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

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Deeds — Part 1

First of a three-part story: Deeds, Landmarks, Boundaries

The geographic area that is the primary focus of this blog is broadly referred to as the Hoffman/Roosevelt Property. The boundaries of the property have been described in news articles and books for the past 50 years as covering about 4,000 acres, running from a point some distance beyond the current Pine Knoll Shores-Atlantic Beach boundary on the east to a point some distance beyond the current Indian Beach-Emerald Isle boundary on the west. The vagueness of these descriptions left me with a desire for a bit more precision and led to a trip to the Carteret County Recorder of Deeds Office. 
My goal was to be able to show on a current map of Bogue Banks an overlay of the land that Alice owned as well as the land that the Roosevelt Trust inherited. I wanted to be able to depict locations and distances with reasonable confidence. 

When telling the story of Alice Hoffman, the casual dimensioning of her holdings in most instances is fine and adequate, and I recognize the use of the real estate phrase “more or less” when discussing acreage, especially large tracts of rural land 100+ years ago, but I have a bit of an analytical bent and have always found maps and charts fascinating, so I had to pursue this quest to satisfy my own curiosity.

Today when a piece of land is surveyed, key points on the ground are marked with metal or concrete markers, and field work is depicted on a scale drawing with dimensions and angles all done with Electronic-Distance-Measuring and Global-Positioning-System equipment integrated with computer-based chart plotters, which provide accuracy to a fine point.

Not so 100+ years back. Only built-up areas in a town or a subdivided parcel were documented on a drawing. All other land was described by the “Metes and Bounds” system. “Property was described in distances from landmark to landmark. (See blog post on "Landmarks.") To conform those descriptions, men were employed to survey, define and mark boundaries.”[i] As important as these onsite surveys were, they were time consuming, costly and, at times, arduous.

The tools of the trade were all subject to inaccuracies—magnetic compasses were imprecise, chains and steel tapes were affected by temperature and tension, and wooden stakes were subject to decay and removal by firewood hunters. The Surveyors Historical Society states, “In the 1860s an error rate of 1 in 1500 feet was considered highly accurate.”

Bogue Banks presented its own set of challenges. The island is all sand and lacks any solid rock to mark with an “X.” The natural forces of nature— sea, wind, and rain—constantly move the island’s shorelines. 

The ocean erodes the beach, the sound accretes, and inlets come and go.

Two other factors came into play while trying to answer the simple question of where the property was that Alice owned.  Prior to the 1930s, the documents at the Recorder of Deeds Office were handwritten in longhand cursive, so a researcher is at the mercy of the penmanship of the clerk on duty the day the record was made. Some of the penmanship was legible and elegant while other cases require a good deal of guesswork for interpretation.

Poor penmanship

Good penmanship

The other and perhaps more significant impediment to understanding is the use of landmarks in the “Metes and Bounds” write-up. Locations of landmarks commonly recognized in the day have now been lost to history. [See "Landmarks" blog post.] Commercial and Government maps identified two or three landmarks at most, and then the locations are suspect. 

The Recorder of Deeds Office at the County Government Center in Beaufort is well run and has a simple-to-follow system for locating deeds and other documents kept there.

It’s not a computer-based search system, but it is easy to follow and use. The office staff willingly explains how it works and offers help to get the novice researcher started.

After several visits, I have assembled a collection of deeds that pertain to Mrs. Hoffman’s land acquisition, which occurred from 1917 through 1930. I’ve sorted the acquisitions into land on Bogue Banks and land on the mainland near the town of Mansfield, which was located between Spooners Creek and Pelitier Creek.

Also included in this chart are deeds of adjoining property, which help locate the lands, and some deeds of previous owners to identify landmarks. These documents are available for anyone to access at the Recorder of Deeds Office, and partial copies are now in the History Archives at the Town of Pine Knoll Shores.

The story continues on “Landmarks” with a map and discussion of the many features that were used as reference points in the late 1800s and the early 1900s. The story concludes with “Boundaries,” which involves an analysis of the deeds, relating them to landmarks. It throws in a little arithmetic and geometry and lays out the land Alice owned.

Post Author: Walt Zaenker
To contact the author or the History Committee

[i] Virtual Museum of Surveying,