Video, Photos: Exploring NC’s Abandoned Ghost Town on Portsmouth Island

An old Methodist church on Portsmouth Island in NC. We took a trip to the historic settlement, which has been abandoned since the 1970s. (Shutterstock)

By Staff Reports

October 19, 2023

We took a trip to Portsmouth Island, an old Outer Banks settlement that’s been abandoned since the 1970s. It’s a prime spot for history and shelling on a secret beach.

Did you know NC has an abandoned ghost town on an island off the Outer Banks?

In the latest Billy Ball Explains NC, our senior editor took a trip to Portsmouth Island. Portsmouth was settled for generations, and at one point nearly 700 people lived there. Watch it below. And scroll below for the history of the island and photos from our trip.

@cardinalandpine

Did you know NC has an abandoned ghost town on an island off the Outer Banks? 🐚 In the latest Billy Ball Explains NC, our senior editor took a trip to Portsmouth Island. Portsmouth was settled for generations, and at one point nearly 700 people lived there. The Civil War sent folks fleeing inland. Many of them never returned. Changing shipping routes, the economy, and isolation sent its last inhabitants elsewhere in the 1970s. Today, Portsmouth still has an abandoned Methodist church, an old post office and general store, a Coast Guard life-saving station, a school, storm shelter, and numerous homes. You have to hire a local captain to get you there on a boat, but it’s worth it. Portsmouth also has an isolated beach that’s perfect for shelling. It’s maintained by @nationalparkservice and a nonprofit called Friends of Portsmouth Island. If you like this post, make sure to ♥️ it and share it! For a longer walk-through of this historic, abandoned town, click the link. in our bio! 🎥 Billy Ball & Shaun Sindelman for @cardinalandpine #northcarolina #nc #portsmouthisland #outerbanks #secretbeach #ncliving

♬ original sound – Cardinal & Pine – Cardinal & Pine

The Civil War sent folks fleeing inland. Many of them never returned. Changing shipping routes, the economy, and isolation sent its last inhabitants elsewhere in the 1970s.

Today, Portsmouth still has an abandoned Methodist church, an old post office and general store, a Coast Guard life-saving station, a school, storm shelter, and numerous homes. You have to hire a local captain to get you there on a boat, but it’s worth it. Portsmouth also has an isolated beach that’s perfect for shelling. It’s maintained by the National Park Service and a local nonprofit called Friends of Portsmouth Island.

For a longer walk-through of this historic, abandoned town, click here.

The post office was a community center at Portsmouth, also serving as a general store. (Photo by Billy Ball)

Inside the Portsmouth post office and general store, which has been refurbished by the National Park Service to look like it did in years past. (Photo by Billy Ball)

The Walker and Sarah Styron house on Portsmouth. Built in 1850, it’s considered one of the island’s oldest homes. It was a home to Walker, who was in the U.S. Coast Guard, and his wife Sarah. They lived in the home until 1944. (Photo by Billy Ball)

Portsmouth resident Lionel Dacre Gilgo was born in 1915, the fourth of five children born to Monroe and Mattie Daly Gilgo. When he grew up, Lionel worked as a boatman and called local square dances. He moved off island in 1942. (Photo via Friends of Portsmouth Island, Dorothy Byrum Bedwell collection published by Jack Dudley in his book “Southern Outer Banks,” copyright 2015.)

Happy and sad stories abound in the Portsmouth cemeteries. This is one of the sad ones. Some of the last inhabitants of Portsmouth were Babb family members. (Photo by Billy Ball)

Portsmouth resident Dorothy Mae (“Dot”) Salter. Dot was born on Portsmouth in 1922, and went on to head the post office until it closed in 1959. (Photo via Friends of Portsmouth Island and Frances Eubanks)

A “cool/milk house” on Portsmouth, sort of like an old-timey refrigerator. The house relies on cool breezes shade to keep perishable foods fresher. (Photo by Billy Ball)

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