Nags Head Historic District

by Judith Bailey on the Hidden Gem of the Nags Head Historic District

You frequently hear about an "historic house" here and there but Nags Head, NC has the Historic District. It is a stretch of the Beach Road between the Nags Head Brew-Thru and St. Andrew's Episcopal Church. In fact, a portion of the church is part of the history. E. R. Outlaw, Sr. built a house in Bertie County and had it shipped by steamer to a lot he bought on the Nags Head oceanfront in 1885.

And that is how the historic district began. He got lonesome there and bought lots for all his friends and relatives and soon there was an entire group of oceanfront cottages and a new summer community on the Outer Banks.

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Don't get me wrong, there were communities already on the islands, in places like Nags Head Woods, Kitty Hawk Woods and all along the sounds and inner waterways. But none before had actually built a house right on the beach.

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In a few years a young builder from Elizabeth City, NC came along and lent his distinctive touch to the houses along the ocean. His name was S.J. Twine and he is responsible for the look of these old houses. His work has stood the test of time as countless storms have hurled themselves against them or sloshed up to the ceilings or threatened to wash them into the sea. And the owners of these cottages have been just as resilient, patiently repairing them and moving them, now and then, further back from the edge of the crashing waves.

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The best way to view the historic district is to park at a beach access near Danube St. and start walking north. Soon you will notice a similarity in construction. Some are small and skinny, others have pyramid roofs and still others are rambling mansions with many porches. But all of them are the "Unpainted Aristocracy," an apt nickname for these simple cottages so full of memories of pleasant days at the beach.

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The best time to view them is at dusk when the evening sky becomes awash with gold, violet and scarlet, back-lighting and forming silhouettes of the cottages. They are a favorite subject of artists and almost everyone paints them purple. I tried hard, when I began to paint them, not to be tempted toward that color. But truthfully, the combination of unpainted wood, atmosphere and age does give these structures a slight purple cast. Artists like to "push" color, meaning, if it hints at it, then go for it, and I had to do the same.

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Should you decide to visit the Nags Head Historic District, please understand that each cottage is the beach home of a particular family so respect private property and view them only from the beach or from the street, never going into yards or crossing over dunes. Also, ask permission before taking any pictures of occupied places. For more information, get the book, Nags Headers, by Susan Byrum Rountree.

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