It's The Little Things...


No, King Neptune here is not a "little thing" by any stretch. A lot of things in my books aren't little at all. Part of the nature of roadside attractions is that they are easily seen by the roadside, and thus must be larger than life. Regular sculpture just looks like someone left their statue in the rain. Big stuff means they want attention. Or maybe annoy someone.

Okay, okay, so here's the important little thing about King Neptune, and some of you may already know this. He used to sit in front of the Channel House Restaurant in Morehead City for a long time. He now is a decoration for a local dive company. He got moved because he was in the way for the new big bridge that got built to go over to Beaufort and places east, including the ferry system terminal access.

See, his history is a little thing, but it's important, because he tells us where he was, and where we were at one time. It's a little bit of history, but it lets us imagine what the area was like before the big bridge was built.

When you cross the big bridge, inland you may see far off Phillips Island, with the remnants of the old menhaden processing plant. Menhaden is an oily and bony little fish, a little thing, that was caught in bulk using nets and strong backs. The processing brought an icky smell to the area, and catching so many of the little pogies meant that gaming fish didn't have a large food source. When charter fishing came to the area, menhaden fishing got pushed out. The marks are still there from a different time, but they are just little bits now.


The Mickey Coffee Pot is another good example. It was built by the Mickey Brothers, tinsmiths in Salem. It was meant as an ad or sign to show their business. There was another tinsmith in the town that got all the business because most people passed that place first before getting to the Mickey's shop. So they built the big coffee pot. Back then, not everyone could read, so visible image signs were popular. You can see that (ha ha) with some old signs like optometry shops that had signs shaped like glasses. Or the big Shell station near Old Salem.

So the old coffee pot was right on the corner of the street near the Mickey tinsmith. It actually hung over the road a little bit, and was a bit of a road hazard. So much so that it got knocked off the post and rolled across the street, almost hitting a mom and son. So it got moved out of the way some.

I was curious where it originally sat in Old Salem, and got a map of the town from years ago when the tinsmith was still there. I also got the coordinates to the coffee pot. If you read my books, you know I like maps and GPS coordinates! I figured out where it used to be and looked where that was. At first, I thought I did something wrong. But, no, I was right. It used to sit right in the middle of I40. Old 40, the northern road that bisects Winston-Salem.

The coffee pot actually went through a lot of changes and iterations, some I didn't cover in my book due to size constraints. The big thing was that in all the changes that happened, it survived to be placed in its current location. But it used to sit farther north, along with a lot of the town that isn't there now. There is this tale that Salem College, a private women's college, used the landmark as a barrier to tell the students not to go past it into the wilds of nearby Winston. With its current location, that would be limiting indeed, but in its old spot, there was a modicum of freedom allowed. It's a little thing. But it is nice to imagine what the city looked like before the big roads.

Speaking of roads...

The term "tobacco road" has been used for years to both designate the old roads of Durham during its heyday of cigarette manufacturing, as well as the rivalry between UNC and Duke. But tobacco road has been around much longer than that. One origin, that I happen to buy, is that when tobacco had to be taken to market, it was stored in these incredibly large barrels. It was easier to roll the barrels or push them with mules than to carry them on wagons. The barrels followed the easiest paths to the tobacco market, beating down the ground smooth, essentially creating roads. Thus the name. When travel improved, whether due to horse drawn carriages afforded by more success in tobacco, or later on cars and trucks, they followed those same roads. They may have been organic, rolling, not too straight, but they got people where they needed to be. Without water or rail traffic, roads became the most important mode of travel.

Yes, these are little things. They may not be important, just interesting. I like interesting. It keeps up our sense of wonder.

If you are wondering what might be interesting, check out Did You See That? Too!, the third book in my Did You See That? series of strange roadside attractions. This book has many of the cool obscure spots throughout North Carolina, and I think it also has a bit more of the historical spots, bits of places that we didn't know about, but helped shape the state in small ways.

You know... little things.

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