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Outer Banks Communities: Corolla

Whalehead Club
Whalehead Club

The northernmost accessible town on the Outer Banks is the village of Corolla. Up until the early 1980s, Corolla was a simple, sleepy seaside town, and home to one of the most popular attractions on the Outer Banks, the wild ponies. Corolla was little-known, rarely traveled, and considered the last beach frontier of North Carolina. Its remoteness kept this area isolated, even after the southern areas began developing.

The area was put on the map in 1874, when the U. S. government built the Currituck Beach Lifesaving Station and the Currituck Beach Lighthouse. The following year, the small fishing town was officially named Corolla when the federal government established a small post office.

The name was suggested by a local teacher, who proposed the village be names after the inner petals of a flower, the corolla (ka-RAH-la). In that same year, the federal government built the185 foot Currituck Beach Lighthouse. This was the last major lighthouse to be built on the islands.

During the early 1900s, the area became popular with hunters who came to the marshlands each fall during the annual waterfowl migration. The Whalehead Club, built by millionaire industrialists in 1920, was the largest and most impressive of the Outer Banks hunting lodges, is currently being restored to its original splendor.

Though it was popular for hunting and fishing, Corolla and the surrounding area were considered little more than a barren stretch of sand. Line-distributed electricity didn't arrive until the 1950s, and up to 1972, there was only one telephone in the area, and it only allowed outgoing calls. At that time, only 15 people lived in Corolla village. The area was better known for the Corolla Wild Horses, which have roamed the Outer Banks for years. The horses are descendants of Spanish Mustangs brought to the islands by explorers back in the 16th century.

In 1973, Corolla's fate took a dramatic turn. A developer from Winston-Salem named Earl Slick took one look at the untouched beach and saw possibilities. He and his Coastland Corporation paid Texas oil tycoon Walter B. Davis $2 million for 636 acres north of the Dare County line.

Two years later, Slick built a guardhouse on the southern edge of his property, preventing residents and landowners from entering the Currituck beaches. The locals protested, with passion, and the dispute ended up in the Supreme Court of North Carolina. On November 1, 1984, the state took possession of the road from the Dare County line north, resulting in free passage to Corolla and the opportunity for development. After that, construction crews moved in and built one of the most popular upscale destinations on the East Coast. The area boasts retail stores, movie theaters, restaurants and some of the most majestic homes on the Outer Banks, including 7,000 square foot mansions.

Now, the resident population numbers around 500, with numbers jumping to the thousands during the tourist season. Lodgings include some of the most luxurious rental properties on the Outer Banks. The average rental property has over 4,000 square feet and can sleep 16 to 20 people. Upscale dining and shopping are available nearby as are exercise facilities, outdoor pools, and hot tubs.

Even with all these amenities, Corolla still offers vacationers a sense of remoteness and isolation, a sense of "getting away from it all."

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