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

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Why Alice Came to Bogue Banks

In 1917, Alice Green Hoffman bought property on Bogue Banks. She traveled hundreds of miles from her native home in New York City and thousands of miles from her adopted home in France to come to our shores. This part of her story tries to explain why she came to live here.

Alice Green Hoffman first came to Bogue Banks from New York City in 1915, attracted to Carteret County by an ad for a “Paradise of a Home” near Beaufort. 
Alice was 53 years old, a divorcée of means, though not necessarily someone with ready cash. Her holdings at the time included a penthouse and apartment buildings in New York City as well as stocks and bonds. She had already traveled extensively in Europe and had been maintaining a residence in an exclusive area of Paris since 1895.

Portrait of a younger Alice. Alice Green Hoffman. n.d. Prints and Photographs division. The Library of Congress. [i]

So, why, in 1915, did she come to an undeveloped barrier island in North Carolina? We may never know all the reasons, but world events probably played a role in her decision-making.

War had broken out in Europe in 1914, so living conditions in Paris were not ideal. The Battle of the Marne was taking place in the countryside northeast of Paris, close enough for residents to hear it. Rationing was in effect throughout the country. Alice returned to New York City. She says in her unpublished autobiography that she decided, “… to conform to the French Government’s request which was that only those who were compelled to, should return to France during the hostilities.”[ii] 

In When Trumpets Call: Theodore Roosevelt After the White House, a chapter entitled “The Young and the Old Colonel” indicates that, in 1917, Alice’s niece, Eleanor Roosevelt, had moved into her aunt’s place near L’ Étoile. “Despite rationing and occasional shortages, the cook kept an excellent table, having transformed Mrs. Hoffman’s elegant courtyard into a chicken run and planted lettuce among the rosebushes.” The cook said, “...Mrs. Hoffman did not know, therefore she could not mind.”[iii]  That French cook may have been surprised—Alice did try to get a passport during the war to join her niece in Paris, but never actually made the trip. (See blog post on "Passports.") This was the year she was to buy property on Bogue Banks.

Alice Hoffman liked owning real estate. She had no children, but wanted to have property to leave to her niece Eleanor's children. A remote area in North Carolina might have seemed a safe place to invest. Alice already held stock in mills and manufacturing firms in South Carolina.

We know she had an appreciation for natural beauty, enjoyed outside activities and was even capable of roughing it on occasion. We also know she liked being near the coast in summers; she had rented cottages in Southampton, NY, and Newport, RI, when she was a young woman. The prospect of having a place on the coast in the sunny south was certainly appealing, especially given the cold winters in Paris and New York City. So, like many of us after her, she responded to the promise of paradise in North Carolina.

She read about a North Carolina estate in the New York Herald. Its owner she learned was Mrs. Gilman Perkins of Rochester, New York. After inquiring about the property, Alice decided she was not interested, but in a visit with Mrs. Perkins, Alice took a strong liking to her. Mrs. Perkins was planning a trip to North Carolina and encouraged Alice to visit her there. Alice agreed to make the trip.

By 1915, trains and the Intracoastal Waterway were bringing New Yorkers to coastal North Carolina. (See blog post on "Links and Bridges.") Making a few connections, Alice could travel by rail from New York City to Beaufort. Her trip was not as direct as she would have liked, but she did, finally, arrive.

As Alice had thought the advertised property was not to her liking. In her unpublished autobiography, she describes having to go through mud that she knew would turn to dust in the summer. The house was grand, but she wanted "a smaller house and more land." Before leaving, she was encouraged to visit a section of Bogue Banks that John Royall owned, called Isle of Pines. So, before returning home, Alice visited the Isle of Pines, traveling by boat, since there was no bridge to the island until 1928. What she found was what she was seeking.

Writing about 35 years later, she says that as soon as she set foot on John Royall’s property, she knew she "must own that divine spot." John Royall leads her on a long walk, about two miles from his home on the sound over to his teahouse on the beach, which she says sits on a high dune overlooking the ocean. Alice is enchanted. She describes walking “over miles of the island, …seeing the one & only knoll, from which one could see the ocean, which was concealed by the magnificent semi-tropical forest, of pines, oaks, sassafras, holly, cedar, and dogwood trees. I was simply carried away….”

But, something else is on Alice’s mind as well. She says: “I feel that Bogue Banks is as safe a place to be as any to be found. It is too remote to attract gas bombs,” a clear reference to wanting to escape the ravages of WW I and her desire for a safe haven.

It was largely undeveloped maritime forest and marsh except for the fishing village of Salter Path. John Royall and his family had a small house on the sound in an area that is now Oakleaf Drive. Alice decides to rent a nearby cottage Royall had built for his physician; her one condition is that Royall add a bathroom with running hot and cold water. She rents New York City property to get the money for the rent, for furnishings and some further remodeling.  

By 1917, John Royall was ready to sell. According to records held by the Carteret County Recorder of Deeds, Alice Green Hoffman first purchased a 2,000-acre tract and later acquired other tracts. (See blog posts on "Surveys and Deeds," "Landmarks" and "Boundaries.") Her purchases included what today are Indian Beach, Salter Path, Pine Knoll Shores and part of Atlantic Beach. Finally, wanting to establish a dairy farm, she bought property across the sound in Morehead City in an area referred to at the time as Mansfield.

Alice would probably have owned the Bogue Banks tract that is now Emerald Isle as well if she had not caused John Royall so many problems stemming from tensions between her and Salter Path residents. Instead, he sold the western part of the island to Henry K. Fort from Philadelphia. (See blog post on "Surveys and Deeds.")

John Royall's house was enlarged and became Alice Hoffman's "Shore House."

Alice’s Bogue Banks home. Reprinted from “Alice the Queen,” by Barbara Milhaven.

Until the 1930s, the road up to the house was just a path. It went from Atlantic Beach to another path that led to the house. Alice had a motorboat she called Fred, which she used to travel to the mainland and back when she was here, which was not often.

After World War I ended, Alice wanted to return to France, and in 1922, she bought several of acres of land on the outskirts of Paris in Suresnes. (See "From Paris to Bogue Banks" blog post.)

It included a small house, which, of course, she wanted to enlarge. She also kept her property in New York City and traveled the world, including visits to Canada, China, and Puerto Rico. She had little time to be in North Carolina.

In 1929, the stock market crash reduced her circumstances considerably. By 1936, she had "disposed of all her New York City property."[v] Soon after, the French government confiscated her Suresnes property in Paris. That loss and World War II prompted Alice to leave Europe forever. It was then, at the age of 76, she began to spend a good deal of her time at her "Shore House." It was her only home.

Most of what we know about Alice’s life on Bogue Banks comes from her papers in the Special Collections at East Carolina University Joyner Library and from the research of Kathleen McMillan Guthrie, who wrote a master’s thesis at East Carolina University entitled Alice Green Hoffman: Queen of Bogue Banks. Also helpful was a long article “Alice the Queen,” by Barbara Milhaven, which first appeared in The Shoreline in 2009 and was reprinted there in December 2013. Revisions to the original post are based on a copy of Alice's unpublished autobiography from East Carolina Joyner Library's Special Collections. 

[i] O’Toole, Patricia. When Trumpets Call: Theodore Roosevelt After the White House. “The Young and Old Colonel.” Simon and Schuster, 2005.
[ii] Hoffman, Alice. Unpublished autobiography. East Carolina University Joyner Library Special Collections.
[iii] Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University and the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division. Site gives permission to use images for non-profit purposes, and written permission was requested and received.
[vi] Hoffman, Alice. Unpublished autobiography. East Carolina University Joyner Library Special Collections.
[v] East Carolina Joyner Library Special Collections. "Collection Guide: Description of Collection."

To see where Alice Hoffman arrived when she first came by train to Beaufort.

Post Author: Phyllis Makuck (Revised April 30, 2014)
To contact the author or the History Committee