The Story of The Castle

To talk about the The Castle on Silver Lake you have to begin with the story of the man behind the building. 

This is the story of Sam Jones and the Castle as told by innkeeper Ronnie Ciccone.

Samuel G Jones was born in the year 1893, on the mainland in Hyde County a native of Swan Quarter. He dropped out of school in the sixth grade, and left home at the age of 13. (1906). Not much has been documented about his early years but we know that after working in coastal Carolina for a while, he settled in Virginia. During this time he managed to finish high school and secured a job at Berkeley Machine Works and Foundry in 1915 at the young age of 21. Six years later he bought the foundry at the approximate age of 26). In 1926 he bought 260 acres in Virginia and called it SaJo Farms. (“Sam Jones” shortened) It was during this time he invented a “stoker” that was a machine to feed coal into the engines of locomotives. Some say he stole the patent but he still made his first million from this marvelous invention.

He came to Ocracoke in 1939 with his first wife Mary Ruth Kelly who lived in Belhaven at the time but was originally from Ocracoke and related to the Howard family. Mary Ruth died in 1957 and they had four sons and a daughter. For Sam the island of Ocracoke was love at first sight. For a while he stayed on Howard’s Street in the George Howard house where he entertained business associates. His love of entertaining outgrew the house on Howard Street and so started the building of the Berkeley Manor where friends and business associates would be able to stay when invited by Sam. On this property at the Southern end of Ocracoke he also had a huge horse paddock and a series of surrounding buildings. 

He loved Colonial revival architecture and shingle construction such as what he saw in Williamsburg. He built three buildings with this style in mind during the 50’s and 60’s. These were all built by local craftsman right here on the island. With all this building, Sam put many of the islanders to work on various projects. He would come up to someone and say “What is your name and what can you do?” and then put them to work. Ocracokers were caretakers, maids, cooks, and hunting and fishing guides. Roy Parsons, (a true Ocracoker) and Sam became friends and had a close solid relationship. Roy became the caretaker of Sam’s property.

When Sam ran out of room for his many guests in the Manor, he decided to build the Berkeley Castle (as it was known back then), and used the Manor for storage mainly for the overflow of everything he would buy and accumulate. If Sam liked something he would purchase not one but many of the same. He would buy recliners and hand them out to the islanders. His love of Oriental rugs would mean he would sometimes layer them one on top of the other. At the same time of building the Castle he also built a family vacation home, and also the Green Island Gunning and Fishing Club at the end of the island which is now Park Service land.

Now where was I? Oh, getting back to the Castle! The Berkeley Castle became the headquarters for most of the entertaining that Sam loved so much. A so called corporate retreat! They say that Sam did not like to fish and hunt as much as overseeing the cooking of meals in the kitchen. This was a passion of his. During season and most of the time, on a whim, he flew into Ocracoke from Norfolk on a Thursday and would leave on Saturday. He would call Roy Parsons to pick him up at the air strip. Most weekends there would be at least 20 men staying at the Castle and sometimes more than that to hunt and fish, depending on the time of year. 

Sam was known for throwing huge parties that would mean filling up four dining rooms. Since Sam loved to Square Dance, (at the time of building the Castle), he added on a ballroom in the back of the Castle. This was an 18x60 foot structure connected through a breezeway, where he would have dances with locals as the musicians. His favorite dance was the Hokey Pokey and was played at most of his gatherings. Since he loved costume parties he would supply his guests with long old fashioned dresses each one different from the other. He and Roy Parsons (I mentioned him in part 1), were best friends, and may I add it is said Roy was quite a musician. In fact Roy worked for Sam from the very beginning. I imagine there are more stories to tell on that friendship but not right now. 

Now Sam himself did not smoke and also did not drink. One of his quirks was not to have anyone drinking liquor unless it was in the room upstairs in the Castle, known as the “Coca Cola” room. He built four buildings on the property and one of them was for the smoking guests since he didn’t allow smoking in the Castle. Not to say that when Sam was away the rules were surely broken. 

One of the buildings was for his horse named Ikey D. His love of his horse Ikey D is legendary. If the horse was sick he put him in the house. He would bring in the horse to stand at the piano and it was not unheard of that the horse would be allowed in the dining room, at the table. Rumors abound that if Sam was invited somewhere, and his horse was not invited, then Sam would not go! Ikey D preceded Sam in death but Sam made arrangements to bury the horse in what is now Springer’s Point, standing up so he could ride him when he himself died. He also made arrangements that he was to be buried next to his friend, Ikey D! And he is! To show how Sam felt about animals the story of his dog Teddy is another example of the love he had for a pet. When Teddy died there was a funeral held in Virginia Beach at Sajo Farms, (Sam’s property), where Sam flew in a preacher from Ocracoke to perform the ceremony.

Getting back to the humans, Sam was so much in love with the islanders and Ocracoke that he showed his generosity in many ways. He not only bought Roy Parsons a car, gave extra money to people in need, brought dresses for the women, supported the churches, helped the mounted boy scout troop, gave money to the school, but also donated the first ambulance.

The only thing about Sam was it was his way and his way only! Stories abound with episodes of Sam’s temper if something did not go his way. Since he was a church going man, there is a story related by his granddaughter Suzie O’Neil that he would announce at a dinner where his guests from the foundry would be eating, that he was going to church after supper and anyone who wanted a job, come Monday morning had better be there. Including the stories of the homes he built. Suzie also related that there were many contradictions to the man. He had expensive tastes and love acquiring things but loved eating simply and entertaining in the country manor. He dressed simply but expensively and was known for his broad planter’s hat. His stubbornness is shown in his later years when the government came down on him for the tax deductions he was taking for business entertaining on Ocracoke, and he chose on principle to go to jail for a year rather than pay up. Even the judge that sentenced him said that this self-made man embodied all that was good about America and it pained him to send him to jail.

His third building The Whittlers Club across from the Castle was built as a place where his cronies could sit and whittle decoys and gossip on the porch. It has been said since his second wife loved weaving, Sam bought many weaving machines and thought the women of Ocracoke would have the same passion. Not so much after all! All the Sam Jones buildings show his love of Colonial architecture and his love of shingles. The Castle itself has 7 gables which are duplicated in the Manor and the Whittlers Club. 

Sam died at the age of 84, in 1977 but never retired from his business. He was involved in a car accident and survived but his health deteriorated and after about two months died on 9/27. He had a second wife Ursula who is still living. With Ursula, he had a son and daughter. Sam is buried on the property he owned on Springers Point next to his horse. Springers Point changed hands until it was sold to the Conservation Trust here on Ocracoke

After Sam’s death, it took many years to probate his will. A huge auction took place at a warehouse in Virginia with so many belongings and furnishings accumulated. Also the properties had to be divided, but the “Homeplace” still belongs to his second wife Ursula. Approx. two decades after Sam’s death, in 1994 the property including the Whittlers club was sold to the partners David Esham and Steve Wright who called themselves “WE” in their real estate dealings. The cost of the property was $800,000. David Esham was a local native and previous owner of the Pony Island. Steve is from Rocky Mount NC and came to Ocracoke in the 1950’s. The Castle by this time was on theNational Register of Historic Places and Steve and David wanted keep the historical blueprint of the property foremost.

Steve and Dave decided to split the property where Steve would be in charge of the renovation of the Castle building and David would be in charge of the back property. Billy Wiggs was the craftsman and friend in charge of renovations inside the Castle which would mean adding bathrooms and hiding all the duct work for the heat and air and electric. Our local constructionist in charge was Larry Ihle. It took two years before the downstairs was ready with 4 rooms. This was in 1997. Steve opened the Castle with his wife Mary, 2 assistants and a husband and wife team. It was Mary that became responsible for furnishing the Castle. She scoured antique and estate sales to look for the right piece for the right place. The upstairs was still a work in progress. 

In 1998 the villas next door were built on the property to offer more in the way of vacation offerings. Steve’s vision was to maintain the entertainment value of the property and also offer a super place to have a vacation. It was Steve who decided to turn the Castle into a Bed and Breakfast. To design the villas, Steve used an architect from Tennessee named Bill Denton who showed to me the old building configuration. I would not have thought it possible. He was given the task of incorporating the old structures including the ballroom and converting them into the Villas in place today. Steve’s next thought was adding the pool and the pool house to help people relax after a day on the beach. The full property renovation took 6 years to accomplish and was finished in the year 2000.