(Part 6 in a Series)
The Whalehead Club in Corolla along the Currituck Outer Banks will celebrate just how far it’s come with a big “10/20 anniversary” event this fall honoring the 10th anniversary of completing the renovation of this stately waterfront home and the 20 years since Currituck County purchased the house, saving it from further ruin.
Can’t wait ‘til the October 13 celebration to visit? Good because even though stores are touting back-to-school, we think there’s still plenty of summer left plus Labor Day weekend still to come (both prime times for beachgoing – and Fodor’s just named this area to its Best Family Beaches on the East Coast list.)
Of course, autumn on the NC coast is likewise wonderful (we should know – had an Oct. 1 wedding there many years back).
Whenever you visit the Currituck Outer Banks, you won’t want to miss The Whalehead Club, a 21,000-square-foot structure dominating soundfront Currituck Heritage Park.
Ray Meiggs, chief operating officer and director of endowments, showed us around the beautiful property, home to Edward Collings Knight Jr. and his second wife, Marie Louise Lebel Bonat Knight, who lived here in the “Roaring Twenties.”
Today, says Meiggs, the site is combining preservation with celebration, expanding historical interpretation of the home to also commemorate the Knight era and lifestyle, no doubt full of good times and good hunting. (Hear from Meiggs in the accompanying video.)
Mr. Knight’s family made their fortune in Pennsylvania, in railroad and sugar businesses. Edward and Marie married in 1922, she 12 years his junior, but had a “friendship” dating to the early 1900s.
Both shared a passion for hunting the waterfowl said to darken the sky by their sheer numbers back then here in Currituck County — “Currituck” being Algonquin Indian for “land of the wild goose.”
Mr. Knight was first a member of the Lighthouse Club here, one of 100 such private hunt clubs populating a mere 19-mile area. Because no club would grant Mrs. Knight membership, the pair purchased the Lighthouse Club and its property, and between 1922 and 1925 built what many later called the “mansion by the sea.”
Today’s Whalehead Club, which the Knights first named Corolla Island, became the grandest of the hunt clubs with its Art Nouveau style and Arts and Crafts touches. Original signed and numbered Tiffany lighting fixtures, corduroy walls and cork flooring set it apart from all others, along with its Otis elevator, salt-water pool and basement, all firsts on the Outer Banks.
The home cost $383,000 to complete (in 1920s dollars), but Corolla Island served the hosts and their guests well, and solved the problem of hunting privileges for Mrs. Knight.
Mr. Knight’s Corolla Island logbook shows 751 birds killed its first season. That area hunting history, including photographs showing hundreds of birds displayed after a single day’s shooting, is expertly exhibited at the Heritage Park’s Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education (with free admission) just steps from The Whalehead Club.
In 1936, both Mr. and Mrs. Knight died within three months of each other. With no children between them, Mrs. Knight left the club to a granddaughter who sold it in 1940 for $25,000 to Ray T. Adams, who used it as a hunting camp, changing the name to the Whalehead Club. During World War II, he leased it to the U.S Coast Guard. In 1958, it was sold and subsequently leased until 1962 as a boys’ academy.
Intrigue arrived when Atlantic Research Corporation (ARC) leased and later purchased it in the mid-1960s for solid rocket-fuel testing. Many recount seeing the flares of the rockets though the project was purposely kept secret. Former employees recall bringing their families for periodic vacation stays in the home.
By 1992, after three more owners, the property had fallen into considerable disrepair. That’s when Currituck County stepped in to save it, buying it and forming the Whalehead Preservation Trust. Restored — no small feat — it opened to the public in 2002 and is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Tours Cater to Different Interests
The Whalehead Club offers the following guided tours (prices are per adult):
• The Residence Tour ($15) recounts the history when the Knights were in residence and the structure’s history from the 1920s to present;
• The Hunting & Maritime Heritage Tour ($9) explores the waterfowl hunting and maritime history of the Currituck Outer Banks;
• The Boat House Tour ($5 solo, $3 when combined with another tour) explains the workings of the boat house, including the Guides’ Lounge and Generator Room;
• The Nuts & Bolts Tour ($9) covers the mechanical and architectural construction of Corolla Island and the Whalehead Club;
• The Behind The Scenes: Then & Now Tour ($9) delves into the life and tasks of servants, as well as the multi-cultural mixes and influences in Corolla;
• The Daylight Ghost Tour ($9) covers ghost, pirate and shipwreck lore;
• The Moonlight Legend, Lore & Ghost Tour ($20), similar to the Daylight Ghost Tour, is conducted at night in a darkened house amid just a few flickering lights with some accounts of research done by the Coastal Paranormal Investigations group.
If You’re Going: The Whalehead Club is open year-round. Visit www.whaleheadclub.org or call 252.453.9040 for more about tours and special events including Wednesday Wine Festivals, the 10/20 Anniversary Celebration October 13, and December’s Holiday Park Illumination Celebration.
For vacation information, including where to stay, where to dine and what to see on North Carolina’s Currituck Outer Banks, go to VisitCurrituck.com or call 877.287.7488 or 252.435.2947. Download or request a copy of the free visitor guide.
Here are other stories in this OBX series: We’ve talked about renting a beach house, staying in a cute inn and a nearby luxury property, an unusual dinner offering, and visiting both the The Currituck Beach Lighthouse and the Wildlife Education Center.
(Next up: Another don’t miss — Corolla’s wild horses.)
If you enjoyed this story, you might also enjoy these:
• Other Stories by Kathy M. Newbern, Luxury Travel Examiner
• Stories by J.S. Fletcher, International Travel Examiner
Luxury Travel Examiner Kathy M. Newbern and spouse, J.S. Fletcher, report on luxury destinations, spas and cruising around the globe. They are award-winning members of the Society of American Travel Writers and created YourSpaReport.com and YourNovel.com, their personalized romance novel business. One of their books is Love’s Bounty: An Outer Banks Romance