Thursday, November 15, 2007

Morehead City, on Bogue Sound

The people of Beaufort, N.C., were so poor during the 19th and 20th centuries that they had no choice but to stay in their houses and try to maintain them. In Morehead City, on the other side of Newport River and Beaufort Inlet, people were not so poor. They tore down the big old houses downtown and sold the land to developers who wanted to build banks, stores, restaurants, and movie theaters in their place. Downtown thrived for a few decades.

A nice house near the shore in Morehead City

The population of Morehead (we drop the "City" when we talk about it, and we call each other Moreheaders) is now about 8,000 — that's twice as big as Beaufort, and twice what the population was when I left to go to college 40 years ago.

Sunset on Bogue Sound, 14 November 2007

Morehead itself is located on a peninsula surrounded by Bogue Sound and Newport River. The sound is about a mile wide at its widest and about 30 miles long. There are inlets at each end — Beaufort Inlet at the east end and Bogue Inlet at the west end. Newport River is really a wide, shallow bay, fed mostly by sea water but also by a small stream at its western end.

On the shore in Morehead, live oak trees are shaped
by salt spray carried by prevailing southwesterly winds

The neighboring town of Beaufort was founded in 1709 and has a long history as an ocean-going port. Of course, ocean-going vessels in the 18th and 19th centuries were mostly small sailboats. Morehead City was founded in 1857 by North Carolina's governor John Motley Morehead as a new town and a new deep-water point for the state. The land was subdivided and a railroad linking the new town of Morehead to the state capital, Raleigh, was built.

The bridge linking Morehead to Bogue Banks and the ocean beaches

Morehead is protected from the ocean's waves and from big storms by the narrow strip of sand known as Bogue Banks. My grandmother used to tell me about sailing across the sound in a skiff to go to the beach along the ocean. There were just a few buildings over there in the 1920s and 1930s. In my lifetime, I've known three different bridges. The first two were drawbridges, and the one used now is a high-rise bridge. Now Bogue banks is covered by big houses and condo complexes.

Fences, docks, and the bridge

When I was growing up, we lived in a small house on the edge of a neighborhood known as The Promise Land. People abandoning Diamond City, near Cape Lookout, in the early 1900s had dismantled their houses and floated the boards over on skiffs and barges to rebuild them close to the shore in Morehead, where they were protected from hurricanes and storm surges. A lot of the streets were dirt roads — I remember that from the 1950s and '60s.

Gnarly live oak limbs trying to escape from somebody's yard

Development proceeds apace in and around Morehead City. On n'arrête pas le progrès. Monster houses on stilts (elevated above potential flood waters) stand out like sore thumbs in old neighborhoods of small, low clapboard houses. Traffic is incredibly heavy — I think people live in their cars. Retirees from "up north" have discovered the place. The old downtown is moribund, and a new "downtown," centered on a WalMart super center, has grown up on what used to be the western edge of the built-up area. That's typical in American nowadays.

A sign on the wall of the Beaufort ice house

Why do retirees want to live in Carteret Country on the North Carolina coast? Well, the weather here is very mild, except when hurricanes hit. Today, for example, the temperature in my mother's apartment is 78ºF — that's slightly above 25ºC — and she has not yet turned on the heat this year. Today is November 15. To me it's still hot and humid. Hence the importance of ice and iced drinks.


Anonymous said...

I've enjoyed your photos and your history lessons about this part of the U.S.

And I can't believe how appealing you made even OKRA did you deal with the slim factor??? I alway buy canned when I make my gumbo. That way I don't have to deal with it.

Victoria, Bellingham, WA

Evelyn said...

Those live oaks are really gnarled! You were fortunate to grow up in such a beautiful place.

I never knew you were a Moreheader. I used to be a Louisvillian, but now I'm an Annistonian.

CHM said...

Are there two photos missing in today's blog or is it my computer that plays games with me?
As usual your pictures are extremely good and out of the usual. CHM

CHM said...

As I suspected, my computer was playing games with me. Now I can appreciate both "missing" photos. CHM