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Ocracoke Lifesaving Station

Above photograph was posed for by a Portsmouth Island Lifesaving crew in their surfboat outside the Station in 1915, the year the service was merged into the U.S. Coast Guard. Captain Ike O’Neal originally from Ocracoke and stationed at Portsmouth commands the steering oar. (Courtesy of the Cape Lookout National Seashore, National Park Service and Rodney Barfield’s book, “Seasoned by Salt".)

The Ocracoke Life Saving Station was constructed in 1904 within Ocracoke Village on the shore of Pamlico Sound near Cockle Creek (Silver Lake). It was located at the site just behind where the present abandoned U.S. Coast Guard Station stands.
(Courtesy of the Ocracoke Preservation Society and Museum - Hatteras Inlet Station #186 - Commissioned in 1883")
In 1883 a Lifeboat Station was erected at the Ocracoke side of Hatteras Inlet, called "Hatteras Inlet" station or "Cedar Hammock" In 1904 the first Lifeboat Station was built in Ocracoke Village. A Lifeboat Station had been built at Portsmouth in 1894.

The 1800's were undoubtedly the "heyday" of the pilots in Ocracoke Inlet. In August, 1790, the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service had been organized. Life Saving Service was established in 1874 and about eighteen stations were subsequently built along the North Carolina coast. The first Lifeboat Station on Ocracoke Island came in 1883 at the northern end of Ocracoke Island, on the south side of Hatteras Inlet. It was called Ocracoke Lifeboat Station until in 1904 another station was established in Ocracoke Village and took that name, while the station at the north end of the Island was named Hatteras Inlet Station. That station was destroyed in a mid-1950 hurricane, and the new Hatteras Station was built on the Hatteras side of the inlet. Its first keeper was Hanes W. Howard of Ocracoke Village, with F.C. O'Neal, also of Ocracoke, as assistant. The Keeper's salary was seven hundred dollars per annum. His daily record included giving direction and force of the wind, state of the weather and surf at midnight, sunrise, noon, and sunset. The number of vessels passing the station during the twenty-four hour period and their type of rig was recorded, and each day under general remarks there was a brief description of the work being done about the Station. The first wreck is noted in the record on September 18, 1883.

Portsmouth, across the inlet to the South, had its first Life Boat Station in 1874, and its second, in 1896. The first Ocracoke Village Station was authorized in 1904 and built shortly thereafter. The present U.S. Coast Guard Station was built in 1939-1940. In 1939 the Lighthouse Service was consolidated with the U.S. Coast Guard Service.

Gradually, because of these stations and the coming of the steamboats, the pilots of old were supplanted in service by the Life Saving crews and the U.S. Coast Guard. Many of the young men enlisted in the Coast Guard Service.

During World War II, Ocracoke first served as a location for a Navy Section Base, 1942-44; later as an Amphibious Training Station, 1944-45, and as a Combat Information Center. After World War II electricity, paved roads, telephones, ferries, and automobiles, and especially the establishment of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore Park with an Ocracoke marina, an area headquarters, and Information Center, and an Ocean Beach Campsite, brought in many more tourists so that modern motels and hotels and restaurants were established. Thus with the 20th Century came the important enterprises which tourism calls for, and today tourism is the most important of the various enterprises which benefit the people of Ocracoke Island. From a small beginning of "first" English voyages to the "New World", through the "golden years" of piracy, and pilotage, Ocracoke, and Ocracoke Inlet and Ocracoke Island have "come a long way" to the Bicentennial year of 1976.

(Photos courtesy of Earl W. O'Neal, Jr.  The history of the Lifesaving Stations taken from Hyde County History published by the Hyde County Historical Society in 1976.)

Copyright 1999

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