Portsmouth Village, on an island off the coast of North Carolina, was once a thriving shipping town. Today, nobody lives there, but buildings such as a wooden church, a post office, a school, and clapboard houses remain. And they offer a glimpse into life more than a century ago.

But as the climate changes, rising seas and more extreme storms threaten to destroy these historic landmarks. In 2019, Hurricane Dorian was devastating.

“Every single historic structure in Portsmouth Village was damaged and heavily impacted by that storm,” says Jeff West, superintendent of Cape Lookout National Seashore, which includes the island.

He says that after the storm, the National Park Service demolished two buildings that would have been expensive to repair and highly vulnerable to future damage. He says it was a difficult decision.

“You lose history. You lose a sense of where you’ve been, and where you came from when this stuff disappears,” he says.

So the National Park Service aims to preserve as much of the historic village as possible, for as long as is practical. But as waters rise and damaging waves crash ashore, West says it gets harder all the time.

Reporting credit: Sarah Kennedy/ChavoBart Digital Media.