North Carolina

Graves of Outer Banks’ earliest settlers were destroyed by Hurricane Dorian flooding

This pile of sea grass contains hidden dangers at Cape Lookout National Seashore, including the boards and other building debris tossed by Hurricane Dorian.
This pile of sea grass contains hidden dangers at Cape Lookout National Seashore, including the boards and other building debris tossed by Hurricane Dorian. National Park Service photo

A cemetery that hosts some of the earliest settlers of the Outer Banks was among the historic sites heavily damaged by Hurricane Dorian this month.

The haunting Grace Cemetery is located in North Carolina’s Historic Portsmouth village, a ghost town at Cape Lookout National Seashore that saw intense flooding during the storm.

Those buried at the site were born in the 1830s through the 1850s, and include a man who served as a “light boat keeper” in 1860 — that was a floating lighthouse, says the National Park Service.

The water was about 5 feet deep after Dorian made landfall, park officials posted on Facebook. “The Grace Family Cemetery lost its picket fencing and had the headstones knocked down ... by the flood waters.”

Photos of toppled and broken headstones in the mud were posted on Facebook, along with images of nearby historic structures that lost their roofs and siding. Among the damaged buildings was the Barden House, built in 1907 as living quarters for the lighthouse keepers, officials said.

Furniture and exhibits in the structures were submerged in water for days.

“Work crews have made great strides in stabilizing and repairing the damage inflicted on the buildings in both Portsmouth and Cape Lookout Villages,” the park posted this week.

“We also borrowed a specialty cemetery crew from Gettysburg (National Military Park) to reset and repair the toppled cemetery headstones in Portsmouth Village.”

The small graveyard is on property once owned by the Grace family in Portsmouth. The earliest of the graves is for John K. Grace, born in 1831 and raised on the island as a mariner and “light boat keeper” on the shoals around Ocracoke Inlet, the park service says.

Much of Cape Lookout sustained major damage during Hurricane Dorian, including dozens of inlets cut from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pamlico Sound. Park officials are hoping the inlets will dry up and fill in with sand in coming months.

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