Fall Field School 2021: Castle Island

Castle Island

Dr. Jen McKinnon and graduate student Stephanie Sterling document the lime kiln foundation on Castle Island

The focus for the 2021 fall field school related to the history of Castle Island, located in the Pamlico River just off the historic waterfront in Washington, North Carolina. The field team traversed the dense growth on the island to locate sites related to the shipbuilding, lumber, and lime production facilities on the island that date approximately from the mid-19th century to the turn of the 20th century. The field team was able to identify several clusters of material potentially related to historic structures, including a substantial brick foundation for a late 19th century oyster shell burning lime kiln that contributed to the island’s reputation as “the Castle.”

In addition to work on the island, in-water fieldwork focused on a timber-crib wharf located on the northwestern corner of the island as well as the wreck of a suspected ferry in the river near the island. The wharf, filled with ballast stone, contained several artifacts including one Native American ceramic sherd and several other ceramics that date to the 18th century. Additionally, the team documented seawall infrastructure that reinforces the island around its entire perimeter.

Site plan for the Castle Island Wharf Site (31WH83).


Additional fieldwork was conducted in the Albemarle Sound near Avoca, NC at the mouth of Salmon Creek. This was the site of the historic Capehart shad seine fishery in the late 19th century. The field team documented a number of sites in this area, with an emphasis on the remains of a steam-driven flat boat used to deploy the seine nets in the fishery. These boats were predominantly operated by Black captains and fishermen who were prevalent in the fishing industry of the area. Several artifacts were found in association with the boat’s hull remains including the flywheel rim of the steam flat’s sidewheel and parts of the steam machinery. Last, the research team visited Badin Lake to interview locals regarding the loss of a WWII B-52 bomber lost in the lake during a training flight. The team worked closely with the Badin Historic Museum to document artifacts from the aircraft and learn about the history of the incident.

Image of a steam flat operating at the Capehart fishery in Avoca, NC circa 1881.