The Ocracoke Preservation Society Museum is located in Ocracoke, North Carolina, a barrier island on the state’s Atlantic coast. The museum is open seasonally from March through December. The museum offers both permanent and temporary exhibits on the history of island life in Ocracoke.
The collection is housed in the historic home of David Williams (1858-1938). Williams served in the Coast Guard and was the first appointed keeper of the Hatteras Inlet Coast Guard Station in the early 1900’s. The house is built in the American Foursquare style, popular at the turn of the century as a direct response to the over-the-top ornate (and frequently mass-produced) décor of Victorian homes of the time. Two interior chimneys, a front porch which spans the width of the home, and the porch’s boxed posts and sawn-work decorated spandrels are typical of a Foursquare home.
Upon entering the home, guests will find a gift shop in the old parlor room to their left, and displays of local memorabilia in the rooms to the right. Artifacts represent Portsmouth Island and Ocracoke, and include World War II Army and Navy uniforms, quilts, decorative antiques and artwork. Each of the museum’s five rooms are furnished as they would have been in the early 1900’s.
A research library occupies the home’s second floor, and offers resources for genealogical studies, as well as documents and photographs related to Ocracoke history. Popular areas of research include Ocracoke’s World War II Naval base, history of the area’s hurricanes and storms, the Ocracoke style of square dancing, and the island’s historic lighthouse, which was built in 1823.
Outdoor exhibits include a backyard display of “Blanche,” a round stern fishing boat from 1934 that represents the traditional rounded helm style of wooden fishing boats in the area. Also outdoors is a cistern from the late 19th century, originally used to collect rainwater as a fresh water source before plumbing was introduced to the island in 1977. A ship’s rudder, made of solid oak, was found in 1997 and is displayed in the home’s front yard. It likely dates to the early 20th century. It’s not rare for items from shipwrecks to wash onshore in this area of the Outer Banks islands, also known as the “Graveyard of the Atlantic.”
History: Ocracoke Island is the home of the 1718 battle between the British Royal Navy and the pirate Blackbeard, who was defeated in the waters just off the coast of Ocracoke. The battle, and in particular its aftermath, signified the introduction of “the rule of law” to the Outer Banks island.
The non-profit Ocracoke Preservation Society was founded in 1983 with a mission to preserve and share Ocracoke Island’s rich cultural and historical heritage. The Preservation Society saved the David Williams home in 1989 by moving it from it’s original harbor-facing location, to it’s current site on National Park Service land. After an extensive restoration project of several years, the home opened as a museum in 1992. Both the home and the Ocracoke Historic District to which it contributes are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The society manages indoor and outdoor exhibits at the home and museum, manages the historic district database, helps fundraise to contribute to preservation projects within the historic district, and works alongside the North Carolina Coastal Land Trust to raise funds for the preservation of Springer’s Point, a nearby coastal nature preserve.
Ongoing Programs and Education: Museum tours take place twice weekly on Mondays and Fridays during the summer season, although guests are welcome to take a self-guided visit anytime during open hours. Regular programs at the museum include Porch Talks, which invite different speakers to discuss the history, flora and fauna of the area, and Kids Craft days, which offer family-friendly projects such as quilting, crafting with shells, or making pirate flags.
The fifth annual Ocracoke Fig Festival takes place each August and celebrates the harvest with a traditional Ocracoke-style square dance, and all types of fig-based dishes and desserts, including a fig cake-baking contest with categories for both traditional and innovative recipes.
2018 marks the 300th anniversary of Lieutenant Maynard’s defeat of Blackbeard off the coast of Ocracoke Island. The event will be celebrated by the Ocracoke Preservation Society in November of 2018 with pirate re-enactors and representatives of the Brithish Royal Navy, as well as an oyster-roast, tea party and memorial service. Eleven of Lt. Maynard’s Crew are buried on Ocracoke Island, and have only recently been identified by researchers.
49 Water Plant Rd, Ocracoke, NC 27960, Phone: 252-928-7375
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