Work underway to save gravesites on Outer Banks

Published 2:57 pm Sunday, November 5, 2017


The Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk


SALVO (AP) — Farrows, Midgetts and Paynes — some of the Outer Banks’ most recognized names — lie in a graveyard here, but aren’t really resting in peace.

Recent storms like hurricanes Irene and Arthur drove the waters of the Pamlico Sound up to 10 feet deep over the graves of surfmen, soldiers, fishermen, boat builders and their families.

Concrete tombs poke through the sand, surrounded by worn, broken white marble headstones. One patch covered by scrubby yaupon bushes appears sunken where floods may have swept away caskets.

A cemetery book from 1992 said 32 souls were buried on the site of less than an acre in the Salvo Day Use Area along N.C. 12.

“Now we only count 25,” said Jenny Farrow Creech, president of the Hatteras Island Genealogical and Preservation Society. “No telling how many wooden headstones we don’t know about.”

Creech, 43, and others are trying to save the final resting places of their ancestors. Her great-great- and great-great-great-grandparents lie here. The oldest grave belongs to Civil War veteran Watson Midgett, who died in 1872.

Locals and descendants for years thought the property belonged to the National Park Service and hesitated to make improvements. Creech used to sneak into the cemetery to trim back briers and bushes. A park report and deed research eventually showed the cemetery was separate from the park’s surrounding parking area and beach access, Creech said.

The Rodanthe-Waves-Salvo Civic Association began efforts in 2008 to save the site, former president Mary Helen Goodloe-Murphy said.

A lock on the wooden fence’s gate kept people from trampling over graves as they walked from the parking lot to the beach, Creech said. But a storm quickly took out biodegradable coir logs positioned on the waterfront to control erosion, Goodloe-Murphy said.

The groups raised money to place 15 sand bags resembling stacked whales along the water’s edge. Earlier this month, Dare County received a state grant for $162,000 to build a bulkhead more than 200 feet along the water and south side of the graveyard.

The sound likely crept closer to the cemetery over decades, accelerated at times by storms, said Spencer Rogers, coastal construction and erosion specialist for the North Carolina Sea Grant. The first graves were probably a long distance from the shoreline at the time, he said.

Eventually, Creech and the genealogy society plan to restore the remaining graves and fill washed-out places with sand from the bags after the bulkhead is in place. Research will continue into those lying next to the sound they made livings from and lives around.

“It’s nice to see a bunch of the descendants step up,” she said.