Sand, suds, surf…the OBX is calling me

Published 5:14 pm Tuesday, May 25, 2021

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The signs kept popping into my view last week and earlier this week that prompted me to focus the theme of this week’s column on a narrow strip of sand along the Atlantic Ocean.

My mind drifted last week back to May of 1971, the month and year of my high school graduation. Someone asked if I remembered what was the number one song on the Billboard charts at the time of my graduation. I didn’t know the answer, but discovered it to be “Joy to the World” by Three Dog Night when I looked it up on the World Wide Web.

As a matter of fact, I unearthed a treasure trove of musical favorites during my online search. It seems that the summer of ’71 was loaded with classic hits such as “It’s Too Late” by Carole King, “You’ve Got a Friend” by James Taylor, and “Take Me Home, Country Roads” by John Denver.

A friend inquired of how I celebrated my high school graduation. I didn’t have to look up that answer online as it remains transfixed in my mind despite the passage of 50 years.

That night, after walking across the stage at Northampton County High School (Creeksville campus), I hopped in a car driven by Chris Spivey of Jackson and we took off for a long weekend in Nags Head. That’s what high school graduates did (back then and today) in our neck of the woods….pack up the car and head to the Outer Banks.

In 1971 we didn’t call ahead to make motel reservations. We drove along the Beach Road, stopping at motels to inquire about vacancies and room rates. The latter was of the utmost importance; we wanted to spend as little as possible on a space that would only serve as a place to sleep and take a shower. We needed to use what little cash we had to PARTY!!

Finally, after about four or five stops, we scored a room at the Ebb Tide Motel. There was a young guy, a college student, on duty at the motel office that night. He was asking for an absurd $45 per night. We offered $10 less than that, promising him that other folks from Northampton County would arrive the next morning and would be looking for Chris’s car. We promised to fill-up every room he had available with our friends and classmates. Sure enough, others did follow and the Northampton legacy at the Ebb Tide began.

That weekend, which spilled over until Tuesday, was a blast….lots of sand, suds, surf, and pretty girls….and loads of great music at the famed Casino.

This week, I was reminded of all that special magic along sandy shores of the OBX. A great friend – and former party go’er at the Ebb Tide – Edward Barnes shared a link with me on Facebook entitled: Outer Banks Vintage Scrapbook. Scrolling through those photos and info took me back to a time when life on the OBX didn’t evolve around how many restaurants and retail shopping centers could be crammed together, blocking the overall scenery of one of God’s most amazing creations.

The scrapbook told the story of George Crocker who came to the Outer Banks in 1953 with a sixth-grade education and a $15,000 loan. He had dreams of being an entrepreneur. Those dreams came true as he founded and opened the Gallen Esplanade, the Cabana East and Beacon motels; an antique car museum; and, of course, the legendary Restaurant by George.

There’s a story about Warren Jennette, Sr. of Elizabeth City. He purchased land that once served as a transient camp for the Works Progress Administration and opened the first fishing pier on the Outer Banks in 1939. Now, 82 years and several rebuilds later due to storms, Jennette’s Pier sits sturdy on concrete pilings and operates as part of the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.

And before there was a convenience store on every corner of every block, there was Wink’s Grocery. That was the place to load up on snacks, drinks, ice, etc. for the weekend.

The memories keep coming with references to Ocean View Cottage Court that once graced a spot of sand at Mile Post 6; the Dareolina Restaurant at Whalebone Junction that served three meals a day every day; and the time when we had to stop and wait for all the fishing and pleasure boats to navigate the narrow channel of the Roanoke Sound by using the Washington Baum drawbridge.

There was a story about the putt-putt golf course that once stood near the base of Jockey’s Ridge. I recall playing that course… bad it was due to the blowing sand; in your eyes and on what was supposed to be green carpet. It was torn down in 1988.

No trip to the OBX (yesteryear or today) is complete without a visit to the infamous Sam and Omie’s, a causal restaurant that’s been around since 1937.

Other famous, family owned OBX restaurants include Owens, the Fisherman’s Wharf, Papagayo’s at the old Croatan Inn, The Elegant Pelican, The Reef (famous for their lace cornbread), and The Seafare.

The scrapbook also contains an interesting photo of how the OBX once looked to John Railey in the mid-1960’s. He writes, “The ever-cool Beach Road. Even then, I couldn’t wait to ride it, miles of two-lane blacktop rolling through the sand, past all kinds of wild and intriguing people, past restaurants with the aroma of frying fish and shrimp boiling in Old Bay floating on the cool salt air, past all the chic and eccentric cottages that danced in the dunes then. The Beach Road still beats the bypass any day.”

I could go on and on, but I’ll leave the rest for your imagination….or for those with Facebook, I highly recommend a look-see at this page. It’s open to anyone and they welcome vintage postings of the OBX.

Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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