The tale of a trip to the Outer Banks

Caryl Huffaker

We just returned from a week at the beach – not just any beach – Topsail beach in North Carolina, one of the most frequently blown away beaches on the Outer Banks. As there were 13 of us going on the trip, we should have sensed that all might not go smoothly. As we were converging from four different states, arrival times for each family were uncertain. What should have been a nine-hour drive rapidly became longer, as we encountered an hour's delay in Baltimore, a six-mile tie up on I-95 in North Carolina, and an a five car accident that had several people lying on blankets by the roadside. We were only as far as Wilson, N.C., when our cell phone rang. We were told by a member of our party to not go to the address we had been given as there was a problem.

We had been so enthused about the house we had rented, we were really quite disappointed. It was such an odd looking house with weird windows in all the wrong places we had truly been intrigued by its appearance, rather like a hurricane had deposited a modern house somewhat crookedly on top of a traditional foundation. Another phone call directed us to our new happy home, a typical large beach house on the ocean. We could hardly complain, as through the luck of the draw we ended up with the master suite with lots of room, a fabulous view and balcony and beautiful bathroom and hot tub. This house was a tad smaller than the original, so someone was going to sleep on the floor. Naturally it was the 6 year old. It most assuredly was not going to be me.

We went to see what made the first house unacceptable. It was oceanfront, so much so that the tides of time had removed all the beach in front of the house and water was coming into the bottom floor. The metal balcony rails had not just rusted through, they had rusted away so that standing on the balconies was definitely challenging. As all this damage had not happened overnight, one had to wonder the reason a realtor would have rented a building that should have been condemned. They must have known how bad it was as there was no quibbling about offering us a far better oceanfront house.

Topsail is way at the bottom of the Outer Banks, almost in South Carolina. We had visited once before, in the 1950s after one of the hurricanes. All that had been left standing was a brick house and two foundations, each with a commode sitting on top. Everything else had been swept across the inlet to the mainland. Much to our surprise we located the brick house with the porticoes, now painted a charming shade of yellow and looking like it belonged at either Tara or Mt. Vernon. We were unable to locate the commodes. The spit of sand has been rebuilt several times, so that now the lots are almost completely built up. However, these may last longer as they are now built on stilts with the high hopes that the water will flow under the houses. Any errant tide cannot be too high though as the highest point of land is barely one foot above high tide.

This far away spit of land does not have much to amuse visitors except for gorgeous beaches. It is also the home of loggerhead turtles that are carefully protected by the locals. They patrol the beaches when it is nesting time and perhaps, even more importantly, have a turtle hospital. The day we visited the hospital, over 100 people lined up to wait their turn to be able to enter the small building where the turtles are housed. It was over an hour wait to get in, and then we didn't see much. They have 12 turtles there at the moment, each one in a badly lit enormous tub with running water. An intern was positioned to introduce us to teach patient and a description of his injuries. These ranged from a paralyzed flipper to shell injuries from a boat motor. For all the movement we could see, they could have been dead turtles in the tanks. However, a new and larger hospital is under construction and should open next month. It is obviously badly needed as at one period last year the tiny hospital house 42 turtles. Frankly, it seems impossible to house that many turtles, but I guess you do what you have to do. The hospital was begun by some island ladies and is run by volunteers although it is beginning to receive some recognition in the endangered animal world. Anyone who would like to make a donation can contact them at Sea Turtle Hospital, P. O. Box 2095, Surf City, N.C. 28445.

One of the odder monuments to history there is the three-story concrete towers in Topsail, built in the 1940s to photograph missile firings. This spit of land on which the coastal watchtowers were built tracked some 200 missiles with radar and photographs that could record flights 10-20 miles at speeds of up to 1,500 miles an hour. Seven of the original eight structures remain, although a few have been turned into beachfront homes. Three of these are private, but number 5 is a short term rental for those who would like to spend the night in a piece of history. Number 8 was demolished by the owner after he realized he could not keep trespassers including groups of vandals and rabble rousers from congregating there, and three fell to their death. Tower number 2 has been turned into a museum about the Missiles.

Not surprisingly, there is a fishing village with many spots to purchase sea food, and quite a few good restaurants. For a really laid back vacation, this is the place.

Poet The Brandywine River Museum has built a fascinating program around that master of the macabre, Edgar Allan Poe with the exhibit opening this Friday, Sept. 7. As Poe has become one of the most widely illustrated authors, the museum had a wide choice of artists to feature. They have chosen two dozen from Edouard Manet and Gustave Dore to modernist Robert Motherwell. Their works range from original paintings, drawings, prints and first edition books.

Among the several special events during the run of the show, there will be a symposium on Poe on Sept. 15 from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.. Speakers will include museum staff and University of Delaware faculty. The $35 cost includes lunch. Register at or call 302-831-2341.

History For a great refresher course on the beginnings of the battle of the Brandywine, which took place just down the street from the Marshalltown Inn, go to the Marshalltown Inn to hear historian and author Tom McGuire speak at 6 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 10. After the free talk guests can walk to Martin's Tavern (Centre House) for a guided tour and learn the part the tavern played in the battle. Afterwards guests can return for dinner at the Four Dogs Tavern adjacent to the Marshalltown Inn.

Chadds Ford This weekend, Sept. 8 and 9 &, will be a wonderful excursion back to our roots when Chadds Ford Days is held on Route 100 at the Historical Society territory. It's always fun, no matter how many times you have been.

Remembrance Friends of the Brandywine will hold a free Remembrance Ceremony at the Brandywine Battlefield on Sept. 11 at 6 p.m. The two Sept. 11ths, 1777, the Battle of the Brandywine and 2001, the attack on the World Trade Center will both be honored. Guests will be welcomed by bagpipes (John Sagrati), and then the singing of the National Anthem and of God Save the King. After comments by General Washington (Carl Closs) and State representative Stephen Barrar, there will be the ringing of the Remembrance Bell by Bro. David Schlatter and a Musket Salute. Songs will be led by members of the Brandywine Baptist Church Choir.

Farmers As if it isn't enough to enjoy shopping at the Farmer's Market, this Friday, Sept. 7 the crafters will all be out for First Friday Crafts. It's not too early to be shopping for Christmas gifts.

Catherine's Thursday, Sept. 6, is Unionville Days. with a walking tour of the village. An added attraction is the opening reception in the Gallery at Catherine's, 1701 W. Doe Run Road, from 6 to 8 p.m. Featured artists will be Robert Graham, Julie Dixon, John Pompeo and Sarah Dinsel.

Tour A walking tour of the village of Unionville will be this Thursday, Sept. 6 beginning at 5 pm at Kinloch Woodworking The tour will last about 50 minutes, finishing just in time to attend the reception at Catherines. To make reservations for the tour call 1-877-442-2476 # 111. To reservations for dinner at Catherine's call 610-347-2227. Wf you mention that you are part of the tour you will receive a complimentary cup of Catherine's famous mushroom soup.

Art The talented teaching artists at the Center for the Creative Arts in Yorklyn will be on hand for the opening reception for their fall show. On Thursday, Sept. 13, at 6:30 p.m. The exhibit will be open Sept. 10 through 24 when classes begin. With the wide range of examples of the different medium taught, the show will give a well rounded view of depth and breadth of classes available. Just a few of the fields offered include painting,, drawing, pottery, botanical illustrations, stained glass, fused glass, photography, printmaking, knitting and wire wrapped jewelry. For additional information call 302-239-2434.

Spelling bee Would you like to be a part of a stage show – particularly if you happen to be a fairly good speller? When the New Candlelight Theatre presents 'The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee' Sept 14 through Oct. 18, you may choose to part of the cast. If you wish, you may, as the spellers vie for the spelling bee championship. Lindsey Mauck, who plays the host of the Spelling Bee, has to be prepared whether an audience member gets a word spelled correctly, or incorrectly. They never want to embarrass anyone as it is all in fun. This amusing musical have a special night, Friday, Oct. 5, with half price tickets, a dessert buffet and an Octoberfest happy hour. Otherwise tickets, that include dinner, are $56 for adults and $33 for children between 4 and 12. For info and tickets call 302-475-2313.

Flash Francis Dunnery has had a long and varied career with groups, in and out of drug and alcohol problems, and finally sings his songs and plays his guitar like one of your family. He has remained loyal to his English background with a charity in honor of his mother. A blend of almost every style of music, he will be performing Sept. 8 with his own brand of warm magic.

Caryl Huffaker lives in Kennett Township.

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