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

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Abonita - Aibonita, Abonito, Aibonita

Before Pine Knoll Shores, before the Roosevelt family, before Alice Green Hoffman, during the time when John A. Royall owned three quarters of Bogue Banks, there was Abonita, Carteret County, NC. It was 82-acres of real estate bought by Oscar Kissam of Huntington, New York. Known on many early deeds and maps as Aibonito, it came to be variously spelled Abonito, Abonita or Aibonita. How this development started, who settled there and how it fits with the history of Pine Knoll Shores are all part of this story.

Early Settlers on Bogue Banks

Cold and foul winter weather in northern states has always inspired those who could to search for a winter retreat in a more hospitable clime. This longing drove both John Royall and Oscar Kissam, at about the same time, to the milder climate of Bogue Banks. Having boats gave them access.

Before John Royall and Oscar Kissam came to Bogue Banks, the only known residents in the early 1900s west of Hoop Pole Creek were squatters in Salter Path. A Meginnis/Maginnis family listed as residents, probably in the area now known as McGinnis Point, appeared in 1800 and 1820 census reports, but did not reappear in the 1900 census. Like Native Americans who camped and fished on Bogue Banks before them and mainland residents who came and bought property here, they left few modern-day traces of their presence. Oscar Kissam and John Royall would leave their marks.

While Oscar was working on his 82-acre development, John Royall, of Boothbay Maine, was acquiring three quarters of Bogue Banks. He bought land from Atlantic Beach (from where the Doubletree Inn is today) west to the end of the island, approximately 6,000 acres. 

Although the size of their holdings were vastly different, Oscar Kissam’s 82 acres in some ways had a greater impact on the development of Pine Knoll Shores than did Royall's 6,000 acres. The Kissam acreage was and still is in the center of the early-developed portion of Pine Knoll Shores.

The Abonita property when overlaid on the current map covers, approximately, Sycamore Dr. & Oakleaf Dr. west to Mimosa Blvd., due south to about the canal, east to Hall Haven and straight north, along Sycamore, more or less.

Owners of the Land Kissam Bought

Often, people who come to a remote island like Bogue Banks do so because they know someone who owns property in the area. The land Oscar and his wife Lucy Simpson of Huntington, New York, decided to buy was owned by acquaintances Burton James Coleburn and his wife Mary Ellena Eaton (known as Mollie) of Carteret County, NC.

The Kissams purchased two tracts of land from the Coleburns in December 1908[i]. Both tracts were approximately 40 acres each.

What Oscar Kissam Did with His Purchase

Mr. Kissam, clearly intending to create a settlement on Bogue Banks, plotted the land into streets and avenues, laying out lots and registering them in the Deeds Office.[ii] The property included two 40-foot wide access paths to the ocean. The plot plan was like a typical city housing plan and made no allowances for natural dune formations or ridge lines.


He was ready to sell the lots he had created. However, in 1910, the location of Oscar Kissam’s real- estate venture and a complete lack of amenities significantly limited the property's appeal. There is no indication the road system detailed on the registered plot plan was ever more than stakes in the ground. The earliest aerial photo of this location available is from1939, and it contains no hint of roads having been cut in Abonita. This was raw land that required an adventurous spirit and a boat to access. 
But, Mr. Kissam did have some early success selling lots to his New York friends and acquaintances, who were mostly seamen and wanted a spot down south for the winter when their boats were pulled out of the water up North.
The plat in the Recorder of Deeds office includes the spelling Aibonito, all deeds issued to the lot buyers identifies it as Abonita, the name we use today. Included among his buyers were the following:
Lot #1, Section I was deeded to Fredrick H. Eaton, January 11, 1911
Lot #2, Section I was purchased by a Mrs. Martha K. Smith, of Lynnbrook, NY, February 2, 1911
Lot #3, Section I, was purchased by three friends—W.G. Young, T. Cottrell Sammis, and Herbert A. Rosell, all from Long Island, March 14, 1910. 'Herby' Rosell, his son lived in PKS for a number of years, in the 80's and 90's.
Lot #2, Section II was split in two, sold to James BF Thompson and Mr. J.A. Palmer, Jr. of Long Island, October 17, 1910
Lot#3, Section II sold to Joseph Irvin, March 14, 1910. This being the first lot recorded. (The sound front lots listed above sold for $1.00 per foot of sound frontage.)
Lot #17, Section I, on the corner of Hawthorne and Sycamore, was purchased by Capt. William G. Young

As pictured below these men came, cleared land and built hunting and fishing camps.

Small Cabin at Abonita, 
circa 1910s
Photo from Young family collection.

They built retreats on Bogue Banks and, appreciating the unparalleled beauty of the island, preserved its natural state. Among these individuals was the author's grandfather, Captain William Glover Young (1881-1918), of Huntington, Long Island. The second son of Ira Benjamin Young and Harriett Kelsey, he began his nautical career as a seaman in his father’s steam ferry company and eventually became captain of the steamer “Huntington.” He later captained a Long Island Railroad steamer and subsequently became an inspector for the United States Government.

In 1910, when Captain Young purchased a lot in Abonita from Oscar Kissam, he and his wife, Carrie E. Conklin, built a small cottage they named “Camp Magellan.” With their two children, Woodhull and Caroline, they spent several winters in their cottage and took photographs. Fortunately for us, they preserved and shared their photographs.
Pictured in front of Camp Magellan left to right are; the ships hand, Harriet K. Young (author's Great Grandmother) holding Woodhull B. Young (author's father), and Carrie C. Young (author's Grandmother)

After an initial burst of sales, Oscar’s scheme to sell lots, sight unseen, to northern buyers was essentially a failure. He only managed to sell about a quarter of the acreage, and by 1915, he moved on to endeavors elsewhere.

But, Aibonito remains in the center of Pine Knoll Shores today. Why that happened is the rest of this story, but before going there, knowing a bit more about Oscar Kissam fleshes out the portrait of this man who can be considered one of the founding fathers of Pine Knoll Shores.

What We Know About Oscar Kissam

"Kissam" has an exotic and foreign sounding ring, perhaps due to its lyrical similarity to the ancient Persian philosopher Omar Khayyam. But, in fact, Oscar Kissam was from a family who came to America from Europe well before the revolution. The Kissam Family Association[iii] identifies the first Kissam recorded in America in 1644. Genealogy studies trace the family back to Ireland, Wales, Holland, or maybe Sweden. The family had many members residing in the New York-New Jersey region. The Kissams were among the first to settle in the northwestern sound-side region of Long Island, and the family name gets intertwined with Roosevelts, Vanderbilts and other notable families on the North Shore. The Kissams who settled in Huntington, Suffolk County, Long Island, first arrived there in the early 1700s and were among the original patentees of the town of Huntington.

The Kissams prospered in public administration, farming and the mercantile field. Census records indicate that, when Oscar was a child, the family may have operated a vessel repair and sales business in Huntington. (The current president of the Huntington Historical Society is Toby Kissam, perhaps a distant relative of Oscar.)

Oscar, one of five children, was born January 28, 1846, in Huntington, to Charles M. Kissam (1815-1879) and Elizabeth I. Mott (1813-1898). Oscar married Lucy B. Simpson (1847-1911). They had three children—Ella (1873-1959), Charles (1877-1950), and Emeline (1879-1954), who married Edward Willis Underhill.

In an article in Engineering and Contracting, Volume 29, June 3, 1908, Oscar Kissam describes at length his methods for clearing land. He is referred to as living in Halesite, NY, and supervising blasting work. Halesite is a hamlet near Huntington. This work experience is a clue that indicates Oscar was involved, at least tangentially, in the land development business in New York—experience he brought to Bogue Banks.
In 1898 George Taylor bought a large estate on Huntington Bay and named it Halesite. Taylor was an admirer of Nathan Hale and the spy mission he undertook in September 1776. Legend has it that Taylor’s estate was the starting point of that mission. Taylor hired a local contractor to move a commemorative bolder to his property. He referred to that contractor as “Oscar ‘Dynamite’ Kissam”[iv].

John Royall’s Dealings with Oscar Kissam
The real-estate mantra, “location, location, location,” provides an understanding of why Oscar Kissam and his Aibonito settlement is so important to Pine Knoll Shores. Both Kissam and Royall selected the same relative location on this island to settle.

Between 1910 and 1915, when John A. Royall owned most of Bogue Bankshe built a hunting lodge for his family to the east of the Aibonito property and enjoyed several winters on the Banks. In the spring of 1915, Alice Green Hoffman came to Bogue Banks and met John Royall at his lodge. Finding the island and its remoteness appealing, she asked about acquiring a 2,000-acre portion of his land. 
In October 1915, Oscar Kissam sold the remaining lots in the Abonita development to John A. Royall. This transaction is recorded in Book 19, page 73. Part of the description is as follows:“Beginning at a cement post which is located on the shore, on the east side of the Sage Path on Bogue Sound, said post being 26 chains (1716 ft) west of the Royall-Coleburn northwest corner." This description, though vague, provides some information to help confirm the location of Abonita property, especially considering later development patterns. 

Alice Hoffman and the Roosevelts Deal with Abonita Owners

Alice Hoffman bought property from Royall in 1917, and several of the Abonita lots Royall had not been able to acquire before he sold the land to her would, after her death, be incorporated into the street and lot plan of Pine Knoll Shores. During the time of Mrs. Hoffman's ownership of the surrounding lands, she had made several attempts to buy the remaining Abonita lots from New York owners, as had the Roosevelts when they controlled the surrounding acreage. When owners of those lots declined all offers, the Roosevelts designed the Pine Knoll Shore street pattern and lot configuration to accommodate existing Abinita lots. 

Another work-around the Roosevelts devised to accommodate the lots they did not own can be seem in the configuration of the channels dredged during the late 1960s.

As PKS developed, owners of these lots were contacted to sell to the Roosevelt developers. Some sold, but others held onto their lots. Dredging was done in front of all the Roosevelt lots.  When the waterway reached Aibonito lots, the channel angles out to the main navigation channel. Aibonito frontage was left shallow since those lots were not part of the Roosevelt development property. 
Was the dredging decision made solely because these owners would not sell to the Roosevelts or pay for dredging? From a business standpoint, the cost of dredging could not be recovered in the sale price of the abutting or affected property. Other considerations could have driven this design, such as navigation, sand flow and siltingCorps of Engineer concerns.

In the above 1971 aerial photograph, the west branch of the canal is under construction, the outlet to the sound is still blocked by a dam, and there is no bridge at Mimosa. The channels parallel to the shore in the sound clearly veer away from the shore at the approximate location of the original Aibonito sound-front lots.  

The Roosevelts had a survey conducted to document their holdings. Part of that survey is shown below, with Aibonito property identified.
Rivers & Associates map commissioned by the Roosevelt Family

The street plan we currently travel also was partially determined by the efforts of Oscar Kissam. We can think of him along with John Royall, Alice Hoffman and the Roosevelts as founders of Pine Knoll Shores. They all left their marks.

What’s in a Name

The source of the name Aibonito, as well as its assorted spellings, Abonito, Abonita, Albonita, all of which appear in various documents, has an historical link to Peurto Rico and the Spanish-American War.
Flag of the municipality of Aibonito, Puerto Rico
Oscar had a relative (son, brother, cousin, uncle?), who was part of the Puerto Rican Campaign and participated in the Battle of Aibonito Pass on August 9, 1898. All military actions in Puerto Rico were suspended on August 13th, after an armistice was signed whereby Spain relinquished its sovereignty over Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Philippines and Guam. In 1910, to commemorate his relative’s war service, Oscar named his real estate development “Aibonito.”

During a recent discussion with a resident of Puerto Rico who at one time lived near Aibonito and visited it many times, I learned “It’s in the middle of the island, lots of mountains, famous for flowers and agriculture. It’s said to have gotten its name from the first Spanish explorers, who, when they saw the views, said, ‘Ay, que bonito’ – Oh, how beautiful.” 

Aibonito Pass, photo by Gwenn Bentz

That same Spanish expression applied when Oscar and his friends came to Bogue Banks. It continues to describe Pine Knoll Shores today. 

Note: There are a number of other lots Oscar sold before the development was abandoned. With further research, the blanks will be filled in. Anyone related to individuals mentioned in this post or having Aibonito connections, please let us know at

Post Author: Martha Edwards, with assistance from Walt Zaenker, revised May16 2015
To contact the author or the History Committee

[i] Carteret County, Recorder of Deeds, Book 6, page 503, Book 9, page 148
[ii] Carteret County, Recorder of Deeds, Book 8, page 518
[iii] The Kissam Family Association and the Huntington Historical Society, 209 Main Street, Huntington, New York, 11743
[iv] Nathan Hale Memorials, Huntington History, June 6, 2013