At first glance, this cottage looks both beautiful and unassuming. It's obviously old, with none of the punch out style of the new beach mansions. A long low porch, with simple framed screens, stapled into simple wood slats, worked well enough to keep out the bugs and keep the residents cool, or at least cooler than the inside rooms. The same can be said for those pink shutters. Pushing them out from the bottom, with a strange dingbat of wood, angled on each side like long wedges, with hook and eye locks on each end to fasten to the big wooden plank shutters, would allow for the sea breeze to blow through while giving the inside enough shade to keep the harsh summer sun out. Only when it rained and the storms turned sideways did the rain come in, slowed but not stopped by the textured screens. Only then would the shutters be pulled back in, the windows closed, and the house would begin to swelter in the humid summer storms.
Houses on the beach used to be like this. The downstairs was used in the morning and evening, the bedrooms only at night, when the residents could sleep on top of the sheets and hope that the breeze kept up long enough to be comfortable. The rest of the day, the house was mostly empty. Everyone was outside. But this house is a little different than other ones. Then again, maybe it isn't any different.
The story behind this house, that I read at least, was that it was originally the boathouse for the Kill Devil Hills Lifesaving Station, that stood about a hundred yards away. This building was moved long ago and converted into a cottage, with some of the outside decorations removed, and likely items like the porch and a fireplace and chimney added. It was said by the owners that while they had no documentation, it was likely that the Wright Brothers walked there, as the inventors spent time on the shore with the local lifesavers. The men of the Kill Devil Hills Lifesaving Station would often come over during their off time to see what the brothers were working on, fascinated by the idea that they could make a flying machine, and also a bit incredulous.
I'll add that another building used by the lifesaving station was saved and renovated, moved to the historic area of Corolla Village, and is now used by Twiddy Realty. The actual historic pedigree of this house is unknown to me, but this is the story. And that's what's important. That's what makes this place different than others. It has a really unique story and history. This house was touched, possibly, by both the men of the lifesaving station, and also by some adopted favorite sons of the Outer Banks. Royalty, indeed, that trod those wooden floors.
What makes it not so different is that a lot of old beach houses on the Outer Banks have similar stories. Maybe not so famous guests, but to those of us who stayed in these houses, the memories and people are just as important. My family had a beach house about a mile from the house above. The house was floor to ceiling wood, and I knew every knot and twist in those rooms. Every squeak in every bed. The locks on every closet. And I can guarantee that every kid that grew up on the coast, or had their summers in these great old houses, has similar memories of the homes, the old salty beds, the storms blowing through the screens, Mom making sandwiches and handing them through an open window on the back porch, or some such version of those experiences.
My beach house bit the dust sometime around the turn of the 21st century, sadly. We had sold it ten years earlier anyway. The memories were all that were left. When the boathouse at the beginning of this story and its property went up for sale, I went to look at it. The house was nestled so close to a neighboring hotel, you felt like you could touch both of them at the same time. The foundation was just a stack of brick columns. The porch was held by rusty nails, as can be seen here. While there was another house on the property, a smaller and newer cottage which had been moved down from Norfolk (it, too had a history. It was housing for shipbuilders during World War II.) and rebuilt there, the property value was still too dear. No one really cared about the house. It was the beachfront that had the value.
I wanted to buy it, but at well over $1 million, it was just too much. The owners were even willing to have the house moved, the sale ad said, and I had the property, but even that would cost a small fortune. I would have to remove asbestos shingles, as well as the porch, and probably leave the chimney behind. All that would be left is a frame, floor, and roof. Oh yeah, I'd probably need a new roof. And I haven't sold that many books yet.
I say all this because of two things that happened. Fairly recently, the Haunted House of Kill Devil Hills was torn down. This famous house had become so worn as to be unrepairable, but the huge property held a high value, so it was sold and torn down. Now, in the same place, about sixteen houses are going up where one stood. All the same, all new, no history. No memories, even the ghost has left.
And when I went home this spring, this place, the old boathouse, nestled too close to the old Colony IV motel, too close to a big apartment complex, too old, too worn, was gone, too. Nothing but the driveway was left, wiped clean by the hand of a dispassionate god. The only difference seemed to be that I was the only one that noticed.
I've gone on and on about preserving history. It's a broken record for me, especially at my beach. I'm sorry to see it go, and I'm sure there would be others if they knew. Would they have been able to do something about it? Could we have saved this house, or the haunted house? If every single person in all of Dare County, from Duck to the Hatteras ferries, and all the way to the mainland, decided to equally buy in and save this one piece of property, everyone, every baby to octogenarian and beyond would have to chip in about $50. No small sum. At the same time, it was easy for one company to buy and raze the whole place, and take everything but the memories. I wrote a little story about the Haunted House in my most recent book, Haunting The Carolina Coast. It's kind of funny, funny sad, not funny haha, that I once wrote about the Haunted House and a friend of the owners asked me to take the story down, because people were coming to vandalize the place. Now, I knew my readers don't do that stuff, but still, I took the story down. And then, here we are, that house is gone, and all I have is a memory of driving by it, and my story. Most won't even have that.
And I won't even have that much about the old boathouse here. I know nothing about it. I can't even make up a story because I don't know where to begin.
I just hope that one day, maybe my daughter will have a place to make her own memories, before all the places are gone.