known as Torpedo Junction as German U-boats sunk merchant ships carrying vital war supplies. On the mainland, old fire towers built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s served as observation points for spotting planes and submarines. Great hurricanes as well as wars have played a part in Ocracoke’s history, and more than a thousand shipwrecks lie off its coast. Remains of Fort Ocracoke were recently discovered and are being excavated and interpreted.

In 1937 most of Ocracoke Island was put under the protection of the National Park System, and the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, stretching from Nags Head to Ocracoke, was the first in the country when it was dedicated in 1953. After the ferry system was established in the 1940s, Ocracoke began to see an influx of travelers and today the tourism industry is the basis of the island's economy. As the island’s economy has changed from maritime to tourist related ventures, the distinctive brogue spoken by the island’s natives has become an endangered dialect.

The Village of Ocracoke also participates in the Historic Albemarle Tour, founded in 1975 and one of the oldest heritage trails in North Carolina, as well as the North Carolina Civil War Trail. A Scenic Byways committee works with nearby counties and the State to jointly promote and support heritage tourism.

For more information:

Ocracoke Preservation Society: www.ocracokemuseum.org

Ocracoke Civic and Business Association: www.ocracokevillage.com

Posted March 13, 2009

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