Beach Town in a Forest

Beach Town in a Forest
Beach Town in a Forest, Pine Knoll Shores located in Carteret County on North Carolina's Crysal Coast. Photo compliments of Bill Flexman and Dave Prutzman

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Life at Shore House

Alice Hoffman’s home on the north shore of Bogue Banks from 1917 to 1953 was remote and primitive at first. Conditions gradually improved, and by the time she died, “Shore House” was a little more accessible, less primitive and more connected to the outside world.

Electric service was available in Atlantic Beach before the first bridge crossing the sound was built in 1928. The wires were strung on wooden poles embedded in the sand and mud of the sound. The Rural Electric Administration (REA) did not, however, extend wires to areas west of Atlantic Beach until 1945. Before that time, the residents — mainly Alice, her staff and the people of Salter Path — just did without.

Before electric service, lighting came from candles and kerosene or oil lamps. The author Virginia Pou Doughton in her book Tales of the Atlantic Hotel, talks about visiting Mrs. Hoffman at Shore House in 1941. "There were no telephones and no electricity. The floors were painted white. I remember being very hot, and candles made the rooms even hotter.”

Telephone connections were not available beyond Atlantic Beach until the late 1940s. The first telephone office opened in Salter Path was in 1948. Prior to that, it is most likely Alice would have conducted her telephone business when in Morehead City. For years before coming to Bogue Banks, she had been accustomed to ready access to telephone service. Below is a screen shot of the New York Social Register of 1914 showing Alice currently residing at the Hotel Gotham, and planning to be in residence at her home in Paris by February 1st and available at the phone number shown while in Paris.

The lack of phone service at Shore House clearly added to her desire to do all she could to improve the mail delivery. (See blog post titled “United States Post Office.”) Her efforts culminated with a US post office being established at Shore House in 1919, officially the Bogue Banks PO.

An even more basic necessity was potable water. There are reports of freshwater ponds on Bogue Banks, but by the 1920s wild and domesticated animals would have made the water unfit for human consumption. Precipitation collected in a rain-barrel was fine for washing and bathing, but required boiling before drinking. Fresh water brought over from a public water source in Morehead could have supplied water for drinking. These approaches seem beyond what even nature-loving Alice would deal with on an ongoing basis. 

The inconvenience of not having good drinking water accessible on site leads to the assumption that she did have a well at Shore House. A hand pump in the yard or even in the kitchen was common at the time.

That type of water system would have been a major departure from her prior life experience. She was born in 1862 at her Grandfather's home on 34th St. near Fifth Avenue in New York. The Croton Aqueduct System was completed in 1842, supplying fresh water to that part of Manhattan. By 1862 wastewater was handled by sewers in mid-Manhattan. Her homes in Paris were also located in the better parts of town, and by the 1890s indoor plumbing would have been expected in her social circles. 

Alice Hoffman’s autobiography[1] provides a number of clues for determining how water was supplied to her Shore House. These clues together with results of research into the commonly used water systems for rural, non-electrified locations in the early 20th century provide the building blocks for some educated guesses.

Common at the time were hand pumps in the kitchen and dipping into the outside rain barrel for washing water. Before Alice first leased the house, Mr. Royall was to provide running water.  What that meant in rural 1915 was probably not we think of today. It appears that running water was not available initially and when he did install running water it was marginal.
She mentions at one point that the water supply was much improved after she replaced the small tank Royall installed with a 300 gallon one. She doesn’t mention how that tank was filled or where it was located.  Hand pump, wind power, an engine are some possibilities.

The first mention Alice makes of her water source comes shortly after she moved into the cottage she rented from Royall. It was during a visit by her friend Edna Ryle and the temperature dropped to “the appalling depth of 10 degrees Fahrenheit. Of course the water had to be turned off naturally. The only water we had to depend on was carried over in the wash boiler from Mr. Royall’s well! Our washing was done in turn before her open fire….”

After the new bedroom Alice was having built for herself was completed, she describes her bedroom suite, saying, “…the two rooms…were lovely too, separated by a small wash closet & toilet, to complete the adjoining bathroom, in case two persons were to occupy the rooms who were not acquainted.”

No mention has surfaced relative to a wind pump arrangement being used on Bogue Banks, even though the breezes here would be adequate to keep the tank filled. This type of water supply system was a common sight in rural America then and for decades afterward. 

Research leads me to favor a system employing a “stationary engine” that powers a water pump to fill an elevated tank, with gravity proving the pressure. The use of “stationary engines” was popular on farms from the late 1800s on.  The name “stationary engine” derives from the original concept and design. In other words, it was extremely heavy, so the engine was set up in one place and remained there. As technology improved, and steam gave way to internal combustion, the weight was dramatically reduced, and similar engines were available on wheeled dollies, as shown in this catalogue from 1923.

By 1915 a gasoline or kerosene fueled internal combustion engine would most likely have been favored. Starting was accomplished by spinning the flywheel and a magneto provided the spark.  These were low-speed, high-torque engines, typically running at 200-300 rpm. A belt would link the engine to a piece of machinery needing power – at Shore House that would be a well-water pump, possibly a pump jack pictured below.

In her autobiography Alice tells of an episode where debris was being burned on the grounds near the house and the fire got out of hand. She told her personal maid Clemence to “start the pump”, turning it on and off as needed. The hose was not long enough, so they filled buckets and carried them to put out the fire. The house was saved!
In describing this episode Alice says, “For in those days the water supply was a modest affair, not at all like the 300 galon [sic] galvanized tank I put in afterward. The hose was always kept in readiness to water the roses, so our task was not a novel one, but in this case the hose was too short to reach the fire. The result can better be imagined than described. Clemence attended to the pump, and turned on the hose at my shouted command, while I filled pails which I had to carry as far as the bonfire.”

The water system I describe would have provided running water to the kitchen and bath; the pressure would be dependent on how high the tank could be located. This system would have allowed the use of a kerosene water heater, but no mention was made of that convenience. Heating water on the stove was mentioned in discussing some of her earliest visits to Bogue Banks.

Research at the Recorder of Deeds office in Beaufort did produce two documents that shed some light on changes in Alice’s living conditions at Shore House. Modern conveniences were starting to appear in 1940.

Recorded in Book 94, Page 243, is a Conditional Sale Contract executed in late 1940 between F.J. Auten and Mrs. Hoffman for a refrigerator for use on Bogue Banks -- specifically a Superfex Oil Refrigerator, Model # KLP 702. This unit ran on kerosene and was designed for non-electrified locations.

 The total price was $303.80, to be paid for in the following manner: $35.00 in cash upon delivery and the balance in 24 monthly payments of $11.00 due on the 30th of each month starting in April 1941. Prior to this acquisition, ice had to be brought over by boat from one of the icehouses on the mainland.

Recorded in Book 95, Page 168, was a Conditional Sales Contract executed in April 1941 between Packard Motor Car Company of New York and Mrs. Hoffman and Gabrielle Brard for an automobile to be garaged in Carteret County, NC. Specifically, the contract was for a new 1941 Packard 1901-Touring Sedan, Manufacturing # D300238, Model 1492-2112.
This four-door sedan, weighing 3,535 pounds, was well appointed with a long list of options, and the engine was a straight eight.  Total price of $1,667.60, payable as follows: $1,000.00 on delivery, $100.00 per month until paid in full.

Our understanding of day-to-day life at Alice’s Shore House is beginning to take shape. As research turns up additional insight, this post will be expanded -- all with the intent of answering the question of what it was like to live on Bogue Banks in Alice’s time.
Alice Hoffman's Shore House view from the sound

While her life was moving at a pace befitting the rural, off-the-beaten-path, off-the-grid setting of Shore House, across the sound in Morehead City the tone and pace were much different. This is discussed in the post titled “The Atlantic Hotel.”

Post Author: Walt Zaenker, revised 5/18/2014
To contact the author or the History Committee

[1]Alice Green Hoffman Papers (#127), East Carolina Manuscript Collection, J. Y. Joyner Library, East Carolina University, Greenville, North Carolina, USA.