Harkers Island’s crooked walking path got straightened out in 1926 when it was widened to become an official “county road.”
The road was given a hard surface in 1936, and that seemed to spur on a chain of infrastructure improvements.
Community leaders established a cooperative known as the Harkers Island Rural Electric Authority in 1939, making history with the nation’s first “submarine cable system” to serve power to its members.
A wooden bridge connecting Harkers Island to its northern neighbors, Straits and Gloucester, opened in 1941. Building the bridge, however, was not a slam-dunk. Some folks objected. They liked living on a “disconnected” island and didn’t want a bridge.
Others thought the bridge should go west and connect to Lennoxville Point at Beaufort. The state highway commission, however, opted for the northern route.
It didn’t matter much to the late Madge Whitley Guthrie, a Harkers Island historian. “Nobody had a car (in 1941). All we had were boats, so the mailboat kept running until people on the island could make enough money to buy a car and learn how to drive.”
Telephone service on Harkers Island was installed in 1948 – with one phone per house and 10 houses per party line.
Not every little bit of history gets written down on paper. Thank goodness for the “invention” of oral history projects, especially one conducted in 2016 on Harkers Island.
It was sponsored by the Southern Foodways Alliance and sanctioned by the University of Mississippi. The staff at Core Sound Waterfowl Museum & Heritage Center helped coordinate the interviews.
Mila Willis Guthrie of Seaside General Store on Harkers Island told the interview team about lemon milk pie. Condensed milk, lemon juice, eggs with a Ritz cracker-crumbled up crust. She said: “It’s got that tangy, lemony taste that people love with seafood.”
Jan Willis Gillikin of Harkers Island told them about chew bread. Flour, brown sugar, eggs, coconut, nuts, vanilla and margarine.
“Do not overbake it because it’s supposed to be chewy,” Gillikin said. “But if you do, don’t throw it away, because it makes the best biscotti. Just get your milk or your coffee and you sop that buddy; it brings it right back to life.”
The oral history team also got a taste of Harkers Island culture. Jan Gillikin’s family got corn in 50-pound feed sacks to feed their hogs. “Momma made many, many pretty dresses for me to wear to school out of those feed sacks.”
Emma Rose Guthrie of Harkers Island told about roller skating on the newly paved road that bisected Harkers Island. “We’d skate from the east’ard to the west’ard.”
“Those were old-fashioned roller skates,” she said, “the kind you had to do with a key. We’re talking way back now.”
Two of the Harkers Islanders who were in their 90s when they were interviewed in 2016 are now deceased – Makley Lewis and Ira Lewis. They were best of friends who bubbled over with humor-filled recollections.
In 2016, Ira, who was six years older, would come about every day to Makley’s place to check on him.
Makley said: “I can’t understand nothing he says; Ira can’t understand nothing I say. But we have our chat...and get along fine.”
Anymore, Makley said, “my head ain’t worth a nickel – ain’t nothing in it.”
The interviewer pshawed and reminded Makley that his birthday was coming up soon. Makley replied: “I might be there.”
Harkers Island is still making “oral history.” Thank goodness.