Sunday, November 11, 2007

Down East

A lot of Americans know the expression "Down East" as it is applied to the state of Maine, up north. Here in North Carolina, Down East is used in at least two different ways. Up in the Raleigh-Durham area — the Research Triangle — people call the whole eastern part of the state, down toward the coast, "Down East." At least I think that's what they mean when they say it. Somebody from Raleigh will have to confirm that.

An old Primitive Baptist church (1829) in the village of
Atlantic, N.C., which used to be know as "Hunting Quarters"

Here in Carteret County, on the coast, we use the name "Down East" to describe the part of the county that starts when you drive through the area called "Back of Beaufort" and cross the bridge that spans North River. Beaufort, a fishing town founded in the early 1700s, is east of Morehead City, and Down East is even farther east. Besides, it's very low country, just a strip of land with a highway on it that runs through salt marshes for a good part of the way to Cedar Island.

The Free Will Baptist Church at Lola, on Cedar Island, N.C.

The little communities that are strung out along U.S. Highway 70 for 40 miles from Beaufort to Cedar Island — Otway, Harker's Island, Gloucester, Straits, Marshallburg, Davis, Williston, Stacy, Sea Level, and Atlantic — are unincorporated. There are a few grocery stores and gas stations down there, but not much else in the way of commerce and shopping.

At Cedar Island. Because buildings are built of wood,
and violent storms hit the area frequently, there aren't
very many really old buildings in rural Carteret County, N.C.

The people Down East are currently fighting a battle against development. They know that if they don't do something now to preserve their culture and environment, they will quickly be overrun. Carteret County has turned into a big retirement area, and McMansions are being built all along the shoreline at lightning speed.

An old cemetery in Kitty Hawk, N.C., on a rainy day

I think a lot of the people who live Down East are the descendents of New Englanders who made their living by fishing and whaling and who migrated down the U.S. East Coast starting in the 1600s. They had their roots in England and Northern Ireland. Carteret County was pretty isolated from the rest of North Carolina and the U.S. until the 1940s, when the federal government built the two big military bases called Camp Lejeune and Cherry Point nearby.

Also at Kitty Hawk

The old English-sounding brogue that you used to hear spoken around the county, especially on the docks and fishing boats, is rapidly dying out. The locals sound more and more Southern, and less and less old-timey and unique. The wave of immigrant retirees from "up north" that started building in the 1980s has dramatically accelerated that phenomenon.


Evelyn said...

That's an interesting crest on the fwb church. It looks like there are two fish on a heart with a bull or goat on top.

All of our coastline seems to be developed these days, I'm glad I can remember it before the condos came.

Claude said...

When I saw the first cemetery photo, I wondered what was falling from the trees! When it rains, it sure rains!