Friday, August 20, 2010

The Outer Banks of North Carolina by Nikki Leigh

There is a fascinating history along the Outer Banks of North Carolina. In addition to a rugged coast and a rich history, there are five lighthouses on the coast – what more could a lighthouse fan want? The lighthouses along the coast include: Currictuck, Bodie Island, Cape Hatteras, Ocracoke, and Cape Lookout. These notes are about the beginning of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore which include the very notable and recognizable Cape Hatteras Lighthouse.

This is a bit of the history that sparked the idea for Nikki Leigh’s
Lilah and the Locket – an Outer
Banks mystery which includes plenty of Outer Banks history and flavor.

Travel back to the 1950’s on the coast of North Carolina with my guest blogger, author Nikki Leigh!

Author’s Note

The Civilian Conservation Corps work mentioned in this story actually took place. In the 1950's,

this work was completed and the Cape Hatteras National Seashore opened to the public. Multitudes of people vacation along the Outer Banks of North Carolina each year.

The characteristics the Outer Banks make it difficult to protect the area from nature. They are basically a chain of sand bars along the east coast of North Carolina. The Atlantic Ocean lies on the east and Pamlico Sound lies to the west. At times the ocean water washes into the sound and back to the ocean. This makes the area very vulnerable to bad weather and hurricanes.

The beating surf and fierce undertow cause serious erosion which threatens the coastline. Local inlets shift from south to north with each passing season. Over the years, especially fierce hurricanes have closed some existing inlets while they create new inlets. Hatteras Inlet and Oregon Inlet are the most notable examples.

People and events from real life and my imagination inhabit this story. It offers a glimpse into the rugged coastal experience people enjoy when they visit the Cape Hatteras National Seashore and the Outer Banks of North Carolina. It also illustrates the changes in this stretch of coastline in the last fifty years.


Anyone who has read much non_fiction or history about the Outer Banks of North Carolina should be familiar with David Stick. He has written numerous books about the region. These books tell us why this stretch of the eastern seaboard is called the graveyard of the Atlantic. The reader learns about various events and people over several hundred years along with his personal experiences living in this picturesque area.

He is best known as an Outer Banks historian. Many documentary specials about the area contain at least one interview with David Stick. In addition to being a renowned historian, he was also the first licensed real estate broker on the Outer Banks. His company, Southern Shores Realty, was instrumental in developing the town of Southern Shores between 1956 and 1970. This is the same town where he served as mayor.

But, was David Stick the only person in his family to assist in the development of the Outer Banks? If we research back a little further we learn about his father. David Stick followed in the footsteps of his father Frank Stick. In 1929, Frank moved to the Outer Banks. He was an artist and became an entrepreneur on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

In the 1930's Frank Stick knew Dare County was on the brink of bankruptcy. He wasn't the kind of man to stand back and watch the area go belly up. Love for the area prompted his desire to discover a way to regenerate the Outer Banks in addition to finding a way to protect and preserve the natural beauty of the area. Was there a way to bring in tourism revenue while still being able to preserve the things he loved about the area?

One of the biggest problems on the Outer Banks was transportation and the difficulty in getting from one area to another. To remedy this immediate problem, better roads and more bridges were needed. In truth, any paved roads would be a big improvement. Travelers were met by sandy paths which led in all directions and many went in circles. Many areas along the lower Outer Banks were isolated from the upper Outer Banks and the mainland. Bridges were a more effective way to connect the barrier islands which make up the Outer Banks. Sporadic and slow ferry service could only transport a limited number of people per day.

The barrier islands presented various difficulties. These flat and low-lying sandy islands had no protection from the rough surf that eroded the sand and would wash out any new roads.

Frank Stick worked with Washington Baum and they made some progress. Mr. Baum chaired the Dare County Commission and could help the project. In 1928 a toll bridge linked Manteo and Nags Head. This allowed people to travel from the mainland to the beach. Soon, a toll bridge connected lower Currituck County and Kitty Hawk. This provided two routes for tourist to reach the upper portions of the Outer Banks. Although, there was still no good way to access the lower section around Buxton, Hatteras and Ocracoke.

In 1933, Frank Stick unveiled his plan. Cape Hatteras would be the focal point of a National Seashore that would extend over 100 miles. It would begin just south of the Virginia state line and extend past Cape Lookout, NC. The small villages scattered along the coastline would remain separate from the National Seashore. Several wildlife refuges were located throughout the area.

The first paved highway would extend the full length of the Seashore and bridges would link the islands in order for tourists to experience everything the area had to offer. Large sand dunes could provide protection for a paved road and would be aesthetically pleasing. Bridges would provide a better way to link the islands. The plan offered a chance to increase tourism and provide thousands of jobs.

What better time to promote this idea, than in the middle of a nationwide economic depression? The government saw the plan as a wonderful way to provide employment for thousands and they bought existing bridges in the area and removed the tolls. The Cape Hatteras National Seashore Commission bought land needed for the project. There was some animosity about how this was handled by people who owned property in the area which would become the National Seashore.

Frank Stick headed various projects on Hatteras and Ocracoke Islands. One of the first priorities was to build 115 miles of sand dunes to protect the islands and future roads. The project required 600 miles of fence, 140 million square feet of grass, with two and a half million small bushes and shrubs to build the dunes and anchor them against the forces of nature that would assault them. When the dune line was complete, they built paved roads.

During this time, the United States was experiencing a major economic depression. Untold numbers of people were unemployed in 1932. The people of the United States were desperate for some relief and they needed to find work.

New York governor Franklin D. Roosevelt planned to protect the environment, by putting the masses of unemployed people to work. He called an emergency session of the 73rd Congress to announce his plan. Thousands of unemployed young men joined the peacetime army to fight the destruction of our natural treasures. Over three million men worked on the various projects.

Work camps were set up and myriads of young men traveled to areas of the country for specific types of work. The Civilian Conservation Corps were born. This story focuses on one project: the creation of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore in North Carolina.

I've been reading a lot about how the seashore came into being and it was a fascinating time with a wide variety of people who were involved. There were different reasons why these people worked to help the seashore be formed. But, I think that is a story for another time.

Before the project could be completed, World War II broke out in Europe. The war forced the United States government to shift its focus. One of the many projects they abandoned was the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

The government workers returned to complete the project in the 1950's...

From Lilah and the Locket:

"The first morning of Kristie’s vacation she jogs along the beach with her German shepherd,
Lilah. At the base of the Cape Hatteras lighthouse, Lilah finds a human bone below the sand dune. Kristie’s plans for a quiet week are forgotten as she joins in the investigation. Ocean breezes blow across the Outer Banks of North Carolina and Kristie uncovers a personal connection to the murder victim and her locket.

"She meets a handsome government worker named Nathan who is working to complete the National Seashore project in 1954. Do his co-workers know something about the crime? Will Kristie and the Deputy find the guilty party? Join Kristie on the rugged shores of Hatteras in the search for a murderer."

Read more from multi-talented author Nikki Leigh here. Her Cape Hatteras Series blog is also a great spot to check out!

Thanks so much, Nikki, for sharing your wealth of info on the history of the Outer Banks.


  1. Thank you so much for sharing background information about my first Outer Banks mystery. I'm working on the initial plans for the sequel to Lilah :)

    I love lighthouses and the coast - so getting to write fictional stories set around lighthouses and weaving history into my work - is a dream :)

    Nikki Leigh

  2. Nikki I really enjoyed reading about the history of the Outer Banks. I traveled there last year and was able to photograph 4 of the 5 lighthouses. I found it very interesting how each lighthouse is painted differently so that the early sailors would know their location by the way the lighthouse looked. I also love mysteries so I'm looking forward to reading your book.

  3. Hi,
    My name is Sarah and I'm with Dwellable. I was looking for blog posts about the Outer Banks to share on our site and I came across your post...If you're open to it, drop me a line at Sarah(at)dwellable(dot)com.
    Hope to hear from you :)