The hunt for original homes on Hatteras and Ocracoke

By on May 10, 2023

Keeper James Charlet seeks to learn their untold stories

Keeper James Charlet in front of the old Oregon Inlet Life-Saving Station. (Photo courtesy of Keeper James.)

After quitting his job following 25-years as a classroom teacher and relocating his family from Charlotte, NC to Hatteras in the late ’80s, Keeper James Charlet—known then simply as James Charlet—had an epiphany. Despite teaching North Carolina history and even writing a state-adopted textbook on the history of North Carolina for fourth graders, Charlet discovered that there were numerous untold stories of the Outer Banks’ rich history that he wasn’t aware of.

After working in restaurants, fish houses, golf courses, and hardware stores for a few years, Charlet secured a lead interpreter role at Roanoke Island Festival Park right after its opening. And during his daily drives to Manteo, Charlet became captivated by the distinctive architecture of an old building in Rodanthe.

That building turned out to be the Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station, a former station of the United States Life-Saving Service and United States Coast Guard, now serving as a museum dedicated to its history. The more he learned about it, the more amazed he was at this history he had never known. His wife noticed the building too and got a job there. Charlet joined quickly after as they become co-managers of the site.

“Chicamacomico had one really great story, which I knew very well and had told a thousand times. But the more research I did, the more I discovered there were hundreds, probably thousands of stories like it,” Charlet told the Voice.  The great story he is referring to is the 1918 Mirlo rescue, which involved saving 42 sailors from the British Tanker that was struck by a torpedo from a German U-boat in World War I.

Charlet decided to dedicate his work to sharing the untold stories. Over the past 30 years, he has done so through various projects, books, articles, speaking engagements, and history tours, assuming his historical persona as Keeper James.

His latest project is no exception. Following the success of their project documenting the history of historic flat tops in Southern Shores, Charlet and the Friends of the Outer Banks History Center (FOBHC) have embarked on a new endeavor to explore, honor, and record the original homes of Hatteras Island and Ocracoke. They are delving into the history of these structures, the families who owned them, floor plans, additions, notable residents and significant events. The only requirements for inclusion are that the structure be at least 100 years old and consist of a minimum of 50% original materials.

Charlet believes that these homes, tucked away on the soundside and concealed from view behind new developments along Highway 12, hold untold stories from history, just like Chicamacomico and the flat tops of Southern Shores.

He noted that many of these original homes were passed down by generations and the families that own them have a long history there. Their homes were off the beaten path, and many had private family cemeteries which were very personal. From his discussions with some of the homeowners, he believes many of the homes go back much further than 100 years.

Charlet added that the settlers in that area date back to the middle to late 1700s and came from all over—some looking for a quieter life, some escaping trouble or the law, and maybe even some who were shipwreck victims that decided to stay. He added the foundations of some of the historic homes of Hatteras and Ocracoke are made from shipwreck timber salvaged from the beach.

“I know one in particular that I have seen and have photographs of it myself. I know for a fact that it was made out of a shipwreck, and you’re going to find quite a few of them, even though people don’t really talk about it,” said Charlet.

Carroll Midgett Family home in Waves, NC. (Photo courtesy of the Carroll Midgett family.)

He also has a few ideas about where the information gathered through this project could lead—citing possibilities such as booklets, rack card maps, plaques for properties to display, homeowners donating original documents and photos to the Outer Banks History Center for exhibition, annual tours of the historic homes, articles in Our State Magazine, and possibly even a PBS NC documentary.

The challenge Charlet faces, however, is finding volunteers, or ‘investigators’ as he calls them, to assist in identifying and documenting the history of these homes, as well as individuals interested in leading the project. FOBHC has already compiled a substantial “starter list” of possible homes, thanks to the assistance of Dawn Taylor and the Hatteras Island Preservation Society, and Charlet has developed a blueprint for completing the project.

At a time when an increasing number of historic homes and buildings are being demolished to make way for newer and larger ones, much to the disappointment of locals who grew up with them, Charlet sees this project as a means to make a positive impact. According to him, historic homes hold the same significance as any historical artifact, but not everyone is taught to recognize their value.

“It signifies a different period, a different time, a different lifestyle, something that still exists, and we’re honoring it because it made it through to now. And, you know, wow, aren’t things different?” he said.

Charlet asserted that while many tourists come to the Outer Banks for the beach, projects like this help people realize that the area is more than just a beach destination. The historic homes and buildings of the Outer Banks possess a rich history, he said. “And I think that would help people realize not only what it is, but also encourage them to pay it more respect.”


Barnhill Building Group has been selected as the Construction Manager @ Risk by the College of the Albemarle and is seeking to pre-qualify construction trade contractors to submit bids for the furnishing labor, materials, equipment, and tools for the new College of The Albemarle – Allied Health Sciences Simulation Lab (COA Health Sciences) located in Elizabeth City, NC. Please note: Only subcontractors who have been prequalified by Barnhill will be able to submit a Bid.

The project consists of the new construction of a 38,000-sf, 2-story expansion to the existing Owens Health Sciences Center and will house classrooms, labs, and a simulation lab. The site is just over just over 4.5 acres and is located on an active campus. This new construction will be a steel structure with a brick and metal panel veneer, curtainwall, and storefront glazing with a PVC roof membrane.

Principal trade and specialty contractors are solicited for the following Bid Packages:

BP0100: General Trades

BP0105: Final Cleaning

BP0390: Turnkey Concrete

BP0400: Turnkey Masonry

BP0500: Structural Steel & Misc. Steel

BP0740: Roong

BP0750: Metal Panels

BP0790: Caulking / Caulking

BP0800: Turnkey Doors/Frames/Hardware

BP0840: Glass & Glazing

BP0925: Drywall

BP0960: Resilient Flooring

BP0980: Acoustical Ceilings

BP0990: Painting & Wallcovering

BP1005: Toilet Specialties / Accessories / Division 10

BP1010: Signage

BP1098: Demountable Partitions

BP1230: Finish Carpentry and Casework

BP1250: Window Treatment

BP1400: Elevators

BP2100: Fire Protection

BP2200: Plumbing

BP2300: HVAC

BP2600: Turnkey Electrical

BP3100: Turnkey Sitework

BP3290: Landscaping

Packages may be added and/or deleted at the discretion of the Construction Manager. Historically underutilized business firms are encouraged to complete participation submittals.

HUB/MWBE OUTREACH MEETING: Barnhill Building Group will be conducting a HUB/MWBE Informational Session. You are encouraged to attend the following session to learn more about project participation opportunities available to you. These seminars will help to: Learn about project and scope; Inform and train Minority/HUB contractors in preparation for bidding this project; Assist in registration on the State of North Carolina Vendor link; Stimulate opportunities for Networking with other firms. Location and time TBD. Please visit our planroom at for more information.

Interested contractors should submit their completed prequalification submittals, by July 22, 2024, to Meredith Terrell at or hardcopies can be mailed to Barnhill Contracting Company PO Box 31765 Raleigh, NC 27622 (4325 Pleasant Valley Road, NC 27612).



  • surf123

    This is an outstanding project that needs to be done. There is a fine line between documenting and maintain peoples privacy and property rights. Many people I know who live here in the types of homes he is looking to document are private people who will not look kindly on anyone protruding in their lives. I know Keeper James will not do that, but overzealous helpers need to be kept in check. It is obvious, but quite a bit of locating can be done by having the county GIS personnel search the property sheets (and cemetery locations) displayed in the GIS for construction dates. Some are approximate, but they also might be older than stated. Assuming homeowners are agreeable plaques or other small signage noting the significance and age would be great. The signs on the multi-use path in the Tri-Villages are outstanding and it would be great to have more like it. Another is to look at the aerial photos taken during the 30’s that show the few houses that existed on the island. I have seen the ones of the Tri-Villages and it is hard to map them on the ground because there are so few homes and reference points. Some of the older citizens who are 80 or 90+ will be able to help. Tri-Villages area has a good number of them. They are somewhat concentrated in Avon and Hatteras Village has a significant number.To the editor please let us know when Keeper James is soliciting helpers.

    Thursday, May 11 @ 8:38 am
  • Jody stowe

    I own a home in Hatteras Village with one of the best examples of original Hatteras architecture. Years ago I facilitated an historic survey of old village homes. Nancy Vandruten prepared the survey and I believe you can find it published on the website
    Please send contact information for the researcher , as I am happy to share the history and other information about my house in Hatteras that was built in 1907.

    Sunday, May 14 @ 3:25 am
  • Mark Jurkowitz | Outer Banks Voice

    Judy, here’s a phone number for the Outer Banks History Center.252-473-2655

    Sunday, May 14 @ 9:46 am