Allison O’Neal, the new OPS director, shows one of Len Skinner’s hand-carved horses for sale in the gift shop. Photo: C. Leinbach

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By Connie Leinbach

Allison O’Neal’s new position as director of the Ocracoke Preservation Society brings her full circle to her first love–history.

Having a bachelor’s degree in history from Warren Wilson College, Asheville, O’Neal has had a variety jobs since arriving on the island in 1996 and working at several restaurants, Tideland EMC and the Ocracoke School library.

She had followed her sister, Claudia Lewis, and lived for several summers as a “Cobb woman” in Vicki Cobb’s rooming house for young women in Oyster Creek.

O’Neal was 18 and shared the house with six or seven other young women.

“There was one shower, no stove, no washer or dryer and no air conditioning,” O’Neal said about those summers. “We had camp beds and had to bring a fan.”

Since there was only a microwave and hot plate, the tenants had to eat out or bring re-heatable food from their jobs.

“It was so much fun,” she said about those camp-like summer. Island life was vastly different from cities.

The Howard family tree takes shape in the OPS museum, 49 Water Plant Rd.

“What appealed to me at the time about the island was that everything was connected,” she said.

And now she will be able to indulge her love of history as director of the organization that is the steward of island history.

O’Neal took over the reins of the OPS Jan. 1 from prior director Amy Howard, who left the job to manage the Village Craftsmen, owned by her father Philip Howard.

O’Neal is staying the course that Amy Howard had begun—to have events and exhibits that feature island history and modern life.

“I love it,” O’Neal said recently while manning the museum gift shop. “There’s always something new to do.”

The front room of the OPS museum contains an exhibit of local artists of the past.

The museum, 49 Water Plant Rd., is in the historic Williams house and features exhibits in five rooms. Those include recreations of a bedroom and kitchen of yesteryear and an exhibit on the fishing industry. A new installation this year spotlights island artists of the past: JoKo, Elizabeth Parsons and more.

Howard had begun showcasing island family trees in 2015 along the main hallway starting with the Gaskins family, followed by the O’Neal clan. New this year will be the Howard family tree.

“We’re using Earl O’Neal’s genealogy book to do this,” O’Neal said.

Along with continuing the porch talks and other seasonal programs, O’Neal is shepherding the group’s program to digitize the stacks of historic paper records: photos, news articles, event programs and more.

When this project is done, it will be a complete database of searchable Ocracoke history.

Souvenirs, books about Ocracoke, fig preserves and crafts made on the island and an array of hand-made, non-electronic toys can be found in the gift shop.  

Summer programs begin June 5, with museum tours Mondays and Fridays. Tuesdays and Thursdays will be the Porch Talks given by volunteers about a variety of subjects, and Wednesdays will feature children’s programs of a brief history lesson and a craft. 

The Ocracoke Preservation Society Museum at 49 Water Plant Rd.
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