Arts & Entertainment

Book Review: Living at the Water’s Edge: A Heritage Guide to the Outer Banks Byway

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The Ocracoke Preservation Society, 49 Water Plant Rd., will host a book signing at 1 p.m. tomorrow (Tuesday, Aug. 15) for “Living at the Water’s Edge” 

By Peter Vankevich

The Outer Banks Scenic Byway is in good company.

Certain roads throughout the country capture travelers’ imaginations if they are through areas that are off the beaten path and shine a light on our historical culture.

Route 66, established in 1926, is one of those. This highway, which became one of the most famous roads in the country, runs from Chicago, Ill., to Santa Monica, Calif., covering a total of 2,448 miles.

The road was used by many who migrated west, especially during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, making it into the John Steinbeck classic, “The Grapes of Wrath.”

It was popularized by a song, composed in 1946 by American songwriter Bobby Troup and a popular television show with the same name in the 1960s.

Due to the growth of the Interstate Highway System, Route 66 fell into decline as have many others now considered back roads.

Out of this road-rave fascination came legislation in 1991 creating the National Scenic Byway for  roads recognized by the U.s. Dept. of Transportation for having one or more of six “intrinsic qualities”: archaeological, cultural, historic, natural, recreational and scenic.

The Outer Banks Byway was added in 2009 and is one of these 150 byways.

From the north, it begins at N.C. 12 at Whalebone Junction just below Nags Head and heads south through Hatteras and Ocracoke islands and passes through the villages of the Down East Core Sound region. It comprises a combination of 138 road miles and 25 ferry miles.

Barbara Garrity-Blake and Karen Willis Amspacher have written a heritage guide to this byway, “Living at the Water’s Edge: A Heritage Guide to the Outer Banks Byway” (UNC Press).

The book is organized around the themes of water, land, people and change and includes historic and contemporary photographs and stories of the 21 villages along the way.

Significant throughout is the theme of adaptation to constant change for those living–to borrow Michael Parker’s novel title about Portsmouth Island–in this “watery part of the world.”

Ocracoke is part of the OBX Scenic Byway. Photo: C. Leinbach

For those interested in maritime history, one can learn how Mirlo Beach in Rodanthe got its name and read about the heroic efforts of John Allen Midgett and his six-member crew of the Chicamacomico Life Saving Station.

Ocracoke, of course, is included, and the authors veer off to take a look at Portsmouth Island, just across Ocracoke Inlet.

The village, abandoned in 1973 and now maintained by National Park Service, is an important part of the region’s history.

Aycock Brown’s photo of one of  Ocracoke’s most famous citizens, Sam Jones, shows Jones at the piano entertaining friends inside the Castle, one of Ocracoke’s most iconic buildings (which Jones built). Present in the room is his beloved his horse, Ikey D.  (Both are buried in the Springer’s Point cemetery).

Roy Parsons, an island musician, and Muzelle Bryant, an African-American who lived on Ocracoke till her passing at age 103, are included as well as the long running mail boat, the Aleta, and the recently opened Ocracoke Community Park, which has the island’s only baseball and soccer field.

Garrity-Blake, a cultural anthropologist, and Amspacher, director of the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum and Heritage Center on Harkers Island, have succeeded in their portrayals of the past and present and include a wary eye on the future of the ever-changing Outer Banks.

For the reader, this is a wonderful primer to those who wish to take one of our nation’s roads less-traveled.

For the two authors, it must have been a pure joy to put this book together and to be able to share the rich cultural heritage with others.

On the island, the book is on sale at Books to Be Red and the Ocracoke Preservation gift shop. 

Update Aug. 16, 2017: The Ocracoke Preservation Society said today that they’ve sold out of “Living at the Water’s Edge,” but will get more in about a week. You can purchase the books online at ocracokepreservation.org. OPS phone is: 252-928-7375. Books to Be Red also has them. Phone is: (252) 928-3936.

3 replies »

  1. What is the price of the book? Can it be bought and shipped?.. Sounds wonderful..

      • The Ocracoke Preservation Society said today that they’ve sold out of “Living at the Water’s Edge,” but will get more in about a week. You can purchase the books online at ocracokepreservation.org. OPS phone is: 252-928-7375. Books to Be Red also has them. Phone is: (252) 928-3936