Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Another ghost town: Diamond City

We've touched on some "ghost" towns in North Carolina of late, Buffalo City being one of them. Today our attention goes a bit south, into Carteret County, where Diamond City once prospered.

According to Wikipedia, Diamond City was a "former settlement on the eastern end of Shackleford Banks" with a population of about 500 residents. Unfortunately, a hurricane struck in August 1899, and the residents decided to move. "The last of the residents had left by 1902, and even relocated houses to nearby places like Harkers Island, and Morehead City."

Today, there are "no bridges from the mainland to the site where Diamond City was located or any other part of the Cape Lookout National Seashore. Visitors must ride a private boat or a passenger ferry to reach the undeveloped Shackleford Banks site."

"Though it would be difficult to find visual evidences of it there today, one of the largest communities on the Outer Banks in the latter part of the last century was Diamond City, which was located a short distance west of the Cape Lookout Lighthouse, just beyond The Drain," wrote David Stick in The North Carolina Outer Banks, 1584-1958.

"People had been living in that vicinity since the early days of Banks settlement, but the life of Diamond City itself was a short one, with a strange and unhappy ending. It was not until about l885 that this community of several hundred persons acquired a name, yet in less than twenty years the name was about all that was left of it, for the people had moved, and when they moved they took Diamond City with them--except for the name, that is, and the little family graveyards where the houses used to stand."

This interview with a Dorothy Guthrie of Harkers Island (conducted by Betty Joe Moore of the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum) delves into Diamond City some.

BM: Who were your parents?

DG: Joe William Willis and Missouri Guthrie.

BM: And where did they come from?

DG: They came from Diamond City.

BM: What is your family's connection to Diamond City?

DG: We-

BM: That means your parents, uh, did they, both of your parents, did they live at Diamond City or Shackleford?

DG: They both, both my parents lived at Diamond City and they came,...I had a brother, Walter Willis, he was born to Diamond City and he was six years old is when they moved over here to Harkers Island.

BM: Ok, it says, was anyone born on Shackleford, but you just said your brother was born and that was Walter Willis. Do you know what year he was born?

DG: I do not know. I got it in the genealogy records, but I don't know what year. I know this. He was fourteen years old when I was born.

BM: Do you remember anything that your parents told you or what have you heard that they taught others in your family which remains, what did they do for a living? What did your mother and father do over there for a living?

DG: They done, let's see, my father, they earned their living out of the water, like fishing, clamming, oystering, and also helping to kill whales in that day.

BM: What did they eat?

DG: They eat mostly seafood, I imagine. Now my mother, she also, she knit net for people.

BM: What were their houses or their homes made of? How did they make their houses?

DG: Now the way she used to tell me, they were just what you'd call little huts. They had fireplaces and they had iron pots and pans and stuff that they cooked on in that fireplace and they set by the fireplace.

BM: Well where did they get the lumber to build the houses?

DG: They would go, they called it beach racking. When boats and ships would come to shore beat to pieces, they would go get up early of a morning, they and the other ones that lived over there and they would go down the beach "a racking" or they called it for lumber and stuff and that's how some of them got their houses built.

BM: Well didn't that take a long time to build a house if they had to wait for a shipwreck?

DG: It seems like to me it should have and that is also the way they build the caskets, called coffins in those days. When anyone died, they, the men people would build their caskets.


BM: ... Uh, where did your family go when they left Shackleford?

DG: When they left?

BM: Shackelford or the Banks, where did they go?

DG: They just come here to the island and then you went by skiffs they called it, sail skiffs. That's how they traveled. Here on the island, we had no bridge; we had no connection of anything of getting off the island, only by boat. And I've heard her tell about when anyone got sick, that's when they lived to the Banks. There was a doctor in Marshallberg. You'd have to take that person in a sail skiff and sail to Marshallberg to see the doctor.

BM: Well now, uh, if anybody was like, you know, did the women of the Banks take care of that?

DG: They had a mid wife, that's all they had and that's all they had on the island for years and years and years was just a mid wife.

BM: What year, do you remember what year your family came over here to the island?

DG: No, I don't know. The date might be somewhere but I don't know. I know my mother used to say when they come to the island, there was about twelve families is all that lived on the island and that was Gaskill's down to the east end.

BM: Now when they decided to come across, uh, how did they bring their houses? I've heard them say they used to float them on---

DG: They would take them apart and maybe, uh, the side of the house and put it across two skiffs and that's how they got them here. That is why they settled on the shore side.

BM: Uh, and then where did they, how did they find a piece of land? Did they just go put it wherever they wanted it and then somebody helped them with the house?

DG: No, I think I know where the land, my mother owned it, the land I'm on today. Her brother, Matthew Guthrie, was in the Coast Guard, and he had a little, you know, he could afford to buy a piece of land here on the island. He bought this acre of land. Now Betty Jo, this concerns you crowd. He bought this acre of land. He was stationed to Ocracoke and that's where he married and his family lived to Ocracoke, but they are all passed away now. But he bought this acre of land and he give my mother a fourth of the acre. Her brother and his brother, Jimmy Guthrie, he give the three fourths of the acre of land.

BM: Is that .....

DG: Yes, yes that was.......

BM: So how has your family kept connected to the Banks, which means do you have any dealings with anything that goes on?

DG: No, well used to we'd go over there to enjoy ourselves. That was our recreation. We would go on Sunday afternoons and walk about and swim and things like that. But of course, now, it would be almost dangerous because we go over there and they drink and have parties and all that stuff which used to couldn't have been had when we'd go.

BM: What stories do you remember or do you remember any stories of your mother or your brother or anybody telling you about what they used to do over there for entertainment or do with the children or you know, it couldn't have all been work.

DG: No, they had recreation. They had fun. They had parties. I've heard my mother talk about, like the girls and boys that lived to Diamond City, they would walk on the beach side or either on the sound side to the west end of the Banks, they called it, or if any people from the mainland would come over there to hold meetings, they called them meetings, they would go up there and they would have picnics and things like that you know, and all the Bankers get together and eat and enjoy and have a good time.

BM: Did you ever hear your mother say anything about where her people came from? Or she didn't know?

DG: No, it's just that James Bryan Guthrie and the beginning of him, he come from England in the 1700's, that's the record.

BM: Well now when, the 1700's when he went to the Banks or Shackleford or Diamond City, were there people, a lot of people living there at that time or was there just a few people there?

DG: There was just a few people. It was like my father's side, you see, he was the Rose generation. Joe William Willis and the John C. Willis and the Josephus, that you hear talked about up tilling the plows and all, and my father's father, his brothers, they all settled to Morehead, the Martin Willis and these other ones.

BM: To the Promise Land?

DG: To the Promise Land, because my father called uncle mark and uncle so and so you see. But on Sundays they would take their families and come to the Island to visit their kind that was over here and they would come by sail skiffs.

BM: Wonder how come some of them went to different places. Did they just see the land and decide to go over there or did they.......

DG: I don't know or why did they go by Harkers Island and go to Marshallberg. I don't know why they did.

BM: When they came across, most of the land was not cleared up, was it?

DG: No, it was just a woods island. All of where this house is today was woods, thick woods and that's why the people settled along the shore side, because all they had was boats and they kept their boats in the water, see.

BM: Now when your mother and them came over here, they put the house up and all, were they satisfied to be over here or did they want to go back?

DG: I've heard talk about how bad they wanted to go back; they were dissatisfied.

BM: They had lived there all their life...

DG: All their life, born, I guess they were born there, yeah they were.

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