A 'Where I live' extra


A look at Hyde County, U.S.A.

JEAN Heart, who contacted "A Dabber's Nantwich" about a "lost" member of an American family, writes about them and her new home in Englehard, Hyde County, U.S.A.  Jean is soon to write a book about the life story of Hilda Gibbs, but her own story is worthy of being on the book shelves.                                                                                             Pictures by Jean Heart

Scranton - a turn-of-the-century sawmill town

I AM a close friend of the incredible Gibbs family. Hilda and one of her sisters, Jenny (her twin's name is Janice), were the first to welcome me to Hyde County. (That's me with the twins, below). Since then, their whole family has unofficially adopted me, so-to-speak, and I could not feel more loved.

   I hail from south-east London and grew up primarily on Denmark Hill, which is located near to Camberwell Green where I was born (as was the artist and poet William Blake). My father, John Charles MacIlroy, died at the age of 85 and my mother, Doris, at age of 93. 

   I moved to America in the early 1970s to marry Allan Strahl who was the head of A & R for CBS Records in New York. Before we married we lived in Jamaica where we met. I had been there with two other London Playboy "Bunnies" (Serena Williams and Celeste) for a kind of extended vacation that lasted about six months. Allan and I met at the tail end of that trip.

   After Allen left CBS he opened up a talent agency with Shep Gordon called Alive Enterprises and they managed recording artists such as County Joe and the Fish, Alice Cooper, Ann Murray and Luther Vandross - about 30 top recording artists and song writers. A few years later, Allen and I were divorced.

   With a broken tibia and fibula from ski-driving, I left New York with a group of hang gliders and we went cross-country - Denver, Arizona, California and then back to Arizona.

   I then took another trip to Florida with a girlfriend and was hired by Braniff Airlines and relocated to Dallas, Texas. I later got into commercial real estate and the business was good to me, so good I hit a spiritual bottom.

   Up until this time you could say I was living a fast-life. Immediately following 911, I wrote "On Alert -War and Peacetime Preparedness Manual". I used my experience as a flight attendant and training as a occupational therapist as the means to this book.

   In fall (autumn) of 2001, I relocated from Dallas Texas to The Outer Banks of North Carolina and got back into real estate once again.  I met the Gibbs family in 2003 and my life and the meaning of my life changed for the better. The slow pace of country life really suits me.


NOW that we have found Colin and his family, I am putting together their family tree. A large part of what I do in real estate is research. A broker must know their area and find missing heirs so that everyone gets paid. It's a good thing for me that Leland Gibbs (Colin, Hilda and Shine's father) did not leave real property.

   Before 1850, most black people here were slaves, so not everyone is part of local registers. Births, deaths, and marriage certificates are hard to find, and those that can be found may not contain correct names. This could be due to dialect or being listed under slave owners' names.

   Black churches and cemeteries are sometimes the only places to find a lead or the Archive System Records in Raleigh since nothing was recorded locally before 1913.

There is also a strong native American influence here, although most intermarried or moved away. Hilda's mother has both native American and white ancestors.

   Being surrounded by water - canals, lakes, sounds and ocean - most people travelled by boat, and the men were loggers for northern-owned sawmills. This business was booming at the turn of the century: men went by foot to wherever there was work. Many men were enlisted in World War 2 and most did not return to the area. The sawmills closed and farming and fishing took its place.

   Today, Hyde county consists of about 650,000 acres and only 5,000 to 6,000 residents. I would say the majority of people living in Hyde County are black. We have a few Mexicans that live here year round, but most work the summer season only. Unlike surrounding areas, white and black folk live next door to each other.

   There is not one single stop light in the whole county - just two flashing lights. Everyone knows everyone and everyone waves to each other driving by, or stops for a chat.

   If we did not have to pay taxes and insurance we could live off the land. The land bears the richest peat in the country - the soil in most parts is black. Anything and everything grows here - if you stick it in the ground!

   The canals and large ditches provide fish, crabs and oysters. White-tail deer, black bear and red foxes roam abundantly. Due to the size of Mattamuskeet Lake every type of bird imaginable can be seen nesting. The Island of Ocracoke, which is part of Hyde County, is the #1 beach in America for shelling.

   Therefore, these pristine white sand beaches attract honeymooners and vacationers from all over the world. Deep sea fishing, surf-fishing, sailing of all types, motor-sports, surfing, wildlife refuges, attract a different group of people throughout the year. The Outer Banks (OBX) beaches, north and south Barrier Islands and the Outlet Mall is just an hour away.

   It's pointless to wear make-up and high-heel shoes, since shorts and flip-flops is the preferred attire. Only on Sundays do you see someone properly dressed. Therefore, Hyde County lives up to its slogan: "A road less traveled".

   And the front porch is the best place to be at the end of the day.

THIS southern canal drains the Mattamuskeet Lake into the Pamlico Sound. It is one of four same-size slave-dug canals which circle this lake: I am surrounded by bodies of water.

  I took this photo standing in front of my mailbox after high winds followed rain in November 2006. So far, the water has not come up to the road and generally does not come up this far after rain. It's the after-winds that can cause flooding.

   Hilda lives about a mile or so down the road, much closer to the sound, near Gull Rock. This canal runs along the back of her property.

   We are very close to Wysocking Bay (Indian name).

   Lake Landing is known by its historic landmarks - about 25 in-all. There's a riding tour, some are homes, others farm houses, two churches, an academy, a couple of stores and the Octagon House. Each building has a story; the most interesting to me are from the times of the Civil War where local lads hid out. Other than farming and a fish house there is no other commercialisation in this area.

   The town of Engelhard has much more activity: the head office of the East Carolina Bank, several commercial fish houses, a couple of hardware stores, three gas stations, a grocery store, Dollar General, a car wash and a NAPA store.


Where I Live opening page