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    Outer Banks Fun Facts

    How the Outer Banks came to be what it is today and some pretty incredible history of what it once was.

    The Outer Banks is a giant sandbar and remarkably young geographically

    Young is of course a relative term, but when talking about land formations 4,000-5,000 years old is barely an infant. But that, according to scientists, is about when the Outer Banks rose from the Atlantic Ocean and became a recognizable land mass. As all barrier islands do, the Outer Banks is migrating toward the continental mainland. The ocean washes over the barrier island, picking up sand on the eastern side and depositing it to the west. That has been going on for around 5000 years.

    Inlets are formed by water pushing out from the sound

    They’re called inlets, but actually they are outlets. Inlets form when the force of the water in the sound pushes through the shoreline to the ocean. It is almost unheard of for the ocean to breach the shoreline and form a navigable opening. Overwash, yes, but certainly not semi-permanent or navigable.

    The line of sand dunes on the beach are manmade

    During the Great Depression, the Federal Government created a work program called the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). Its sole purpose was to put young unemployed and unmarried men to work. The primary work of the Corps was conservation of the natural environment. For example, the CCC built many of the hiking trails still in use in national parks. One of their tasks was to create a dune line running the entire length of the Outer Banks–which was probably the first attempt to stabilize the beach. It has been helpful in preventing some flooding and overwash, but there is little evidence that it has slowed the retreat of the shoreline.

    We are home to the oldest cultivated grapevine in the New World

    The Mother Vine on Mother Vineyard Road on Roanoke Island is a massive grape vine covering about a quarter acre. The grape growing on it is a Scuppernong, one of over 200 kinds of Muscadine grape. When the Lost Colony was first established, records were sent back to England that detailed the location of a grape vine at the same location of the Mother Vine. Sales of the property and transfer forms specifically describe the vine as early as the mid-18th century. It remains unclear whether the English Colonists or native Croatan Indians planted the vine.

    Blackbeard did not kill his prisoners

    With lit fuses set in his scraggly beard, multiple pistols jammed into his belt and vest, and an imposing size (supposedly 6’2”), Blackbeard must have looked like the Devil incarnate. But if anyone died in his presence, they would have died from fear, not at the hands of Edward Teach. There is no recorded instance of Blackbeard harming his victims–and that is consistent with how 18th century pirates operated. Pirates were interested in the ship and its contents. If the crew on the attacked vessel thought they were going to die, they would fight much harder, which may have resulted in the ship being damaged or sinking.

    The Outer Banks, more specifically Nags Head, was one of the first tourist destinations in the U.S.

    The Hudson Valley of New York is often given credit as the birthplace of American tourism, as a growing middle class ventured out of the urban centers of the Northeast. However, the South, before the Civil War, didn’t have much of a middle class, but the wealthy plantation owners had their own reasons for finding places to visit during the summer. Back in the 1820s, a Perquimans County plantation owner, Francis Nixon, hoping to escape the rampant yellow fever of summer in the coastal plain, loaded his family onto a sailboat, sailed across the sound until he came to a dock at the base of Jockey’s Ridge. Other plantation owners soon followed and within 20 years there was a thriving tourist-based economy centered on Nags Head. Almost everything was centered on the sound side, where a dock and hotel were located. There was a boardwalk from the hotel to the ocean. Steamships made regular stops at the dock. The Civil War put a temporary halt on tourism, but after the war, it resumed full force. The hotel, which was located on the south side of Jockey’s Ridge eventually succumbed to the inexorable force of migrating sand. However, by that time, the late 19th century, Nags Head was well-established as a tourist destination with beach homes being built by the rich and powerful of northeastern North Carolina.

    The Whalehead Club, located in Corolla, began life as a private residence

    The story goes that when Marie-Louise LeBel Knight was refused entry at an all-boys hunting club—supposedly the Lighthouse Club, she and her husband, Edward, decided to create their own hunting enclave. Construction began in 1923 and it took three years to finish it, but when completed, there was nothing remotely like it on the Outer Banks. When all was said and done, the home cost $383,000, around $5.5 million today. The original name was Corolla Island and it was the private residence of the Knights, who visited every winter. Edward and Marie-Louise died within a few months of each other in 1936. That was during the height of the depression and buyers were hard to come by. Finally, in 1940, Ray Adams, a Washington, DC meat packer with political connections, purchased the property for $25,000 and renamed it the Whalehead Club.

    The Whalehead Club was once a missile test site

    After the Corolla Academy, a summer boarding school for boys, moved out in 1962, Atlantic Research Corporation moved into the Whalehead Club. The company had been working on liquid propelled rockets for some time. Their design was one of the first used in the Minuteman rocket, and they needed a remote site for their experiments. In 1969 the company moved out, probably looking for an even more remote location. Atlantic Research continues to develop liquid fuel rockets today.

    The Outer Banks used to be a bombing range for the Navy

    This is a case of “yes it was” and “OMG it almost was.” During WWII, the Navy needed a site to practice bombing close to their Norfolk base but remote enough that no one would be hurt. What better location than a strip of sand 50 or 60 miles to the south between Corolla and Kitty Hawk…right where the Duck Field Research Facility (Duck Pier) is today. Yes, they did drop bombs and yes, there is a reason why there are warning signs along the road warning of live munitions at the site. That makes a certain amount of sense, but Project Nutmeg seems to defy logic. It seems military brass after WWII, concerned about the expense and complexity of relocating an entire population from a Pacific tropical atoll for atomic testing—that would be Bikini Island—were looking for a more cost-effective solution. What better place than Ocracoke Island, which according to a meteorologist looking into the feasibility of testing nuclear weapons along the coast, the island was “practically uninhabited.” Which would have been a shock to the 500 or so residents of the time. The theory was that prevailing summer winds would take any radiation safely out to sea. For many reasons the plan was never implemented.

    The Marc Basnight Bridge is teh highest-level navigation span in North America

    Driving across the bridge over Oregon Inlet, there is a feeling as though you’re perched on top of the world—and in a way that is the case. Here is NCDOT Secretary Jim Trogdon’s description for the bridge from the ribbon cutting ceremony. “It is 3550’ long, the highest-level navigation span, and the third longest segmental box girder in North America,” he said. The segmental box girder construction he is talking about is a relatively new form of bridge construction—the last 50 years. It creates a much lighter but stronger girder than traditional bridge construction. The technique was not available when the Bonner Bridge was built in 1963.

    The Outer Banks is one of the first permanently settled areas by the English

    This has nothing to do with the Lost Colony, which does not qualify as a permanent settlement. In this case, we’re talking about the northern Currituck Banks, the area around Carova to Knotts Island. Precise records are difficult to come by, but there is no doubt that by the 1650s, settlers drifted down from the Jamestown settlement and found new homes just south of what is now the North Carolina/Virginia Border. That predates the founding of Philadelphia (1682), Charleston (1670), and Baltimore (1729) by quite a number of years.

    Manteo was originally a planned town

    Manteo as a recognizable town didn’t come into existence until after the Civil War. However, in 1715 there was an attempt by the NC colonial legislature to create a planned community on Shallowbag Bay. Meticulously laid out on 300 acres, the law that created the community included specific placement for a town square, church, municipal offices and lot sizes of homes. Because Roanoke Inlet was still open at that time, Provincial officials were hoping to create a port of entry. The name of the town was to be Carteret Town, after one of the Lords Proprietors who owned North Carolina. The plan failed for a number of reasons, but considerable blame can be placed at the feet of Richard Sanderson Jr. of Perquimans County. One of the wealthiest and most influential men of his day, Sanderson seems to have sold 1500 acres of land on Roanoke Island that he did not have title to.

    Kitty Hawk was a logging center

    Maritime forests that are so prevalent along the soundside shores of the Outer Banks produce wood that is ideal for commercial use. From the late 19th century until 1930, the village of Kitty Hawk was an important logging center in eastern North Carolina. Initially juniper and live oak were harvested, but over logging depleted the inventory. After the large trees gave out, workers began harvesting dogwood. Dogwood was the ideal wood for the bobbins that drove the North Carolina fabric industry.

    A house in Rodanthe was the set for a movie based on a book written by Nicholas Sparks

    The book by Nicholas Sparks is certainly a fictional depiction of our area that’s woven into a romantic tale, but what’s certain is that house featured in this movie does exist. It has a treacherous history, because years of coastal storm systems and erosion almost washed it out to sea from its oceanfront location on the north end of Rodanthe. The beach on the north end of Rodanthe may be one of the most dynamic on the Outer Banks, and when the movie was filmed in 2008, this house was already on the edge of the sea. By 2010, the house was uninhabitable and had to be moved further inland. It’s likely the movie’s notoriety saved this home, and it’s nice to know this unique structure lives on in Rodanthe.

    Tourism isn’t the only economic contribtor to the Outer Banks

    It’s a known fact that tourism is the economic engine that powers the Outer Banks, but it is not the only engine. From workshops in Manteo and Wanchese to boatyards in Manns Harbor, the recreational boat industry is thriving. The decision by the Dare County Commissioners to increase the sales tax by a quarter cent (that’s 25 cents on $100) to help pay for dredging Oregon Inlet, was driven by two concerns—the need to get recreational and commercial fishermen through the channel, and the economic impact to boat builders if they couldn’t get their product out to sea.