Roanoke Island Attractions, Performances & Events
Roanoke Island’s world-class attractions are what lure many people here. Many of the attractions focus on Roanoke Island’s history as the site of the first attempted English colonization of America. Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, The Elizabethan Gardens, The Lost Colony outdoor drama, the Elizabeth II sailing ship, Roanoke Island Festival Park, a series of Elizabethan plays and others pay homage to this heritage. There are other Roanoke Island attractions, too, that you will not want to miss, like the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island, the performances at the beautiful outdoor amphitheater, the North Carolina Maritime Museum and the Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse. With all these attractions and the many sites that capture Roanoke Island’s history, you’ll find that a day trip is never enough.
- Milltail Road, off U.S. Highway 64
- (252) 473-1131
Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge is a 154,000-acre refuge on the mainland portion of Dare and Hyde counties. It was established in 1984 to preserve and protect a unique wetland habitat type, the pocosin, and its associated wildlife species. Pocosin is a Native American word meaning ‘‘swamp-on-a-hill’’ and is characterized by poorly drained soils high in organic material. The Refuge’s diversity of habitat types includes high and low pocosin, bogs, fresh and brackish water marshes, hardwood swamps and Atlantic white cedar swamps. Plant species include pitcher plants and sun dews, low bush cranberries, bays, Atlantic white cedar, pond pine, gums, red maple and a wide variety of herbaceous and shrub species common to the East Coast.
The Refuge is one of the last remaining strongholds for black bear on the Eastern Seaboard, and it is the only place in the world where endangered red wolves exist in the wild. It is home to concentrations of ducks, geese and swans, and its wildlife diversity also includes wading birds, shorebirds, American woodcock, raptors, American alligators, white-tailed deer, raccoons, rabbits, quail, river otters, red-cockaded woodpeckers and neotropical migrant song birds.
Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge has great paddling trails, a wildlife drive, two wildlife trails and all types of wildlife and habitat for you to explore. The staff offers several programs throughout the year, including Tram Tours, Canoe Tours, Red Wolf Howling Safaris and the Bear Necessities program about black bears.
The refuge is open year round during daylight hours.
To learn more about Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Wildlife Refuges Visitor Center. The center’s exhibits offer information about Alligator River and 10 other refuges in northeastern North Carolina and southeast Virginia. This Visitor Center is located on the north end of Roanoke Island, about a quarter-mile past the entrance to Fort Raleigh National Historic Site. The staff that manages Alligator River Refuge also manages Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge on Hatteras Island; see our Hatteras site’s Recreation chapter for more information.
- 1411 National Park Drive (off U.S. Highway 64) next to Fort Raleigh National Historic Site
- Roanoke Island
- (252) 473-3234
Designed by two of America’s foremost landscape architects to pay tribute to America’s first English colonists, The Elizabethan Gardens is a rare treasure on the Outer Banks. It’s a haven of verdant, flourishing growth and natural prosperity. The gardens are in bloom year round with azaleas, dogwoods, roses, camellias, daphne, a variety of annuals and herbs and much more. Adding exquisite touches are ancient stone fountains, garden ornaments, a waterfront gazebo, benches, statues, an expansive lawn and some of the most amazing live oaks you’ll ever see. The large shade canopy overhead provides a cool oasis even on the sunniest summer day. The Garden Gift Shoppe sells books, gifts, herbs and plants. This is a trusted plant source for many locals, as the garden staff nurtures their plants with such care.
Elizabethan Gardens offers outstanding workshops, classes and day camps almost all year round. The Gardens’ art classes, plant sales, gardening workshops, kids’ outdoor-oriented classes and summer programs are listed on the Gardens’ website as well as www.outerbanksthisweek.com. The Gardens’ Easter Eggstravaganza, Virginia Dare’s Birthday, Harvest Hayday (near Halloween) and WinterLights festivities are great fun.
The Gardens open at 9 a.m. seven days a week throughout most of the year and at 10 a.m. December through February. Closing time varies according to the season. Admission is $9 for adults, $6 for youth ages 6 to 17 and free for children age 5 and younger. Admission for groups of 20 or more is at a reduced rate of $7 per person with advance notice.
The Gardens make a beautiful setting for bridal luncheons, weddings and receptions. Choose from a variety of backdrops for an unforgettable day. The Gardens are also perfect for organizational retreats or group meetings. An on-site Reception Hall, tent and Rose Garden accommodate parties large and small. Call for more information.
- Downtown Manteo
First Friday is a family-oriented downtown festival held in the evening from 4 to 8 p.m. on the first Friday of every month from April through December. Downtown Manteo’s sidewalks come alive with a wide variety of musical performances and festive activities for all ages. Individual shops and restaurants frequently do their own celebratory activity such as live music, special sales, refreshments and hors d’oeuvres. The Dare County Arts Council Gallery always hosts an opening reception during First Friday. Costumed interpreters walk the streets, clowns perform magic tricks and Kitty Hawk Kites sometimes brings its climbing wall for the fit and daring to test themselves. It’s a great time to explore all that downtown Manteo has to offer.
- 1140 N. US Highway 64
- Roanoke Island
- (252) 473-6500
A living history site, Island Farm interprets daily life on Roanoke Island in the mid-1800s. Visitors feel as if they’ve stepped back more than 150 years as they explore the farm and see interpreters dressed in period attire carrying out the daily activities of the time – tending animals, blacksmithing, hoeing corn, doing laundry, making corn cakes. Hands-on activities and demonstrations may include woodworking, textile work, cooking demonstrations, ox-drawn wagon rides, 19th-century toys and games and farm and garden work. Visitors take self-guided tours of the Etheridge House and Farm, interacting with interpreters along the way. Activities vary daily and by season and are weather dependent. Special events are held in the Spring and Fall. Standard admission costs $6 per person with children 5 and younger admitted for free. After opening day for the season, which was April 2, 2014, hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday, until closing day on November 30. Note that they’re closed on Thanksgiving Day.
- Waterside Theatre, 1409 National Park Drive, Waterside Theatre, off U.S. Highway 64
- Roanoke Island
- (252) 473-6000
More than 400 years ago, 117 men, women and children sailed from Plymouth, England, in an attempt to settle on Roanoke Island. They vanished just two years later. The only clue left behind was the word “CROATOAN” carved in a tree. The Lost Colony is their story. This outdoor drama is the Outer Banks’ most long-standing attraction, celebrating its 77th season in 2014!
Written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paul Green, The Lost Colony is performed summer nights by a company of more than 100 actors, dancers, singers and technicians in the historic outdoor Waterside Theatre. Come see epic battles and Indian dances. Experience the sorrow and heartbreak of tragedy and loss. Witness the pageantry of the queen and her court, and celebrate the birth of Virginia Dare. There is music, laughter, romance and dance, and Outer Banks locals and visitors have loved it for 77 years.
An Outer Banks tradition and cultural treasure, The Lost Colony educates, enriches and entertains — don’t leave the Outer Banks until you see it.
The 2014 season runs from May 30 through August 22, Mondays at 7:30 p.m. and Tuesday through Saturday nights at 8 p.m. Ticket Prices are $30 for adults, $28 for seniors (62 and older), $10 for children ages 12 and younger. Ask about the VIP package at $40 per person. Kids get in free on Monday nights! Advance reservations are recommended. For tickets, call (252) 473-6000 or purchase online anytime at www.thelostcolony.org.
Tuesdays and Wednesdays on the Outer Banks means Family Fun Night at The Lost Colony. Character Dinners are offered prior to the performance on these evenings throughout the summer. Meet the cast before the show and have the kids’ photos taken with the actors. It’s a night of memories that will last a lifetime, and there’s no fighting traffic or rushing at the restaurant to get to the theater on time.
A trip to The Lost Colony also offers the perfect opportunity to enjoy a restaurant on Roanoke Island. Roanoke Island restaurants are less crowded than the beach restaurants on summer nights.
- General Information
- (252) 473-2133
Manteo, the only incorporated town on Roanoke Island and the Dare County seat, is a small island town complete with a picturesque waterfront, a safe harbor, welcoming docks and a charming downtown historic area.
Manteo’s waterfront downtown is an attraction in itself, with shops, art galleries, eateries, a lighthouse, a waterfront boardwalk, a park and children’s playground and boats sitting in the harbor of Shallowbag Bay. It’s also the home of Roanoke Island Festival Park, one of the Outer Banks’ most popular attractions.
The Manteo historic district is full of restored homes and bed and breakfast inns that make for great sightseeing or overnight stays. It is perfect for exploring on foot or by bicycle. Park the car and walk around; the town is quite pedestrian friendly.
The main corridor of Manteo is U.S. Highway 64. This road is lined with shops, galleries, restaurants, service businesses and places to stay. A bicycle/multi-use path runs parallel to U.S. Highway 64 for the northern half of this picturesque island. If you have a bicycle handy, we highly recommend using this path to explore Roanoke Island. The path ends at a beautiful soundfront park. Also on the island are the attractions of Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, The Lost Colony’s Waterside Theatre, The Elizabethan Gardens, the North Carolina Aquarium, Island Farm and the fishing village of Wanchese.
- (252) 473-1111
Manteo is much more than a modern vacation resort. It’s a place with an interesting past. In the downtown and waterfront area, you can see remnants of days gone by — and a great way to experience this history is with One Boat Guides’ Manteo Walking Tour. The book features an easy-to-follow map and format that guides you through Manteo, showing historic photographs, pointing out historical details and landmarks and relating anecdotes along the way.
OneBoat Outer Banks also features walking and driving tours to Corolla, Nags Head, Hatteras Island and Ocracoke Village. The books are available on the Outer Banks in bookstores, gift shops, grocery stores, attractions and specialty shops. Or you can call (252) 473-1111 to order a copy in advance of your visit and have it shipped to you. Look for their distinctive covers with historic photographs. Have fun exploring the history of the Outer Banks!
- 374 Airport Road
- (252) 473-3494, (800) 832-3474, ext. 4
The North Carolina Aquarium is one of the most popular attractions on the Outer Banks. Yes, it’s perfect for a rainy day, but you will also appreciate the cool, quiet enviroment when you’ve had enough of the sun. Explore the “Waters of the Outer Banks” through aquariums and interactive exhibits. Watch fishes in the “Graveyard of the Atlantic” exhibit. This 285,000 aquarium also features a one-third scale replica of the civil war ironclad USS Monitor. Explore aquatic habitats from grass flats to Gulf Stream waters. Gently stroke a stingray or touch a hermit crab in their “Close Encounters” Gallery. See daily dive shows, alligators, otters, turtles, Operation: Sea Turtle Rescue and their new Sea Turtle Assistance and Rehabilitation (STAR) Center. Enjoy some of the best views on the island as you stroll down their Soundside Pier and learn about the area’s history and environment. Dive with sharks in their Aquarium Shark Dive program—open to certified divers only. Make your family’s island experience truly “fin-tastic” by participating in one of their special activities or programs, where fun and learning meet! Pre-registration is required.
The Aquarium is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day except Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day. Admission is $10.95 for ages 13 to 61; $9.95 for ages 62 and older; $9.95 for members of the military; $8.95 for children ages 3 to 12; and free for children 2 and younger, pre-registered North Carolina school groups and North Carolina Aquarium Society members. For information on renting the Aquarium for special events such as weddings or receptions, purchasing tickets and registering for programs online, visit www.ncaquariums.com. The North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island is a Member Site of the Historic Albemarle Tour.
- 1 Festival Park, Across from the Manteo Waterfront
- (252) 475-1500
Did you know that the first Roanoke Island settlements predate the Jamestown settlement of 1607? The Roanoke Island settlements took place 20 years earlier, between 1585 and 1587. Though the Roanoke Island colonies didn’t prove successful as far as longevity, they were the foundations of English-speaking life in America and provided much-needed information about the New World that helped the later colonies succeed. Roanoke Island Festival Park is one place to learn about these first English settlements and the impact they had on the Native Americans who were already residing here in the 16th century. The state-run park and cultural center is just across the bridge from the downtown Manteo waterfront on its own 25-acre island. Be prepared for a day of fun, as there is a lot to do and see here.
Elizabeth II—The centerpiece of the park is the 69-foot Elizabeth II, a 16th-century sailing ship. It’s a representation of a particular 16th-century English merchant ship, Elizabeth, one of seven in Sir Walter Raleigh’s 1585 expedition to establish England’s first New World colony. Costumed interpreters speaking Old English greet visitors to the ship with sea tales, legends and historical facts and answer questions about 16th-century seafaring. Kids love walking around on the decks and crawling down below to see what life was like on the ship. The Elizabeth II’s tender, Silver Chalice, is 24 feet long and carries up to 15 crew members.
Settlement Site – The Settlement Site is where guests get to interact with costumed interpreters portraying the colonist men and women as they settled into life in the New World. Visitors can try their hand at blacksmithing, woodworking, 16th-century games and more. See how the first English settlers lived when they arrived in the New World. Try on some of their armor, learn some 16th-century warfare techniques and some of the arts and crafts needed to make life tolerable on Roanoke Island more than 400 years ago.
American Indian Town – Explore coastal Algonquian culture and history in the American Indian Town. The town represents an American Indian community similar to what the English explorers investigated and surveyed during their voyages to Roanoke Island and the surrounding area in the late 16th century. Visitors follow paths that wind through the park. Homes, agricultural areas and work shelters line the paths. Two longhouses represent the historical homes of American Indians from the region. One of the longhouses stretches more than 30 feet long and interprets the home of a leader from the community. A smaller and partially completed longhouse includes an interactive component that invites visitors to help complete the structure. Both areas contain interactive exhibits that focus on the developing relationship between the American Indian and English people during the late 16th century. The ceremonial dance circle is also located here. The exhibit has a planting and harvesting area where visitors can learn the advanced nuances of American Indian farming techniques. Three work shelters include activities like cordage (rope) making, mat and basket weaving, net mending, food preparation, tanning hides, fishing, boat building and gathering.
Fossil Search — Find ancient treasures, including shark’s teeth and coral, from a time long before the colonists arrived.
The Adventure Museum —The newly renovated Adventure Museum features highly interactive, multi-sensory, hands-on exhibits fun for the entire family. Try your hand at pulling cargo on and off a 16th century ship using your strength to go up and down with the ropes! Find our costume trunk and be part of Colonial Life. Bring the camera! Learn how 16th century sea captains made the most of wind and water currents as they sailed to the New World. See the routes they took to Roanoke Island. Visit our touch screens and read theories of what happened to the 1587 Roanoke Island Colony—and tell us what you think happened! Revisit the legend of Blackbeard and dress up like a pirate. Live the life of a soldier in our Civil War exhibit and discover the Roanoke Island Freedmen’s Colony.
Pavilion — The Outdoor Pavilion and surrounding grounds offer a perfect place to enjoy a picnic and concert. Events are scheduled year round. It is also rented as a wedding venue.
Film Theater — The film The Legend of Two-Path is shown several times a day in the 242-seat Film Theater. It tells the Native Americans’ perspective of how the arrival of the colonists changed their lives. Special performances are also held here year round.
Boardwalks & Grounds — Enjoy wildlife in a natural setting while walking the Boardwalk that runs throughout the park. Along the landscaped walks, native shrubs and flowers thrive in the sound and marsh. The Boardwalk joins the Roanoke Voyages Trail, which bisects Roanoke Island.
Outer Banks History Center — The Outer Banks History Center, (252) 473-2655, is a public research facility with a friendly staff that is willing to help you find historic photographs and documents, research information and more. Their gallery features a history-related show each year, and their reading room offers scores of up-to-date periodicals. See the separate listing for the center for details.
The cost for admission to Roanoke Island Festival Park, which includes all venues, is $10 for adults and $7 for ages 6 to 17. Children 5 and younger get in free. Tickets are good for two consecutive days.
Special events are ongoing at Festival Park all year. See www.outerbanksthisweek.com for details.
- 1 Festival Park Road
- (252) 475-1506
Some of North Carolina’s best young talent performs at Roanoke Island Festival Park during the summer children’s shows. Performing arts departments from all campuses of the University of North Carolina system are invited to participate, and these performances promise great entertainment for people of all ages. Visit their website at www.roanokeisland.com for a complete listing or check the By Day and Nightlife listings at www.outerbanksthisweek.com.
Dare County Arts Council Gallery
- 300 Queen Elizabeth Avenue
- (252) 473-5558
Dare County Arts Council is located in the heart of downtown Manteo in the historic 1904 Dare County Courthouse. The eclectic gallery showcases fine arts and crafts created by its artist members who hail from all points of the Outer Banks region, and special exhibits are hosted monthly. Numerous media are represented in the gallery including painting, pottery, fiber arts, photography, sculpture, wood design and jewelry, and the gallery also offers fine selection of prints and cards. Each month’s First Friday celebration sees a lively art opening reception, often featuring live music and light hors d’oeuvres. Additionally, the Arts Council offers a variety of classes, workshops, films and other cultural arts events throughout the year. Dare County Arts Council is the hub of information for visual and cultural arts in Dare County.
Dare County Regional Airport Museum
- Dare County Regional Airport Museum, 410 Airport Road
- (252) 475-5570
The Wright Brothers weren’t the only famous pilots to fly on the Outer Banks. Located inside Roanoke Island’s airport is an informative two-room museum dedicated to the rest of the story of aviation in Dare County. Learn about Dave Driskill, credited with bringing aviation to the Outer Banks in the 1930s, and how the current airport was built at the start of World War II, becoming a U.S. Navy Auxiliary Air Station and training site for World War II aircraft. A visit to the museum will open your eyes about local heroes like “Kitty Hawk Kid,” Lt. Sheldon R. “Ray” Beacham, credited with shooting down two Japanese Zero fighter planes in the South Pacific. Beacham and his VF-17 Squadron were one of the most famous Navy fighter squadrons, known for the skull and crossbones design painted on the noses of their planes. An important part of the exhibit tells the story of Coastal Patrol Base 16, based on Roanoke Island from July 1942 to August 1943. Manned by North Carolina volunteers of the Civil Air Patrol, CBP16 flew patrols over the ocean in private aircraft, looking for enemy submarines and ships and sailors in distress. The museum is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and admission is free.
Decoys by Nick Sapone
- 292 The Lane
- (252) 473-3136
Local carver Nick Sapone welcomes visitors to his home/studio to have a look at his hand-crafted decoys. Sapone makes hunting-style decoys, as opposed to decorative decoys, in wood and in the traditional Outer Banks canvas style. Call ahead to make sure he’s there if you’re making a special trip to Wanchese just to see him.
- 105 Budleigh Street
- (252) 475-1575
This shop offers a truly unique concept in creativity and fund-raising. The goods sold here — rugs, purses, pillows and more — are hand-woven and handcrafted out of recycled clothing that was donated to local Outer Banks Hotline thrift shops. The creations are amazing, colorful and original. The shop also offers the work of talented artists on consignment. The knitters, jewelers and sculptors who display their wares here all work with other found or recycled materials. Proceeds of the goods go to Outer Banks Hotline, a local nonprofit organization, to help local women and families on the Outer Banks. Weavers are at work on the looms right in the store, and they welcome volunteer weavers. (They’ll teach you what to do.) You can also come in and pay a fee to make your own woven items. This is a great activity for young and old alike — just call ahead to check for loom availability. And please note, Endless Possibilities has opened a satellite shop in Nags Head at the Shoppes at 10.5 inside Chameleon Clogs. The hours of operation are Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Shoppers will be able to view a weaving demonstration and shop for many of the same merchandise items found in the Manteo shop.
Fort Raleigh National Historic Site
- 1401 National Park Drive (off U.S. Highway 64)
- Roanoke Island
- (252) 475-9001
This national historic site commemorates and preserves the first English attempts at colonization and aims to help visitors gain a better understanding of the known elements of the settlement. Exterior renovations of the park’s visitor center were completed in 2011. A second phase of improvements to the facility’s interior, including installation of new exhibits, is currently under way. These improvements are expected to be completed by Memorial Day weekend and will enrich the visitor’s experience.
To understand the story of the colonists, pay a visit to the visitors center and bookstore. Interpretive panels, a short film and park staff will help you understand the history of this area. During the summer months, park staff offers a regular schedule of ranger programs. Outdoor paths through the historic grounds offer visitors a view of the restored earthen fort, originally built during the 1580s. The Thomas Hariot Nature Trail winds through the wooded area between Roanoke Sound and the earthen fort, making about a quarter-mile loop. Hariot’s descriptions of the New World are quoted on signs along the trail. Nearby this site was the location of a Freedmen’s Colony, where escaped slaves found refuge during and after the Civil War. On the grounds, you will find waysides that discuss the Freedmen’s Colony and a Civil War marker that designates the park as part of the Underground Railroad Network to Freedom, a nationwide program of sites that addresses the Underground Railroad story. Visitation to Fort Raleigh is free and allowed during daylight hours. The visitor center is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Adjacent to the parking lot, a picnic site is available with tables under shady trees and a spacious lawn for kids who love to run and enjoy the great outdoors. The Elizabethan Gardens and The Lost Colony’s Waterside Theatre neighbor the Fort Raleigh site.
- 101-B Budleigh Street
- (252) 473-6656
Gallery 101 displays fine art and craft from local, regional and out-of-state artists. The focus is on ceramics, both functional designs and fine art pieces, but there are also paintings, blown glass, stained glass, turned wood, jewelry and photography, including works by local photographers.
Ghost Tours of the Outer Banks
- Meet on the corner of Queen Elizabeth Avenue and Budleigh Street
- (252) 573-1450
Experience the legends, lore and ghost stories of the Outer Banks, including stories from the Graveyard of the Atlantic. This 90-minute walking tour, now in its fifth year, is an easy stroll through Manteo. The tour is held Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights at 8 p.m. Tuesday is the Graveyard of the Atlantic tour, Wednesday is the original Ghost Tour and Thursday’s tour is called “Go Beyond and Hear the Rest of the Stories.” Reservations are recommended, but walkups are welcome if there’s room on the tour. Cost is $13 for adults and $8 for children ages 10 and younger. Private tours can be held at other times for a minimum of 12 people.
John Silver Gallery
- 105-A Fernando Street
- (252) 475-9764
Whether you’re seeking fine art, antiques or collectibles, the John Silver Gallery welcomes island residents and visitors from around the world to visit the gallery and find that unique something for their home or gift for that special or hard to buy for someone on their list. The gallery is open Monday through Saturday year round. They’ll gift wrap, deliver and ship whatever you purchase. The gallery’s fine art, antiques and collectibles have been carefully selected to inspire creativity and transform a house into a home.
Manteo Farmers Market
- 104 Fernando Street, George Washington Creef Park, Manteo Waterfront
- (252) 473-2133
On Saturday mornings from May 18 through the early fall, the Manteo Farmers Market features home-grown, home-baked and homemade goods for sale. Pick up fresh herbs, produce or flowers, buy some local artwork or sweets, all in a beautiful waterfront setting next to the Roanoke Island Maritime Museum. This makes a great family outing as there’s a playground next to the market area. The market is held from 8 a.m. to noon. For more information visit www.townofmanteo.com.
- 402 Queen Elizabeth Avenue
- (252) 473-9400
This is the potter’s studio as well as her exhibit space, so you can often see her working at the wheel or glazing. Nancy’s functional pottery is made of high-fired stoneware that is dishwasher, microwave and oven safe including pie plates, colanders, sponge holders, bowls, vases and spoon rests. She also makes God jars, beaded jewelry, small collectible mirrors and tile murals. Nancy can create personalized special orders, which make great wedding gifts or wedding favors!
Outer Banks History Center
- Across from the Manteo Waterfront at Roanoke Island Festival Park
- (252) 473-2655
The History Center’s gallery features changing exhibits of topics about the Outer Banks. Admission is free, and the gallery is open from March through December, seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The 2013 show, Dare County in the 1930s: Decade of Determination, is on display through October 15. The exhibit details how the building of roads and bridges, improvements to national historic sites and the resourcefulness of the people created unparalleled opportunities for economic growth and set a new course for the future that would bring the region into national prominence.
During the 1930s, the Wright Memorial Bridge opened the area to automobile traffic, while new hotels catered to the traveling public. Workers from the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and Works Progress Administration (WPA) literally changed the landscape by constructing sand dunes. President Franklin D. Roosevelt came to witness the birth of outdoor symphonic drama at the Waterside Theater with the debut of Paul Green’s The Lost Colony. The Kill Devil Hills National Memorial, now Wright Brothers National Memorial, was dedicated, and the county saw its first local newspaper, public library, airport and fishing pier. It was the dawn of the modern tourist era and also a time when severe storms, floods and fires challenged the citizenry to rebuild and forge ahead. All told, the 1930s in Dare County was a pivotal time with an impact that continues to this day.
The Outer Banks History Center is a regional archive and research library of the North Carolina State Archives. Holdings document the cultural and natural history of the North Carolina coast. Founded in 1989 through the donation of the vast library of author and historian David Stick, it’s a great place to find historic photographs of the Outer Banks and learn about an array of local history topics or do genealogy research. The center is open year-round, Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The public is welcome and most services are free. Membership in the Friends of the Outer Banks History Center helps to support its mission but is optional to receive an online newsletter. The center’s staff posts frequently on Facebook and shares samples of photograph collections on Flickr.com.
Pea Island Cookhouse Museum
- Sir Walter Raleigh Street
- (252) 473-2133
In the roundabout at the intersection of Sir Walter Raleigh and Bideford streets, a part of the community’s African-American heritage is being preserved and interpreted with a statue and a museum. A life-sized bronze statue of Richard Etheridge, the first African-American United States Life-Saving Service Keeper at Pea Island Station on the Outer Banks, is in the roundabout’s median. Adjacent, the Pea Island Cookhouse Museum is housed in the refurbished former cookhouse of the historic Pea Island Station and honors the African-American men who courageously served under Etheridge.
Born into slavery on Roanoke Island, Etheridge was in charge of the U.S. Life-Saving Service Station at Pea Island from January 1880 to May 1900. The story of Etheridge and the Pea Island surfmen has been immortalized in the riveting book, Fire on the Beach, and recently made into a documentary film, Rescue Men. Despite living during a time of great prejudice — his station was burned to the ground by disgruntled whites and white lifesavers who refused to work for him — Etheridge’s career was one of distinction. Having been a sergeant in the Colored Troops of the Union Army during the Civil War, he ran the station with military precision. This resulted in successful lifesaving missions, including the chilling rescue of the E.S. Newman on October 11, 1896, when two of his crew moved through hurricane-force seas to save lives. While fighting to end slavery during the Civil War, Etheridge also fought for the rights of people on the homefront who were being mistreated in the Freedmen’s Colony. He co-authored a compelling letter to the commissioner of the Freedmen’s Bureau and signed it “on behalf of humanity.” The statue of Etheridge was crafted by Stephen H. Smith of Marshville, who has also sculpted the likenesses of Martin Luther King Jr. and Wilbur and Orville Wright.
In the museum you’ll see original artifacts from the U.S. Life-Saving Service, the shipboard from the E.S. Newman and a video and learn about the history of Etheridge and his crew.
For now, you may call the number listed here, which is the Manteo Town Hall, to arrange a tour.
Roanoke Heritage Art Galleries & Military Museum
- 543 Ananias Dare Street Ext.
- (252) 473-2632
This little museum and gallery is behind the home of the owner on Ananias Dare Street across the main highway from the downtown area. Herbert Bliven runs a small museum housing his collection of Civil War artifacts that he found on Roanoke Island. You’ll also see World War I and II, Native American and Korean War memorabilia as well as antique decoys. He also operates a frame shop, offering custom framing and a variety of original artwork, photographs and limited-edition prints, all complemented by his handcrafted wooden frames. Call before you stop by.
Roanoke Island Maritime Museum / Creef Boathouse
- 104 Fernando Street, Manteo Waterfront
- (252) 475-1750
Originally a boathouse used to build world-record-holding speedboats, this building has seen a variety of boat-building uses in its day. The building’s double-wide doors and barn-like roominess create the perfect setting for this working boathouse museum. The Roanoke Island Maritime Museum is a treasure-trove of local seafaring history. Come inside for a look at some locally built boats and possibly to see boat building in the process.
Whatever you see, you’ll learn about the island’s traditional boats, what they were used for and how they were used. On the water, you’ll see a variety of traditional watercraft, the most noteworthy of which is the reproduction North Carolina shad boat, The Spirit of Roanoke Island, built by museum volunteers. Head over to the boathouse to see the Ella View, an original shad boat built in 1883 by George Washington Creef, the boathouse’s namesake. It’s free to tour this museum and talk with the volunteers and staff.
The museum has a number of programs and workshops to celebrate maritime heritage, including Build A Boat in a Day — call for dates and more information. They also offer Shallowbag Bay Sail-Abouts and Open Sails on Tuesdays starting at 6 p.m. throughout the summer, weather permitting. Youth Sailing Programs at the Roanoke Island Maritime Museum are offered from June 10 through August 2 for kids ages 8 to 16. Call for information to register in advance to programs, sailing programs or Open Sails.
Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse / Manteo Weather Tower
- East End of Queen Elizabeth Street, Waterfront
- (252) 475-1750
Perched over the water along Manteo’s waterfront boardwalk, the picturesque Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse is perfectly suited to the town’s maritime setting. This Victorian stick-style lighthouse is a reproduction of the third Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse, which never stood on the Manteo waterfront but in the Croatan Sound from 1877 to 1955. Out there in the sound, the Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse keepers lived on the lonely lighthouse platform and operated the light to help mariners navigate safely. This replica was built by the Town of Manteo and dedicated in September 2004. Inside the lighthouse are seasonal exhibits along with some boat-related exhibits, including the boat models of late local boat builder Warren O’Neal.
Also on this site, the Town of Manteo is keeping the century-old tradition of the Storm Warning Tower alive with the Manteo Weather Tower. This particular tower dates back to 1904, when the U.S. Weather Bureau set up its first Storm Warning Tower in Manteo. Using flags by day and lights by night, the towers provided a useful service to local residents, especially mariners and fishermen, but certainly for others as well. A. E. Drinkwater, the town’s telegrapher, was the weather observer, and the tower was located first at the downtown courthouse then at a location on the waterfront and then at Drinkwater’s home, where it stayed for decades until the Town of Manteo obtained it in 2005. The tower on the Manteo waterfront today is the original 1904 tower with the original signal lights and a bit of refurbishing. The Town of Manteo’s dock master changes the flags and lights according to weather reports, and locals and visitors enjoy interpreting the signals. If you need to brush up on your weather-warning flag symbols, a legend for the flags is available at the base of the tower and also on postcards available at the Maritime Museum and at Manteo’s Town Hall on Budleigh Street.
Silver Bonsai Gallery
- 905 S. U.S. Highway 64
- (252) 475-1413
A visit to Roanoke Island is not complete without a stop at this gem of a gallery. Named among the nation’s top 25 fine art and craft galleries, Silver Bonsai Gallery pulses with spinning kinetic wooden sculptures, paintings, locally crafted jewelry and distinctive gift ideas. The gallery is home to the jewelry studio of award-winning master goldsmiths Ben and Kathryn Stewart, creators of the nationally acclaimed Modern Heirloom® jewelry collection. Ben and Kathryn specialize in unique jewelry, hand engraving, repair and restoration, and custom design. Celebrate the handmade alongside a garden of bonsai trees and supplies at this Outer Banks treasure. Each visit to the gallery is an opportunity to enter Silver Bonsai’s inspiring world of fine art, fine craft, one-of-a-kind jewelry and bonsai.
The Andrus Gallery and Studio
- The Waterfront Shops
- (252) 305-5411
The Andrus Gallery and Studio is the gallery and working space of watercolor painter Steve Andrus. The gallery sells only Andrus’ work, and you will find the artist at work here as well. Andrus’ craftsmanship is stunning; he has a flair for capturing light and reflection. Much of his subject matter is nautical, focusing on beautiful sailing vessels on a stormy sea or docked in a peaceful harbor. His first-hand wilderness experiences in Taos, New Mexico, also bring some decidedly Western subjects to the gallery as well. Stop by to talk to Andrus and view his artwork.
The Museum Store at Roanoke Island Festival Park
- 1 Festival Park Road, Roanoke Island Festival Park, across from Manteo Waterfront
- (252) 475-1506 ext. 252
While you’re on Roanoke Island, make sure to stop in and visit The Museum Store located at Roanoke Island Festival Park! A one-of-a-kind museum store, they feature historical gifts and treasures that include their sailing ship, the Elizabeth II, American Indian Town and 400 years of Outer Banks history. Celebrating American handcraft, The Museum Store features North Carolina pottery, ceramic birdhouses and copper garden art in addition to felted soaps and handpoured candles, nature-inspired copper jewelry and silver statement pieces. And there are plenty of swords, hooks and pirate treasure for your little swashbuckler! Local wine, peanuts and jellies are also part of the mix. The Museum Store is open 7 days a week from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friends of Elizabeth II receive 20% off their purchases.
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s National Wildlife Refuges Visitor Center
- 100 Conservation Way
- Roanoke Island
- (252) 473-1131
Roanoke Island’s newest attraction is the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s brand-new LEED–certified visitor center on the north end of Roanoke Island near the entrance to Fort Raleigh National Historic Site. The National Wildlife Refuges Visitor Center provides information on the 11 National Wildlife Refuges and one National Fish Hatchery in northeastern North Carolina and southeastern Virginia and helps visitors plan adventures to some of these wild places. The mission of the center is to show people about the regional National Wildlife Refuges so they’ll be comfortable visiting them. And once you’ve been here, you’ll be itching to get outdoors and explore not only the refuges on the Outer Banks but also those close by.
The facility includes numerous high-quality, interactive exhibits and dioramas that depict what goes on in the regional National Wildlife Refuge. Experience realistic dioramas of waterfowl, red wolves, black bears and other animals. Enjoy movies about the history of the National Wildlife Refuge system and local history. Discover natural history on touch screens and through hands-on exhibits. The most popular exhibit is an airplane that you can “fly” over each of the regional refuges. The aerial photography in that exhibit is astounding!
The National Wildlife Refuges Visitor Center has a 130-seat auditorium and educational classroom. Beginning in May, the Visitor Center will be hosting a series of four Wildlife and Wildlands of Eastern North Carolina art expos that will run back-to-back for the next 12 months. Programs will be coming in the future, so ask about those. The gift shop is well-stocked with nature-themed gifts, toys, books, posters, artwork, jewelry and educational materials. Admission is free. Hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Sundays. The site is closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas.
- 107 Fernando Street
- (252) 473-2099
In the red-roofed building across from the Maritime Museum, Wanchese Pottery features the handcrafted pottery of local potters Bonnie and Bob Morrill. Their work is beautiful as well as functional. Well-crafted bowls, pitchers, coffee mugs, dinnerware, oil lamps, bird feeders and more are stacked on the shelves in this quaint shop and studio.