In the early part of the 20th century, wealthy visitors started to visit Hatteras Island for fishing and hunting activities, resulting in several hunt clubs being established and giving a start to all kinds of tourist activities and services.
Before bridges were built in the 1930s, the only form of transport between or off the islands was by boat, which allowed for the islands to stay isolated from much of the rest of the mainland. This helped to preserve the maritime culture and the distinctive Outer Banks accent or brogue, which sounds more like an English accent than it does an American accent. Many “bankers” have often been mistaken for being from England or Ireland when traveling to areas outside of the Outer Banks. The brogue is most distinctive the further south one travels on the Outer Banks, with it being the thickest on Ocracoke Island and Harkers Island.
The beacon of the 1870 Cape Hatetteras lighthouse was electrified in 1934 but just a year later the Bureau of Lighthouses decommissioned the lighthouse due to threatening beach erosion. On November 9, 1937, the Cape Hatteras Light Station was transferred to the National Park Service. While the park was not operational at this time, the lighthouse and the keepers’ quarters became part of the nation’s first National Seashore. In the meantime, the beacon was moved to a skeletal steel tower.
As technology improved, the Diamond Shoals became less of a threat, but during World War II a new danger lurked off the Hatteras Island shores in the form of German U-Boats. Stealthy and hard to detect, the U-Boats destroyed several British ships passing through, and it was not unusual for wreckage and even bodies to wash ashore on Hatteras Island on a regular basis.
In 1953, Cape Hatteras National Seashore was officially established, with miles of land donated or sold by local residents. Today, approximately 60% is now protected from private ownership and future development. Then years later, the Herbert C. Bonner Bridge was completed, replacing the former Oregon Inlet ferry, and paving the way for thousands and later millions of visitors to access Hatteras Island. The completion of the bridge caused development and tourism to boom on Hatteras Island and a new oceanfront community known as “Hatteras Colony” was established.
In 1999, the Cape Hatteras Light Station had to be moved due to the threat of shoreline erosion. When completed in 1870, the Cape Hatteras lighthouse was located a safe 1,500 feet from the ocean. Even then, however, storm-driven tides completely washed over Hatteras Island, eroding sand from the ocean side of the island and depositing it on the sound side. By 1970, this process, which has caused the gradual westward migration of the Outer Banks for at least the past 10,000 years, left the lighthouse just 120 feet from the ocean’s edge and almost certain destruction. The light station, which included seven historic structures, was successfully relocated 2,900 feet from the spot on which it had stood since 1870.
Cape Hatteras National Seashore protects parts of three barrier islands: Bodie Island, Hatteras Island, and Ocracoke Island. Beach and sound access ramps, campgrounds, nature trails, and lighthouses can be found and explored on all three islands.
Cape Hatteras National Seashore
46375 Lighthouse Road
Cape Hatteras Light Station
Buxton, NC 27920