Take time to drive north to Corolla to see the Heritage Park, where the visitor can access three attractions: the Currituck Beach Lighthouse, the Whalehead Club, and the Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education. We were most attracted by the Whalehead Club, a 21,000-square-foot mansion that once had an estate of 2,000 acres.
Begun in 1922, the mansion was built for Mr. and Mrs. E.C. Knight as a summer home from which they could indulge their love of duck hunting. (Ducks from Currituck Sound’s marshes were once considered a delicacy and were shipped to the cities of the north by the barrel.) Knight was the son of Edward Collings Knight Sr., who had made a fortune in sugar refining and railroads. He married Marie-Louise LaBel Bonet in 1922, 12 years after the death of his first wife.
The house features many arts and crafts, as well as Art Nouveau features, and architecturally, it’s influenced by many styles, primarily the tastes of the Knights. Mrs. Knight was originally from Quebec, and the house is somewhat reminiscent of a Quebec farm house...a giant Quebec farmhouse. The light fixtures are Tiffany and the walls are corduroy or matchstick design. Your tour, by audio guide, will take you through the basement and the first and second floors of a sparsely furnished dwelling beginning in the foyer and the dining room and then up the stairs.
On the second floor, there are a number of ensuite bedrooms for the Knights and their guests, most of whom would have stayed for some time, as the house would have been difficult to reach...there was no real road into Corolla until 1984. The third floor, which housed the servants, can be seen by reserving a place on the "Behind the Scenes" tour. Returning to the ground floor, the rest of the principle rooms are available for viewing. Below, in the basement, are exhibits on the construction and the history of the house and its owners.
When the Knights died, within weeks of each other in 1936, the house went to their granddaughters, who dismissed it as "a shack" and put it up for sale. Eventually (1940), a house that had cost $385,000 to build (over $4,000,000 today), was picked up by Ray Adams for $25,000. He had planned a development around the house which never materialized. After his death, the house fell into serious disrepair and was finally purchased by the county in 1992. Since then, millions of dollars have been poured into it; the visitor will find both an interesting home and an even more interesting story. (Admission 2006: $7)
Overlooking the Whalehead Club is the Currituck Lighthouse. Built in 1873 with a million bricks shipped from Baltimore (It was during the Reconstruction after the Civil War) and ironwork from Philadelphia, it stands 158 feet tall. For $6 (2006), it is possible to ascend the 214 steps to the top, from which you can appreciate the narrow width of the Banks sandwiched between the Atlantic and Currituck Sound.
The third attraction is The Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education(free admission). Inside there is an aquarium along with exhibits, artifacts, and displays related to the natural history of the area. Perhaps the center’s greatest attraction for visitors to the area is the number of educational programs that it offers. Many of them are just an hour long (or less) and cover topics as diverse as a "maritime forest walk" or "storm studies." Others take more time: decoy carving or kayaking, for example. The center’s programs are offered by the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. See wildlife.