by Judith Bailey on the Hidden Gem of Manteo NC
This month I want to take you on my own "Walking Tour of Manteo." For quite a lot of money a few people were conducting these tours around town but in this article you can get this information for free.
Manteo NC has always been a town in the planning stage. Before the Revolutionary War plans were in place to construct a village on Roanoke Island and house "pilots," or men skilled at navigating the shallow waters of the sounds.
In the early 1800's the village was a patchwork of stores and farmland with free roaming cows. By the late 1800's, thanks to an influx of refugees from a hurricane that decimated Hatteras Island, it was ready to become an incorporated town.
And the site of the greatest change has been the heart of it all, known to the locals as "the Waterfront." That is where we are going to conduct our tour.
Parking is a problem in the downtown area of Manteo NC so the best place to put a vehicle is across the little bridge at Roanoke Island Festival Park. There is a new dock on the waterway near the parking lot with interesting views. Coming back across the bridge (on foot now) you will get a glimpse on the right of what is left of a commercial fishing enterprise known as "Dough’s Creek." This little group of houses used to be teeming with activity as crabbers and fishermen went in and out.
Coming off the bridge you will see some steps on the left leading down to the docks. There are a lot of "snowbird" and "live-aboard" sailboats tied up there. Manteo's docks, in former days, were rough and tumble and not recommended viewing for genteel folk but were also the site of many happy arrivals by steamboat when waterways were the only avenue of transportation.
In the 1970's a revitalization of the entire downtown of Manteo NC took place and cleaning up the Waterfront became high priority. Jutting out into Shallowbag Bay you will see a reconstruction of "Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse," the crown jewel of the town planners. The original lighthouse sat out in the sound between the mainland and Roanoke Island in a particularly treacherous passage. You may wonder why they had to build an exact replica instead of restoring it. When the Life-saving service discontinued use of the lighthouse an enterprising off-islander from Edenton tried to take it home by barge but, during a storm, it sank to the bottom of the river instead. So, essentially, no one got it except the fishes. You can jog along the docks for quite a long way, nearly a full mile, all the way around the Marshes Light Condo development. Or you can walk over to take a look at the restored fishing boats at the NC Maritime Museum. Coming back, on the street-side this time, you will find the Waterfront Shops and the old Courthouse, soon to be the new home of Dare County Arts Council.
There are a few more galleries along the streets, a terrific bookstore and some wonderful restaurants like the Blue Moon, Poor Richard's, the Magnolia Grill and 1587, next to the Tranquil House Inn. Manteo planners worked hard to make their town a fun place to visit and it is truly beautiful now. Be sure to bring your camera as there are many great scenes to photograph -- from the gleaming Elizabeth II ship to the peaceful marshes and docks, it looks great day or night. And, before you get in your vehicle again, for a small admission fee you can visit Roanoke Island Festival Park and talk to the staff about Ye Olde Tymes of Yore and whatever happened to those lost colonists.