Shifting Sands at Chicamacomico

It was a sunny Saturday morning of my Outer Banks Solo Journey and time to drive south on Hwy 12 from Nags Head to Hatteras, where I’d take the ferry to Ocracoke Island. As a North Carolina native, I’d never driven down the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. That two lane road is bordered on the west side by the Pamlico Sound and the east by the Atlantic Ocean. You drive for miles without seeing any cottages or businesses, just surf, sand, and vegetation, and signs to warn, ‘Road Covered by Sand.’

When I arrived in the village of Rodanthe, the same place as that of the Nickolas Sparks movie, “Nights in Rodanthe,” I stopped to visit the Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station. It’s the most complete site of all remaining life-saving stations in North Carolina, and home of NC’s first trained, shore-based rescue responders. Men from that community were trained to rescue travelers in boats off that coast, nicknamed “Graveyard of the Atlantic” because of the treacherous waters and numerous shoals or sandbars that caused an estimated 5,000 shipwrecks over the years.


The 1911 Station built in classic Chicamacomico style architecture. The cedar shake siding can withstand the turbulent unpredictable coastal weather.

There was only one other vehicle when I pulled into the parking lot– a white Chevrolet truck with a Vietnam Veteran license plate. Inside the entrance area that was the 1911 station, the volunteer, a man who may have been about seventy with a name tag, smiled and welcomed me.

“Glad you took the time to stop and visit us today,” he said. “Now before I let you go any further, tell me how you say the name of this place.” He had a wide grin and warm, friendly voice.

I hesitated, then quickly recalled what I’d read on the website. “It’s chi-ka-ma-Com-i-co,” I responded.

“Very good,” he praised me. “And it’s the Algonquian word used by the Croatan Indians that means ‘shifting sands.’ Because that’s what all of the Outer Banks are– the winds and flooding are constantly changing this string of islands.”

He offered me a site map and set up the video for me to watch, then left to help the next guests. I was amazed at how they’d restored the station that had been moved 5 times– three time by storms and two by man. The station’s original location is now underwater in the Atlantic Ocean. On the first floor were pieces of equipment including the beach cart, breeches buoy, etc, and most impressive, the actual surfboat that was used in the famous “Mirlo” rescue of 1918. Late in WWI, the rescuers saved 42 sailors of the British tanker Mirlo after the ship was struck by a torpedo from a German U-Boat 117. I’d seen an illustration of the boat on fire with the surfboat going to its aide.


US Life-Saving Service Station built in Gothic style in 1874. To the right, the white house is the 1907 Midgett House.

I don’t always take the time to stop at museums or historical sites. But I’d been drawn to this one because of the courage it took those rescuers to respond to those in danger from perilous waters. As the brochure said:

These brave, valiant “storm warriors” were willing to sacrifice their lives so that others might live.


Walking about the grounds, I could imagine the men rushing out to the beach to rescue boaters in trouble. I wondered what it would be like to live in this community back in early 1900s. What if I had been a wife or mother of one of the rescuers?

The 1907 Midgett House, named for Cornelius Payne Midgett who was brother of the Keeper, is on the grounds to give an example of life on Hatteras Island in those days. Walking into the two-story house, I immediately felt transported back in time– but not just to Hatteras Island, the village of Rodanthe; I felt transported back to my childhood home.

For my first fourteen years, I lived in Daddy’s ‘homeplace’– the two-story farmhouse built in 1880 by his grandparents where Daddy and his seven siblings were raised. Daddy and Mama lived there with my grandmother and then we three daughters were born. While most of the furnishings in my childhood home were typical of American homes in the fifties and sixties, there were aspects of my home, Daddy’s homeplace, that were similar to the Midgett House.

In the family room of the Midgett House, there were two armchairs flanking a radio. As a girl, we heard stories of how important those radio shows and presidential addresses were as families gathered to listen. I imagined the families living around the Life-Saving station listening to their radios– perhaps for news about enemy boats approaching our shores.


Family room circa 1907 when families gathered around the radio instead of the television

I thought of the family room in my childhood home and felt myself settle into the comfort of that memory. What I would give for another time of being back there with Daddy, Mama, and my two sisters– when life was simpler during childhood.


The piano reminded me of the one I played as a girl.

The blue, checkerboard floor reminded me of the red one we’d had in our farm kitchen. Standing in that room I felt myself settle into the place, grounded by memories of the security I’d felt with my family as a child. Looking at the dishes, I was reminded the mismatched ones of my Grandma Smith’s that served Southern meals shared with a large, loving family. Again, a grounding.


I climbed the steps to the upstairs, the bannister reminding me of the fun we’d had sliding down ours. The bedrooms had wooden ceilings and I remembered the upstairs room in our farmhouse with the one room with the broad cedar board ceiling.

The grounding of the Midgett house seemed to be countering the ‘shifting sands’ of Chicamacomico. That morning, in spite of the beauty, the words ‘shifting sands’ had resonated with my own life– changes coming from strong winds and shifting tides. Coming inside my ‘childhood home’ had reminded me of that anchor of a strong family that had grounded me through my childhood. It was a reminder that family and close relationships would ground me through storms that occur, shifting sands that change the topography of your life.

I was glad I stopped at the Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station. There I was inspired by the bravery of the men who ran toward the danger and I was reminded that there is a strong anchor when my own ship is threatened by storms.


How About You?

What anchors do you have when the seas are turbulent in your life?

What helps you feel grounded when anxiety stirs inside?

6 thoughts on “Shifting Sands at Chicamacomico

  1. Connie,
    You really find the great, “almost forgotten” places. It seems that you may have needed a little side trip back to your childhood. Finding homes that are much like our beginnings is a treat as well as “jolt” to our memory. I really felt that I was traveling back to my roots. The most interesting aspect is that the times dictated the need for a group to rescue those who may not have expected problems. Those men were living a purpose that they truly believed in. As always you have posted another winner.
    Deepest Regards.


    • Hey John,
      Thanks so much. Yes– I like the way you put it, that I needed a ‘little side trip back to my childhood.’ That was not expected since I had no idea the Midgett house would strike a cord with me. Yes, those were very different times and yet I think of our First Responders and Military now who move toward danger because it is part of their purpose.
      Best to You,


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  3. Another wonderful story and of course I love your steps back to childhood since I was able to remember with you! The anchor of family and faith is appreciated even more as we mature! I am grateful to those who served then and continue to serve today to save lives! Glad you followed your nudging to stop at this special place along your journey!


    • Hey Peggy,
      thanks so much for reading and commenting. I’m glad you enjoyed our trip down memory lane. It really was great stepping back in time, that for a short while, was like being back in ‘the old house.’ It is right to follow those nudging that come from deep inside and were planted in us from the beginning.
      Love you little sister,


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