South Nags Head, North Carolina, commercial interests have come to dominate much the eastern seashore resort areas, often blocking sought-after ocean views with the shadows cast by high-rise condo buildings and outshining the amazing sea-scape reflections of moonlight with over-done, over-lit signage that dominates the beach roadways.
Fortunately, the Outer Banks, including Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills and Nags Head, have somehow managed over the years to keep it somewhat toned down with more attention on the surf than on the miles-long retail strip.
Dianne and I wondered what it must have been like back then, as in before fast food, before a huge menu of amusements, before shopping became the focus of beach vacations, and maybe, just maybe before 24/7 air conditioning.
Thus we have landed about as far from the hustle as we could by booking a week’s stay at a beach house in South Nags Head, the last stop before the 60 or so miles of sand dunes heading to the southern tip of Hatterous Island.
But more than escaping the commercial, our term of “back then” means decades before investors and developers crashed the party, before vacationers had their choice of dozens on dozens of restaurants, and before vacationers came to spend more time in a swimming pool than in the beach-side breakers and more time in the chilled indoors than enjoying the nearly always present onshore breezes.
We’ve been visiting Nags Head for more than 20 years, with the best of the best being the weeks we rented cottages right on the beach.
During the last couple of trips we discovered a lonely old beach house that stood out from the rest — meaning all of the rest.
In fact, the old place now known as the Crow’s Nest, has seen double duty in its over a century of life, first as a popular duck hunting club and after being moved in 1958, a well-used beach house in South Nags Head.
Created in 1908, the building housed well-heeled hunters as the Bodie Island Duck Club for 50 years and later as simply the Crow’s Nest. Understand that the Crow’s Nest proudly stands out as the local statue honoring what was. That is, the only area beach house that has its own personality, the single example of a simpler “back then” time on the Outer Banks.
Multiple tiny but functional bedrooms and a couple bathrooms, a kitchen plus lots of porches. All that and enough screens — most of them intact — to allow every breath of beach breeze to pass through.
Indeed, it is a throwback and then some. Hardwood floors covered in a century of paintings; knotty pine, bead-board walls, browned and enriched by decades of thick, salt air; creaky wood stairs; real wood doors and severely corroded hinges.
What our beach house lacked was never missed including air conditioning.
What it featured more than anything was a rich collection of scars and blisters well-earned as a shelter for the decades.
A collection of aged ceiling fans spun constantly, simple hook and loop sets did duty as door locks, and weathered window flaps served for shade and storm guards.
Best of all, we were just 50 steps from the water. In fact, our swimming pool reached clear to Africa and Europe.
Our children and their children came expecting to suffer the lack of modern conveniences. They left begging to do it again. And we will.
Same mid-summer time next year.
Bodie Island is not an island but once was. In the early years of the 1800s the area was inhabited by the Body family, thus today’s name. It ceased to be an island in 1811 when the Roanoke Inlet became blocked with shifting sand.
Today it is simply and extension of the Outer Banks. Bodie Island features a picturesque lighthouse, one of several in the area. The waters surrounding the Outer Banks is considered the graveyard of early ships and home to many pirates including the famed Black Beard.
Nearby Oregon Inlet offers several types of charter boat fishing and Nags Head fishing pier hosts countless anglers daily.
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