The Outer Banks has miles of uncluttered beaches, outdoor activities, and fresh caught seafood. But what you might not realize, it’s loaded with military history that begins with the Civil War. The Outer Banks is an ideal destination whether you’re visiting on leave, retired military, or a military history enthusiast.
From North to South, let’s look at what you’ll find:
1. Monument to a Century of Flight
Located adjacent to the visitor center in Kitty Hawk, the Monument to a Century of Flight pays tribute to Wilbur and Orville Wright’s historic flight and the aviation milestones achieved in just 100 years. When you stop to think about it, the advances over the course of a century are mind boggling and this memorial serves as a reminder of human ingenuity, perseverance, and courage (pictured above).
Among honorees, you’ll see Capt. Albert Berry, the first man to parachute from a plane in 1912; Igor Sikorsky, who developed the helicopter (first flown in 1939); the Tuskegee Airmen, and the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPS).
2. Wright Brothers National Memorial
To see where powered and piloted flight began, head to the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kill Devil Hills. The Wright brothers chose Kill Devil Hills for its high dunes, steady winds, and privacy. On the grounds, you’ll see massive stone monuments marking the four progressively longer flights they made in 1903.
In the visitor center and museum, you’ll learn about the Wright brothers’ setbacks and success. Within the museum, portraits of those who advanced aviation hang in the Paul E. Garber Shrine. You’ll be able to put faces to names since both Capt. Berry and Igor Sikorsky are honored. This year’s inductee is General Benjamin O. Davis, a Tuskegee Airman who was the first African American pilot to fly solo in an Army Air Corps plane. His achievements helped end segregation in the Air Force. Entrance is free for active duty and retired military.
3. Battle of Roanoke Island Historic Marker
Union General Ambrose Burnside landed on Roanoke Island in 1862. Outmanned and outmaneuvered, the Confederate commander surrendered on Day 2. The Union Forces gained control of North Carolina’s Roanoke Sound.
Although the Battle of Roanoke Island was one of the largest Civil War battles in North Carolina, no evidence of it remains. This marker sits behind a white picket fence at the southeast corner of the intersection of Highway U.S. 64 and NC 345.
4. Monument to the Freedman’s Colony
With Union control of Roanoke Island, newly freed slaves built homes, schools, and churches. Men, women, and children escaped slavery on the mainland and made their way to Roanoke Island, too. At its peak, the Freedman’s Colony had 1500 residents. The Freedman’s Colony historic marker stands at Fort Raleigh National Historic Site. Little evidence remains of this community which disbanded when former estate owners were given back their land in 1867.
5. Dare County Veterans Memorial
In downtown Manteo, on Roanoke Island, the Dare County Veterans Memorial remembers veterans from World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.
6. Pea Island Cookhouse Museum
Manteo’s Pea Island Cookhouse Museum remembers the only U.S. lifesaving station to be manned by an all-Black crew. The museum tells the story of the lifesaving station’s keeper, Richard Etheridge. Etheridge grew up as a slave on Roanoke Island, fought in the Civil War, and as the station’s keeper, hired and trained local Black men for his lifesaving crew.
They are credited with saving many lives, including all of those aboard the E.S. Newman schooner in the 1890s. The Pea Island Lifesaving Station was led and manned by Black men until it was decommissioned in 1947. The museum houses memorabilia and photographs from the lifesaving station as well as artifacts from the E.S. Newman schooner. In the Herbert M. Collins Boathouse next door, you’ll see a surfboat like one Collins used in rescues. Collins was the last keeper of the Pea Island Lifesaving Station and served 34 years in the U.S. Coast Guard.
7. Chicamacomico Life Saving Station
Chicamacomico Life Saving Station in Rodanthe, on Hatteras Island, was commissioned in 1871 in response to the loss of lives and ships on the North Carolina coast. With shifting sand bars and treacherous currents, this area became known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic.
The station was decommissioned in 1954. Now fully restored, the Chicamacomico Life Saving Station-turned-museum tells the story of heroic rescues by lifesaving crews. Most notably, the crew rowed through flames to rescue 42 British sailors when their oil tanker exploded in 1918. Along with touring the “new” building built in 1911, you can visit the original station and outbuildings from 1874.
8. Buxton British Cemetery
In Cape Hatteras National Seashore, the Buxton British Cemetery is the final resting place for two British sailors. These sailors perished when their ship, the HMT Bedfordshire sank. During World War II, 65 German U-boats wreaked havoc on ships and freighters off the Outer Banks coast. As a result, the area became known as Torpedo Junction.
A simple white picket fence surrounds their graves. Members of the Royal Navy, U.S. Coast Guard, and National Park Service honor them in a memorial service each year.
9. Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum
Located in Hatteras Village, the arc-shaped museum houses an extensive collection of shipwreck artifacts. Exhibits look at everything from Blackbeard’s pirating along the coast to the evolution of scuba diving.
You’ll find articles retrieved from U.S. warships and German U-boats. A map of hundreds of shipwrecks off the North Carolina coast shows the “Graveyard of the Atlantic” is an appropriate name. While you’re there, ask about the shipwrecks you can explore during your Outer Banks vacation.