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Uncover the History of Hatteras Island at the Frisco Native American Museum

Uncover the History of Hatteras Island at the Frisco Native American Museum

Photo: Alterra

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.

Photo: Frisco Native American Museum

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.

Photo: Frisco Native American Museum

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.

Photo: Frisco Native American Museum

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.

Photo: Frisco Native American Museum

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.  

Photo: Frisco Native American Museum

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.

Photo: Frisco Native American Museum

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.

Photo: Frisco Native American Museum

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.

Photo: Frisco Native American Museum

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.

Discover the Deserted Village on Portsmouth Island

Photo: Friends of Portsmouth Island

From Nags Head and Kill Devil Hills to Kitty Hawk and Cape Hatteras, the communities that compose the Outer Banks of North Carolina are coveted by travelers who seek an escape to the sun, surf and sand of this popular vacation destination. While Roanoke Island is best known for the disappearance of an entire colony of settlers centuries ago, and Ocracoke Island is infamous for being a popular haunt for Blackbeard the pirate, it is farther south, on Portsmouth Island, that you will find one of the most unique treasures the Outer Banks has to offer. Once a thriving fishing and shipping village, this now virtually deserted island is the perfect place to get away from it all in a spot where time seems to stand completely still. 

Photo: Our State Magazine

Bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the east and the Pamlico Sound to the west, Portsmouth Island lies fewer than five miles to the south of Ocracoke Island. The tiny spit of sand comprises only 250 acres, but thanks to its location, lack of development and very few visitors, it offers some of the best opportunities for fishing and shelling on the entire Outer Banks. Accessible only by private boat or hired ferry, Portsmouth Island isn’t a simple spot to get to, but those who make the journey will be rewarded with pristine stretches of shoreline, a wide array of wildlife and a glimpse back in time to what life on the island would have been like in its heyday nearly two centuries ago.

Photo: Ocracoke Observer

The first visitors to settle on Portsmouth Island arrived on the sandbar shortly after 1753, when blueprints for the first planned village on the Outer Banks were initially drawn up by European settlers. Prized for its convenient location along the edge of Ocracoke Inlet, the island quickly attracted mariners and in no time became a bustling port. By the mid-1800s nearly 1,500 cargo vessels were passing through the inlet that separates the islands of Portsmouth and Ocracoke, and more than 500 residents called Portsmouth home by 1850. A series of houses sprang up around the island, as did a post office, general store and lifesaving station.

Photo: Village Craftsmen

Despite enjoying success in the sea trade for a century after its founding, the port of Portsmouth Island saw a serious decline in the number of vessels passing through the Portsmouth Inlet after a hurricane cut two new inlets through Hatteras Island—Hatteras Inlet and Oregon Inlet—in 1846, effectively joining the sound to the sea. These new inlets provided an opportunity for vessels to bypass Portsmouth Island entirely, favoring instead the points farther north, which offered easy access to inland points along the North Carolina mainland. With fewer and fewer vessels to assist and tend to as they passed through Ocracoke Inlet, the people of Portsmouth Island steadily began to lose their livelihoods in the lightering industry.

Photo: Our State Magazine

Slowly but surely, members of the tight-knit community parted ways, some in search of sea trade in other areas along the barrier islands and others in search of entirely new professions. By the turn of the 20th century, only a few dozen fishermen and their families remained on Portsmouth Island, along with a handful of island men who continued to serve at the lifesaving station that had been constructed in 1894. The lifesaving station was decommissioned in 1937, prompting more people to move away, and by 1955, only 12 islanders inhabited the village. Over the course of the next two decades, Portsmouth Island’s population continued to dwindle, and in 1971, only three people—two female residents, Elma Dixon and Marion Babb, and one male resident, Henry Pigott—were left. Later that year, Henry Pigott passed away, and rather than remaining on the island and continuing to rely on private boats to bring in supplies, Marion and Elma reluctantly relocated to the mainland.

Photo: Michael Halminski Photography

Once the ladies left the island, the 13-mile-long stretch of sandbar and the tiny village was abandoned entirely. For years, the buildings on Portsmouth Island were battered by storms and salt air, and with no one to perform the upkeep, the structures fell into a state of disrepair and were left to further deteriorate in the harsh elements. In 1976, however,  the Cape Lookout National Seashore was established, and an effort to restore the village and pay homage to its maritime heritage was launched.

Photo: Michael Halminski Photography

Among the structures that were renovated to their original condition were Henry Pigott’s house, the lifesaving station, the post office, general store and a Methodist church. Today, visitors to the Outer Banks can travel to Ocracoke Island and take a private boat or ferry to Portsmouth Island to learn about the unique history of the centuries-old village that, in its day, was one of the most important and most prosperous ports on the entire Eastern Seaboard.

 

Discover the Island Farm on Roanoke Island

On the northern end of Roanoke Island lies a secluded spot few tourists vacationing on the barrier islands of the Outer Banks have ever been. Situated just west of U.S. Highway 64 in historic town of Manteo, the Island Farm is a unique destination for both visitors and locals, offering a slew of adventures and a wide array of activities for attendees of all ages. If you’re searching for a place to spend a day on your vacation well off the beaten path, a stop by this historic living site is well worth the trip.

When you first set foot on the grounds of the Island Farm, you’ll feel as though you’ve taken a trip back in time to 1847. The site sits on a slice of the Etheridge farmstead, a chunk of land where one of the area’s earliest settlers, a man named Adam Etheridge, built a house and established a farm with his family centuries ago. Today, the Island Farm comprises a period restoration of the house—including several 19th century furnishings, many of which were original to the property—as well as a dozen other buildings, such as a reconstructed slave cabin, smokehouse, cookhouse, dairy, corn crib, outhouse, woodshed and blacksmith shop.

Historical interpreters clad in period-specific attire can be found working inside and around the various buildings constructed on the Etheridge farmland, giving visitors a chance to witness what daily life would have been like on the Outer Banks in the middle of the 1800s. Throughout the year, interpreters perform a variety of tasks that bring Roanoke Island history to life. Here you can watch a blacksmith create his wares, help a farmer hoe a row of corn, assist the cook in making plates of corn cakes, or stroll along the fences of the pasture that houses animals ranging from a cow and an ox to several sheep and two banker ponies. Several free-range chickens also roam the grounds of this often-undiscovered island attraction.

If you’re not content to sit back and watch 19th century island life unfold before your eyes, you can take part in a wide array of hands-on activities and demonstrations. From woodworking, cooking and blacksmithing to garden planting, and harvesting, you won’t find a lack of things to do when you visit the Island Farm on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. Once you’ve exhausted your list of daily “chores” on the farm, climb into an on-site wagon for an ox-drawn wagon ride around the premises, or embark on a self-guided tour of the farm and farmhouse.

The visitor center provides historical context via a series of educational exhibits on such topics as fishing, farming, boatbuilding, island culture, slavery and the locally famous Freedmen’s Colony. A family graveyard on the property allows visitors to pay respects at the final resting place of Adam Etheridge as well as many of his immediate family members and descendants. A large oak tree referred to as “Crissy Oak” marks the final resting spot of Crissy Bowser, a longtime resident and worker on the farm.

Whether you’re looking for a way to take a break from the beach during your Outer Banks vacation or you want to add a history lesson or two into your trip, you’ll find all that and more during your visit to the fun-filled Island Farm on Roanoke Island.  

*All photos courtesy of TheIslandFarm.com

 

 

History of the Ocracoke Light Station

Photo Courtesy of VisitNC.com

The most famous lighthouse along the Outer Banks of North Carolina may be the iconic black-and-white spiraled structure that stands on a spit of sand at Cape Hatteras, but when it comes to navigational aids guarding the Graveyard of the Atlantic, a lesser-known but equally important lighthouse should not be overlooked. Located on the southern edge of Ocracoke Island—a 16-mile-long stretch of sand accessible only by boat—the Ocracoke Light Station has a storied past that dates back to the days when Blackbeard the Pirate sailed the seas surrounding the barrier islands that comprise the Outer Banks.

An unincorporated community in Hyde County, Ocracoke is situated south of Hatteras Island and just a few nautical miles northeast of Portsmouth Island. Ocracoke Inlet—a narrow waterway that lies between Ocracoke Island and Portsmouth Island—became a popular channel during the late 1500s for ships needing to gain access to inland ports ranging from Elizabeth City to Edenton and New Bern. Because of the island’s convenient location between the Atlantic Ocean and Pamlico Sound where ships often traveled along area trade routes, a small village soon developed in what is currently known as Ocracoke Village in the 1730s.

Photo: Bob Muller

Due to the constantly changing sandbars beneath the surface of the sea, navigating the coastline near Ocracoke Island became extremely difficult, and many mariners experienced issues with shoaling and found themselves shipwrecked on the sandbars. To assist with the navigational troubles these mariners dealt with during their journeys from the trade routes of the Atlantic Ocean to points inland, numerous “pilots” who were familiar with the shoals were hired to help steer ships safely through what was quickly becoming one of the busiest inlets on the Eastern Seaboard. Because these pilots eventually settled on Ocracoke Island, the tiny village was originally referred to as “Pilot Town.”

Recognizing that a crew of pilots was not quite enough to assist mariners sailing the sound and sea near Ocracoke, the U.S. Lighthouse Service deemed the spot worthy of further aid to sailors, and in 1794 construction on a navigational structure began. The lighthouse—a wooden tower in the shape of a pyramid—was built on a 25-acre island between Ocracoke and neighboring Portsmouth Island to the south called Shell Castle Island. A small house was also constructed on Shell Castle Island to provide accommodations for the resident lightkeeper, as well as a handful of additional facilities such as gristmills and cargo wharves.

Although this first lighthouse was extremely successful in helping to warn mariners of the nearby sandbars and assisted them in navigating their way from the ocean to their inland destinations, after fewer than 20 years the structure was deemed obsolete. Shoaling had caused the channel itself to shift its location by nearly a mile, and, according to the National Park Service, the lighthouse and the keeper’s quarters were both destroyed by lightning in 1818, leaving mariners in the dark once more.

A few years later, the U.S. government purchased a two-acre area on the southern end of Ocracoke Island and hired Noah Porter, a builder from Massachusetts, to construct a new navigational aid for Ocracoke Inlet near the channel’s new location. The property was purchased for a total of $50, and, despite budgeting $20,000 for the lighthouse and the one-story keeper’s quarters, both were completed for just $11,359 in 1823.

At a height of 75 feet, the Ocracoke Light Station is significantly shorter than many of its counterparts along the coast; however, its light—which can be seen as far as 14 miles at sea—provided the perfect solution for sailors searching for assistance in safely navigating the shifting shoals off the North Carolina coastline. A sturdy structure whose solid, white brick walls are five feet thick at the base and taper to two feet thick at the top of the tower, the Ocracoke Light Station has withstood hundreds of storms and dozens of hurricanes in the nearly two centuries it has stood watch over the southern portion of the Outer Banks.

Photo: Our State Magazine

Unlike many other lighthouses along the Outer Banks of North Carolina, the Ocracoke Light Station is not open to the public for tours or climbing; however, the second-oldest operating lighthouse in the United States still attracts thousands of visitors each year who stop by Ocracoke Village to see this unique piece of Outer Banks history in person.

Explore the Past at Roanoke Island Festival Park

Whether you’re a tourist planning an upcoming Outer Banks vacation and want to explore all the historical attractions the area has to offer or you’re a local looking to take break from everyday life on the beach and start exploring your own backyard, one spot you won’t want to miss is Roanoke Island Festival Park. From a representation of the 16th Century ship that brought English settlers across the Atlantic Ocean to the settlement site where some of America’s earliest settlers set up a permanent colony for England on U.S. soil in the 1500s, this historical Outer Banks attraction offers something for everyone in the family.

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An aerial view of Roanoke Island Festival Park (Photo: RoanokeIsland.com)

Sail Back in Time Aboard the Elizabeth II

If you’re searching for a unique way to take a step back in time on your next Outer Banks vacation, look no further than the shallow waters that surround downtown Manteo on Roanoke Island. Here, history buffs will find a replica of the Elizabeth II, a famed English merchant vessel that sailed the sea centuries ago, transporting colonists and supplies from England to the barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina during Sir Walter Raleigh’s voyages to the New World. Situated on the southwestern edge of Roanoke Island Festival Park, the 69-foot-long ship that is safely anchored in Shallowbag Bag annually attracts thousands of visitors who venture aboard the vessel and get a taste of what life was like for colonists who made the long and treacherous journey on the high seas during Sir Walter Raleigh’s 1585 expedition.

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The Elizabeth II sets sail in the Roanoke Sound. (Photo: RoanokeIsland.com)

Costumed sailors in 16th Century attire invite tourists to help set the ship’s sails, swab the decks and explore the lines and rigging that make it possible for such a ship to set sail on the open water. Children and adults alike will have the opportunity to help raise the ship’s anchor, scope out a representation of the original vessel’s tiny living quarters and to search for surprises in a series of boxes and barrels stashed onboard the boat. The ship is also staffed with several interpretive guides who provide answers to visitor inquiries about the historic Outer Banks vessel, its passengers and crew, and the incredible voyage its namesake made across the sea more than 400 years ago.  

elizabeth II seaside
The Elizabeth II, anchored in Shallowbag Bay. (Photo: Seaside Vacations Outer Banks)

Roanoke Island Settlement Site

The Outer Banks may best known for housing tens of thousands of temporary visitors to its beautiful beaches in the spring and summer months each year, but the barrier islands’ most famous residents were those who braved the long and arduous journey from England to Roanoke Island to start brand-new lives in the New World. To honor these early English settlers and educate Outer Banks vacationers about some of the first people to inhabit this stretch of sand in the center of the Roanoke Sound, Roanoke Island Festival Park boasts several unique attractions for adults and children of all ages to enjoy.

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Woodworking exhibit at Roanoke Island Festival Park (Photo: RoanokeIsland.com)

Throughout the Roanoke Island Settlement Site, you’ll encounter a series of costumed interpreters whose exhibits will enlighten guests and explain what life was like for North America’s earliest settlers. Stop by a blacksmith’s station to watch him create unique iron wares, or try your hand at traditional woodworking alongside an interpreter within another nearby exhibit. Kids—or adults who are kids at heart—can play games that were popular during Elizabethan times, try on costume armor that members of Roanoke Island’s military settlement would have worn in centuries past and attempt to perfect an English accent with the aid of the settlement site’s interpretive guides.  

roanoke island blacksmith
Blacksmith exhibit at Roanoke Island Festival Park (Photo: RoanokeIsland.com)

While the Outer Banks of North Carolina are best known for recreational activities ranging from surfing and standup paddleboarding to kayaking and kiteboarding, if you’re embarking on an Outer Banks vacation, make sure you don’t miss the wide array of unique historical attractions at Roanoke Island Festival Park that pay homage to some of the earliest individuals to call this pristine island paradise their home.

History of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

Few attractions that dot the coastline of North Carolina are as famous as the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. Located in Buxton, this iconic black-and-white spiraled structure is the crown jewel of Hatteras Island and attracts nearly 200,000 visitors each year. If you’re planning a trip to our barrier island paradise, your vacation won’t be complete without a visit to this Outer Banks landmark that has protected the treacherous shoals of the Graveyard of the Atlantic for centuries.

Just off the coast of Cape Hatteras, the Labrador Current—a current of cold water that flows south from the coast of Canada—and the Gulf Stream—an ocean current comprised of warm waters from the Gulf of Mexico—collide and create one of the most dangerous spots for ships and sailors in Atlantic Ocean: the Diamond Shoals. When Congress recognized the hazards posed by this stretch of shoreline in 1794, the construction of a lighthouse was authorized to protect those attempting to navigate their way around the 12-mile-long sandbar.

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

The construction process began in 1799, and in October 1803 the original Cape Hatteras Lighthouse—a 90-foot-tall sandstone structure that boasted a lamp powered by whale oil—was lit for the first time. Despite its builders’ good intentions, the lighthouse was unable to effectively warn the sailors out at sea that they were entering the perilous waters of the Graveyard of the Atlantic. Deemed too short to send a strong enough signal to those whose ships were nearing Cape Hatteras, the lighthouse received numerous complaints, and in 1853 the Lighthouse Board approved the addition of 60 feet to the height of the structure.

Taking into account other complaints sailors had frequently made about the original lighthouse—namely that the unpainted sandstone exterior didn’t provide a stark contrast to the sky during daylight hours—the second version of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse was painted white on the bottom and red on the top so it no longer blended into the background. To ensure the structure’s signal was strong enough to reach mariners sailing toward the treacherous coastline, the new lighthouse was retrofitted with a kerosene-powered Fresnel lens that allowed it to emit a much stronger beam of light that could be seen nearly 20 miles from shore. After years of use, however, the structure was in need of extensive repairs, and funds were soon appropriated for a new lighthouse that could better serve the needs of sailors traveling up and down the Eastern Seaboard.

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Construction got underway in October 1868, and in February 1871—two months after the new lighthouse was first lit in 1870—the 1803 lighthouse was demolished. In 1873, the present-day Cape Hatteras Lighthouse received its characteristic spiral marking of black and white stripes. Assigned by the Lighthouse Board, this distinctive daymark pattern as well as a unique light sequence—known as a “nightmark,” in which the light flashes every 7.5 seconds—helped to distinguish the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse from other navigational aids along the East Coast.

Although the newly constructed third rendition of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse was both tall enough and bright enough to successfully warn ships of the dangerous shoals that lay ahead, the structure soon found itself facing another major challenge: Mother Nature. The tower was originally built in a spot deemed safe from the crashing waves of the Atlantic Ocean; however, with each year that passed and every hurricane and nor’easter that hit the Outer Banks, more of the shoreline was stripped away, leaving the lighthouse increasingly vulnerable to imminent destruction.

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In 1893, the lighthouse stood 1,500 feet from the shoreline, but by 1975 only 175 feet separated the structure from the pounding surf—and cracks in the tower resulted in the lighthouse being closed to the public. In 1980 the lighthouse sat just 50 feet from the ocean, and the following year the “Save the Lighthouse Committee” was formed by U.S. Senator Helms and North Carolina Governor Hunt, among others. An independent study requested by the National Park Service (NPS) recommended relocation of the Outer Banks landmark, and the NPS later announced that moving the lighthouse to a safer spot posed less of a risk than leaving the structure in its perilous position. Restoration of the damaged tower began in 1990, and the lighthouse was reopened to the public in 1993.

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Six years later, in 1999, the keepers’ quarters, oil house and two cisterns were moved to a new site further inland, and soon after, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse began a journey that would garner worldwide attention. Over a period of just 23 days, in an effort to combat the ever-present threat of shoreline erosion the lighthouse faced as it stood precariously perched mere feet from the crashing waves of the Atlantic Ocean. The 4,830-ton historic structure was lifted off its foundation at the edge of the encroaching sea, loaded onto a transport system and moved 2,900 feet to the southwest from the spot where it had stood since 1870. In 2000, the lighthouse finally reopened to the public. Now safely situated 1,500 feet from the shoreline, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse resumed its longtime duty of serving as a sentinel on the southern shores of the Outer Banks and continues to provide warnings to mariners brave enough to navigate the Diamond Shoals to this day.

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At a height of 210 feet, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is the tallest brick lighthouse in the United States. From the third Friday in April through Columbus Day, visitors can climb 257 steps to the top of this Outer Banks landmark, where they will be treated to unparalleled 360-degree views of the Atlantic Ocean, Pamlico Sound and the villages that surround this historic structure located in the heart of Hatteras Island.

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The Legacy of the Wright Brothers in Kitty Hawk

While just about every American, young and old, knows that the Wright brothers achieved the first successful airplane flight, many are likely unaware that this flight took place in the Outer Banks.  Considering the brothers lived in Ohio, why did they select Kitty Hawk, NC for their flying experiments?  To answer this, we must go back in history to when Wilbur and Orville were young.

The Influence of Family

The brothers were born into a family of abolitionists, temperance movement supporters, and active members of the Church of the United Brethren in Christ.  Their parents were firm believers in intellectual pursuits and encouraged their children to become well educated.  

Milton Wright, Wright brothers father
Milton Wright. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian

 

Susan Wright, Wright brothers mother
Susan Wright. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian

Wilbur and Orville’s mother Susan was especially unusual for a woman in that time period.  She studied literature at Hartville College in Indiana, where she met her husband Milton, and also had considerable mechanical knowledge learned from working closely with her father in his carriage shop.  She built toys for her children and even her own household appliances.  It was Susan who Orville and Wilbur turned to when they needed advice on their flying machines.

The brothers had a variety of individual talents, skills, and personality traits that complemented one another.  Wilbur Wright, of the Wright BrothersWilbur was intellectually motivated, excelled in school, had an extraordinary memory.  His young adult life was especially shaped by an accident when he was 13 years old that left him with lingering heart and digestive complications. A former athlete, his health problems resulted in depression and he isolated himself until he and his brother began working on their aeronautical research.

Orville Wright, of the Wright BrothersLike his brother, Orville was incredibly intelligent and inquisitive.  He was energetic, mischievous, and a practical joker, despite being painfully shy.  He enjoyed conducting experiments, building new inventions, and dismantling things to see how they worked.  Of the two, Orville more closely fit the stereotype of the innovator and scientist.  But Wilbur became the more public figure as he was a gifted speaker and not shy like Orville.

According to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, relying on each other’s strengths and compensating for each other’s weaknesses was crucial to the brother’s invention of the airplane. Neither probably could have achieved alone what they did together.  They also were influenced by their only sister Katharine. Katharine Wright, Wright brothers only sisterLike their mother, Katharine pursued her educational and career goals, graduating from Oberlin College and becoming a high school teacher.  Katharine, Orville, and Wilbur had a very strong bond and were more interested in their intellectual pursuits than finding partners and settling down.  None of them ever married.

Dayton, Ohio and Bicycles

The Wright brothers credited growing up in Dayton, OH as stimulating their interest in aeronautical engineering.  In the 1890s, Dayton was a hub for manufacturing and industry, making it a place humming with technological innovation.  This environment, along with their parents’ support, encouraged the boys to tinker and explore.  The brothers’ first experience with flight occurred in 1878, when their father gave them a small rubber band–powered toy helicopter designed by French aviation pioneer Alphonse Pénaud. Intrigued by the toy, Orville and Wilbur made several copies of it in varying sizes.  Their fascination with mechanics continued as they grew and as young men, they established a printing press followed by a bicycle repair shop and factory. These enterprises funded their aeronautical experiments.

While many factors contributed to the Wrights’ success with flight, their familiarity with bicycles played an influential role.  According to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, understanding the importance of balance, the need for strong but lightweight materials, the role of aerodynamic shape to combat wind resistance, and the chain-and-sprocket system for propulsion are a few of the lessons they learned from bicycles that would prove essential to their flying experiments.

The Brothers Arrive in Kitty Hawk

The Wright brothers concentrated their early research on simple hang gliders, following the path set by earlier inventors.  They were especially influenced by the German flight pioneer Otto Lilienthal, who made nearly 2000 brief flights in 16 different gliders between 1891 and 1896.  The brothers built upon Lilienthal’s research and between 1899 and 1905, they built and tested many airplane prototypes. The 1900 glider was the first piloted aircraft and was also the first to be tested in Kitty Hawk, NC.

The Wrights needed a number of specific conditions in order to test their glider.  First, they needed steady winds.  Second, they needed a wide-open space with limited obstructions.  Third, they needed something from which to launch their glider, such as high sand dunes.  Lastly, they wanted a place to experiment in peace without a lot of onlookers.  Kitty Hawk fit these requirements perfectly.  

The glider being flown as a kite in Kitty Hawk in 1900
The glider being flown as a kite in Kitty Hawk in 1900. Image courtesy of The National Park Service

At the time, Kitty Hawk was a tiny coastal fishing village of approximately 300 people with ideal average wind speed at 15 to 20 mph.  The Kill Devil Hills, located four miles south of town, provided massive dunes from which to glide, and an abundance of sand to cushion crash landings. While Kitty Hawk was ideally suited for their experiments, it was not without challenges.  The weather was often unpredictable with sudden squalls and constantly shifting sands.  But the brothers persevered.

Before making piloted glides, the Wrights always tested their gliders by flying them as kites. “Kiting” provided valuable data on lift and drag, and enabled them to get a feel for the controls.  Unfortunately, their 1900 glider only produced about half the lift they predicted, so it was back to the drawing board in Dayton, OH.

Wilbur Wright laying prone on glider just after landing in Kitty Hawk in 1901
Wilbur Wright laying prone on their glider in Kitty Hawk in 1901. Image courtesy of The National Park Service

The brothers returned to Kitty Hawk year after year, each time with an improved aircraft.  After collecting massive amounts of data, building a wind tunnel to test models, and over 200 wing designs, the brothers designed the successful 1902 glider.  Orville and Wilbur made between 700 and 1000 glides, some reaching 600 feet in the air.  This success invigorated them and they immediately started working on a powered airplane.

In 1903, they again returned to Kitty Hawk ready to test their aircraft, which they called “The Flyer.”  The first attempt was unsuccessful but the second attempt resulted in a 12-second flight — the very first piloted airplane flight.  The brothers alternated as pilots, and by the end of the day, their airplane had made an impressive 852-foot trip in 59 seconds.  The brothers filed for a patent in March 1903 and it was finally granted on May 22, 1906.

The Wright Flyer lifts off for the first time in Kitty Hawk in 1903. Orville is on board with Wilbur running alongside.
The Wright Flyer lifts off for the first time in Kitty Hawk in 1903. Orville is on board with Wilbur running alongside. Image courtesy of The National Park Service

The Wright Brothers’ Legacy

While Orville and Wilbur had achieved flight, their airplane was not exactly practical.  To successfully market their creation, they had to demonstrate it could turn, fly for longer periods, and fly over more varied terrain than Kitty Hawk’s sand dunes.  By the fall of 1905, the Wrights had built their third powered airplane and on October 5, Wilbur circled a field 30 times in 39 minutes. The brothers had finally proven that flight could be stable and practical.

Interestingly, Orville and Wilbur did not initially do much to popularize their success.  They didn’t fly publicly until 1908, when they started a European tour.  This caused them to become overnight celebrities.  They met with English royalty, were honored with parades, received the Legion of Honor award, and were caricatured by the media.  Both men disliked the attention, but if they were going to sell their airplane, they had to endure it.

The Wright Company secured numerous contracts with the U.S. military, selling The Flyer to the Army in 1909 and the Wright Model B to the Navy in 1911.  They produced a variety of designs until Orville sold the firm and retired in 1915, three years after Wilbur’s premature death.

The Wright brothers’ impact on the 20th century is beyond measure.  All successful airplanes have incorporated the basic design elements of the 1903 Wright Flyer.  Their inventions had an immense impact not simply on the military but on the entire culture, including technology, art, and literature.  They also became an integral part of the Outer Banks’ long history.  In commemoration of their accomplishments, a 60-foot granite memorial was erected in Kitty Hawk in 1932, which you can visit today.


 Blog by Jessica T. Smith for the Coastal Cottage Company

The restored Chicamacomico Life-Saving Service Station

The Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station

The U.S. Coast Guard has a rich history of military service, law enforcement, and maritime rescue.  It is currently the world’s twelfth largest naval force and enforces U.S. law in 3.4 million square miles of coastal water.  These impressive statistics make it hard to believe “The Guard” had humble beginnings connected to the Postal Service.  Yep, you read that correctly — the Postal Service!

It all began in 1790.  At the request of Alexander Hamilton, then Secretary of the Treasury, Congress established the Revenue Marine, which was responsible for collecting customs duties in the nation’s seaports.  In 1848, the Revenue Marine had the Life-Saving Service added to its responsibilities.  Around this time, the Treasury Department realized they were paying too much to rent spaces used by government entities.  So the decision was made to fund the construction of Post Offices and other government buildings, including life saving stations along the coast.  The first stations were run primarily by volunteers with no one in charge and no one receiving proper training.  In fact, most of the early crewmen were political appointees and Postal Service employees!  The U.S. Life-Saving Service Logo

The lifesaving system managed to continue with this lack of structure and training until the 1850s when Congress appropriated more funds to pay the salaries of full-time keepers at each station and superintendents to supervise.  But keepers still had to wrangle volunteer crews to help when ships were in distress!

Things changed in 1871 when Sumner Increase Kimball, a lawyer from Maine, was appointed the chief of the Revenue Marine Division. He succeeded in gaining funds to employ crews of surfmen and build new stations.  He also drew up regulations, established crew performance standards, and set station procedures.

Sumner Kimball who became chief of the Revenue Marine Division and was responsible for professionalizing the Life-Saving Service
Sumner Kimball. Image courtesy of Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station Historic Site

By 1874, Life-Saving Stations were being built in North Carolina. One of these stations was Chicamacomico, pronounced “chik-a-ma-COM-eh-co,” which is an Algonquin Indian word meaning “land of shifting sands” or “sinking sands.”  Sinking sands is an apt description because the construction process was not a smooth one!

Building was supposed to begin in 1871, but was quickly stymied. The contractor began work without proper materials, the winter weather interfered with progress, and the laborers walked off the job claiming deplorable work conditions. The original contractor even threatened the foreman with a gun, claiming he was responsible for the abandonment of the crew.

In 1874, a second contractor was hired and construction progressed more smoothly.  The station was commissioned on December 4, 1874.  Over time, violent storms damaged the original structure beyond repair, so a new station was built in 1911 and still stands today.

According to James Charlet, site manager of the Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station Historic Site and Museum, the station employed up to eight lifesavers and one keeper, all of whom worked six days a week and spent Sundays on call.  They endured a grueling daily regimen of drills and if a crewman wanted a day off, he had to give 30 days notice and pay for his substitute’s wages!

Typically aided by only ropes and a wooden rowboat, the rescues these men performed were heroic.  One of the most famous rescues was of the British Tanker Mirlo in 1918. The Mirlo was torpedoed by a German U-Boat off the coast of Rodanthe. Carrying a massive amount of oil, the tanker immediately caught fire.  Six Chicamacomico crew members launched their wooden boat from the beach, and paddled five miles out to where the crew was stranded. The life-saving crew made multiple trips to rescue as many sailors as they could.  After six and a half hours, the crew had saved 42 of the 51 British sailors.  As a result of this rescue, the six crew members received The Grand Cross of the American Cross of Honor. This medal of valor had requirements so high that only 11 people total have ever received it.  Six of them were stationed at the Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station.

The restored Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station
The restored Chicamacomico Station. Image courtesy of Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station Historic Site

 

By the mid-20th century, with the development of more reliable navigational aids, helicopters, and more powerful boats, the life-saving stations had become obsolete. The Chicamacomico Station was decommissioned in 1954 and in 1959, the 1874 Station was moved closer to the 1911 Station by the National Park Service.  After that, the Station’s buildings lay abandoned for years.  But in 1974, the Chicamacomico Historical Association (CHA) was formed and attempts were made to purchase and restore the Station.  It wasn’t until 2002 that all buildings were deeded to the CHA.

The station is the largest and most complete U.S. Life-Saving Service station in the country, with every building listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s also one of the only original 1874 stations that is open to the public and one of the few stations with all of its original buildings intact.  

Beach Apparatus Drill at Chicamacomico Life-Saving Service Station performed by U.S. Coast Guard
U.S. Coast Guard performing the Beach Apparatus Drill. Image courtesy of Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station Historic Site

 

Chicamacomico is also the only station in the country that is open as a museum, usually from April to November.  The most popular museum program is the weekly Beach Apparatus Drill performed by active members of the U.S. Coast Guard. Chicamacomico is the only life-saving station that still offers a demonstration of this drill, a routine that was required to be practiced weekly by all crewmen in the late 1800s and early 1900s. This drill serves as a reminder of the Coast Guard’s humble roots and honors the Postal Service employees, fishermen, and other volunteers who risked their lives every day.


Blog by Jessica T. Smith for the Coastal Cottage Company

Nags Head Casino Postcard

Remembering the Nags Head Casino

When you think of the Outer Banks, it’s likely the beautiful beaches are first to come to mind.  A popular attraction for rock and roll musicians is not as likely to be imagined.  But ask any local over the age of 50 about the Nags Head Casino and you’ll be regaled with stories of legendary music acts and dancing the night away.

Originally built as a barracks in the early 1930s for the stonemasons who constructed the Wright Brothers National Memorial, the Nags Head Casino was purchased in 1937 by G. T. “Ras” Wescott.  The two-story building housed duckpin bowling lanes, pool tables, and pinball machines on the first floor while a bar and expansive dance floor occupied upstairs.  Ras was known for his special care of the wood dance floor, waxing and buffing it each day.  To preserve it, he asked patrons to remove their shoes and dance barefoot.  With the top-floor shutters open to the ocean breezes and young people grooving barefoot, the Casino was the epitome of summer fun.   

Nags Head Casino Birds Eye View
Bird’s eye view of the Casino. Image courtesy of Outer Banks Beachcomber Museum: www.oldnagshead.org

During the 1930s and 1940s, big band music reigned, drawing crowds of up to 1000 people to the Nags Head Casino!  During this time, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Guy Lombardo, Count Basie, Artie Shaw, and Woody Herman are a few of the acts who played.  As doo-wop, Mowtown, and rock and roll gained popularity in the 1950s and 60s, bands like The Platters, Fats Domino, The Four Tops, Bill Deal and the Rhondels, and The Temptations entertained.  According to Carmen Gray, founder of the Outer Banks Beachcomber Museum, “anybody who was anybody played at the Casino.”  Until the 1970s, bands continued to make the trek to Nags Head to put on a show.  And on nights when no band played, a Wurlitzer jukebox provided the music.

Nags Head Casino Music Poster for Johnny Alligator

Unfortunately, the fun came to an end when Ras Wescott sold the building in the mid 1970s and soon after, the roof collapsed during a winter storm.   Jockey’s Ridge Crossing shopping center now occupies the site of the beloved Casino.  But Nags Head locals still reminisce about the raucous music, 25 cent PBRs, Wednesday night boxing matches, and walks on the beach after a night of dancing.  For their generation, it truly was the place to be for both patrons and musicians.  Bill Deal, from The Rhondels, remembers that “it was always packed. We never worried about having a crowd.  The Casino certainly opened doors for a lot of groups. If you played the Casino, you’d made it.”  For many, the time, the place, and the music will never be replicated, but the Casino will always be remembered.


Blog by Jessica T. Smith for the Coastal Cottage Company

Spend a Night in Rodanthe

Movies transport us to other worlds, allowing us to live vicariously through the characters. If you’ve always wanted to be a globetrotter, James Bond takes you from Cuba to China to Czechoslovakia.  If you’ve ever wondered what Mars might be like, The Martian transports you there.  And if you wish you could visit the Outer Banks, look no further than Nights in Rodanthe.  Based on Nicholas Sparks’ book, the characters played by Diane Lane and Richard Gere fall in love when they team up to protect a very special Outer Banks home from a storm.  

This home has a fascinating story to tell.  Built by Roger Meekins in 1988 on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, the home was originally called Serendipity.  At the time, there was more than 400 feet between it and the ocean.  But as the years passed, the sand eroded, and the tide encroached.  In 2009, Hurricane Bill damaged the home, destroying its septic system and HVAC.  The second owners, Michael and Susan Creasy, wanted to sell but the extensive repairs kept buyers at bay.  It soon slipped into such disrepair that the county wanted to condemn it and after each storm, residents wondered if it was still standing.  Hope for Serendipity seemed far away until fans of Nights in Rodanthe, Ben and Debbie Huss, saved the property in 2010.

Moving the Inn at Rodanthe
Transporting Serendipity to its new location. Image courtesy of Hooked on Houses: www.hookedonhouses.net

The first task was to move the property farther from the ocean to prevent high tides and hurricanes from further damaging it.  According to Richard Adkins of WRAL, the house was lifted off its foundation, placed onto a trailer, and transported seven-tenths of a mile down N.C. Highway 12 to its new location.  The house was raised several feet higher than it had been and the pilings were dug 16 feet down for greater stability.

Inn at Rodanthe
Serendipity, now the Inn at Rodanthe, restored and reborn! Image courtesy of Sun Realty: www.sunrealtync.com

Ben and Debbie are such fans of the movie that they made every effort to replicate the set. According to Irene Nolan of the Island Free Press, the Husses watched the film dozens of times and worked from enlarged still photographs.  They added the iconic blue shutters over the windows, painted the beadboard cabinets a vibrant aqua, and filled the home with antiques, including a 1918 Adler organ similar to the one in the movie.  

The Inn at Rodanthe kitchen
The renovated kitchen. Image courtesy of Sun Realty: www.sunrealtync.com

According to Hooked on Houses blogger Julia Sweeten, they remodeled the kitchen to look just like the one Diane Lane cooked in, tracking down the same wallpaper used in the movie.  But even more wonderful than their renovations is the Husses desire to share Serendipity with others by making it available to vacationers.  So come to Rodanthe to take in the spectacular oceanfront views and enjoy Ben and Debbie’s loving attention to detail!

The Inn at Rodanthe porch swing
Enjoy the porch swing and the sunset at the Inn at Rodanthe.  Image courtesy of Sun Realty: www.sunrealtync.com

Blog by Jessica T. Smith for the Coastal Cottage Company

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