Sunday, July 14, 2002

A resident of Honolulu, N.C., got into the aloha spirit, complete with lei and hula skirt, in front of the area's sign.

Aloha from
Honolulu,... N.C.

A hamlet 4,872 miles away
holds a touch of island flair

By Craig Gima

It's not uncommon for a little snow to fall in Honolulu, N.C.

Usually, it's just a dusting. Once in a while, however, a big storm will cover the tobacco, corn and cotton fields with ice and snow and freeze the surface of the catfish ponds.

And life in this rural eastern Carolina hamlet, already slow and easygoing, will stop for a spell until the roads can be cleared.

That's what happened in January when a photographer took a picture of the Honolulu, N.C., sign with icicles hanging from it. The Associated Press picked up the photo, and newspapers around the world, including the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, ran it.

Still, "if it snowed in your Honolulu, it would probably be bigger news than if it snowed here," says Sharon Bland, who lives in the Honolulu, N.C. area.

"I've been to Honolulu, Hawaii, and I can tell you Honolulu, North Carolina, is absolutely nothing like it," she said.

Lei-draped Honolulu, N.C., residents posed recently for photos.

There are no palm trees swaying with the tradewinds, no hula dancers, and the nearest beach (Atlantic Beach, N.C.) is 60 miles away.

"It (Honolulu, N.C.) is not a very wide spot in the road," said Henry Yoder, who owns Yoder's Hardware store and the restaurant next door. His business is just off Honolulu Road and has become famous for his Amish furniture and crafts, and for his restaurant's cinnamon rolls.

"Now and then, we'll get a bus and a motorcycle group," he said.

Maybe nine people actually live in Honolulu, N.C., said Shelba Witherington, whose home is next to the Honolulu sign at the intersection of Honolulu and Pugh Town roads.

The hamlet got its name in 1900 when James Witherington, Selba's husband's granddad, got the permit to set up a post office.

"They asked what did they want to call it, and on the spur of the moment, he said, 'We'll just call it Honolulu.'" Witherington said.

The family has no idea why the name of a place 4,872 miles away popped into James Witherington's head more than 100 years ago. No one in the family has ever been to Hawaii, Witherington said. "They hardly ever got out of the county."

The closest they've been is when someone was in the military and stationed in Guam, Witherington said. "He brought back some grass skirts."

Honolulu, N.C., is the kind of place where you'd notice if someone stopped in front of your house. So when the occasional tourist would pull up and get out and ask to take a picture in front of the Honolulu sign, the Witheringtons would loan them the grass skirts.

The biggest thing to happen in Honolulu, N.C., was when a group of Mennonites moved into the area a few years ago. They built a school and a church. There are about 44 Mennonite families now, said Yoder.

"They've been a blessing to our community," said C.W. "Pete" Bland, a former county sheriff who grew up in the area.

The actual area of Honolulu, N.C., consists of five houses on farms along Honolulu Road around the old post office. The post office is now closed, and C.W. Bland said there's really only the sign on each side of a 4-inch post to mark Honolulu.

"You could say our Honolulu may be 4 inches wide," he quipped.

"All it (Honolulu) is is a little crossroads," said Bruce Jones, who works at Pete Jones' Skylight Inn in nearby Ayden, where area folks come to eat Eastern Carolina-style barbecue -- pulled pork slow-roasted over a wood fire with a world-famous vinegar-and-pepper sauce.

"We don't put it (pork) in the ground and put it in hot rocks like you do," said C.W. Bland. "We cook it on the grill over coals and put sauce over it."

Jones mentions that Honolulu is only about 20 miles from California. A settler named California, N.C., because he was headed in a covered wagon to California on the West Coast when his wagon broke down.

"He had so much trouble that he just stopped right there and called the place California," Jones said.

Honolulu, N.C., is also about 67 miles from Surf City, N.C., and 124 miles from Sunset Beach, N.C., but no one in Honolulu, N.C., is a surfer.

The people in Honolulu, N.C. are "good country folk," C.W. Bland said. People work hard, mainly at farming. They spend time with family and go to church. There's hunting and fishing, and occasionally, people will travel up to the Smoky Mountains or to the ocean.

"A tradition in the area is to sit on the front porch and rock," Witherington said. "That's just a good family gathering, after you eat your meal, is to go on the porch and rock."

Sharon Bland, one of the few people in the area who has been to both Honolulus, paused when asked which place she likes better. "I just can't answer that question 'cause there's no place like home," she said.

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