Joe Gwaltney was the first real estate agent in Oriental, NC, a man with a vision of “Destination Oriental”, who saw 20 years ahead of his time and loved the good life that he promoted through his real estate company, “Sail/Loft Realty”. As a young boy, Joe loved sailing on the Neuse River. A love of sailing served as the catalyst that drove Joe to develop a very successful real estate business, creating the basis for the development of new Oriental.
Born and reared in New Bern, Joe Gwaltney owned and operated Culligan Soft Water Company covering most of eastern North Carolina for over twenty years. He retired from his business and started the Port of Pines Development near New Bern, envisioning an all inclusive community with homes, condominiums, shops, church, and playground. Joe worked with the East Carolina University Land Development Program and with Walter B. Jones, Sr. to learn how to secure necessary permits for dredging the canal system defining today’s Fairfield Harbour.
In June 1975 Joe Gwaltney hung his shingle, opening the first real estate company in Oriental, NC, naming it “Sail/Loft Realty”. Joe, along with his wife, Anne Ragan Gwaltney, Helen Eubanks, Faye Bond, and Marilyn Ragan who served as sales consultants, enjoyed working together in the real estate business at Sail/Loft. Joe began marketing the waterfront peninsula known as Pamlico County to the soon to be retirees of the northeastern United States. He knew that’s where a lot of the money was and a lot of these folks were going to be retiring soon and moving somewhere south. He marketed primarily to sailing communities, because the sailing on the Neuse and Pamlico Sound was great and these folks would find it to be very similar to what they were used to in the Northeast. Joe Gwaltney coined the phrase “The Sailing Capital of North Carolina” for Oriental, adopting a sort of “if we build it, they will come” philosophy. People were attracted to Oriental, started coming here, buying boats, and building marinas. People began to purchase and refurbish old homes and shops and restaurants sprung up in the community. Joe and his wife, Anne, welcomed many who decided to settle in Pamlico County with open arms. With each sale, Joe would invite neighbors to the home of the new buyer for a house warming party. He and Anne would furnish the refreshments and send out the invitations to introduce the new residents to their communities.
The real estate business in the 70’s existed in an era that a handshake often was the sealing of a deal. Joe would leave his office unlocked with a board filled with keys and a sign that invited folks to take a key and go take a look at a house.
Faye Bond was Joe’s Girl Thursday, keeping the office on Thursday of every week. She and husband, John both obtained their Broker’s License after completing Joe’s real estate class. Joe Gwaltney was authorized by the community college system to teach real estate and Faye indicated that he was a good teacher and a good boss.
Joe’s vision and foresight played a major role in the development of Oriental, where he worked as the marketing director and real estate broker for the Dolphin Company, the developers of Sea Vista and most of the property from old Oriental out to Pierce Creek, according to his friend Gordon Keller. Joe started the Sail/Loft Subdivision, the Goodwinds Subdivision, Pelican Point, and built the duplexes on Gilgo Drive during his residency in Oriental, NC. Joe started buying land for the Sail/Loft subdivision in the 70’s and advertising in the Wall Street Journal and other national magazines. Joe and his business partner promoted Oriental by driving around to all the welcome centers, placing brochures that Joe had typed on a manual typewriter and using carbon copies to mass produce them. Gordon Keller remembers riding with Joe to the welcome centers to distribute hand made brochures and related that Joe was a self made man, spending his pre-teen years in an orphanage after the death of his father during the Depression. Joe told Gordon on one occasion that he did not invest in the stock market, that the only investments he made were in Joe Gwaltney and real estate.
Joe was one of Oriental’s most enthusiastic promoters of the Town as a wonderful place to live. He was influential through his business in attracting many retired persons to the area. Like many others, he loved Oriental and through his hard and tireless labors, Joe contributed significantly to the overall growth and progress of the town. Faye Bond remembers Joe’s brief ad in the New York Times. It said “Best Sailing, Best People, Best Seafood.” He got more calls from that little ad in the Times. Faye remarked “That’s how we got started.”
Rosemond Boyles, when asked about her recollections of Joe and Sail/Loft Realty, shared an appreciation of Joe’s personal interest in making his clients feel at home by introducing them to other community residents. She initially met Joe on one of her first trips to Oriental when he invited Rosemond and her husband, Dick, to a sit down dinner at his home. Rosemond and Dick were entertained by the Gwaltneys on numerous occasions and introduced to other people in Oriental who would become lifelong friends. Joe and Anne frequently accommodated last minute guest with a gracious hospitality and made it their mission to host dinner parties frequently for the newcomers to meet their neighbors. Maureen Bivona remembered fondly that Joe treated her with a dinner party, providing food, drinks, and guests to welcome her to Oriental on the day she moved into her home which she purchased from Sail/Loft Realty. It was customary for Joe to host a dinner party to integrate his clients into their communities, introducing neighbors to newcomers.
Much of Joe’s success was his personal interest in building Oriental into a neighborly town and acquainting neighbors to a warm, friendly and accepting place to live. In summation, Rosemond Boyles says “I don’t think that our lives in Oriental would have been half as rich and happy had it not been for Joe’s enthusiasm for his profession.”
Another friend, Myra Hyde remembers Joe planting azaleas everywhere he owned property. His trademark azaleas can still be enjoyed throughout Oriental today. Myra
credits Joe with starting the foundation for building this community through all the wonderful parties hosted by he and Anne. Joe’s endeavors assured that the newcomers would not be strangers and he encouraged an atmosphere of acceptance and friendship within the core of this town.
Joe‘s fondness for Oriental is reflected in a newspaper he published about Oriental and the properties that he marketed through Sail/Loft Realty. “People say hello to you as you walk down the street; maybe you don’t know them all personally, but it makes no difference, because people here are just naturally friendly… Chatting, gathering at a local school or a church for a homemade supper, arguing knowledgeably about some local issue or state or national problem, people care here,… We all live together well here. Life by these broad waters is simple. And in that simplicity lies one of Oriental’s greatest secret appeals. I’m glad I can say that I’m proud of my town.”
Joe and Anne introduced their children, Steve, JoAnne, and Larry to the business in 1985 when Joe decided to “retire”. It would be many years later before Joe Gwaltney would fully retire.
Although Joe passed away in 2002, his legacy lives on in the “Sailing Capitol of the Carolinas”. Today, Larry and wife, Suzanne, continue the family business that Joe Gwaltney began 35 years ago with Century 21 Sail/Loft Realty.