When it comes to tourist attractions on the barrier islands of the Outer Banks of North Carolina, the first ones that typically come to mind for most vacationers are the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, Jockey’s Ridge State Park, the Lost Colony and the many fishing piers that extend from the shoreline into the crashing surf along our coastline’s beaches. But for those looking for a unique local attraction that’s a little off the beaten path, a journey to the village of Frisco on Hatteras Island to tour the Frisco Native American Museum is a must.
The Frisco Native American Museum and Natural History Center was founded in 1987 when Carl Bornfield and his wife, Joyce, decided to turn their shared love for historical preservation into an attraction that tourists visiting the Outer Banks on vacation could enjoy during their stay on Hatteras Island. Before it became the museum and natural history center, the building—which is nearly a century old itself—served as a general store, post office and shell shop in decades past.
For the first few years after the museum was opened to the public, its founders—who had full-time jobs as educators outside the museum—only opened its doors for tours Friday through Sunday during the school year and seven days a week during the summer season. In 1989, the owners acquired a tract of land that would be used as a natural trail that winds through the neighboring maritime forest, and a year later, when Carl no longer taught full time, the museum began to stay open six days a week throughout the entire year.
As time went on, the nonprofit museum and history center was slowly expanded to meet the needs of its influx in visitors. In 1991, a pavilion was added along the nature trail, and in 1995—after Hurricane Emily thrust more than three feet of water through the building—a two-story addition was built. This addition would serve was a research facility and expanded storage space; it also freed up space for the founders to convert the area that had been a small gift shop into the natural history center portion of the facility.
As the museum grew more popular among visitors, the need for additional renovations became evident as well. In 2005, the gift shop was relocated and a small bookstore was created, adding more than 1,000 square feet of space to be used as a new display room. The natural history center received the addition of a small observation room that overlooks the bird yard, and a floating dock was built along the nature trail out back.
The series of renovations the Frisco Native American Museum and Natural History Center has undergone over the years has helped to cement the facility’s status as one of the finest historical attractions on the Outer Banks. Today, the museum features an assortment of displays and artifacts detailing the region’s unique history, and also boasts a wide array of educational and informative programs for visitors of all ages.
This summer, visitors can attend two special programs at the museum. At 2 p.m. on Fridays from through August 25, 2017, museum-goers can experience the “Talking Sticks” program. During this program, attendees are invited to create their own talking stick—a tool that was passed from one speaker to the next when a tribal council was called—and learn how to use it as the natives of Hatteras Island may have centuries ago.
At 3 p.m. on Fridays through August 25, 2017, a program called “Hatteras Island Original Inhabitants: Croatoans” is held at the museum. During this program, attendees will learn about the Croatoans, a group of Native Americans that were some of the very first people to call Hatteras Island and the Outer Banks home. This program explores the archaeological evidence that has been discovered from the Croatans’ time spent on the islands and allows visitors to learn what village life would have been like here in the late 1500s.
For those who don’t just want to tour the facility, attend the programs and browse the displays, the Frisco Native American Museum and Natural History Center will hold its fourth “Volunteer Days” event this fall. From October 27-30, 2017, the nonprofit facility will welcome volunteers on the nature trail to help with the construction of a longhouse and gardens on the property. Whether you’re a vacationer just passing through or a local looking for a one-of-a-kind way to get involved with a historical attraction on Hatteras Island, the Frisco Native American Museum has something to offer everyone who finds themselves on the Outer Banks this season.