BUILDING WHALEHEAD Given its popularity, it’s hard to believe the Outer Banks were once almost deserted, serving as a secluded retreat for the country’s affluent conservationists and small game hunters, including G. W. Vanderbilt, J. P. Morgan, and William Rockefeller. Edward Collings Knight, Jr., a devout waterfowl hunter and wealthy industrialist, was one such outdoorsman. A resident of Philadelphia and Middletown, Rhode Island, he fell in love with Corolla and purchased a 4.5 mile section of oceanfront property on which he and his new bride built a magnificent home. They spent most of the early-1920’s building their winter retreat with architectural features that reflected a variety of styles including Pennsylvania farmhouse, French-Canadian country, Arts and Crafts, and Art Nouveau. The 21,000 square foot home boasted five chimneys, a copper-shingled roof, cork floors, and a pump system that provided the main house with electricity and running water (the first home in the area to boast such amenities). They called their property Corolla Island.
RESTORING WHALEHEAD Tragically, the Knights did not get to enjoy their getaway for long. Both passed away in 1936 and the property served a number of less luxurious purposes, including a bunker for the U.S. Coast Guard and a rocket fuel test site for the U.S. Government. In 1940, the property was renamed the Whalehead Club by its new owner, a Washington, D.C. businessman. During this time, Whalehead slipped into disrepair. Thankfully, by 1994, Currituck County was able to purchase the 39-acres which included the home, lighthouse, and waterfront. The county embarked on an extensive renovation to restore the property to its former grandeur.
EXPLORING WHALEHEAD Today, visitors see the home much as it was during the Knights’ residency. Admire the elegant woodwork, ornamental cornices, Tiffany lighting, and cheerful rooms painted in salmon, leafy green, and robin’s egg blue. Marvel at the Steinway & Sons piano in the drawing room, the diesel motor and 2,200-gallon pumping system in the boathouse, and the vintage Otis elevator. See if you catch sight of the Art Nouveau door handles shaped like ducks! Then, with a picnic basket in tow, walk across the footbridge and head out to the waterfront or visit the Currituck Lighthouse. With 39 acres to explore, you’ll want to stay the entire day!
It’s clear why the Whalehead Club has become an integral part of the Outer Banks and a staple attraction for vacationers. You’re transported back to a time of lavishness and luxury, as if stepping into the pages of The Great Gatsby, all while enjoying the natural beauty of the property.
Whalehead averages 16,000 visitors annually, offering a variety of tours and year-round special events. Please visit www.visitwhalehead.com for more information.
– blog by Jessica T. Smith