Outer Banks Communities: Buxton

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse
Principal Keeper Quarters (1871)

Hatteras Island, like many of the Outer Banks islands, was originally home to Native Americans, in particular the Croatan Indians. Hatteras is believed to be the English pronunciation of a Croatan word meaning "there is less vegetation." Seven unincorporated villages are located on Hatteras Island, along with the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

One of these villages, Buxton, sits on the corner of Hatteras Island where it turns southwest back toward the mainland. Located at both the widest and the highest point of Hatteras Island, the village sits on the point and juts out into the sea. This point was long known as Cape Point, and for many years Buxton was simply known as "The Cape."

"The Cape" claims several important dates in North Carolina and in American history. In 1802, the federal government established the now famous Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. Originally 90 feet tall, ship captains complained that the light was too dim. So, in 1854, the lighthouse was extended to 150 feet. The final adjustment was made in 1870 at a height of 208 feet, which made the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse the tallest brick lighthouse in the world.

The first post office was established in 1873, and in 1882, the town changed its name to Buxton in honor of Judge Ralph P. Buxton. Buxton gained national fame in 1902 when Reginald Fessenden, the former chief chemist for Thomas Edison made radio history. Fessenden experimented with wireless telegraphy and pioneered modern radio when he transmitted the first notes of music from Buxton to Roanoke Island. In a letter to his patent attorney, he described the sounds as "very loud and plain, i.e. as loud as in an ordinary telephone."

In the 1930s, during the Great Depression, Buxton and other parts of the barrier islands received conservation help from the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). These workers constructed dunes and worked to help stabilize the shoreline, resulting in the dunes now seen along NC 12. The original dunes along the coast of Hatteras Island drifted and blew across the island after shipbuilders had cut down the majority of the trees. The CCC helped to repair that damage by rebuilding the dunes. In addition, they placed shrubs and grass along the coast to prevent erosion from the ocean.

In 1953, the National Park Service established the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, which runs from Nags Head to the north to Ocracoke to the south. In addition to being known for the fabulous beaches, Buxton is also known for its flora. The area is home to the largest maritime forest on the North Carolina coast. The forest, known as Buxton Woods Coastal Reserve, is three miles wide and fifty feet high. Pine and live oak trees cover the dunes, alongside swamp forest and marsh wetlands. Over three hundred birds migrate through this area in the fall.

Today, Buxton is popular with anglers who come to the "The Point" to fish for Red Drum and other types of fish. Watersports, including kayaking, kite boarding, and windsurfing are also popular. Just off the coast of Buxton is the convergence of the Labrador Current and the Gulf Stream which creates the largest surf on the East Coast. Surfers come from around the country to ride the waves, and every year a surfing championship is held near the lighthouse

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