Promise' Land, Morehead City, NC

If Morehead City was a tree, the historic Promise Land area of downtown would be its roots — running deep through time, binding the community together and holding its residents tall.

In a county brimming over with heritage and lore, the story of the Promise Land is among the most interesting to be found. The region’s history is filled with tales of a hearty, hard-working people as in love with the water that surrounded them as they were dependent upon it.

The boundaries of the neighborhood are sketchy — with every historian in town offering their own opinion — but it basically runs between 12th and 15th streets on Evans, Shackleford and Shepard streets. Here, amidst the shores of Bogue Sound, a group of people found solace at the beginning of the 1900s from the storms that plagued their island home. During the 19th century, Shackleford Banks was a thriving community of whalers and fishermen. The largest town, Diamond City, boasted some 500 residents. The weather’s dark side became more than the fishing community could handle and by the turn of the century it was nearly barren

Relatively nothing remains of Diamond City, Wade’s Shores, Whale Creek Bay, Bell’s Island or the Mullet Pond. Some of the landmarks are there — the prominent sand dunes and the ponds themselves — but nothing more than a few grave markers remain of the once thriving community.

The Ca’e Bankers, as they are often referred, found a more protected environment in Marshallberg, Salter Path and Harkers Island as well as the undeveloped region of Morehead City. The residents took their belongings, their boats and in many cases their homes, floating the nearly intact cottages on a barge to its new location as they began their lives anew.

Here, the close-knit community had the water for their livelihood; a general store called Kibb’s; and formed a church, Franklin Memorial United Methodist. As Morehead City grew up around them, they gained a movie theater, restaurants and other businesses, but retained the sense of community that brought them together on the shores of Morehead City.

In the years that followed World War II, the Promise Land evolved, becoming a haven for vacationing families. From Raleigh, Kinston, Goldsboro and other inland towns they made an annual trek to what we now know as the Crystal Coast. Small “fishing shacks” were an inexpensive addition to the family in the 1940s. Most families originally paid less than $10,000 for their small piece of Morehead City heaven. And for most families, the summer homes remain a fixture of life in the 2000s. The homes have been handed down to sons and daughters who in turn share the property with their children and grandchildren. Yet other homes remain with the families that originally found respite from the storm on the shores of the new town. Some of the homes that were floated from Shackleford remain, said Carolina Melke, a Promise Land descendent, and are still home to young families.

“Even though it’s changing, it’s so important that we remember the heritage of the Promise Land and that we celebrate what this group of people who formed the community had gone through,” she said.

By Amanda Dagnino for the Carteret County News-Times

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