Outer Banks History Center
Dust Off Our Files To Discover Our Unique Story.
Manteo – Most people know about the iconic Outer Banks of North Carolina. Many of them know about its unique superlatives: the first English colony in the New World, the first powered, pilot-controlled flight, the first national seashore, the tallest brick lighthouse, Blackbeard the pirate, and most know of it as a major U.S. resort area. What is little-known by most people is the existence of the remarkable Outer Banks History Center. It is a massive collection of local and regional history and offers impressive services.
The Outer Banks History Center is a regional archival research facility in Manteo, N.C. on historic Roanoke Island administered by the Special Collections Section of the State Archives of North Carolina. Its holdings document the history and culture of the North Carolina coast and adjacent areas.
Dr. Lewis Forrest, chair of the nonprofit Friends of the Outer Banks History Center stated, “The Center is a treasure trove of historical information that many residents of eastern North Carolina have never explored. The Center staff is always available to offer assistance in accessing the collections, whether you are interested in the history of the Outer Banks and eastern North Carolina or are researching your family genealogy.”
History Covered in History
The OBHC’s beginnings is a story as interesting as the many collections it contains. It all centers around the prolific and gifted Outer Banks resident, David Stick.
David Stick was an author, historian, researcher, realtor, real estate speculator, philanthropist, and public figure, active on the Outer Banks of North Carolina from the 1930s to the late 2000s. A person would be hard-pressed to find one individual anywhere more accomplished than this Outer Banks adopted son.
“In the mid-1980s, Stick donated his personal library to the State of North Carolina, with the stipulation that a facility be established in Dare County to make the materials available to the public,” writes Samantha Crisp (affectionately known as Sam), Director of the Outer Banks History Center. “The agreement was formalized in 1986, and the Outer Banks History Center opened to the public in 1989.”
The David Stick Papers, spanning 304 boxes and over 240,000 individual items, is just one of the many collections at the OBHC.”
What the Outer Banks History Center Contains: The Collections
There are seven general areas of collections:
1) Local Communities and Regional Organizations – This relates to the people, organizations, and other communities active in the coastal North Carolina region. This region includes the Outer Banks, the “Inner Banks” coastal counties as well as much of Eastern North Carolina, encompassing 24 counties in all. The OBHC actively seeks to document the lived experience of individuals, families, and organizations residing in this region.
2) Family History and Genealogy – These popular materials include published family histories, town and county histories, regional newspapers, and copies of public records.
3) Maritime History and Operations – This extensive history specifically includes the U.S. Life-Saving Service and U.S. Coast Guard (and its various counterparts such as Richard Etheridge, Herbert M. Collins, among others), shipwrecks, lighthouses, other aids to navigation, coastal military operations (particularly relating to the Civil War, World War I, and World War II), tourism, commerce, the fishing and seafood industries, boats and boatbuilding, and recreation.
4) Material and Non-Material Culture of Coastal North Carolina – “Material culture” includes subjects such as regional cookery and foodways, vernacular architecture and landscapes, archaeology, domestic arts and crafts, commemorative landscapes, medicine and homeopathy. “Nonmaterial culture” includes the highly interesting subjects of folkways, language and dialects, traditions, social norms, and political and social activity.
5) Natural History and Coastal Ecology – The technically-minded, the scientists and naturalists can trace the influences of man and nature on coastal North Carolina through specialties which include terrestrial and marine biology, aquaculture, botany, geology, geography, hydrology, oceanography, and meteorology.
6) Early European Exploration and Discovery – Since English America started here, these impressive materials are a gold-mine of writers of American history. Works in this area focus on Sir Walter Raleigh’s “Roanoke Voyages” of 1584, 1585 and 1587 and the first European reports of the native peoples encountered by the Europeans. Other holdings include the published writings of Richard Hakluyt and John Smith, published editions of John White’s watercolors, archeological reports, maps, and navigational charts. A gold mine, indeed!
7) Inventions and Innovations – Probably what North Carolina and the Outer Banks is most famous for – the Wright brothers! Consider the enormous significance and global impact: in the entire history of people on the Earth, there have only been three inventions for human transportation: (1) The wheel, for transportation over land; inventors unknown. (2) The boat, for transportation over water; inventors unknown. And (3) the airplane, for travel in the air; inventors Wilbur and Orville Wright! But wait – there is more. There was also Francis Rogallo (inventor of the flexible wing, leading to hang gliding, parasailing and parachutes), and Reginald Fessenden (first radio wave transmission) and regional activity in the areas of aviation, marine engineering, telecommunications, and technology.
Undoubtedly, one or more of these amazing topics speaks directly to you! Contact the Outer Banks History center to see how you can easily be involved and take advantage of these gold mines.
What the Outer Banks History Center Does: Services
Research Services – All are welcome to visit the Outer Banks History Center in person to conduct research. The reading room has reference and reading areas, a public access computer, a microfilm reader-printer, and access to audiovisual equipment. The knowledgeable staff of archivists is available to assist with research and to retrieve materials from the stack room for use in the reading room.
Reproduction Services – The OBHC provides in-house photocopy, scanning and photographic reproduction services.
Education and Outreach Services – The talented and knowledgeable staff may be able to bring some of the OBHC to you! They regularly conduct historical, genealogical, and cultural programs and activities and lead workshops using the collections with area student and community groups to provide informative presentations and guidance to area organizations and clubs. Do not hesitate to contact the OBHC if you are interested in collaborating on an event, presentation, or workshop. Additionally, they maintain an ongoing exhibit program at the Center for your visits. You may request information by mail or email. The staff at the center will be glad to show you how or you may see the details on their website.
Using These Resources: Who, When, Where & How?
Each year the History Center responds to research requests from scholars, writers, historians, journalists, genealogists, film makers, exhibit designers, the general public, and broadcast media. When they say, “We’ll be glad to help you,” they really mean it!
According to Dr. Forrest, “The Friends of the Outer Banks History Center supports the Center by funding activities not covered by state appropriations. We encourage our members to volunteer time to assist the Center staff. The Friends organization is always looking for new members to help us achieve our mission. Membership applications are available from the center.”
From the Director
Samantha Crisp, has only been the Director since 2017. In that short time, she has made remarkable progress. She has launched a successful summer internship program, reached out to new audiences of K-12 and undergraduate students. This reorganizational project has allowed reclamation of thirteen hundred feet of shelf space for future expansion.
Her long-term goals for the center are to expand and diversify their collection development and outreach activities, and, as Sam says, “develop innovative new programming that brings in community partners and attracts new audiences to the OBHC.” She also wants to “expand the instructional programs to introduce more students to OBHC materials and to expand the digitization program to increase online access to OBHC collections.”
Sam says that working with K-12 and undergraduate students is the favorite part of her job. “There isn’t much I don’t like about the job, but I suppose one thing is that due to the fragility and rarity of the materials in our care, we have to be a bit restrictive on how we’re able to share our resources with the public.”
Sam’s short-term future projects include offering a research stipend to assist a scholarly researcher with travel expenses associated with coming to the OBHC to complete a week of intensive research with OBHC collections. Since Dare County will be celebrating its sesquicentennial (150th anniversary of its founding in 1870) in 2020, Sam expects that the center will be in greater demand for historic resources. Additionally, “we’re planning some fun pop-up exhibits and other events to celebrate.”
Her parting words: “We hope the public sees the OBHC as a place they will feel welcome and encouraged to explore their own past and find new and interesting connections to their local community.”
We hope so too, Sam!
James D. Charlet has 24 years of experience as a classroom teacher of North Carolina history and 25 years permanent residency on Hatteras Island with expertise in its history, geography and culture. He is the author of two textbooks (NC Studies and Wright Brothers) and numerous magazine articles on Outer Banks subjects