Core Sound Stop 3: Shackleford Banks and Cape Lookout
When the state of North Carolina acquired Core and Shackleford Banks in the 1970s, and subsequently donated it to the National Park Service, Shackleford Banks had few residents other than the mainlanders who used it for seasonal fish camps. In earlier generations, however, Point Lookout, at the southernmost tip of Core Banks, and Shackleford Banks, extending at nearly a right angle to the west of Cape Lookout, were the sites of busy maritime villages.
Shackleford Banks was settled around 1714, in part by the families of New England seamen recruited to harvest the whales that migrated through local waters in the early spring. During the other seasons, these people and the subsequent generations along these banks made their living fishing for mullet and porpoises. The Point Lookout Lighthouse, painted in iconic black and white diamonds, was built in 1859 to replace an 1812 structure. The community around the lighthouse came to be known as Diamond City.
In the 1890s there came a series of storms that profoundly altered the course of Carteret County’s history. The final blow was the San Ciriaco storm of August, 1899, remembered up and down the Carolina coast as the Great Hurricane. The storm caused much death and damage, from the Caribbean up along the eastern seaboard of the United States. As it skirted southeastern North Carolina, it slowed down considerably and picked up strength before making a direct and disastrous landfall in Carteret County. The lives of people all along the Outer Banks were irreversibly altered. Men were lost at sea, communities destroyed, livestock drowned, and the landscape shredded.
Shackleford Banks and Cape Lookout were left essentially uninhabitable. The ocean water that washed over the dunes flooded drinking wells and gardens with killing salt, uncovered coffins and bones in the churchyards, and destroyed the maritime forests and nearly all other vegetation along the dunes.
By the time the next big storm came ashore, less than three months later, most of the bankers had abandoned their devastated communities. Many floated their houses, or the remains of their houses, across Core Sound, and took up residence on the mainland. The Morehead City neighborhood known as Promise Land is said to have been named for these storm refugees, whose disastrous uprooting reminded them of stories from the Bible. The majority of the bankers settled on or near Harkers Island, increasing its population several-fold, and contributing a new dimension of hardiness and seafaring experience to the Down East culture. Later in this tour, when you reach Harkers Island, you’ll get a glimpse of their legacy.
Shackleford Banks and Cape Lookout are now part of the Cape Lookout National Seashore, maintained by the National Park Service. The lighthouse and lighthouse keeper’s quarters are open to the public daily from 9-5 between April and November. For information about accessibility and planning your trip, click here.
To reach Harkers Island, take 70 north leaving Beaufort. In approximately twelve miles, 70 makes a 90˚ turn to the right, crossing the North River to the town of Bettie. Follow 708 over Ward Creek, and just east of Otway, turn south on Harkers Island Road, which will carry you past Straits and then over one more bridge, to Harkers Island.
Click here to proceed.
Photo credits: Seining for mullet, circa 1880s; photo in the collection of the Hampton Mariners Museum, Newport News, Virginia. Spritsail skiff; photograph in the collection of the North Carolina Maritime Museum.