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Outer Banks Communities: Avon

laughing gulls
Laughing gulls on pilings

Seventy-five percent of Hatteras Island is owned by the National Park Service, including the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. The rest of the island consists of seven unincorporated villages, and miles of undeveloped land.

Hatteras Island began life centuries ago with the Croatan Indians, a member of the Algonquin Tribe, who came to the island to fish and gather oysters. Early English sailors called it island Croatan Island. Spanish sailors mapped it as Cape St. John, and when the first English colonists landed in 1585, the island was dubbed Hattorask. Hattorask, believed to be the English pronunciation of a Croatan word, became Hatteras.

Many of the seven villages started out with Croatan names, including the village of Avon. Located in the center of the island, Avon began life as Kinnakeet, a name some of the locals still use. In 1874, the U.S. Lifesaving Service built the Little Kinnakeet lifesaving station, and in 1879, established Big Kinnakeet station a few miles south. The village wasn't assigned the name of Avon until 1883, when the first post office was established.

Prior to the 1800s, much of the area around present day Avon was maritime forest, with oak and cedar in abundance. The trees were cut down for shipbuilding, and the area became famous for building schooners. Between the shipbuilding and the indigenous animals, though, the forest eventually dwindled. The dunes then took over the area, swept in by the off-shore winds, and suffocated the remaining trees.

Because of the strong winds, especially during storms, the development of Avon stuck mostly to the sound side of the island. This area was flat and sandy where tide waters often flowed from ocean side across the island to the sound. To protect themselves against the possibility of these floods, homeowners built their houses up off the ground, often on pilings. Some simply cut holes in the floor to allow the water to drain. More recently, dunes were actually "brought in" to protect the island from the wind and storm wash.

The ever-present winds and the constant shifting of the barrier islands have had both negative and positive effects. At the south end of Avon, the island is extremely narrow, with only a short distance between the ocean and the sound. In the 1500s, this area was an inlet, which allowed boats easier passage from the ocean to the sound. As the sands shifted, the inlet disappeared. To save hours of sailing north to Oregon Inlet or south to Hatteras Inlet, villagers would haul boats over this bit of land, thus giving it the name "haulover."

As the Outer Banks became a vacation destination, Hatteras Island and Avon became a good spot for windsurfing. As the popularity of the sport grew, so did the recognition of the "haulover" as a great spot to windsurf. Soon, people were coming from all over the world to windsurf. A large number of surfers came from Canada, so many that the "haulover" became known as "Canadian Hole."

Today, Avon boasts a medical facility, a movie theater and the island's only large chain grocery store. Don't think, however, that the village has gone completely modern. It still is a small town with a heritage of fishing and shipbuilding, especially in Old Avon Village, where visitors can still see quaint old cottages, fishing gear, and boats.

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