A Trail of Service
The recent ribbon cutting of the Marshall & Gussie Collins Walkway at the Dare County Government Complex was a reminder of the deep history on Roanoke Island, and the legacy of two extraordinary former residents.
There are two parts to the walkway—a short fitness trail next to the Dare Center Building and a longer two mile trail that connects the government complex with the Coastal Studies Institute.
The two mile trail is an exquisitely beautiful walk through wetlands and marsh beneath the canopy of a maritime forest. Along the way it parallels Croatan Sound and connects with the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau on Roanoke Island. An easy stroll along a well marked path, it could serve as an excellent introduction to the Outer Banks environment for kids, or just a pleasant walk for a couple.
The walkway is named in tribute to Marshall and Gussie collins, an African American couple known for their service and compassion, who at one time farmed the land the Government Complex now occupies. Their lives spanned the end of the 19th Century into the 1950s and 1960s.
Like many of the residents living on the Outer Banks at that time, they farmed the land. Marshall worked from time to time as a commercial fisherman and they found odd jobs to fill in.
“They were poor,”their granddaughter Joan Collins said at the dedication, adding. “They…tried to do the best that they could. To raise their family with decency. To instill in them values that they should have.”
And that may have been what was most remarkable about this couple—that the values that they hoped to instill came to fruition in their children.
All of their sons served in the military. Most served in the Coast Guard, including Herbert Collins, who retired as a Lieutenant in 1973. Enlisting in 1939, Herbert rose through the ranks to become an officer. When he enlisted, the service was segregated and his WWII duty included serving at the Pea Island, at the all black lifesaving station.
In fact, after WWII when the services integrated, Herbert was assigned the task of finishing the paperwork that would officially decommission the station. It was his task to lock the door for the last time.
His was not the only tale of service.
Claude Collins served in a segregated tank battalion in WWII. His nephew, Frank Hester, did not specify which one it was at the dedication, but there were just three, all of which were widely respected for their skill and bravery.
And Frank Hester, grandson of Marshall and Gussie Collins, continued that legacy of service, retiring after 22 years in the Coast Guard.
The belief in the community, of believing that somethings are bigger than the individual, included a true act of generosity from the children and grandchildren of the Collins.
By the end of the 1990’s, it was apparent the old Dare County Courthouse was inadequate to serve the needs of the county. Working with county officials, the Collins family sold the land that had been the farm for the purpose of building a government complex. Believing the best use of the land was for the county, the family sold the property for considerably less of the assessed value.
“The family saw the value in working with the county to do what it had to do,” Hester said.
Today the Dare County Government Complex houses the county courthouse, administrative offices and the Dare Center used for public gatherings.