North Carolina Expatriates
ON THIS DAY in North Carolina history…
Dusk has just settled into complete dark on Hatteras Island. High in the Hatteras Lighthouse, the Lighthouse Keeper is on the catwalk level just below the light, where he spends most of his watch. He has just pulled his pocket watch and noted the time. It is 9:50 PM--when suddenly the Hatteras Lighthouse sways violently from the Southwest to the Northeast. Every window in the brick structure shatters. The Keeper sounds the alarm to his fellow keepers below and stumbles and falls his way down the circular steps. The Hatteras Lighthouse is tested to its structural limits as it whips back and forth. The Keepers evacuate and stare in wonder at the Lighthouse.
Four hundred thirty-eight miles west across the state, and a few 1000 feet higher, the Reverend Anthony Porter is vacationing in Asheville. He is in the midst of what he thinks is a dream, in which he at first perceives his wife is moving furniture when he hears the bell in Asheville City Hall begin to toil. The truth comes to him with a shock. At that moment, the corner of his house suddenly rises and slams to the ground--EARTHQUAKE! But as bad as it is, Reverend Porter has no idea at the moment what awaits him, or how fortunate he is. For Reverend Porter’s home church is the Holy Communion Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. It is extensively damaged.
At 9:50 PM on the evening of August 31st, an earthquake registering between 6.6 and 7.3 on the modern Richter scale levels Charleston, S.C. Its damage reaches across the entire breadth of North Carolina.
A few miles east of Asheville, at Swannanoa, the railroad tunnels collapse. Across the state’s gold country in Cabarrus County, mine roofs that haven’t been adequately supported come tumbling down, and clouds of dust come erupting out of mine entrances. Fortunately, the mines are between the day and night shifts, so no miners are caught below ground.
Over in Hyde County, an Indian Village consisting of about 30 homes and small farm plots is shaken awake. The elders and chiefs hurry the people to high ground, where they ride out the shaking earth. In the morning, they return to find their village under 2 feet of water that never recedes. Liquefaction of the soil submerges the entire village. The only evidence of the former village of Whapopin is a place on the map about 5 miles north of Engelhard called Whapopin Creek, where it formerly stood.
Significant damage is documented in Elizabethtown, Stovall, Huntersville, Raleigh, Hillsborough, and Waynesville. To this day, the brick chimney on the Carson House in Marion carries a large crack from the Charleston Earthquake.
Shaken from the mountains to the sea, it is by far the worst earthquake damage in North Carolina’s recorded history.
~Kevin E. Spencer, Author, North Carolina Expatriates
- “The Night of the Earthquake in Charleston, August 31st, 1886.” Supplement to Harper’s Weekly, September 11th, 1886. (Courtesy of Susan Millar Williams and Stephen G. Hoffius)
-The Carson House in Marion
-The Hatteras Lighthouse