By Rebecca Jones, special to the News-Times
HARKERS ISLAND — Over a century ago, Portsmouth Village was a bustling sea village, established in 1753 as a thriving port town. Portsmouth functioned as a lightering port, where cargo from ocean-going vessels could be transferred to shallow-draft vessels capable of traversing Pamlico and Core Sounds.
In 1860, Portsmouth reached its peak population of 685 people. Between hurricanes and the many who did not return after the Civil War and especially the mammoth 1933 Atlantic hurricane season, the island’s population declined. Today, in stark contrast to its days filled with the sounds of fishermen and families living on the island, it stands silent of human population.
However, the buildings still stand, and you can explore and imagine the daily struggles they had against this harsh environment. The Portsmouth story continues as a 250-acre historic district and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and run by the Cape Lookout National Seashore.
Friends of Portsmouth Island, in cooperation with Cape Lookout National Seashore, celebrates Portsmouth Homecoming each April in even-numbered years. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 homecoming was cancelled.
The homecoming began as a church and family-based event as they celebrate the heritage of Portsmouth. Many people who have no direct family connection to the island participate as well. The next Portsmouth Homecoming is scheduled for April 2022. You can find more information on the Friends of Portsmouth Island website at www.friendsofportsmouthisland.org. If you are interested in visiting Portsmouth Village, which is accessible via passenger ferry from Ocracoke, contact 252-928-4361 for tour information.
Meanwhile, an exhibit is on display, which began Thursday and ends the last day of July in the Core Sound Museum at 806 Arendell St. in Morehead City.
One interesting exhibit is china. In 1923, 13-year-old Portsmouth native, Lionel Gilgo, saved his money from clamming to purchase a set of this china for his mother, Mattie Gilgo, shown in the photo above. He ordered the set from a Montgomery Ward catalogue. It came by mail to Atlantic and then was placed aboard the mailboat, Aleta. Lum Gaskill met the mailboat in the sound on its way to Ocracoke, and the mail was offloaded for Portsmouth.
Lum carried the mail from the boat landing to the Portsmouth post office with a wheelbarrow. The post mistress, Annie Salter, accepted the mail and sent for Lionel to come get his package. This was the typical way all goods were delivered to Portsmouth, and to everyone’s credit, not one dish was broken.
A collection of photography of Portsmouth Village is on display as well. Photographer Jan Eason of Raleigh sees photography as a way of recording and documenting the natural and social environment. He works primarily with black and white film and has won several awards and been featured in state and local exhibits.
The exhibit will be on display Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.