Harkers Island people and stories, as told to and by one of them.
"All the summer world was bright and fresh, and brimming with life . . . the sun rose upon a tranquil world, and beamed down upon the peaceful village like a benediction.” Mark Twain - Tom Sawyer
For the last ten years or so I have been compiling a list of stories --- some sublime, and some ridiculous, and some in-between --- about the Island I grew up on. It remains my hope to arrange them into a coherent narrative that will convey some of what it was like to be a small part of a special place at a special time.
Wednesday, June 27, 2012
No. 105 Harkers Island "Professionals" Part 1 "Charlie Nelson"
Separated from the mainland, and most of its legal and economic institutions, as the Island was in the mid-1900s, there was little need for full-time professionals who hung a shingle to announce their special skills. But there were among us men of special talents who could fill that void on any occasion that might call for an ability, skill or talent beyond those needed in the routines of daily living.
One of those “specialists” who was frequently called on was Charlie Nelson (b. 1896), a self-taught land surveyor. Very early in his life he assumed as his life's work a responsibility to legitimize the Island’s parcels and boundaries, many of which before him were based mostly on oral agreements and hand-shakes. His hand-made drawings on the maps he created were the works of a master, and his artful lettering and numbers had the look of calligraphy.
He was often seen walking up and down the Island, carrying a bundle of his equipment that included a tripod, a compass, notebooks, and a surveyor's chain.
His was not an easy task, and not because of simmering disagreements over where one lot ended and another began. Instead, his main challenge stemmed from the fact that the Island's shoreline runs a few degrees off from what was assumed to be due east and west. The land lines were drawn perpendicular to that same shoreline so that when charted on a grid, they were hardly ever at the right angles that had been assumed.
Even today, many local deed plots have the appearance of trapezoids and parallelograms rather than the shapes of planned rectangles or squares. And most of them still reference an initial survey that displays the name of Charlie Nelson, Esq. In spite of the challenges of the layout and topography involved, the old maps stamped with his seal remain artistic achievements as much as legal documents.
The same handwriting and descriptive skills that served him as a surveyor also led family and friends to call on him for preparing wills, deeds, and other personal legal documents. It was standard practice for any business agreement on the Island to conclude with the statement, "Let's go see Charlie Nelson and make it legal!"
Next: Part 2 "Maxwell Willis"