Henry Stamps' Family Story
written by Henry Stamps and provided to the AGS by Nell Shaddeau
In 1878 the steamer Metropolis with 248 people on borad went aground along the coast of North Carolina near the Virginia border. She was an old rotting vessel with a poorly powered engine. The establishment of the U.S. Life-Saving Service was not completed at this time. The nearest station to the wreck was Corolla, about six miles to the north. The ship broke up and passengers swam ashore. The Life-Saving crew from Corolla came to the rescue as well as local fishermen and people who lived in the vacinity. Photo: http://www.twiddy.com/history/photos.aspx
Men came from nearby houses in a small village centered around a hunt cub that consisted of about a half dozen houses. Among those who helped in the rescue effort was Mr. T.J. Poyner. The area became known and is now called Poyner's Hill. During WWII the Hunting Club was under the care of a Mr. Poyner who was a descendent of the Mr. T.J. Poyner that assisted in the rescue of 1878.
Due to the poor response time in getting to the rescue, Currituck County and the fledgling Life-Saving Service took a pounding in the press. Additional Life-Saving Stations would be needed along this stretch of desolate beach. In 1878 additional stations were constructed along the Atlantic Coast to fill in the blanks between stations already in existence. About six miles south of the lighhouse at Corolla, NC the Life-Saving Service established an additional station. This 1876-Type wooden building was designated as Poyner's Hill Station. This facility was designated as station number nine in the sixth Life-Saving District. The first keeper of this station was Avery J. Austin. In order to expand the capacity of the station, an additional building was constructed on the site in 1913. Ths Chicamacomico-type building was one of four built from plans developed by architect Victor Mendlehoff in 1910. Photo: NCSU Libraries Digital Collections
In 1915 the U.S. Life-Saving Service was reorganized and redesignated as the U.S. Coast Guard. Poyner's Hill was renumbered as station number 169. Records indicate that the station was inactive during the period 1934 to 1937. It is not clear as to the exact time, but apparently the station was turned over to the U.S. Navy about this time. The U.S. Navy established an East Coast Radio Direction Finding network prior to WWII that included Jupiter, Florida; Dupont, SC; Poyner's Hill, NC; Chatham, MA; and Winter Harbor, Maine.
The Navy turned the station back to the U,S. Coast Guard in 1945 just after Germany was defeated in the European theater. All the equipment was turned over to the Coast Guard except the Navy Communications Ciphers and classified papers which were returned to the office of OP-20G in Washington, D.C. From all the information that could be obtained regarding this site the U.S. Coard Guard decommissioned it either in 1856 or 1965. This date is not clear.
Some time after the decommissioning of the station a part of the Navy building was moved to Corolla and used as a classroom for some type of school or training. This is probably the structure that was located slightly southeast of the lighthouse. Also one of the old Coast Guard buildings was moved to Corolla and placed just about due east from the lighthouse near the beach. This was used as rental property for several years. This is probably the first generation (1878) station building that is reported as still standing and used as a private residence. The 1913 building burned down in the early 1970's before any of the new type development started in the Corolla area.
During the Navy's tenure at Poyner's Hill there were three people that I am aware of that were in charge of the station. The first was named Fuchs and I believe he later was in charge of the Dupont, SC station during WWII. The second name I think was Kuntz and the third was CRM Joseph I. Vallastro (my father-in-law) and he was in charge from just after the beginning of the war until the end of the European conflict in 1945 at which time the station was returned to the U.S. Coast Guard. My wife (Mary L. Vallastro Stamps) and I met at Poyner's Hill. We were at the Poyner's Hill station site in 1972 on our 25th wedding anniversary and the old 1913 building had just burned a few days before we were there and nothing remained on the site except for the concrete footings to the main office building, the concrete room that housed the diesel engines and power generators that made our power, and the cistern for our water supply and another rectangular concrete tank that was also the primary water supply.
There were no other buildings to be seen at the site except for the hunting lodge that was about one mile west on Currituck Sound. There really was no road at that time and the only way to get to the site was to follow the telephone wire lines using a four-wheel drive vehicle. Now there is a black top highway up the entire beach to above Corolla Lighthouse and the area is growing up rapidly with a number of up-scale homes and condos that range from about $500,000 and up. Quite a change from 1945 when we closed the Navy activities at Poyner's Hill. Photo: Currituck County Department of Tourism