Berkley Beautifully Restored
New owners Benjamin "Jamin" and Pam Simmons will welcome guests of Dare to Hyde Outdoor Adventures, a not-for-profit LLC that offers visitors an array of guided, hands-on experiences, like fishing, hunting, farming, water sports, wildlife viewing, and visiting historic sites.
Dare to Hyde clients will hand-pick the activities they want as part of an all-inclusive package. "When they get here, they won't pay for anything," said Simmons. The upscale clientele will have "a personalized guide from the moment their feet hit the dock."
Dare to Hyde will employ local guides and contract with businesses on both Ocracoke and the mainland. The idea is to create more opportunity, rather than to compete, said Simmons, a resident of Fairfield. Guests will likely spend several nights on the mainland, at inns and B & B's, and several nights at the Berkley.
The Berkley hosted its last guests in 2002, when it was sold to developers who proposed constructing 14 homes and a marina on the site. Alarmed by the idea, Ocracoke residents petitioned the county to purchase the land for public use. That initiative fell through. The property was foreclosed on, and subsequently re-purchased by Mike Nolan with a new partner, Eddie Goodrich.
It then sat empty. Walking through the unlocked building last year, I saw evidence inside of squatters and drinking parties, as well as the remains of panicked birds that flew in through the windows, inexplicably left open to the elements. There were pools of water on the hardwood floors, sodden carpets, and unmentionable things had been done to the plumbing.
"The house would have been gone in another year," said Simmons, "I don't believe it would have been salvageable."
""I've been looking at the place for 5 or 6 years," said Simmons. "The Lord has blessed us with fortunate things." He and Pam decided to purchase the Berkley as an investment in on-going charity.
"I told Eddie Goodrich what my goal was, to take the profits and give them to Cross Trail Outfitters." Nolan and Goodrich support this vision, said Simmons, and they negotiated a price for the Berkley. The remaining lots are still on the market, but the grounds will be available for Dare to Hyde's use until they sell, said Simmons.
Cross Trail Outfitters (CTO) is a Christian non-profit that takes boys hunting and fishing.
"It's about building men, preserving our heritage, and sharing our faith," said Tom Harrison, chair of the NC CTO Executive Council. In addition to facilitating father-son bonding, the monthly meetings and trips "provide opportunity for good male influence in broken homes," and include children whose families don't otherwise have a chance to expose them to the outdoors, Harrison said.
Dare to Hyde hosted an open house on Friday, May 11. A number of the Simmons' friends and family came from the mainland for the reception, and Ocracoke residents expressed delight to see the building restored. "It's a real treat," said Jennifer Rich, of Homegrown Hettie's, who is landscaping the grounds.
Originally the Fulcher family home, the residence was turned into a sprawling collection of rooms and tower by Hyde County native and Norfolk Industrialist Sam Jones in the 1950s, when he brought clients to the island for fishing and hunting retreats.
The Berkley has 5 large, sunny bedrooms, that sleep four, each with a private bath. Many of the rooms offer luxury bathtubs and fireplaces. There is a dining room that would not be out of place in a manor, and welcoming communal areas. The tower room is furnished with comfy bar tables big enough for games, and enjoys 360 degree views of the sound and island.
A. Elks Construction crews of between 20 - 38 men worked 7 days a week for 5 weeks to renovate the Berkley, said contractor Ashley Elks, who grew up a friend of the Simmons' son. "Jamin said, 'Just go look and tell me what you think,'" explained Elks, who confessed to an "initial shock" when he saw the deteriorated condition of the building.
Elks' crew re-framed and replaced the roof, correcting various design flaws in a building that was never "designed," but grew piecemeal as Sam Jones provided construction jobs to Ocracoke's flat 1950s economy. The original builders seemed to think it was never going to rain, joked Elks, who said hearing some of the buildings history helped him appreciate the unique nature of the project, and eased his frustration with inefficiently used space.
Rotting sections of floors and joists were replaced, the Berkley was given a new heating and air system, and outfitted with a commercial kitchen. Elks said he could have employed one person working full time just to handle the complicated logistics of getting materials and equipment delivered to Ocracoke for the major project.
The next event at the Berkley is an Ocracoke School and community performance of MacBeth. The Simmons' were very welcoming and supportive of this use, said costume designer Heather Johnson. MacBeth will be performed on the grounds on May 16, 17, 18 and 20th, with performances starting at 6:30 p.m. Bring bug spray! Tickets ($8 adult, $5 children) are available at the door, or in advance from the school office.