Preserving a Way Of Life ~ Coastal Heritage Association

Coastal Heritage Association
Preserving a Way of Life

When we stop and consider the many talents that Down East folks utilized throughout their lives in order to make a living for their families, it is truly remarkable.  Just considering the skills involved to work on the water; in order to thrive as a family, men needed to know how to make and mend nets, build a boat to haul those nets and to bring home the seafood.  There’s also the duck hunters who needed their decoys to attract the ducks.  Such skill was a way of life; but those skills are slowing being lost to future generations as innovations continue to take over and make our lives easier.  But though innovations have helped in so many ways, it has helped to almost relegate to the past the skills that so many learned as kids and took with them throughout their whole lives.

Through the efforts of Core Sound Waterfowl Museum & Heritage Center, the preservation of these skills are being documented through displays, oral histories, and videos of those “old timers” working their nets or building a boat.  The missing link has been trying to find the opportunity to teach young kids these skills.  Time is limited in kids’ lives today – what with school, athletics, and some recreational time on their own.  But hope prevails in the hearts of many to do whatever can be done to help preserve this heritage; there are some folks that understand and have a strong desire to help our young folks learn skills that they will not learn in a classroom.  In fact, teaching these skills enhances what does go on in the classroom.  The NC Coastal Heritage Association is taking on the project of helping to preserve this great heritage. 

The NC Coastal Heritage Association was born out of his desire to maintain the skills of the not-to-distant past through the original efforts of Benjamin Casey.  Ben has been a photojournalist for many years.  His current project is a book titled, Sound People, a book documenting the people of Down East and Core Sound.  Quoting from Mr. Casey’s website, helps to clearly define his purpose for Coastal Heritage Association and his new book:

     "Sound People is a look at the people of one specific region of our coast, Core Sound.
     Folklore has spawned volumes about Core Sounders, their flat-bottomed skiffs and Harkers     
     Island boatbuilders.  

     But what ….
     * defines their character, sustains faith in tomorrow’s catch
     * fuels perseverance wrestling bone-chilling icy winds & oppressive heat
     * instills skills to master the winds?
     As small farms on terra firma become extinct, Core Sound heritage clings to
    the nets of fiercely independent farmers harvesting from the sea, but withno
    federal crop subsidies.  Their future is as cloudy as the skies over the sound during a Nor’easter.
    When a culture fades away, limited historical documentation of the individuals who    
    defined that culture obscures the future.       
    Confucis:  “Study the past if you want to define the future.”

Mr. Casey’s book and the development of Coastal Heritage Association has great implications for Down East and its youth.  The association website,, highlights their current project.  Heber Guthrie, a Gloucester resident, has been building a boat that will be used as a traveling educational exhibit, both in the water and on a trailer.  Heber has utilized some of the oldest techniques he could identify in the construction with the exception of modern resins, glues and fiberglass.  A powerpoint presentation and video will be developed to use in schools and festivals along with having the boat on display.  Plans are also underway for the boat to be used in local parades to promote coastal culture.  Heber hopes to have the boat complete by February 2017.

Ben explains that he, his wife Carolyn and some neighbors and good friends, together sought a way to support, on a long term basis the work he started with his book Sound People.  Subsequently, 11 people from 3 counties, Craven, Carteret, and Pamlico, came together and formed the NC Coastal Heritage Association, a 501C-3, to support documentation and preservation of the heritage and culture of small coastal communities, which will eventually extend from Corolla to Calabash.  Carteret County is the prime example of the need to have an umbrella for such cultural preservation.

Ben and his wife, Carolyn, would love to move to the Down East area - it's a dream of theirs.   In submitting his book, Sound People, to a publisher, the publisher commented that “It is obvious you love these people.”   Ben’s responded that this observation made him proud and happy. It is evidence that he would fit in just right living Down East!

This is the first part of a series of articles on NC Coastal Heritage Association and their work.  Part 2 will highlight Heber Guthrie and his work on the boat and his continued efforts to promote boat building skills.

Please visit the association’s website where you can subscribe to their newsletter, become a member or simply make a donation. 

LillieChadwick Miller