The sleepy beach village of Corolla on the Outer Banks of North Carolina was a very different town 90 years ago. Northern Industrialist Edward Collings Knight, Jr. and his wife Marie Louise LeBel moved to Corolla in the early 1920s and began construction on their 21,000 square foot private residence that would later be known as the Whalehead Club.
The private residence is located on the Currituck Sound and is situated in the perfect spot to satisfy the Knight`s passion for waterfowl hunting. Three years of construction and $385,000 later, the couple moved into their soundfront `cottage` which was unlike any structure local folks could have imagined.
The landmark structure has been a major attraction on the Outer Banks for decades and lays almost within the shadow of Currituck Beach Lighthouse. The home is located on 39 acres of prime soundfront property known as Currituck Heritage Park, and owned by Currituck County. Tens of thousands of Corolla, NC visitors stop by the historic estate each year to travel back in time to see how the ultra-rich lived in the early 1900s.
Constructing a 21,000-square-foot, five-story building in the 1920s was no simple feat, and required a significant amount of time, money and coordination. At that time, Corolla wasn`t nearly as developed as it is today; in fact, the roads to get to the small beach town were difficult to navigate over.
Unlike most major modern construction projects, a majority of the materials used to build the massive estate were shipped to Corolla and assembled at the construction site. The home`s frame is made out of steel beams and the walls are eighteen inches thick. Cork floors were chose because of their resistance to humidity and the roof was covered with copper shingles.
A total of three years were required to finish construction on the home and when the estate was completed in 1922, Edward Collings Kinight Jr. and his wife used the home periodically over breaks and holiday up until 1936 when they sold the home to Mr. Adams.
Following the Pearl Harbor attacks in December of 1941, the United States was plunged into World War II and the crisis lead to the Coast Guard leasing the Whalehead Club from Mr. Adams for the entirety of the war. The building served as a center for the Coast Guard to rescue sailors off the coast and the home also served as bass camp for mounted beach patrols. Following the surrender of Axis powers in 1945, the Whalehead Club was returned to its owner.
George McLean and William Witt from Virginia were the next property owners following Adams` death. Soon after they purchased the home, they leased it to a visionary educator, Hatcher Williams. He would turn the Whalehead Club into the Corolla Academy, which was a summer boarding school for boys. Currituck County on the Outer Banks was still a relatively isolated place at the time, and served as an ideal location for his school. The Corolla Academy offered boys excellent academic as well as recreational opportunities until its closure in 1962.
Following the end of the Corolla Academy and Williams` lease on the Whalehead Club, the Atlantic Research Corporation of Alexandria, Virginia occupied the building. The organization specialized in rocket and fuel research for both military and space programs - both important programs during the Cold War between America and the Soviet Union at the time. The company ended their lease and purchased the Whalehead Club outright in 1964 after contributing to America`s successful development of large booster rockets. Then in 1969, the estate was sold yet again after the company moved its test firing facilities away from the Outer Banks.
The home is currently owned by Currituck County who purchased the property in 1992. They wanted to ensure free public access to the Currituck Sound and by 1994; the county owned 39 acres surrounding the Whalehead Club`s building. In order to get the building reopened to the public, an aggressive restoration project began in 1999. By 2002, the home had been fully restored to its original 1920s majesty. Thanks to the extensive restoration project and investment by Currituck County, the Whalehead Club attracts tens of thousands of visitors each year to the truly historic home.
Tours Offered at the Historic Whalehead Club - Now that you`ve learned about the rich history of the home, it`s time to see the inside for yourself! The curator and educational teams for the Whalehead Club have put together a collection of guided tours that are available to the public.
The Legacy Tour is offered Monday through Saturday (11:00 am till 4:00 pm) and costs $12 per adult. This is the only tour that does not require advance reservation. All other tours (require you to call 252.453.9040 for tour times and reservation info. These tours include: Hunting and Maritime Heritage Tour, Behind the Scenes: Then and Now Tour, Tippling at Twilight, Daylight Ghost Tour and Moonlight Legend, Lore and Ghost Tour.
Special Events at the Whalehead Club - Over recent years, the Outer Banks has become a hotspot for destination weddings and large events. And as the OBX has increased in popularity with these large-scale celebrations, the Whalehead Club has as well. The grounds are immaculately cared for, and the Currituck Sound and grandeur of the renovated estate provide the perfect backdrop for a couple to say their vows.
The grounds and even building are offered to the public for events ranging from corporate gatherings, birthdays, family reunions and anniversaries, to receptions, rehearsal dinners and dream weddings. The Whalehead Club plays host to a number of celebrations ranging from corporate gatherings, birthdays, family reunions and anniversaries, to receptions, rehearsal dinners and dream weddings.