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The Story Behind the Historic Whalehead Club in Corolla

The Story Behind the Historic Whalehead Club in Corolla

Photo: Steve Alterman Photography

When it comes to landmarks on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, the four iconic lighthouses along the coast from Corolla to Ocracoke Island frequently come to mind first. Although climbing up the spiral staircases inside these structures to take in unparalleled views of the ocean and sound is one of the most popular activities to participate in during an Outer Banks vacation, visitors should not skip a trip to yet another historic Outer Banks attraction: the Whalehead Club. 

Located in the heart of the village of Corolla and overlooking the Currituck Sound on the western edge of the barrier island, the Whalehead Club is a 21,000-square-foot mansion that boasts a bright-yellow painted exterior, 18 expansive dormers, five brick chimneys and a copper roof comprising 10,000 individual tiles—making it one of the most recognizable buildings on the entire Outer Banks. But while it is best-known today for serving as an exceptional venue for Outer Banks weddings and other extravagant affairs, the Whalehead Club has a unique history that harkens back nearly a century.  

Photo: WeddingWire.com

In the late 1800s—long before the Outer Banks became the popular East Coast vacation destination it is today—the Currituck Outer Banks were bustling with wild birds ranging from ducks to snow geese that flocked to the region in enormous swarms during the fall and winter. As news of the wildfowls’ presence began to spread, wealthy businessmen from New York, Washington, Baltimore and Philadelphia transformed tracts of undeveloped land throughout Currituck County into hotspots for houses that served as clubs where hunting enthusiasts who came to the Outer Banks to partake in such activities could rest after a long day in the field. One frequent visitor to the hunting clubs—particularly the Light House Club, which was established in 1874 near the Currituck Lighthouse—was a man named Edward Collings Knight Jr.

Photo: Michael Colligon Photography

An artist, businessman and heir to his father’s fortune, Knight and his second wife, Marie-Louise, spent a considerable amount of time visiting the Outer Banks throughout the early 1920s. Soon realizing they wanted to make the Currituck area their permanent residence, in April 1922 the Knights purchased the Light House Club as well as the 4.5-mile-long tract of land it sat upon. Not content to remain in the rustic accommodations of the hunting lodge they had purchased forever, the couple began to design the plans for their brand-new estate that would become the future Whalehead Club.

Photo: VisitCurrituck.com

Completed in 1925, the Whalehead Club was built upon 39 acres of pristine soundfront property as a hunting lodge that would house the couple and offer accommodations for well-to-do visitors to the Outer Banks. The construction project—which required all materials to be hauled in by boat due to an absence of paved roads in the village of Corolla—took three years to complete and cost the Knights $383,000 (more than $5.3 million today). A lavish example of the Art Nouveau style of architecture popular in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the Whalehead Club consists of four stories and features a dozen bedrooms and bathrooms. The estate was one of the first structures east of Rocky Mount, North Carolina, to have an elevator installed, and it was also the first residence on the entire Outer Banks to receive power.

Photo: WhaleheadWedding.com

Throughout the years, the Knights hosted plenty of company in their new show-stopping estate. As many as 30 friends and visitors came by each year, many staying for several weeks at a time to enjoy the coveted hunting season that lasted from October to March in the Currituck Outer Banks. In the years following the Great Depression, however, the waterfowl population on the Outer Banks began to wane as a result of decades of hunting along the barrier islands. Knight’s health also began a sharp decline in the 1930s, and on November 23, 1934, he suffered a heart attack, which prompted him and his wife to leave the Whalehead Club. In 1936, Edward Knight passed away, and just three months later, Marie-Louise suffered from what doctors believed to be an aneurysm and passed away as well.  

Photo: Tangled Roots and Trees BlogSpot

The Whalehead Club sat empty in Corolla, and Knight’s two granddaughters who had inherited it upon his death had no interest in maintaining the property, so it was placed on the market and purchased in 1940 by a Washington, D.C.-based businessman named Ray Adams. Because there was virtually no demand for such an enormous and extravagant property as a result of the Great Depression, Adams paid only $25,000 for the 15-year-old mansion and was the one who gave it its current name. Although Adams had grand plans to turn the estate into a year-round tourist destination for visitors of the Outer Banks, which was growing in popularity among those looking for an escape from city life, he passed away in 1957, and the house was once again put up for sale.

Photo: The Photo Hiker

In the years that followed, the Whalehead Club was purchased and then resold by various owners who had a wide array of different plans for its use—but eventually it was abandoned altogether, and the unkept building and its property was deemed an eyesore by the community. So in 1992 the Currituck County Board of Commissioners undertook a $1 million project to restore the dilapidated structure to its former glory as a luxurious 1920s hunting retreat. Following a long labor of love, the renovation was complete. Today, visitors to the Outer Banks can take a step back in time by embarking on a tour of the historic Whalehead Club and finding out what life there would have been like nearly 100 years ago.

 

 

 

 

 

Discover the Currituck Lighthouse in Historic Corolla Village

It may not be as famous as its Cape Hatteras Lighthouse counterpart in Buxton, but the Currituck Beach Lighthouse is an Outer Banks attraction that should be at the top of every visitor’s must-see list while vacationing on the island’s beaches. Constructed starting in 1873, the 162-foot-tall red-brick structure was the last major lighthouse to be built on the barrier islands along the coast of North Carolina. The Currituck Beach Lighthouse is located in the heart of the historic village of Corolla in North Carolina’s Currituck County, and when the lighthouse was competed and lit for the very first time—on December 1, 1875—the beam of light it emitted into the night sky finally provided the long-awaited navigational aid mariners needed when sailing along the darkened waters of the northern Outer Banks.

For centuries, ships sailing along the Eastern Seaboard encountered difficulties navigating the treacherous shoals of the Graveyard of the Atlantic, causing many vessels to run aground and ultimately sink to the bottom of the sea floor. Before the Currituck Beach Lighthouse was constructed, the Bodie Island Lighthouse—a black-and-white striped structure located just north of Oregon Inlet on the southern edge of Nags Head—served as the only form of navigational assistance on the Outer Banks until sailors reached the Cape Hatteras Light Station more than 40 miles to the south.

This left a large expanse of dark and dangerous seashore from the Cape Henry Lighthouse in Virginia Beach to Coquina Beach, 34 miles to the south in Nags Head. In an effort to better light the way for vessels traveling along the coast of the Outer Banks of North Carolina, plans were drawn up to create the Currituck Beach Lighthouse and prevent future sailors from becoming disoriented as they passed just offshore of Corolla and Duck.

Photo; Stephanie Banfield

Comprising approximately one million red bricks, the Currituck Beach Lighthouse is almost identical to the Bodie Island Lighthouse in design; however, it’s exterior was left unpainted in an attempt to differentiate it from its neighbor to the south so vessels sailing past in the daylight could easily spot and recognize the tower. The lighthouse has 220 steps that visitors must climb to reach the balcony, where they will be treated to panoramic views of the Currituck Sound (and neighboring Whalehead Club) to the west, the Atlantic Ocean to the east, the village of Corolla to the north and the town of Duck to the south. At its base, the Currituck Beach Lighthouse’s brick walls are 5 feet 8 inches thick, tapering to a thickness of 3 feet at the parapet.

Photo: Worldwide Elevation Finder

Known as a first order lighthouse, the structure is outfitted with a large Fresnel lens and emits a beacon of light that can be seen for 18 nautical miles. The beacon—which now turns on automatically as evening begins to fall and turns off at the first signs of dawn—is characterized by a 20-second flash cycle: on for three second and off for 17 seconds. In addition to warning mariners at sea that the shoreline is nearby and to keep a watchful eye on the coastline, the various light sequences that differentiate each lighthouse also inform sailors of their approximate location along the Outer Banks.  

Photo: Gary McCullough

Also located on the grounds of the Currituck Beach Lighthouse is a Victorian-style home that was constructed adjacent to the lighthouse and designed to serve as a residence for the lighthouse keeper, assistant lighthouse keeper and their respective families. The residence was used for decades; however, when the lighthouse received access to electricity in 1933, there was no longer a need for a keeper to remain on-site. In 1937, the lighthouse keepers’ positions were eliminated entirely and the home began to slowly fall into a state of disrepair over the next 40 years.

Photo: CurrituckBeachLight.com

In 1980, a group of individuals dedicated to restoring the lighthouse keepers’ home, the lighthouse and the grounds to their former glory created a nonprofit organization called the Outer Banks Conservationists (OBC). The organization spent the next three decades raising over $1 million in private funds to go toward restorations of the lighthouse and keepers’ house, as well as the costs of future maintenance and operations.

Photo; CurrituckBeachLight.com

On July 1, 1990, the OBC was able to finally open the Currituck Beach Lighthouse to the public, and today this popular Outer Banks attraction receives thousands of visitors each year who stop by to take a self-guided tour of the grounds and a trip to the top of the historic structure to take in the incredible 360-degree views of the Outer Banks from above.

Photo: Megan Black/Seaside Vacations

 

The Currituck Club


Corolla, NC is known for its breathtaking ocean views, lush wetlands, and pristine shoreline enjoyed by wild Spanish mustangs. What you might not know is that amidst this natural paradise is an award-winning golf course and gated community with endless amenities.

The Currituck Club, originally built in 1857, was one of the first hunt clubs in the Outer Banks.  During that time, the Outer Banks were revered waterfowl hunting grounds popular with wealthy industrialists from the north and east coast.  Today, the Currituck Club is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and stands on a 15-acre Audubon Society Cooperative Sanctuary.

The same landscape that attracted 19th century steel and railway magnates also appealed to Rees Jones, 1995 Golf World Architect of the Year.  He designed an 18-hole golf course that blends seamlessly into the coastal terrain, which includes sand dunes, maritime forests, and the Currituck Sound.

“At The Currituck Club, Rees Jones has brought to life his philosophy of golf course design – to create an environment for the game of golf that is challenging, fair and aesthetically pleasing, using as his canvas the type of land where golf began.”¹

The championship course was rated one of the “10 Best New Places You Can Play” by Golf magazine and one of the “Top 25 Courses in North Carolina” by Golf Digest

The-Currituck-Club-Bunker
Image courtesy of Club Corp

While golfers will find the Currituck Club heavenly, there is so much more to enjoy!  Take a leisurely bike ride, play a rousing game of tennis, or watch a movie on the big screen at the pool.  The Club offers amenities to entertain any vacationer, including five pools, seven tennis courts, fitness center, lawn games like bocce, and beach valet service.

Residents will also find daily living relaxed and easy with many conveniences. A Harris Teeter Grocery Store is located within the neighborhood, along with restaurants and retail shops.  A complimentary trolley will even pick you up at the foot of your driveway to take you to the beach!

Currituck Club Pool Deck
Image courtesy of Village Realty OBX

So whether your ideal vacation is jam-packed full of activity or simply enjoying a book on the beach, the Currituck Club’s blend of Outer Banks’ history, unspoiled landscape, and modern comforts has everything you’re looking for.

See what the Coastal Cottage Company could build for you and come home to the Currituck Club!

Click here for home plans!
 

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Blog by Jessica T. Smith

 

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