Tour the ghost village on Portsmouth Island
The Village of Portsmouth was once one of the most thriving communities on North Carolina’s Crystal Coast but it was destroyed by a hurricane that didn’t land anywhere near the island. Portsmouth’s buildings, sandy streets and docks appear to remain ready to welcome ships passing through Ocracoke Inlet today, but all of its residents deserted long ago. The town was victim to the natural forces that shape North Carolina’s barrier islands, known as banks. Portsmouth was a “lightering” town, providing warehouses and transfers for goods that deep-draft ships could not carry through the shallow inlet, which was the best ocean passageway to the interior of North Carolina. Portsmouth was doomed by a hurricane, but not by damage from the storm itself. The hurricane of 1846 opened up a better passage through the Outer Banks near Hatteras Island and shipping transferred to the new channel. The growth of railroads, the Civil War and additional hurricanes dealt the final blows until the last remaining residents left in 1971. Portsmouth Island is now part of the Cape Lookout National Seashore. The 250-acre historic district is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and preserved to allow visitors to step back in time to experience the bones of a typical Outer Banks village of the last century. Several of the town’s buildings contain exhibits, and guided walking tours are available seasonally. Ferry service is offered from neighboring Ocracoke Island to tour the structures, and visitors can also bring their own boats to enjoy the island’s desolate beach as part of a vacation to the North Carolina coast. A Portsmouth Homecoming takes place every other year in the even-numbered years.
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