Whalehead in Historic Corolla
Picture Corolla, North Carolina, in 1922. There’s the Currituck Beach Lighthouse here, a U.S. Life-Saving Station, a post office, a one-room schoolhouse, and a smattering of stores and lots of wild deer, boar, and horses. Despite the existence of several small Outer Banks communities (remember, the official monikers North Carolina’s Outer Banks or Currituck Outer Banks didn’t begin until decades later), with names of Wash Woods, Seagull, Poyners Hill and Whalehead or Currituck Beach (now Corolla, NC), the number of people calling this area home is very small. The villages have no electricity, that won’t come until 1955, no paved roads, no modern infrastructure. But what Corolla, NC, does have is an abundance of duck, geese and other waterfowl. Birds from this area are shipped up and down the East Coast to appear on the plates of top big-city restaurants, and guiding is one of the mainstays of making a living in this remote stretch of sand, along with fishing and raising cattle. Residents are poor, yes, but determinedly self-sufficient and hardy. And, besides, the inlets on both ends of the island cut the population off from the rest of the world such that Corolla residents don’t have a lot of comparison.
The Knights Bring New Life to Corolla
Into this scene Edward Collings Knight, Jr., enters to participate in one of his passions – waterfowl hunting. He’s a wealthy northern industrialist, and he’s also a nature lover and conservationist. In Corolla, he purchases the Lighthouse Hunt Club with a four and a half-mile track of land. Shortly after, he and his second wife, Marie Lebel Bonat Knight, honeymoon on this remote Currituck outer banks stretch and soon begin building a sumptuous winter residence. By 1925, it’s complete, and the couple names it Corolla Island (it’s renamed The Whalehead Club in 1939 by a new owner). Inside the five-story, 21,000-square-foot house are wonders to behold such as electricity, running hot and cold water, indoor bathrooms and even a refrigerator. The building is also an exceptional example – and remains so to this day – of the ornamental Art Nouveau style of architecture. What a contrast to the simple lifestyle of the locals!
A Study in Contrasts
The time is 1922. Across the country, suffragettes have only just won the right to vote, prohibition is in full swing, Speak Easys are continually growing in underground popularity and Al Capone is a young man, just beginning to gain a foothold in the organized crime scene. Jazz tunes by African American musicians, although already wildly popular, have just begun to receive recognition in the recording industry. The Flapper style of dress is starting to bring in those shortened hemlines so often associated with the style and, for the first time, the entire World Series is broadcast over the radio. This is the world of the Knights, a wealthy couple who are bringing that world to Corolla, North Carolina. Now, focus on the Corolla and Currituck outer banks. Here the residents spend their time in quiet pursuits – doing what’s necessary to survive. They fish, they hunt and farm. A few have government jobs with the life-saving station or the lighthouse. When night falls, oil lamps light the modest homes – not fancy, glittering chandeliers. There are no bars to go to to dance or drink the forbidden liquor. Clothes are utilitarian and functional with little concern for the latest popular styles. Entertainment is homespun and community oriented. How these two worlds mix is part of the intriguing story of Whalehead.