A House Above Water

  • By Marimar McNaughton
  • Photography by Jimmy Williams

For 40 years, the Nags Head cottage has beckoned the Stinson family home.

Stinson's Ranch, Nags Head, North Carolina

Billy and Sandra Stinson’s golden retriever, Samba, races to the edge of the deck, stands there for a second, then dives. She sails through the air, legs outstretched, until her belly touches the water, ripples fanning across the surface to the shoreline.

Letting the dog out of the car is the first thing Billy and Sandra do when they arrive at their Old Nags Head retreat. The land beneath Stinson’s Ranch has long been swallowed up by water. The cottage, perched on pilings, rises from Roanoke Sound. The Stinsons, who keep a permanent home in Greenville, have been making this journey to the Outer Banks for more than 40 years. Since 1963, in fact, when Billy’s family bought the house.

Billy courted Sandra here. The couple rendezvoused here, vacationed here, and raised their daughters here. They said farewell to loved ones here and welcomed a son-in-law into the family here.

Over the decades, days at Stinson’s Ranch turned into weekends, stretched into weeks and, now, months at a time. For Billy, Sandra, their family, and friends, everything they need, whatever the weather, is waiting inside this cottage.

EDITOR’S NOTE: As Hurricane Irene battered the North Carolina coast on August 27, 2011, homes along the Outer Banks were particularly vulnerable. We were saddened to learn that Stinson’s Ranch did not withstand the hurricane as it came ashore. Stinson’s Ranch was a unique symbol of life along our coast. Its story is one of family and friendship, anchored in a place where land meets ocean. Below are some images taken by photographer Jimmy Williams that accompanied the Our State story in May 2010. Scroll down to see reader comments on the loss of Stinson’s Ranch.

Creative inspiration

Billy taught art at J.H. Rose High School and recently retired after 34 years there. His original artwork is everywhere — black-and-white pen and ink sketches, watercolors, acrylics, and silk paintings of Stinson’s Ranch, and an ornate woodcut he titled The Brave Centurion. “The cottage has been my main focus of artistic interest,” Billy says. “I’ve done it so many times. Each time, it’s different.”

Because there’s no end to Billy Stinson’s creativity, amusements decorate the outside and indoors, in obvious places and in the tiniest of details. Lifting the sash on a kitchen window, Billy slides the round edge of a butter knife between the window’s frame and the sill to hold it in place.

“I can’t use a steak knife. It has to be a butter knife,” Billy says. “It has to be a special butter knife shaped a certain way. Actually, I have a butter knife laying up there for people to use.”

In the upstairs loft, Billy raises the windows and props up the wooden storm shutters with oar handles. Once the cottage is open, from every window and every doorway, it’s possible to see and hear the water.

Furnished with a hand-me-down sofa and chair, the living room is decorated with a collection of found objects, like the welcome sign from an old tavern displayed near a shipwreck map of the North Carolina coastline.

Billy retreats to the cottage as often as possible, never retiring from the creative process and always encouraging those around him to do the same. Many visitors have expressed themselves in writing, filling seven volumes of hardbound artist sketchbooks, in which family members and guests have shared memories made at Stinson’s Ranch.

“There are some precious stories in all of those ship’s logs with people signing them over the years,” says Sandra. “These books are just full of treasure.”

Love of song

Some decorative items have washed ashore in high tides and storms, only to be reclaimed by Billy. The logs fill a book rack that he fashioned from a piece of old sand fence. The book rack hangs on the open stair case. Above the book rack is a sign, with the word “Loft” burnished into the wooden lid of a round bushel basket. Each of these artifacts has a story to tell. Among them are two prized possessions: a banjo and a guitar that accompany Billy and Sandra. They share a passion for singing.

“We met in college,” Billy says, “at ECU. I was singing at a bar downtown and she was a frequent visitor.”

There was, he says, no electricity or any chemistry at the time. Sandra just enjoyed the music.

It was during the early 1960s, Billy says, when folk music was exploding.

“We took trips together before we started dating; thumbed to New York City,” Billy says, “just the two of us.”

“It was safe then,” Sandra says, laughing.

“She went to Mexico City to study Spanish,” Billy continues. “I had just gotten my draft notice. The thoughts of me maybe going to Vietnam, and us not seeing each other, all of a sudden, we got introspective about our feelings and how we thought about each other.”

They rendezvoused at Stinson’s Ranch. Together they strolled the soundside and hiked into Nags Head Woods, where Billy carved their initials into a maple tree: BS (Billy Stinson) LVS SM (Sandra Matlock) surrounded by a heart, crowned with the date: 9/1/66.

Raised on music

In an old family photo, they pose beside the tree, Billy sporting his strawberry blonde bowl cut and wearing a hooded oilskin coat. His face is framed with thick black Wayfarer glasses. Sandra wears black gloves and a red wool plaid coat with brass buttons, her long blonde hair pulled into pigtails.

“Well, we were kids in ’66,” Sandra says, laughing.

They married while Billy was in the Army later that same year.

Billy and Sandra’s daughters, Erin and Amanda, have shared the love of singing with their parents. At Christmastime, they sing together in church.

“Any time we’re at the cottage, we sing,” Billy says. “They love our music, they love folk music, they love the old folk stuff. They were raised on music.”

For fun, Billy and Sandra host a weekly music show, “Folk Seen,” a 30-minute production that Billy videotapes, broadcast at 5:30 p.m. on Greenville Public Access Television’s channel 23. Frequently, Stinson’s Ranch is a backdrop for the show, and proceeds from CDs that they record are reinvested into caring for the cottage.

“We used to rent it and put that money into the upkeep of the cottage,” Billy says.

Safe from the storm

That level of stewardship has not always been uppermost in Billy’s mind because he was only in high school when his parents bought the cottage. With no tradition of summering in Nags Head, the purchase was pure whimsy. Billy says his folks did not have a lot of beach savvy.

“At the time, it was very fragile,” Billy recalls. “We had no bulkhead, no seawall, and the erosion of the land was beginning to threaten our septic tank. After we purchased the place, it was condemned because our septic tank was in the water. We had to fight city hall and get an easement.”

For more than 40 years, the house has been held together with a reverence for history, the love of a special place, and the spirit of kinship that has survived the ages.

“God has really protected it,” Sandra says. “I’m telling you, we have had so many storms, and really, inside, we’ve only had damage one time since Billy’s family has owned it. It was kind of a freaky little storm.”

About 15 years ago, Billy’s brother left the cottage, and when he closed the door, he didn’t lock it. The storm blew open the door, and waves flooded the house with two inches of water carrying debris. “All of this was sea grass flume — broken grass, broken sea oats that float on the top of the water,” Billy says, sweeping his arms from one end of the room to the other.

They shoveled the sand and flume out of the house to find only minor damage, a few buckled floorboards. “That’s actually the kind of thing that caused all the other cottages to go down,” he says.

They have photos of the cottage during other storms: in 1999 during Hurricane Floyd, when it was swamped with white-capped waves; and during a nor’easter, when the wind sucked the water out of the sound and the cottage towered above the mud flats. In another photo, circa 1953, the cottage is shown on higher ground with another cottage beside it, to the west. A tornado came through later, and that neighboring cottage is no more.

“This used to be a road out here,” Billy points west toward open water, “a whole village out here in the water — the sound was probably several hundred yards out — two roads of houses. There were 29 plats going out, and we are number 18.”

Another force threatened the cottage in 1995 when Billy’s brother, Lynn, had fallen on hard times and the house went up for auction. But Billy and Sandra saved it, and since then, they have done everything within reason to hold on to the place they hold so dear.

That includes allowing the house to be photographed for travel brochures and opening the cottage for historic house tours that help preserve the identity of Old Nags Head. In 2006, Stinson’s Ranch was listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the Markham-Albertson-Stinson Cottage, so named for the families who have owned it the longest. A paper trail dates the house back to 1903.

Family sanctuary

Billy has the time now to ponder such things and visits the cottage at all times of year, including the winter. On one of those winter days, he set out to find the tree.

“I had looked for it many times in the past but could never find it, because it was at the end of a road that had a private No Trespassing sign on it,” he says. “So one day, I just said ‘I’m going to go down that road; if I get shot, too bad.’ ”

Finding the tree after all of those years inspired him to create a special gift for Sandra.

“For our 40th anniversary, he made me a pop-up book,” Sandra says, “‘The Legend of the Tree.’ Every page has a pop up. The tree pops up, the house pops up, the pier pops up.”

Billy assembled it from hand-cut paper that he hand-painted himself, and he embellished it with handwritten verses that tell the story of their lives.

Many of those days were spent in Nags Head with their daughters Erin and Amanda. From the time they were little, Erin says, they invited their friends to come and stay with them. They bunked upstairs, in one open room, furnished with iron beds and antique bureaus that came with the house when her grandparents bought it.

“When I was younger I thought everybody had a place like this,” Erin says.

When Erin and Amanda were young, Billy would wade into the sound, towing the girls on a giant inner tube. Sometimes the challenge was simple: see if they could stand up on it. “Dad always made it a fun game,” Erin remembers. “‘Let’s pretend we’re lost at sea and there are sharks in the water, and we can’t let our feet touch.’ Or, there’d be a big strong wind, and he’d drag us, and we’d float back and see how close we could get to the cottage.”

“One summer,” Sandra says, “they had a place under the deck that they had to lay down to crawl into … only about a foot-and-a-half tall.” The girls and their friends spent hours down there.

Erin always favored the sound over the ocean, where the waves were rough, the water was too crowded, and the beach was too sandy. “Here you have a bathroom, the refrigerator if you want a drink,” Erin says. “Maybe that’s why I was so popular.”

Last year, Erin and her friends were at the cottage one August weekend. One of them wrote in the ship’s log: “This place is special and has been such a blessing to me this weekend. Did a little kayaking and relaxed a lot and spent an evening laughing and dancing with the best people ever.”

Amanda was a tomboy who built forts out of overturned porch furniture covered in bed sheets. Last year, the cottage was the obvious location for her wedding celebration in October. She held her bridesmaid’s breakfast on the porch, and, following the wedding ceremony on the Manteo waterfront, she and her husband, Hayes, used the family skimmer as their getaway boat, the same putt-around boat that Billy and Sandra use to run from Nags Head to Manteo for coffee, or lunch, and the entire family uses for flounder gigging or for pulling trout, bluefish, and croaker out of the sound.

Drawn to the sound

Whether they come to loll inside the inner tube tethered to the dock by a slack line, to revel in crossing the sound in the skimmer, or to swing in a hammock strung between the pilings beneath the cottage, people are always arriving or departing. More often than not, Billy is the architect of the fun and games.

The family’s annual New Year’s Eve celebration is a big favorite. Sandra laughs, saying one year, “We called people we each wanted to sing Auld Lang Syne to. We didn’t identify ourselves. We sang it, I know . . . 25 times, because whoever was here got to pick one or two people, and then we would just dial the number from somebody’s phone they wouldn’t recognize, and then we’d just start singing, and then just hang up.”

The New Year’s Eve tradition is rooted in spending the day thinking about what each person would like to change in the coming year. They write their regrets on a piece of paper, fold it up and put it in a plastic boat. They take the boat to the end of the pier, set fire to it, and let it drift away.

“The last time we were down here, it was glassy smooth,” Billy says, describing the midnight scene. “We put the boat in the water, and there was a slow, slow wind blowing toward Manteo. We all stood out there and watched that boat, and the candle stayed lit, even in the wind.”

“For a long, long time,” Sandra says.

“It kept going out forever and ever. The candle melted down and caught the boat on fire,” Billy says. “All of a sudden, we saw this huge flame come up. … It looked like the water was burning, and the boat capsized and sank.”

Wondering if the burned hull of the toy boat would come back to the cottage one day, Billy says, “Everything eventually returns.”

Marimar McNaughton is the managing editor of Lumina News and homes editor of Wrightsville Beach magazine.

This entry was posted in May 2010, People and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

103 Responses to A House Above Water

  1. Randy Stinson says:

    Live in Minnesota and will be in Nags Head from Sept 22 until 29. Would like to know about the Stinson family history. We are building the family tree and I wondered if Billy was a relative.

    I would like to meet Billy and his family if that would be possible.
    Phone is 763-478-1171 cell.
    Would like a call if he would be so kind
    Randy Stinson
    Maple Plain MN

  2. Pingback: Matt Lusk Photography » Stinsons Ranch

  3. Mike Albertson says:

    The Albertsons send their regards in your loss also. My brothers, sister and I were taken back with the news that the cottage was taken away in the storm and we well know that it was special and can never be replaced.
    It was a great cottage and I have many memories of staying there and playing in and around it in the late 50’s as a child. I visited nearly every year and walked the shoreline like I did with my grandfather and my father looking for softshells. It will surely be missed and there is a hole in my heart where it once sat.
    Regards MEA

  4. I read of the loss of the cottage and I read most of the comments that followed. I understand and feel the loss as most do I am sure. Since mankind is the only creature we are aware of that uses the internet for communication one would expect to get all kinds of reactions from other people. I keep thinking that we as a whole are smarter than any other creature and will continue to flourish and survive. That being said, we must all be better stewards of our planet and all humans need to work together for the betterment of mankind.

  5. Ronnie says:

    My family and I have been through many Hurricanes while living at N.C. Beach. There loss is felt in the hearts of many. But if you did as I did and read all the responses from those all around our Grat Country,You see this families Love and Faith from each Person who sent in a reply. Their loss as it always seems to do in our country is when there are losses and disasters such as this be it on the East Coast,West Coast or in between it does not matter Prayers always seem to come from evrywhere. It is a Sad thing in our lives of Loss but it is a Wonderful Feeling to know that Love,Payer and Compassion abound from all over our Nation. The cottage is gone but the Memories live on and Once Again this Small Cottage touched the lives of so many who have never even been there maybe this another Legacy of The Ranch. We all have the capability for those no matter where disaster strikes and that is through Prayer.

  6. Kay Campbell says:

    Hi Billy,

    Jane Ferree sent me a link to this story and your recent tragedy. I’m sitting in the living room of the cottage my father started building in 1954, looking out over the Presidential range of the white mountains in New Hampshire. My parents have both been dead for a number of years now, but this place continues to sustain me, crooked and aged as it is. I can’t imagine the extent of your loss.

    I think of you often, whenever I hear an old Kingston Trio song, and am happy to know that you seem to have had a very good life. Take care, kiddo.


  7. Pingback: Nags Head Memories « 52 Weeks of 2011 – A Glimpse a Week

  8. Charlotte says:

    As I sit here with tears in my eyes I am truly amazed by what an impact your cottage has had on so many people. I have seen your cottage many times but never knew any of the history of the place, but I knew that it was a very special place and was lovingly cared for. I have been vacationing on the Outer Banks since I was 8 years old and have had the privlege to call Kill Devil Hills my home away from home since 1979 when my mother and step-father purchased our cottage, “The Seattle Sailor”. Your demise has been what I have long feared. Even though our cottage is not located on the water it could be gone in an instant. We have had wonderful memories and no one can take that away. The cottage was named after my step-father, who was from Seattle and was a merchant seaman for more than 40 years. So the sea was in his blood and even though he never lived on the East Coast until he and my mom married, he immediately fell in love with the Outer Banks and purchased the cottage within months of them marrying. My step-father passed away in 1986 and my mom in 2009, but I still feel their presence whenever I go there. They are now my protectors of the cottage. Just a few months before my mom died in a tragic accident she had decided to let other families share in our little piece of paradise and I am happy to say that other families have felt the Outer banks magic.

    I wish you the best Stinson family and hope you are able to rebuild. Nag’s Head has lost a true treasure. Remember you are not alone, others are feeling your pain.

    Best regards,

    Charlotte Annas
    Chesapeake, VA and kill Devil Hills, NC

  9. Lisa says:

    Dear Stinson family,
    I share in your sadness with the loss of the Stinson Ranch. I feel very fortunate to have spent summer vacations in your cottage. When I was a teenager, my family came to this wonderful place each summer for about five years. Our first trip was probably in 1974 or so. As a teenager, I thought I was in for a week of torture. I couldn’t imagine a week without a phone or TV. What happened was amazing! I connected with my family…we played cards, games, caught cleaned and made crab cakes, climbed the sand dunes, cooked awesome meals, and simply shared some of the best times of my life in your home. After our first trip, I could not wait until we would go again. Each year I took a new friend so that people who were important to me could spend time in this amazing place. I will cherish those memories as will the rest of my family. Please take care and thank you and your family for keeping the cottage for so many years. This was more than a “beach house” it was a place that connected you with the important things in life. My only regret is that I had not taken my kids for a week of “torture” at the Stinson Ranch.
    Louisville, KY

  10. Ryland Walters says:

    It truly saddened me to find out the Stinson’s Ranch was taken by Hurricane Irene. Ever since I first saw it sitting out over the sound with the buoys hanging from the porch, I’ve dreamed of staying there. I have taken pictures of it and was so excited to see it back in the May 2010 edition of Our State (so I could see the inside). I’m sure many happy memories the “ranch” has been part of will live for many more years.

    ECU…Go Pirates!

  11. Karla Cobb says:

    Seems like you and your family has been an inspiration to many over the years! I am so sorry to read about your home. I lost my home to fire when i was in the third grade so I can some what relate to what you are going through. I do hope you had time to remove all the pictures and memories that can never be replaced. I am now grown with two daughters and I would love to have my baby book to share with them. My daughters will have no pictures of me as a baby or child. It’s a very sad thing but we must remember God was in full control of that storm and we must not question why things happened like it did. It could have been so much worse and taken your life with it.
    Although I do not know you, I will keep you in my prayers. You seem to be such wonderful people!

    Windsor VA

  12. Pingback: Hurricane Irene Destroys Historic North Carolina Home | Martinsville Media

  13. Cyndi says:

    I’m sorry for the Mother Nature that took away your beautiful cottage…

  14. Bill Jennette says:

    The sense of loss felt by the owners is shared by the Jennette family. My father, Bill Jennette Sr., sold the property to the Stinsons after owning it for many years. It used to be on solid ground, with even a small sand dune between it and the water. Our earlier house, over the water out from the Stinsons, was taken away by a small tornado in the early fifties. After that my dad bought the Stinson house. The bedrooms were still furnished with the bedroom furniture my father made. We Jennettes spent many happy days there, so we know how the Stinsons feel. Sincere good wishes to all the Stinsons in their loss. Bill Jennette Jr.

  15. Steven says:

    My dad’s aunt and uncle had a place out over the sound on pilings, just up the road from the Stinsons. We stayed in a cottage every summer in between the two. My aunt and uncle lost their house to ice in the sound back in the 80’s. I have such great memories of Old Nags Head. So sad to see another landmark gone and for the Stinson’s loss, but it is great to have those memories.

  16. Angela says:

    I grew up on the OBX, raised my daughter here, and have weathered many a storm, be it hurricane or other, but I must say that I agree with Mario from Malta. Rebuild!

    I’ve been all over and I have never found anywhere that matches the feelings of home that I get from the Outer Banks. The people are different here, and when our visitors leave us to return to their nests, I know they take that friendly, neighborly, laid-back feeling home with them.

    For every storm there is a loss, but it makes us stronger, more determined to survive and move forward, to find new ways of finding and showing who we are. Billy and Sandra, I truly hope you find the strength to stay where your heart has so much joy. I pray the city lets you rebuild not only a historical landmark, but a place of love and hope for so many.

    Thank you for being part of our incredible community, sharing yourselves, and for giving so much to so many, changing their lives forever!

  17. Pingback: Family’s Historic Nags Head, N.C. Home Destroyed By Hurricane Irene - ABC News

  18. Tina says:

    The picture grabs my heart. Glad you all are ok and so sorry for the loss of your paradise. What a great story of your family and the memories. Your memories will live forever. Prayers to you and your family.

  19. Janet Salmon says:

    There are just no words that could describe your loss of this wonderful family treasure. Many memories of laughter and fun will remain in your hearts forever. The picture of you and your daughter on the steps was heartbreaking to see. Houses are things, the heart of this home was the family and friendships that made it so memorable.

  20. Don Oja-Dunaway says:

    I have thought of you two countless times since I last saw you in Greenville. I still have a photo of us, as we were preparing to do our first concert at the Ratheskellar (The Sixth Year Followers) back in December of 64. I’ve kept you in my prayers these many years, and will continue to give thanks to our Heavenly Father for you, and your family, in this time of loss. You have been a blessing to many people. I am one of those lucky ones touched by your lives.

    Don Oja-Dunaway
    St. Augustine

  21. Laura says:

    I’m so sorry

  22. Tony Duque says:

    Out-of-the-blue tears, all day… deeply saddened by your heart-breaking loss, dear friends… hope the Captain’s Logs departed with you Friday afternoon… I know there’s one helluva song comin’, Billy… remember: the key of B-minor resolves beautifully into a rich drop-bass D-major.
    All our love, the Duques

  23. LMiller says:

    Wow what a powerful picture and great piece of Americana. I was moved to tears this morning when I saw the picture and read the caption. May your family take comfort in the memories you created there. Peace.

  24. Giovanni DelTorio says:

    I’m sorry for your loss….will you be able to rebuild on that spot if you so choose?

    All the best

  25. Jean says:

    So sorry that you have lost your home – my thoughts are with you xx Take care

  26. Clarisse Grubby says:

    Billy and Sandra:
    I am so saddened by the loss of Stinson Ranch. I don’t think I ever knew the history of the ranch, but, I have replayed the wonderful memories it played in my life one summer almost 20 years ago. My brother was visiting me in Greensboro with his airedale, Jesse and we decided to take an impromptu trip for our first visit to the Outer Banks. What we didn’t realize is that dogs were not allowed in hotels…and we were desparate. When we met Billy…he offerred to move out for the weekend and let us use Stinson ranch. How generous … What a treat… Jesse enjoyed the water and the dunes…I enjoyed the hammock and the great reading material. My brother, the architect, appreciated the beauty of the this simple surviving and thriving relic. We both share your loss.

  27. Janet Crockett Stancil says:

    Billy and Sandra, so sorry to hear of the loss of your cottage at Nags Head. Relish the memories that are in your heart…. those can NEVER be lost! I know you guys will continue on!
    Loved having you in school as my teachers, ya’ll have inspired so many students!!! Love you guys!

  28. Chris says:

    Wonderful pictures! That home (sorry, this vacation cottage) looked almost magical really, like living in a postcard. Looking at these imagines is like seeing a photo of some rich guy’s Ferarri wrapped around a telephone pole. Fortunately, the owners of this nice seaside vacation cottage are not like the poor schmuck who was living down the street, living paycheck to Walmart paycheck… that guy’s house, his trailer rather, is also gone, but it wasn’t pretty enough to bother snapping pictures of.

  29. Bonnie and Drake says:

    Billy, Sandra, and family –
    We are so sorry for your loss. We had some great times there; including our honeymoon. The ranch holds a special place in our hearts. Praying for you.

  30. MTorian says:

    a place of great memories for our family! We stayed there many summers and other occasions for over 10 years! We had many great times there! We come to Nags Head every year and make a point to come by and see the cottage and take pics! Agreed by the above comment “that a hurricane may scatter the timbers, it’ can’t take away those great memories!” Stinson’s Ranch will be missed!

  31. Richard Davis says:

    I had the good fortune of making a few visits to Stinson’s Ranch through the years. It had character and tradition that reminds me of the many treasures of North Carolina’s Outer Banks … much like the old lifesaving stations and banks ponies. Truly, they don’t build cottages like that any more … partly because they can’t.

    But, while a hurricane may scatter the timbers, it can’t take away those great memories.

    Best wishes to Billy, Sandra and crew …

  32. Debbie Whichard says:

    Mr. Stinson, I just read the story about your house and Irene. I am so sorry. I know you will move on but you and your family have created so many wonderful memories of your life together. I live in Virginia now. My kids know all about you. You are a regular topic of conversation. It was you who helped me direct my love of art into what I’m still doing today. You are an amazing person who has given so much of yourself in blessing others by sharing your gifts and helping so many of us find our way through high school and beyond. You are all in my prayers.

  33. marcia Pleasants says:

    So sorry to hear about your cottage. I read the article in “Our State” and it sounded like a perfect getaway with many memories that you’ll share for years to come. Your heart must ache.


    (See this link for photos of the aftermath of Irene) Mr. Stinson was my high school art teacher for all 4 years of high school. He and his wife are amazingly beautiful people, and this story truly depicts the hearts of them both. The devastation after Irene is surely heartbreaking, but at least the family is still in tact and they still have one another. Memories of the home will never fade!! Bless you both, Mr. Stinson…miss you!! – Marie

  35. Dick & Jane Boaz says:

    Billy & Sandra,
    We were very saddened by the news about “The Ranch”. Barb Satterwhite informed us this a.m. We and The Escorts Band all wish you the very best and look forward to seeing you wherever you may land.


  36. Cathy says:

    My thought and prayers are extended to the Stinson family and their loved ones as well as the many people whom experienced the devastating storm Hurricane Irene. Like losing a loved one, there is an empty place in your heart and soul that will never be filled. I am not sure if believe in this quote/saying that I have heard spoken – God never gives you more than you can handle. My own life experience with coping with the death of both of my parents has taught me that the wonderful and loving memories that you have from special times will help to comfort your difficult time of mourning and adjustment. These precious memories can never be taken away and will always bring a nostalgic smile of happy times spent with family, friends and loved ones which will always be a comfort and treasure for years to come. I hope that in your life’s chosen path that you, your family, and loved ones will be granted the gift of experiencing your “cottage” home again.

  37. Adaire says:

    I read this story and could feel the love for family and home. I am so sorry for your loss and hope your memories will sustain you through the pain.

  38. Marla Taylor, Indiana says:

    Dear Mr. and Mrs. Stinson and Family,
    I have just read about your heart breaking loss. I ‘am so deeply sorry! Reading the history of your Enchanting Cottage, and how it’s magic has been so intertwined with your lives and the lives of many other’s, brought tears to my eye’s. I too had a very special cottage that for me, hold the most precious memories from my childhood and beyond. Summer’s in the water and winter’s ice fishing. The best part was that every moment was spent with my Grandparents and my Great Grandmother! All are gone now, but, can never be forgotten! I think that God gives us blessings in our life that are so dear and so profound but, not ours forever. I find comfort in all of the memories and life lessons that came from that cottage. I hope that you may also find comfort and peace! My thoughts and prayer’s are with you and your family. God Bless You!

  39. Yuan says:

    The last sentence of the story — “Wondering if the burned hull of the toy boat would come back to the cottage one day, Billy says, ‘Everything eventually returns.'”

    The cottage may not come back in its original architecture, but the sense of family and protection that the cottage represented will come back as the family re-unite during this hard time. Take good care!

  40. Kara says:

    Wow… I am a person that goes to NOLA every year to help rebuild houses and I understand the devastation and the pain but “Kailey” you are being bitter and vindictive. How dare you make your pain seem worse then theirs. I am quite sure that the loss of their “beach house” as you so sarcastically call it has JUST as many memories as your house in NOLA did. Katrina was a tragedy. But so is Irene. You have no right to downplay their suffering.

  41. Dana says:

    So sorry for your loss…a beloved home can truly be an old friend. May your lovely memories sustain you through your healing. Hope that you’re able to rebuild…sounds like there are many people that would be there to help if needed! Blessings to all of you from the West coast <3

  42. Robert in Indiana says:

    So sorry for your loss, i visited Cape Charles for the first time this year and found out how beautiful that place was, I was only thier for a week, but fell in love with the place, Best of luck to you and your family!!!!

  43. Ken says:

    Wonderful article. In light of this weekend’s events, a melancholy read to be sure. God Bless.

  44. B.Miller says:

    This is a bad thing to have happen
    Get Up
    Nature can be cruel
    Get Up
    God is watching
    Get Up
    Your family is watching
    GET UP
    I see the wood is still there….
    GET UP

  45. Sending positive thoughts and prayers to the Stinson family for the loss of their little slice of Heaven here on earth……..we lost our home because of the economy……either way, it is painful and I often cry myself to sleep, but…….the sun comes up and another day is here to get up and do what Americans do best….get on with living. Enjoy living….no matter what life throws at us, ’cause we only do this one time! I really enjoyed reading the history of the place!

  46. August says:

    I am so so sorry for your family’s loss of such a special place. I grew up along the banks of the York river in Gloucester Co.,Va. Our neighborhood also holds precious memories similiar to you and your family’s cottage story. Much love to your family. God bless you through such a difficult time.

  47. Keith Gless says:

    After reading this story I must say it’s heart breaking too lose a cherished family property like this. It is the close of a wonderful family chapter that brings the opening of a new one!
    God Bless you and your family and hope you rebuild!

  48. realist says:

    Kailey…………….what exactly do you mean by, “priorities are cool things?” Do you think that because these folks were financially able to have a beach house, that they have misplaced priorities? Does that make their loss less than yours? And you also said that you lost “faith in your country.” Do you expect your country to bail you out of your admittedly terrible loss, or do you plan to do something yourself to rebuild and get back on your feet? It is not your country’s responsibility replace your losses. It is yours. It has been 6 years since Katrina. You should be well on your way to recovery by now. Good luck.

  49. Jen & Mike in Texas says:

    The loss of your cottage is sad…your memories are many and lasting. We are so sorry for your loss…for all who suffer due to Irene. Our thoughts are with all of you. Now, having read the article, there is no doubt…you will continue to build wonderful memories with your family and friends for years to come. God Bless and keep you.

  50. Paul says:

    Your cottage is gone, your health and family remains. Although an unlucky twist of fate, it was taken for a reason. Maybe some one was going to be seriously injured or possibly die for some other twist of fate. Remember this sir, even though it was a special place, EVERY house can be rebuilt into a home again. New memories will be made, the storm will have been long gone, and you can tell new stories of how Irene took your home but not your pride. I wish you luck, as a restorer of old homes, its going to be all right. You will have all the help you need. God still loves you all and will show you in ways you cant imagine. Good luck to you and your family.

  51. Alice Devlin says:

    What a beautiful story about your Ranch.
    I am so very sorry for your loss. I can just imagine how you must feel.
    God gave you a long time to enjoy it and I hope he can give you the peace you deserve.
    I hope you can find another place to enjoy .

  52. wally gonzalez says:

    not all can be said to bring your loss to to it’s end, your story has been put in our heads and now we can all share your memories of you lost love. This will assure that you dreams will last long in all of us.

  53. Tony says:

    Very sad story…my thoughts go out to this family…

  54. Sally F says:

    I have never been ‘back east” – grew up on a farm in Iowa but many many times have read stories or seen movies that depict that ‘way of life’. It sounds like a wonderful way to have been able to have vacations or any time that way. The names of the beaches, communities, towns have such a warm feeling to them. I mourn your loss – but have a suggestion / this story tells of a wonderful life your family had. The music, the art, the sharing with friends, your idea’s and ideals would make for a great “story”. To put into words and with drawings of the homestead you had, would warm others hearts.
    May you find “another” “ranch” to spend more years in.

  55. hi, this is Mario from malta, which is a bit far away from the place in caption, but with internet nawadays, the world has become very much more reachable. Billy,you’re an artist, start all over again, this time more secure, if it lasts another 40 years, you would have made another work of art.
    From here we look at your side from a completely different point of veiw, we cannot even imagine, what it feeks like, to spend a day in that heaven, neither can we try to feel the fear of a hurrucane, we are lucky, over here, to have a few drops of rain, and a strong wind to lift a kite, so come on, rebuild it again, and send us the pics, to drool over.
    Regards, sympathy, and love from Mario from Malta.

    • Pat F says:

      That is the most beautiful sentiment I have read here!
      I too came upon this story on the Internet and was deeply touched by the history of this family house.
      May the family find comfort in the memories that were made in this home. Thank goodness the family is safe!
      my family is fortunate to have spent our last three vacations on LBI in NJ…the shore is a special place…you only understand if you have spent some time there!
      As Mario said “rebuild it again, and send us the pics to drool over!”

  56. Doc Smith says:

    Touching story about a magnificent cottage. Love and blessings to the Stinson family. This Son of the South mourns your loss with you. God bless your family.

  57. Caroline says:

    How sad! I have owned our vacation home on Cape Cod since 1964 & can only imagine how I would feel if it disappeared from our family.Hopefully your memories of wonderful times will sustain you and that you can find another special place in the beautiful Outer Banks to build new memories,

  58. JEN says:

    Yes, such a very sad time for you so….. Chins UP and build another one (IF possible)…an exact replica! This shall be another chapter in your life; Our God will heal you and give you the strength, energy and means to RE-build! Bless You and I hope to one day read about your “happy” beginning in a new cottage.

  59. lawrence Baker says:

    To Rebecca Deakins, Though the little cottage is no more the treasure is what remains in their
    memories and hearts. Families sharing life together is the real treasure here.
    Lawrence Baker Ninilchik, Alaska

  60. Jim says:

    Billy and Sandra, Its hard to find words to describe all of the things that were lost.
    Your Home, material things, piece’s of things that only you would know about, and its the place where you two found yourself’s and met you mate. So keep those memories alive and share them with others.

  61. Troubled says:

    Stinson family….you not only lost something iconic to your family…but also to the town of Nags Head and the state of NC! Luckily, memories are in the heart and mind and will never be taken away from all that have loved this place, on whatever level. Prayers to your family.

  62. Vickie-Marie Parker says:

    I am so sorry for the Stinson Family and for the lost artworks and family mementos. It won’t be the same, but I do hope that they will be able to rebuild rather than lose such a wonderful place entirely.

  63. C says:

    So sorry for your loss :(

  64. Tyrone p says:

    The Story is well written. brings the family to life for someone on the west coast. It is truly sad that a place with so many memories was lost to a storm. I hope that you were able to salvage some of the treasures that this story tells of. I pray that you may have the time and resources to rebuild this great place. And may God give you extra strength to cope with such a devestating lose.

  65. Claudia H says:

    Every child in this world should grow up with such fond memories. The article took me back to my own carefree days. The people inspired the house and vice versa. Thank you for sharing.

  66. chris torma says:

    geeez…i hope they had a chance to grab the most important things to them that were in the house before the hurricane hit…..i am sad for them…:(

  67. inthemix says:

    I am so deeply sorry for your loss of your magical place, your home. To read this story of your place, opens a window into a wonderful world, hold those stories and tell them over and over, because that’s the best bank you can have now…, your memory bank.

  68. RobertinPa says:

    So sorry for the Stinson family, Must feel like the loss of an old friend.

  69. Jen D says:

    I am very sorry for your loss of your home. I read about the history, the family upbringing, the legacy, your dog jumping out and off into the water as soon as you arrived. I know you arrived to nothing today, I see you sorrow, I feel your pain. My heart and love go to you and your family in this terrible time. Stay strong…there is another way…

  70. Brice Bell, Portland, Oregon says:

    This Story Truly Warms My Heart, And I could almost Picture everything as If I were there Myself.
    What an Amazing Place, With Amazing people.
    Please Know that The House was Fortunate to Have You as it’s final Keepers, as well, And That One Day, You’ll be Able to Visit There again, On another plain.
    Blessings to You All!

  71. Will says:

    I mourn the loss of this little cottage on the sound. Do not mourn it’s loss, celebrate that wonderful memories shared by so many good people.

  72. Karen says:

    I read the article on msn about this cottage and it being washed away and it broke my heart to see this family cry and the loss of it to sea ,”I am so sorry.”
    I am from Colorado my husband and granddaughters visited Nags Head and saw this cottage I loved it and Nags Head. My heart goes out to the Stinson family and other people whom lost their property and or belongings in this awfull huricane.
    To the Stinson family God saved this cottage for many times and this time he just couldn’t think of it as being a memory at sea , maybe someone ,somewhere will find some of your cottages history along the seashore and return it back to you.
    I pray for your strength in this loss hold on to your lovely memories. God Bless you

    • greg says:

      The sadness you falsely share, you’ve never lived on a water shore. It is inevitable the demise of shorefront property with out massive planning. I would like to discuss this act of nature on a biblical sensibility – Is it some sort of wrath? Or a sign of society’s wayward path? Tell me the holder of faith of law shall not use this as an excuse to abandon trust and then act judiciously.

  73. Brian K. Vincent says:

    Mr. Stinson, you have always been a hero to me. You saved my life when I was in the 8th grade and you were working at EB Aycock before you moved to Rose. I was choking in the hallway on a pen top because I was being my usual stupid self, fooling around I accidentally inhaled it. You came from your class after you heard me in the hallway and gave me the Heimlich, saving my life. Im so sorry to hear this awful news. If you ever read this and need anything I will do whatever I can. I am so sorry you have to go through this. I really want to do something for you.

    • Teresa Hockey says:

      Brian, that was very nice of you to write about what Mr. Stinson did for you. He must be a remarkable man. So sorry to hear about your loss Stinson family.

    • Nancy says:

      Brian, your personal story about how Mr. Stinson saved your life is very moving. I can see the emotion in your post and I hope one day you will be able to help the Stinson’s. Sorry for the loss of the Stinson house and I’m thankful no one was physically hurt while the house was being taken away during Irene. The memories are priceless!

  74. Jennifer says:

    I’m so sorry for you lost. My heart goes out to you and your family. Your memories will be there for you. Remember the best of times staying at your cottage. Keep on telling your stories it will help you heal. Life will go on!!!!!!

  75. Jacqueline Iona says:

    I am very sorry for the loss of your house—God bless

  76. JCee says:

    Sounded like an absolutely magical, extraodinary place. So sorry you have lost it – since it meant so much to so many, I hope you can rebuild. Prayers of peace & comfort.

  77. Rhett says:

    Sounds like the Ranch was a really wonderful place. So sorry to hear of the Stinsons’ loss and glad no one was hurt.

  78. melissa says:

    Outer Banks has been my favorite place to visit for 11 years now. It has the most beautiful beaches I have ever been to and so many historic sites. This was heartbreaking to read I can only imagine how the family feels. My heart goes out them I hope you can cherish the memories you had there.

  79. Kailey says:

    Sorry you lost your beach house. I lost my actual house in Katrina along with my entire life’s worth of belongings and my pet and faith in my country. Priorities are cool things.

    • Bob Roberts says:

      I lived in New Orleans during the late 1970s and visited there until recently. Back in the late 1970s we discussed the certainty that a storm would occur that would be just like Katrina and the result would be… just like Katrina.

      There were those who bought or built in foolish places and lost all. Those who counted on the government and didn’t take responsibility fared the worst.

      It’s sad that ANYONE lost ANYTHING, but we all make choices and choices have consequences. I’ve never chosen to buy a house anywhere that is virtually certain, sooner or later, to flood, for instance.

    • CNH says:

      Life is not a “who’s most miserable?” competition.
      There are millions who’ve never even had a house or possessions, or who starve to death when they’re five. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have compassion for you, even though you were rich enough to have so much to lose, and it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t show compassion for these people, who also lost a home.
      A comic to help demonstrate:

    • Dr. J says:

      I am equally as sorry for your loss because of Hurricane Katrina as I am for the Stinson family’s loss in Irene. Your bitterness is not the only character flaw you have put on display. Your obvious class envy is also apparent. In addition, when did it become the responsibility of the Government to rebuild our lives after a natural disaster? With the help of family, friends and the good people of their community, people like the Stinson family will rebuild their home and move on in their lives.

    • Sue says:

      Lost faith in your country? From a storm? I lived through it, too, but must have missed that part.

      I am sorry for the Stinson family. The history is not in the wood and nails, however. The history is in the memories and the family. They still have both. The house can be re-built!

    • Fred Fed says:

      Wow you must be a real hoot at parties!

    • Troubled says:

      Dear kailey….loss is a loss…great or small…the meaning is in the heart of the sufferer. It shouldnt be a competition. Take care.

    • Andy says:

      Just as you have lost, so have they. So many times the places we go to after work, pale in comparison to the places we run to when were are free from everyday. Be it a boat, a tent, a motel, or a wondrous cabin with the rich history they enjoyed. I believe that the loss of the place where we are our best is the hardest blow to our hearts. Being from So. Louisiana, I know so many people that lost everything, including those they loved. I have lost my home and my possessions too and tho’ nothing can replace the old stuff, I had a choice of grieving forever or reinventing myself and my life from that point forward. Just like you, these people lost a part of themselves. Don’t let a storm dictate WHO you are.

    • Carrhu says:

      Bitter much? I am not denying that Katrina was a tragedy, and I’m sincerely sorry for your losses. But how is it that one person’s loss is worse than another’s?

  80. TxRedhead says:

    A flatlander from northern Indiana who came to central Texas by way of Richmond, VA, I dearly love the Outer Banks. I can only imagine the sorrow the Stinson family feels, yet a part of me envies them. I have memories of great times in places rented for a week at a time but the Stinsons have 48 years of memories made in a place their family owned. Regrettably, Irene took their beloved Ranch but no one can ever steal the memories.

    • Linone says:

      What a beautiful story. I am sorry for your loss but also glad you will still have so many cherished memories. Stay strong and rebuild! Love Andy’s comment below, “don’t let the storm dictate who you are.”

  81. Grady says:

    That was a beautiful location and I hope you brought wonderful memories to everyone who visited there. Your loss is even felt on the west coast.

  82. Amanda Fox says:

    Oh wow, I am so sorry, read another article about the storm taking your house that directed me here. Both made me cry and I’m not even very sentimental…

  83. Rebecca Deakins says:

    This dear family has lost a precious treasure.

  84. PCP says:

    OH How Nature controls us!

  85. Cathy says:

    Great family history

  86. Amigo1 says:

    Mean Irene! rip

  87. JCarter says:

    Irene took the Ranch this weekend, left nothing but pilings. Enjoyed many vacations in that cottage, sad to see it go.

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