By ANN GREEN
Inside a Carteret County community room, the Salter Path gospel choir belts out “Precious memories, how they linger.”
“How they ever flood my soul,” the group continues, while the audience members sing along and tap their feet. “In the stillness of the midnight, precious, sacred scenes unfold, precious, sacred scenes unfold.”
For many Bogue Banks natives in the audience, this song brings flashbacks of a bygone era when everyone knew each other on a first-name basis.
On a recent night, dozens of families come out to celebrate Salter Path Community Night at the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum on Harkers Island.
While eating boiled shrimp and other local dishes, they share memories of the small village where people worked the water, ran through each others’ yards, opened scallops in tiny houses, hunted ducks and waterfowl, attended church suppers and raised vegetables to feed themselves.
“I call Salter Path ‘paradise,'” says Betty Willis, the choir leader, who has curly salt-and-pepper hair. “It was a good place to live when I was a little girl. All the families were unique in their own way.”
Even “outsiders” like storyteller Rodney Kemp, who lives in Morehead City, see the tiny village — sandwiched between Emerald Isle and Indian Beach on Bogue Banks — as a special place.
“I remember riding through Salter Path in the 1950s,” says Kemp, who shared stories during the community night. The village had a warmth felt only in the “Promise Land” portion of Morehead City — home to descendants of people forced to float their homes from Shackleford Banks after two hurricanes, he adds.
Before N.C. 58 was paved during the 1950s, Kemp says the village “lay quiet and peaceful, nestled in trees.”
“It had property separated by well-worn paths,” he adds. “It seemed like an old quilt pieced together with an old hand.”
Once the road came in, motels, restaurants and businesses began to sprout up. After that, the number of tourists began increasing.
Today, the community is built up with many businesses and houses. However, it is still home to many of the same families who occupied it for generations, including the Frosts, Smiths, Guthries, Willises and Lewises.
Many natives trace their roots to a few men who settled here, says Kathleen Guthrie, long-time Salter Path resident. “For many years, Salter Path was a closed community. In 1923, there were 35 heads of households.”
Many of these residents were fishers. Today, only a few work the water on a part-time basis.
Each fall, Henry Frost, his son, Joey, and their crew fish for mullet using beach seines along the Atlantic Ocean.
Using a “stop net” that is designed to stop migrating schools of fish, the crew pull in striped mullet, using a farm tractor to haul the net. In fall 2005, they pulled in 30,000 pounds in one day or 14 pickup loads.
“We had a decent fall last year except for Hurricane Ophelia,” Henry Frost says. “However, there is really no money in this anymore. It is something we have done all our lives. We have fellowship and talk about old times.”
In this tiny community, the seafood businesses also are disappearing. Now, only Homer’s Point Marina & Seafood and Willis Seafood Market are still open.
“During the 1960s, there were about eight fish houses here,” says Mike Fiorini, co-owner of Homer’s Point Marina & Seafood. “They were used seasonally. In the winter, they would bring in scallops, have shrimp in the spring and summer, and finfish in the fall. Now the seafood business is terrible. This is our third season without scallops.”
The new Waterfront Access Study Committee authorized by the N.C. General Assembly is now studying the loss of fish houses and other issues. North Carolina Sea Grant also is funding a separate but related study of fish houses.
After Hurricane Ophelia wiped out Fiorini’s scallop house and damaged other buildings in 2005, he decided to rebuild his business to include a marina, gas and snacks. “I have 69 boat slips on Bogue Sound,” he adds. “We have started working on the marina. By next spring, we will have a marina where customers can bring their boats up to the dock.”
Historians and locals differ on when the first settlers moved to Salter Path. However, most agree some squatters had arrived by the mid-1800s but did not bother to acquire titles to the land where they lived.
After clearing small plots near Salter Path, people hauled their houses by boat from Core Banks, says Kemp. “Most yards had gardens with old-fashioned flowers.”
There also is some debate over how the community got its name.
“Over the years, there was a permanent path from the beach to the sound called Salter Path,” says Kemp.
But others think the village was named for Riley Salter, a Carteret County fisher.
“But this isn’t documented in oral history,” says Kemp.
Throughout the 1800s and early 1900s, most residents worked the water and did odd jobs to make ends meet.
“In the fall, people fished for mullet with nets and had camps set up on the beach,” says Bernice Reynolds, who has lived in the village for more than 40 years. “The older ladies would cook for the fishermen.”
Because there were no roads or automobiles, residents had to take the mail boat to go to the doctor or run errands in Morehead City.
“Grandpa George Smith ran the mail boat and took it up to Morehead to pick up groceries, flour and meal,” Willis says.
And unlike many new residents today, the Salter Fathers preferred living on Bogue Sound.
“We didn’t live on the ocean because it was too much grit and sand,” explains Helen Frost.
When Christmas arrived, they observed their own traditions.
“When I was a little girl, we hung up a sock on the outside doorknob the week before Christmas,” says longtime resident Vicky Frost Dew. “If you were good, you got a treat in the sock. If you were bad, you got an oyster shell.”
BOGUE BANKS QUEEN
From the 1920s to 1950s, the Banks’ most prominent resident was Alice Green Hoffman, a New York socialite who lived in what is now Pine Knoll Shores. Hoffman’s niece, Eleanor Roosevelt, was married to President Theodore Roosevelt’s oldest son.
Dubbed the “queen of Bogue Banks,” Hoffman lived in a large house with modern conveniences like “electric lights” on her estate facing Bogue Sound. To run her household, she employed many from Salter Path, including the legendary “Aunt Charity” who worked as her cook.
“Aunt Charity was the matriarch of the community,” says Kemp, who loves to spin stories about the native and her husband, George Smith.
In the back of Hoffman’s large estate, which included much of the island, local fishers used an old shack — nicknamed “Mrs. Hoffman’s tearoom” — for their nets.
Some local folks despised Hoffman because she did not allow them to roam about, collecting firewood.
“She wanted her share from the fishing and would call the sheriff to make people leave her property,” says Guthrie.
During this time, some residents lived on Hoffman’s property, where their ancestors were squatters.
Determined to end the controversy over the land, Hoffman filed suit in Carteret County Superior Court. In 1923, the court settled the dispute, allowing 35 squatters to stay on the land.
When Hoffman died on March 15,1953, descendants of Theodore Roosevelt inherited more than 2,000 acres. Subsequently, the heirs gave the state of North Carolina 297 acres that is known as the Theodore Roosevelt State Natural Area, one of the few areas of undisturbed vegetation and wildlife on Bogue Banks.
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the village began to grow. Men gathered at Irvin Smith’s store and exchanged fishing stories.
Most of these men were competitive, according to Guthrie, a Campbell University professor who wrote two theses on Salter Path.
“The competition was not for money,” she says. “The competition was for who caught the prettiest scallops and shrimp.”
Salter Path women would get together at each others’ houses, share village news and eat homemade biscuits. Sometimes, they also would sing on their front porches, adds Guthrie.
As more development occurred during the 1970s and 1980s, the community began to change.
“Before, the residents thought they owned the island,” says Guthrie. “We hunted and got wood. We walked where we wanted to. Then we found out that the island belonged to other people.”
BOGUE BANKS TOUR
On a sunny day, Guthrie, who has lived in Salter Path since she was teenager, gives a community tour.
She begins the tour at her one-story home that is surrounded by stately live oaks and overlooks the Atlantic Ocean.
“My husband had a camp in the yard as a kid,” she says. “He had a yellow hammer pole for woodpeckers. He hunted just about any bird that flies except for seagulls.”
While strolling through the backyard, she leads the way to a small building that overlooks the ocean and points to the Theodore Roosevelt Natural Area.
“You can see the ocean and oak, seagrass, cedar and yaupon,” she says. “Salter Path doesn’t look like it used to. The amount of vegetation has declined.”
After leaving her property, she drives down a narrow road beside a tiny house with roosters running through the yard.
She crosses the highway, heading toward an empty softball field — built in the early 1970s and once home to a semiprofessional baseball team. She stops where a concrete concession stand had stood.
“Everybody in Salter Path would come out to the games,” she says. “If a kid caught a foul ball or got a hit, he would get a free drink. Kids would fight each other to get a drink.”
Down the road from the ballpark, mobile homes cover a large area.
“This used to be all woods,” she says. “It is where the kids went to shoot rats.”
As Guthrie heads back to the highway, she points to a locally owned restaurant — Frost Seafood House — which has been on the island since 1956. Up the road, two other landmarks are still operating — the William and Garland Motel, and the Big Oak Drive-in & Island Pizza, where you can get a tasty shrimp burger with slaw and tartar sauce for only $3.95.
Guthrie drives down another back road near Bogue Sound, where several buildings were destroyed during Hurricane Ophelia.
“This is where a blue shack used to be,” she says. “It was blown away by the storm. At one time, you would see 20 or 30 people opening scallops in the season.”
Not far from there, she points out where a shed was destroyed on a lot owned by Guthrie and her husband.
“This used to be a great divide — where Uncle John’s path ran through it,” she says. “On one side is where the town’s eastern crowd gathered,” adds Guthrie. “On the other side, the western crowd congregated.”
“Even in Salter Path, they had divisions,” she adds.
The last stop is the Save-A-Stop, where local men — from retired ferry captains to commercial fishers — gather and trade stories. The store sells a variety of groceries, beach goods and fishing tackle. Over the bait cooler, old fishing photos adorn the wall.
“I come here a lot,” says Bernie Guthrie, who is retired from the N.C. Ferry Division. “You can learn a whole lot here. I have been coming here for 20 years, since Irvin’s store closed.”
The men start arriving around 6:45 a.m. to sit on stools and share news. “We are all big professors,” jokes commercial fisher Neal Smith. “We know everything.”
Some natives aren’t happy about the new residents or surge in tourism. They often reflect on the changes.
“It was nice growing up here,” says Smith. “Now tourists and dingbats have taken over.”
Despite the changes, the old-timers still treasure the community.
“People from Salter Path still care about being from Salter Path and preserving memories of fishing,” says Kathleen Guthrie.
This article was published in the Holiday 2006 issue of Coastwatch.
For contact information and reprint requests, visit ncseagrant.ncsu.edu/coastwatch/contact/.