We’ll call this a test, not that anyone is going to be keeping grades, but we’ve put together five facts that probably aren’t all that well known about the Outer Banks. Some of these may be known; some may be new.
The Outer Banks is 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.
Here’s the very brief thumbnail sketch of what has been theorized.
About 14,000 years ago the last ice age ended and as the glaciers melted, sea level rose. At that time, the North American shoreline was about 300 miles east. As the rising sea beat against the shoreline, sand was deposited. Over a few thousand years the sand piled up forming low dunes that allowed brackish lagoons to form behind the land.
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.
The Outer Banks was one of the first tourist destinations in the US
Back in the 1820s, a Perquimans County plantation owner, Francis Nixon, hoping to escape the rampant yellow fever of summer in the coastal plain, brought his family to Nags Head. 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 a 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 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.
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 new Marc Basnight Bridge
The new bridge over Oregon Inlet includes some truly extraordinary feats of engineering.
Driving across the bridge, 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.