Fallen Isle was so named because it had once been a series of sea arches, but the Great Storm of 1713 had blown away all but the sturdiest, leaving an arched sea stack that supported a few trees a quarter of a mile from the mainland across a deep and swift inlet of the Outer Banks.

People who bought the single house built upon it did so because of the privacy. The only access was by a steel ladder, installed in the 1910s and replaced every 40 years, and everything that came to the island had to be hauled up that ladder or with an old block and tackle. A freshwater lens bubbling from the continental shelf below yielded water to anyone willing to pump it.

The first owner of the island listed in land records, one John Smith, was known as “the old misanthrope” and had the home built after retiring from a prosperous career in dry goods and disinheriting his family. He personally interviewed interested buyers before his death, and local tradition held that the home had misanthropy written into its contract of sale and deed.

That continued, unbroken, through five owners and the summer of 2012, when the last one vanished.

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