Morehead City Historic District
The Morehead City Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2003. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2012, The Gombach Group.
The Morehead City Historic District, an approximately fourteen-block area located between North Fifth Street, Arendell Street, North Twelfth Street and Calico Creek, contains a significant collection of historic buildings dating from the late 1850s to 1952. Morehead City, established in 1857 on the shore of Bogue Sound in Carteret County as the terminus of the Atlantic and North Carolina Railroad and named for the railroad's president, former Governor John Motley Morehead, was North Carolina's first coastal railroad resort. Included among the 147 primary buildings in the Morehead City Historic District are ninety-one predominantly frame one and two-story historic houses, four early twentieth-century commercial buildings, three corner grocery stores, five historic churches of white and African American congregations, and the 1929-1930 Charles S. Wallace Graded School.
The Morehead City Historic District has statewide significance in community development and planning and social history as one of the most important coastal resorts and fisheries towns in North Carolina from the late nineteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries. From the 1880s to the 1930s North Carolina's social and political elite rode the railroad to Morehead City's Atlantic Hotel (now demolished) for the summer season, making it the "summer capital of North Carolina." By 1900 Morehead City and its neighboring city of Beaufort had become the second most important fisheries center in the United States, and the largest in North Carolina. Many of the Morehead City Historic District's buildings were the homes of families who worked at the hotel, or in such fisheries occupations as fishermen, boatmen, shipyard workers, boat carpenters, and owners and workers in the canning factories and menhaden fishmeal plants in the vicinity.
The Morehead City Historic District has local significance for a rich collection of vernacular and popular-style architecture that reflects its railroad and coastal heritage, including both vernacular frame houses built in the second half of the nineteenth century, and twentieth century popular Queen Anne, Bungalow, Craftsman, and Minimal Traditional style houses. Three houses from Morehead City's late 1850s founding era stand in the Eighth to Tenth street area of initial development. The best preserved, the Elijah Dudley House, 810 Fisher Street, is a vernacular Greek Revival style two-story house. The larger houses in the Morehead City Historic District were built for the merchant class along Arendell Street, Bridges Street, and the connecting streets. These are vernacular two-story I-Houses, some with simple late Greek Revival and Italianate style trim. Many of these feature the two-story porch, known locally as a double piazza, that reflects the town's coastal heritage. The finest Queen Anne style house is the Headen-Norris House, 806 Arendell Street, built in 1905 with exuberant porches, a turreted balcony, and a wealth of detailed ornament. Two houses on Fisher Street (Walter Fulford House, 606 Fisher Street and Capt. George Nelson House, 712 Fisher Street), built about 1915, are examples of the "Morehead Special," a unique variation of the pyramidal cottage house type found nowhere else in North Carolina. The porches of these houses wrap around the side elevation to a corner kitchen capped by a pyramidal roof. A number of handsome Bungalows stand in the Morehead City Historic District, particularly the George W. Dill House, 1104 Arendell Street, and the Freeman family bungalows at 601 and 704 Bridges Street. The smaller one-story frame houses of fishermen and tradesmen stand along Fisher Street, Bay Street, and connecting streets on the north side of the district near Calico Creek.
Public and religious buildings are the major architectural and historic landmarks in the Morehead City Historic District. The Neoclassical Revival style Wallace School, completed in 1930 at 1108 Bridges Street, is an educational landmark of monumental brick construction within the largely frame district. Another architecturally distinctive monument is the Gothic Revival style brick sanctuary of Franklin Memorial Methodist Church, 1112 Arendell Street, built in 1923 for the congregation of fishing families that emigrated from the Outer Banks to Morehead City in the late nineteenth century. The 1952 Georgian Revival style sanctuary of the First United Methodist Church, 900 Arendell Street, enriches the Morehead City Historic District with its gleaming marble facade and marble Corinthian portico. At the west end of the district stands St. Stephen's AME Zion Church, 107 North Twelfth Street. The frame twin-towered sanctuary, built in 1904 by the town's oldest African American congregation, is the oldest African American church building in Morehead City and a significant vernacular rendition of the Gothic Revival style.
Morehead City, North Carolina's first coastal railroad town, was founded as the terminus of the state's first east-west railroad, the North Carolina Railroad Company. In the Saunders Bill, passed in 1852, the North Carolina Legislature authorized construction of the ninety-six mile eastern section, known as the Atlantic and North Carolina Railroad, from Goldsboro to Beaufort Harbor, in Carteret County. The new rail line was the first whose Atlantic Ocean terminus was located in North Carolina. Earlier railroads terminated at Virginia and South Carolina ports, thereby siphoning profits out of North Carolina. The new North Carolina Railroad would allow the shipping of finished goods and raw materials between the industrializing piedmont and the coast. Former governor John Motley Morehead of Greensboro was president of the new enterprise. In 1853 Morehead and Silas Webb of Goldsboro visited the area to study Beaufort Harbor, formed by the mouth of the Newport River at Bogue Sound. Across Calico Creek and the Newport River to the east lay Beaufort, the seat of Carteret County, established in 1713. A short distance south across Bogue Sound lies the barrier island of Bogue Banks, whose central section directly south of Morehead City is now known as Atlantic Beach. At its eastern tip, Fort Macon has guarded Beaufort Inlet, the deep water channel between Bogue Banks and Shackleford Banks, since the 1830s.
The peninsula west of the Newport River, where the new town would be located, was at this time the farm of the Arendell family and was known as Shepard's Point. The land was originally granted by the state to John Shackleford in the early 1700s, then owned in succession by David Shephard, William Shepard, and William Fisher. At Fisher's death in 1822 the land was divided among his descendants. His daughter Sarah Fisher and her husband Bridges Arendell (1782-1850), lived in a farmhouse on the peninsula. Arendell and his sons owned most of Shepard's Point. Impressed by the possibilities of the Arendell land, Morehead purchased an interest in 600 acres of Shepard's Point property in 1853. He later purchased the tract outright for $2,133 from the Arendell family.
The Shepard's Point land is a sandy peninsula six blocks wide between Bogue Sound on the south and Calico Creek on the north. It tapers to a point at the eastern tip, the mouth of the Newport River. Calico Creek originates as marshland at 21st Street. The land rises only a few feet above sea level. Morehead City has a harsh climate, with a salty atmosphere that causes mildew and rust, and has been frequently devastated by hurricanes. Clumps of large live oak trees, remnants of the native live oak forest that covered the peninsula, are the most prominent landscape features today. Other tree species that flourish are pines, magnolias, and wax myrtles, but deciduous trees are generally unable to survive the frequent storms that blow salt spray in from the sound.
Construction began on the railroad in 1856 from both Morehead City and Goldsboro and proceeded toward the middle. When it became clear in 1857 that Shepard's Point would be the terminus of the new railroad, John M. Morehead, Dr. M.F. Arendell, Bridges Arendell Jr., and Peter G. Evans organized the Shepard's Point Land Company and platted the new town of Morehead City. The new Atlantic and North Carolina Railroad connected at Goldsboro with the North Carolina Railroad that had been completed in 1856 from Goldsboro to Charlotte. In 1857 Morehead wrote a glowing description of the new town to attract inhabitants: "Situated on a beautiful neck of land or dry plain, almost entirely surrounded by salt water; its climate salubrious; its sea breezes and sea bathing delightful; its drinking water good and its fine chalybeate spring, strongly impregnated with sulphur, will make it a pleasant watering place.... It will be the first instance of an entire new city on the Atlantic Coast being brought into market at once; and capitalists may never have again such an opportunity for good investment for a great city must and will be built at this place."
The company laid out a grid-patterned town on the peninsula, with a 130-foot-wide thoroughfare through the center for the railroad, and blocks extending north and south from shore to shore. The main thoroughfare terminated at the Newport River at the eastern edge of the peninsula. Lots were 50 x 100 feet wide, with seven lots on each block face facing the east-west streets, and one lot on each north-south block face. Old-timers still refer to these side street lots as "wedge lots." The town plan designed for the Shepard's Point Land Company was a standard layout for a new railroad town, with a broad main street bisected by the railroad tracks, and a grid pattern of streets creating gridded blocks like those built along rail lines throughout the United States. The one distinctive aspect of the city's street plan is the system of alleys that bisect each block. Two alleys run north-south through each block, connected by an east-west alley through the center in an "H" shape. The new town was named for its principal developer, Governor Morehead, and its east-west streets commemorated the early settlers and the town developers. The principal street was designated Arendell Street. North-south streets were designated First Street west to Twenty-fourth Street. The town plan is virtually unchanged.
The Shepard's Point Land Company held a public sale on November 11, 1857, selling sixty lots. A few buildings belonging to the Arendell family were the only buildings on the peninsula at this time. The town developed around Bridges Arendell Sr.'s rambling farmhouse that was located in the center of the 400 block of Bridges Street. The house burned in the 1940s.
The first train arrived in Morehead City on June 7, 1858. The first agent and warehouse keeper was George W. Dill, whose office was at the freight wharf at the terminus at the mouth of the Newport River, approximately where the present Port Terminal is located. At long last, the Atlantic and North Carolina Railroad was complete from Morehead City to Goldsboro. Families could board a train at any stop on the line and travel to the coast. The rail connection spurred resort hotel construction. The Atlantic Hotel, built in 1859 in Beaufort, made that ancient port town the most popular destination. To reach Beaufort, guests from North Carolina and outside the state took the train to Morehead City, then boarded private sailboats for the water journey to Beaufort. The hotel was destroyed by a hurricane in 1879. Morehead City's first important hotel, built in 1860, was Macon House, a three-story hotel with triple porches on the south side of Arendell Street at Ninth Street. Although Beaufort lacked the direct railroad connection, its long-standing position as a bustling port town and fishing center was enhanced by the construction of the railroad to Morehead City. Small freight and passenger vessels ferried fish, lumber, dry goods and other products, and people back and forth from the Morehead City depot to Beaufort.
Between 1857 and 1862 the new Morehead City settlement took shape. An 1862 engraving illustrates a thin row of one- and two-story frame buildings flanking the railroad tracks between Fourth and Tenth streets. The tracks ran along the Bogue Sound shore from Eighth Street eastward, thus all permanent building in this section was north of the tracks. At the 1857 public sale, Elisha Grady purchased the first lot, lot 5, Square 80 on the north side of Bridges Street between Fifth and Sixth streets (508 Bridges Street). About 1858 Peter Evans built a house on the south side of Arendell Street between Seventh and Eighth streets. Silas Webb moved here in 1858 from Goldsboro and built a house on the south side of Arendell Street at the corner of Tenth Street. He built a general store at the corner of Ninth and Evans streets. Stationmaster George Dill completed a house in 1859 at 608 Bridges Street. All these houses have been demolished and their appearance is unknown. Until 1978 the ca.1858 dwelling of Bridges Arendell Jr., a Greek Revival style raised cottage, stood at 805 Bridges Street. Its stylish appearance is known from documentary photographs. Three houses from the antebellum era stand in the historic district: Elijah M. Dudley House, 810 Fisher Street; Sarah Dennis House, 204 North Eighth Street; and James B. Arendell House, 804 Arendell Street. Due to later alterations, the Dudley House is the only one that retains its antebellum integrity. The vernacular Greek Revival style two-story house has a hip roof, exterior-end chimneys, and side-lighted entrances on both stories, indicating the original presence of a two-story porch.
Morehead City's first census, taken in 1860, listed 316 inhabitants, of whom 197 were slaves and four were free blacks. Approximately fifty buildings stood at this time. Since it was a coastal railroad town, the residents were a cosmopolitan mixture of mechanics, craftsmen, merchants, and laborers, including a number from other states and from the British Isles, as well as a number of fishermen and mariners. When the town was incorporated in 1861, the future seemed bright. Bridges Arendell Jr. was elected mayor, with J.W. Collins, William H. Cunningham, and David Jones as the first town commissioners.
The outbreak of the Civil War paralyzed activity along this section of the North Carolina coast and ended normal building activity in Morehead City. Federal troops occupied Morehead City on April 25, 1862 and took Fort Macon the next day. The area between Eighth and Tenth streets north of the railroad, in the heart of the Morehead City Historic District, is said to have been a fenced encampment where Federal soldiers who fell victim to a yellow fever epidemic in New Bern were sent to recover. Union soldiers occupied some of the town's existing structures as barracks, and used others as hospitals. Both the Elijah Dudley House and the James B. Arendell House in the Morehead City Historic District are said to have been used as hospitals. The earliest church building in Morehead City, the Methodist Church in the 400 block of Bridges Street, is said to have been used as a bakery. Among the buildings that burned during the war were the Methodist Church and the state-founded salt works located near the railroad freight wharf. To escape the turmoil of occupation, many of Morehead City's citizens fled inland. Residents such as George Dill and Silas Webb relocated their families west into Confederate territory. Dill moved his family to Louisburg. Silas Webb and his family moved to Chatham County, where he made shoes for Confederate soldiers during the war.
After Federal troops left in 1865, residents returned to Morehead City and attempted to rebuild the economy. In 1865 Webb returned and resumed his shoe making and mercantile business. Dill returned as well. Ben D. Baker served as mayor and Jess Fulcher and Tom Fisher as policemen of Morehead City during the Reconstruction era. The disruption and destruction caused by the Civil War had left Morehead City's economy, like that of towns throughout the state, moribund.
Carteret County emerged as the center of North Carolina's trade in fresh fish in the 1870s, spurred by the Atlantic and Eastern North Carolina Railroad terminal and by northern entrepreneurs such as George Ives of Connecticut, who moved to New Bern, North Carolina after the Civil War. In 1874 Ives established an oyster business in Beaufort, and by the later 1870s he had become the largest seafood dealer in Carteret County. Ives shipped large quantities of sea trout, bluefish, spot, mullet and other species on the railroad and by ship as far north as Boston. In 1880, nine fish processors in Beaufort and Morehead City were shipping two-to-three carloads of fish, particularly mullet, a week, totalling almost 900,000 pounds of fresh fish yearly from Carteret County. Sailing vessels brought ice from Maine for storage in ice houses in Morehead and Beaufort to supply fish dealers. Local fish dealer Anthony Wade rode the train to Goldsboro and back with a supply of seafood, selling it out of the baggage car at stations and at crossroads. Other fish dealers adopted this system and the rail line earned the nickname "the Old Mullet Line" during this era.
The 1880 census of Morehead City, entitled "Morehead Village," recorded a total of 108 families living in eighty-five dwellings. In the village core, within the boundaries of the Morehead City Historic District, the occupations of male heads of households included cooper, grocer, hotel landlord, hotel clerk, huckster, brick mason, railroad clerk, physician, mechanic, butcher, minister, civil engineer, store clerk, laborer, retired ship master and retired farmer. Since 1872 a steam sawmill had been operating in town.
The most important event in Morehead City's history --the completion of the Atlantic Hotel occurred in 1880. Instead of rebuilding the Atlantic Hotel in Beaufort that had been destroyed in 1879 by a hurricane, investors Julian S. Carr, a Durham tobacconist, S.W. Barnes of Wilson, Ashley Home of Clayton, and others decided to build the new hotel in Morehead City, where it was felt it would be safer from hurricanes and more convenient to guests. The new Atlantic Hotel went up on Bogue Sound between Third and Fourth streets beside the railroad tracks. Of exuberant Victorian architecture, with 233 rooms arranged around a grand ballroom in the center, the Atlantic Hotel became the "summer capital of the state." Its popularity was unabated until the early twentieth century.
During the 1880s and 1890s, Morehead village grew into a town. By 1884, in addition to the old Macon House and the new Atlantic Hotel, two boarding houses operated in town. Daniel Bell operated a windmill on the shoreline in town from at least 1884 until 1896. Silas Webb and Philip Lepper operated boot and shoe manufactories. Eight general stores and groceries were in business. In 1885, the first Sanborn map of Morehead City, contained on one sheet, shows the Eighth to Tenth streets area from Bogue Sound to Bridges Street, plus an inset of the Atlantic Hotel east of Fourth Street and of the freight and passenger depots at the east end of Arendell Street. On the map, a solid row of frame stores sits between Ninth and Tenth streets across from the Macon House, known at this time as the Ocean House. Small dwellings are scattered along the streets. Several fish houses are located along the edge of Bogue Sound. The railroad freight house is located on pilings in the Newport River. The Methodists constructed a new sanctuary in 1880 at 109 North Ninth Street. About 1885 the Missionary Baptist Church (First Baptist Church) was built at the northeast corner of Bridges and Ninth streets. Although much altered, it still stands. A City Hall/Market, a two-story frame building with a one-story porch, was erected at 811 Evans Street, at the south end of Ninth Street, in 1893. It has been demolished.
During the late 1880s the sons of Silas Webb built a row of three houses on North Ninth Street that still stand as a representation of the character of larger dwellings in Morehead village. These are vernacular two-story, one-room-deep houses known as I-Houses. The Webbs purchased the lots from the Shepard's Point Land Company in 1885-1886, and all three houses appear on the 1893 Sanborn map. Marion St. Clair Webb (1861-1917) and his wife Sadie lived in the two-story house at 106 North Ninth Street. The concave shape of the hipped roof, paneled corner posts, and decorative eave brackets give the house an Italianate flair that is unusual for Morehead City. T.D. Webb, who operated the furniture store at 812 Arendell Street, built the house at 104 North Ninth Street about 1890 for speculation. The house has gable-end brick chimneys and a two-story front porch with sidelighted entrances at both levels. Charlie Webb (1878-1953) lived in the two-story Italianate style house with a two-story porch with chamfered posts and a sawnwork balustrade at 108 North Ninth Street during his adult life. Charlie ran an insurance company on Arendell Street.
The Shepard's Point Land Company, the original development company of Morehead City, which remained under the leadership of the descendants of Gov. John M. Morehead after his death in 1866, sold Morehead City lots at least until the 1910s, but at a slower pace than during the initial lot sales in the late 1850s and early 1860s. Activity ceased during the Civil War, then resumed in 1865 and continued sporadically until at least 1911. A sample of lot prices mentioned in deeds ranged from $30 in 1883 to $63 in 1885 to $85 in 1898, apparently depending upon the location.
The village of Morehead was situated in a compact area between Eighth and Tenth streets until about 1900. Sanborn maps of Morehead City map only the Eighth to Tenth street village core until 1908, when the Sixth to Eighth street area was added. The 1913 Sanborn Map added the Tenth to Fourteenth streets area. The last edition of Sanborn Maps for Morehead City, dated 1924, extended the mapped area west to Twenty-fourth Street. Morehead City's earliest commercial district consisted of a row of frame stores on the north side of the 900 block of Arendell Street, which were destroyed by fire in 1908. The district was rebuilt in brick in subsequent years. The oldest commercial buildings in the Morehead City Historic District are the Webb Stores. The D.M. Webb General Store, 814 Arendell Street, was built in 1883 as a frame store and rebuilt in brick in 1898. About 1930 it reached its current appearance when it was brick-veneered. Next door at 812 Arendell Street is the T.D. Webb Furniture Store, built in 1913. Its handsome upper facade with arched windows and decorative parapet is still intact.
The Norfolk and Southern Railroad bought the Atlantic and North Carolina Rail Road in 1904 and made a number of significant changes that changed Morehead City's status as a railroad freight terminus. In 1906 the railroad was extended to Beaufort, and the next year the railroad closed down Morehead City's port terminal and rerouted freight shipments through Norfolk, Virginia. By 1908 the company had constructed a new passenger and freight depot in the center of the 700 block of Arendell Street between 7th and 8th streets to replace the old passenger station in the center of the 900 block of Arendell Street. Between 1911-1913 the railroad built a permanent concrete seawall from Ninth and Shepard streets east to the Atlantic Hotel, thus creating an additional five blocks of usable land in place of the marshes along the shore. The railroad's seawall created the present Morehead City waterfront where the fleet of charter sport fishing boats are berthed in boat slips along the wall.
Morehead City's sizeable slave population largely dispersed after emancipation, and by 1880 a small number of black families lived in clusters throughout the village. By around 1900 blacks had been segregated into "Colored Town" in northwest Morehead City. Bounded by Bridges Street on the south, Tenth Street on the east, and Calico Creek on the north, this section contains a mixture of corner grocery stores, churches, lodges, and single-family houses of one and two stories. The eastern edge of Colored Town is within the boundary of the Morehead City Historic District. By 1920 Morehead City had 581 black inhabitants out of a population of nearly 3,000. Many of the men worked in fisheries-related jobs, particularly menhaden fishing and oystering. A number of blacks had oyster houses along the shore where they shucked the oysters, then peddled them in town. Other common jobs included laborer, janitor, porter at the railroad depot, cook, and carpenter. Many of the women did laundry in their homes or worked as cooks and maids for white families.
The first church in the black community was Turner's Chapel, founded in 1877 by the Reverend S.I. Turner at Carolina City, a Union Army camp west of Morehead City. In 1893 the congregation purchased a lot at the southwest corner of North Twelfth and Bridges streets in Morehead City, and moved the old chapel to this site. In 1904 a new sanctuary was built at 107 North Twelfth Street, and the old building converted to a parsonage. The congregation was renamed St. Stephen's AME Zion Church at this time. St. Stephen's Church is an architecturally significant frame Gothic Revival style building with twin corner towers framing a pedimented portico with boxed posts. When first built, it had a central steeple. The twin towers were constructed during a remodeling that probably occurred in the 1920s. St. Stephens AME Zion Church is the oldest African American church building in Morehead City. Adjacent to the church, at 105 N. 12th Street, is a well-preserved two-story I-House built for Rev. Jacob S. Bell, pastor of St. Stephen's from 1903 to 1909. During the 1910s Anthony Worthington (Wetherington), principal from 1915 to about 1920 at the "colored school" built about 1908 across Bridges Street in the 1100 block, lived in the Bell House with his wife Susie, a teacher at the school.
By 1900 Morehead City had become North Carolina's leading seafood center and one of the largest centers in the United States, second only to Gloucester, Massachusetts. However, it must be understood that it achieved this status only because the sister town of Beaufort's fishing fleet and fish processing plants were a pari of this center. The U.S. Commission of Fish and Fisheries established the second permanent fisheries research station in the United States at Beaufort in 1902. At this time Morehead City had grown to more than half the size of Beaufort — with 1,365 inhabitants compared to Beaufort's 2,500 residents. By 1910 Morehead City had matched Beaufort's population, with 2,800 residents to Beaufort's 2,750. Morehead City and Beaufort's fisheries industries included sea food (clams, fish and oysters) harvesting and processing, sales and distribution, the production of fish meal and oil from menhaden, a dark, oily fish, seafood canning, boat building, and piloting.
One of Morehead City's most prominent citizens amassed his fortune in the fisheries industry in the early twentieth century. Charles S. Wallace (1864-1945) acquired a commercial food fish business in 1895, then built his first menhaden factory in 1898 near Morehead City. In 1911 he built Wallace Fisheries Company west of Morehead City, which operated until 1963. He also operated two other plants, one near Smyrna and one in Florida. In order to insure a local supply of ice to preserve and transport the seafood on the railroad, by ship, and by wagon to markets along the East Coast, he helped to build the Carteret Ice and Transportation Storage Company on Arendell Street between Fifth and Sixth streets in 1898. This is said to be the first plant to make artificial ice in eastern North Carolina. Wallace was prominent in local affairs in the early to mid-1900s, serving as mayor and as a state legislator, as well as active on the local school board. When the town built a modern graded school in 1929-30 at 1108 Bridges Street, it was named the Charles S. Wallace School.
The 1920s and 1930s saw a number of important public amenities and private development in Morehead City and adjacent Bogue Banks. In 1929-30 the Charles S. Wallace School replaced the old frame school buildings in the 1100 block of Bridges Street. The handsome Neoclassical Revival-style school was designed by Durham architects Atwood and Nash. In 1925, when Arendell Street was paved, the depot was divided into two sections and moved to the southwest corner of Arendell and Sixth streets, on the land created by the railroad's seawall. In 1929 the Atlantic Beach Company, formed by local developers, built a toll bridge from the Morehead City mainland, at Twenty-eighth Street, across to Bogue Banks to a small pavilion, bath house and boardwalk which they named Atlantic Beach. The Public Works Administration financed construction of a new Morehead City Port Terminal in the mid-1930s to replace the old terminal that had been closed since 1907.
Beginning in the 1930s, Morehead City's waterfront developed as a center of sports fishing. Local fishermen found that they could earn a living taking visiting fishermen out on their boats for charter deep sea fishing expeditions. By the 1950s Morehead City and the Outer Banks ports of Hatteras and Oregon Inlet were the most important sports fishing centers in North Carolina. Morehead City's catches of mackerel, dolphin, amberjack and blue marlin brought fame to the port. Local fishermen also discovered that they could feed tourists in small seafood stands which they built along the waterfront beside their boat docks. The popular restaurants that now line the waterfront are the successors of these 1930s stands.
During World War II, Morehead City was an important wartime seaport employing a number of military personnel. A housing shortage in Morehead City resulted in the construction of a number of houses for military families outside the historic district. Inside the Morehead City Historic District boundaries are several garage apartments that were probably erected as rental units for military families. For example, the garage with upstairs apartment at 209 N. 10th Street, was built during this period.
Since the 1950s Morehead City has grown rapidly due to the improvement of Highway 70, to the opening of Fort Macon as a State Park, and to the development of Bogue Banks (Atlantic Beach) as one of the most popular beach resorts in North Carolina. A number of yacht basins and the fleet of fishing charter boats on the waterfront have made Morehead City one of the outstanding sports fishing centers on the Atlantic Coast. Morehead City's shorelines have been a popular location for summer houses built by eastern North Carolina families since the early 1900s. Although the oldest summer houses were built along Bogue Sound, the shoreline of Calico Creek is now becoming popular for resort housing. Vacation houses with large decks, set on tall wooden pilings overlooking Calico Creek, are now beginning to alter the character of the Calico Creek area of Morehead City. The Morehead City Historic District, the largely intact historic core of Morehead City, with small, closely-set houses in the center of the peninsula, owes its survival to its center location away from Bogue Sound and Calico Creek.
Coastal Resorts and Fisheries Towns in North Carolina
The Morehead City Historic District, as the historic village core, conveys successive eras of development as a coastal resort and fisheries center during its period of significance from the 1850s to the early 1950s. As a planned railroad resort on the North Carolina coast, Morehead City holds a unique position in the state. It was the first and only coastal resort accessible by rail until the 1880s when Wrightsville Beach was created as a commuter beach resort by Wilmington developers. The Wilmington Sea Coast Railway Company built a line from Wilmington out to the barrier island of Wrightsville Beach in the 1880s. Wilmington families built summer cottages on the lots laid out by the railroad company. During Morehead City's first decades, it was primarily a stop over for vacationers headed to the original Atlantic Hotel in nearby Beaufort, but became the destination with the 1880 construction of the new Atlantic Hotel in Morehead City after a hurricane destroyed the Beaufort Hotel in 1879. Morehead City's resort heyday was during the operation of the Atlantic Hotel from 1880 to 1933, when it became known as "the summer capital" of the state because it was "a mecca for the social and political elite of North Carolina." Beaufort remained a popular resort during this period and continued to attract many summer visitors to its numerous other hotels, such as the Inlet Inn.
Many of the families that had vacationed at the Atlantic Hotel built summer cottages along Bogue Sound in the 1920s and 1930s as the popularity of the hotel faded. Some local families, such as the Webbs and the Willises, also had summer cottages "up the shell road" (Shackleford Street, which bordered the sound) in the early twentieth century. Many summer visitors came through Morehead City, taking private ferries across to Bogue Banks and the ocean along its shore. In 1929 beachgoers drove on the new Atlantic Beach Bridge over to the beach, where many beach cottages were built in the 1930s and 1940s.
The most important fisheries center in North Carolina in the 1800s was Beaufort, one of the state's best inlets and harbors with easy access to the rich waters around Cape Lookout that teemed with whales, fish, and shellfish. Morehead City's rail connections boosted it beyond Beaufort in fisheries activity by about 1900, but the railroad was extended to Beaufort in 1906, thus ending Morehead City's advantage. Throughout the twentieth century the sister towns of Morehead City and Beaufort have constituted the most important fisheries center in North Carolina in terms of number of boats and volume of seafood caught and processed. The Morehead City Historic District's buildings represents the town's importance as a port and fisheries center during this period. Many of the residents of the historic district worked in fishing and port jobs. In 1920 many heads of households throughout the district worked as fishermen, boatmen, ship yard workers, boat carpenters, house carpenters, and in canning factories. A number of the town's leading merchants and fish factory owners lived in the district, including George W. Dill, Thomas McDuffie Wade, Daniel Bell, Harvey Hamilton, Charlie Webb, Marion S. Webb, and Charles S. Wallace.
Coastal Architecture of Morehead City and Beaufort
The locally significant architecture of the Morehead City Historic District, built predominantly from the late 1880s to the early 1950s, represents a largely traditional heritage shaped equally by the railroad and by its maritime geography. The architecture of Morehead City's neighbor, Beaufort, provides a stark contrast. Beaufort was an isolated seafaring town built directly on the water, and its one and two-story side-gabled houses, built predominantly in the 1800s, with engaged porches to catch the breeze and "widow's walks" as lookout stations, hug the harbor along Front Street and other side streets.
In contrast, the buildings of the Morehead City Historic District reflect its character as a railroad town built on high ground away from the shore in the center of the peninsula along Arendell, Bridges and Fisher streets and connecting streets. Although popular architectural styles such as the Queen Anne, Bungalow and Craftsman styles appear in the district beginning about 1900, over one-half of the Morehead City Historic District's approximately 130 houses represent a single house type: a one-story or two-story, one-room deep house of traditional, simple frame construction, with a front porch. Thirty-three of the houses in the Morehead City Historic District are one-story traditional houses, while twenty-four of them are traditional two-story houses. The two-story version of the type, known as an "I-House," tends to have a two-story porch, known locally as a "double piazza." The double piazza was common in Beaufort, but was recessed beneath the main roof, while those in Morehead City were attached. The double piazza is the most distinctive coastal feature of Morehead City architecture, and was probably the result of Beaufort influence.
Like Beaufort houses, those in Morehead City built before about 1900 contain only modest decorative reflections of popular architectural styles. Morehead City's oldest well-preserved house, the Elijah Dudley House, 810 Fisher Street, of the late 1850s, and the 1880s houses built by the Webb family in the 100 block of North Ninth Street exhibit modest Greek Revival and Italianate features. The corner block trim, eave brackets, corner posts and concave hip roof of the Marion S. Webb House, 106 North Ninth Street, make it the most stylish nineteenth century house in Morehead City.
The character of the rest of the Morehead City Historic District's pre-1952 buildings reflects the popular styles of the twentieth century. Houses are built in Queen Anne, Bungalow and Minimal Traditional styles. Church sanctuaries exhibit Gothic Revival and Classical Revival styles. The most prominent landmark in the Morehead City Historic District is the 1929-1930 Charles S. Wallace School, of Neoclassical Revival style. At the north edge of the district on Fisher and Bay streets near the marshes of Calico Creek stand the smaller dwellings of fishermen and boat builders, and at the west edge is a small section of "Colored Town," where the 1904 Gothic Revival style sanctuary of St. Stephen's AME Zion Church, the town's oldest African American church building, and the ca.1904 pastor's residence are located.
Like the Morehead City Historic District, Beaufort has examples of the Queen Anne, Bungalow, and Craftsman styles, as well as the Minimal Traditional style of the 1940s and 1950s, but these popular styles occur less frequently in Beaufort, since its streetscapes were largely completed by the early twentieth century. Approximately fifteen Bungalows and Craftsman-style houses stand in the Morehead City Historic District. Beaufort has only a handful of houses of the type, some of which are actually antebellum 1-1/2-story vernacular houses that were remodeled with Bungalow dormer windows and Craftsman-style porch posts and railings. From the 1930s to the early 1950s, a few small Minimal Traditional houses of frame or brick construction and small brick Ranch houses or concrete block cottages were built on infill lots in both the Morehead City Historic District and in Beaufort.
One vernacular house type in the Morehead City Historic District, and throughout the town, that reflects the town's coastal character is the "Morehead Special," a one-story four-room house with a pyramidal roof, a wraparound porch, and a small hip-roofed kitchen attached at the corner. "Morehead Specials" were built in the mid-1910s. The Captain George Nelson House, 712 Fisher Street and the Walter Fulford House, 606 Fisher Street are the only examples in the Morehead City Historic District. The Charles Styron House at 700 Fisher Street is of identical form except that it lacks the corner kitchen. The type is basically a pyramidal cottage, a vernacular house form that was extremely popular in North Carolina towns and countryside in the first quarter of the twentieth century. In addition to the rear corner kitchen, the type's signature feature is the porch that wraps around two complete elevations of the house to catch the prevailing southwest breeze that is one of Morehead City's most refreshing climatic advantages. The majority of examples occupy corner lots, thus allowing maximum exposure to the breeze. The "Morehead Special" was probably built as speculative housing by a local building company or developer. One possible developer was T.D. Webb (1853-1930s), one of Silas Webb's sons. Webb, a furniture dealer, real estate broker, and politician, purchased lots and entire blocks from the Shepard's Point Land Company between the late 1800s and the 1930s. Sometimes he built speculative houses that he sold to buyers, who paid small weekly payments to him. For example, Webb sold the lot at 700 Fisher Street to Charles W. Styron in 1919 for $85. By 1920, Styron was living in the pyramidal cottage on the lot. Perhaps Webb built this house. The pyramidal cottage, and the "Morehead Special" variation are not found in Beaufort's townscape.
Lefler and Newsome, North Carolina: The History of a Southern State, 349, 361; A Pictorial Review of Morehead City, 1- 16.
A Pictorial Review of Morehead City, 1-16.
A Pictorial Review of Morehead City, 17.
Interview with Floyd Chadwick.
A Pictorial Review of Morehead City, 12.
Ibid. Bridges Arendell Jr. was killed in a boiler explosion in 1870.
Doughton, The Atlantic Hotel in Beaufort.
A Pictorial Review of Morehead City, 22-23.
The engraving, appeared in Harper's Magazine to illustrate the siege of Fort Macon by Federal troops during the Civil War. It is illustrated in A Pictorial Review of Morehead City.
This site is now the parking lot for Harborview Towers, the former hospital.
According to local tradition, the house was brought to Morehead from the West Indies. Actually, pegged frames were standard construction practice, and the custom of raising a house on a high brick foundation characterized well-built houses throughout Southern coastal regions in the nineteenth century. The house was demolished about 1978 for the expansion of Wachovia Bank's parking lot. Interview with Ray Hopper, Morehead City, December 2000.
A Pictorial Review of Morehead City, 25-28.
NC Highway Historical Marker C49. Since Bridges Arendell Sr. was a Methodist preacher, Methodism was strong in early Morehead City. The Methodists built the earliest church in Morehead City near the corner of Fourth and Bridges streets in the late 1850s. It was used by all denominations. Hazel Chadwick, "History of Morehead City," manuscript, 1940s.
Chadwick, "History of Morehead City."
Taylor, "North Carolina Fisheries in the Old and New South," M.A. thesis, North Carolina State University, 1990, 34-35; A Pictorial Review of Morehead City) 25-28.
Branson's North Carolina Business Directory) 1872.
The hotel burned in 1933 and was demolished. A Pictorial Review of Morehead City.) 53-58.
The Heritage of Carteret County, Vol. 1, 443-444.
Various Shepard's Point Land Co. grantor deeds.
1885, 1893, 1898, 1913, and 1924 Sanborn Maps are on microfilm in the Media Center, Carteret County Technical Institute, Morehead City.
A Pictorial Review of Morehead City, 79.
A Pictorial Review of Morehead City, 43.
1880 Carteret County Census, "Morehead Village."
Interview with Oscar Boyd, Morehead City, January 15, 2001; 1920 Carteret County Census.
A Pictorial Review of Morehead City, 154; interview with Mrs. Edith Brown, retired clerk of St. Stephens Church, April 23, 2002, Morehead City. Typescript history compiled by Mrs. Brown from church oral tradition (copy in file).
A Pictorial Review of Morehead City, 167; 1920 Census; interview with Mrs. Edith Brown.
Taylor, "North Carolina Fisheries in the Old and New South," 35.
Weber, From Abundance to Scarcity: A History of U.S. Marine Fisheries Policy, 3. The first station was established at Woods Hole, Massachusetts in 1882. The Beaufort station is now known as the Duke Marine Laboratory and is located on Piver's Island, opposite the Beaufort waterfront.
Branson's North Carolina Business Directory: 1872, 1884, 1896; North Carolina Yearbook & Business Directory: 1903, 1905, 1910, 1915.
George Roberts Wallace, "Wallace Family," The Heritage of Carteret County, Vol.1, 444.
A Pictorial Review of Morehead City, 220-221; Floyd Chadwick Jr. interview, June 2001.
A Pictorial Review of Morehead City, 45-46. In 1949 the North Carolina State Ports Authority purchased the port and has operated it since that time The port's current main shipments are incoming phosphate from the Aurora mine and outgoing wood pulp to overseas destinations.
History of marine sports fishing by Joel Arrington included in Information Series Number 2: History and Status of North Carolina's Marine Fisheries, 31-32, 1971.
A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Eastern North Carolina, 260.
Doughton, Tales of the Atlantic Hotel 1880-1933, 1.
Interviews with Corinne Webb Geer and Lois Webb Bunn, Morehead City, May 23, 2002; interviews with Virginia White Little, mother of Ruth Little, over many years.
Carteret Co. Deed Book 29, 165: Transaction of 1919 involving Lot 1, block 94, at the northwest corner of Fisher & Seventh streets; 1920 Census.
Allen, Joan. "Twelve Historic Carteret County Homes," Carteret County Historical Society, 1998.
Arrington, Joel. Excerpts on history of marine sports fisheries, included in Information Series Number 2: History and Status of North Carolina's Marine Fisheries, by Walter F. Godwin, Michael W. Street, and Thomas R. Rickman. North Carolina Department of Conservation and Development: Division of Commercial and Sports Fisheries, 1971.
Bishir, Catherine W. and Southern, Michael. T. A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Eastern North Carolina. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996.
Branson's North Carolina Business Directories: 1872, 1884, 1896. N. C. State Library, Raleigh.
Carteret County Censuses, 1880, 1920. Microfilm, N.C. State Archives, Raleigh.
Carteret County Deeds. Microfilm, N.C. State Archives, Raleigh.
Chadwick, Hazel. "History of Morehead City," manuscript, 1940s. Copy in Morehead City Survey file, North Carolina Historic Preservation Office.
Daughton, Virginia Pou. The Atlantic Hotel (in Beaufort). Raleigh, N.C.: privately printed, 1991.
Daughton, Virginia Pou. Tales of the Atlantic Hotel 1880-1933. Raleigh, N.C.: privately printed, 1994.
The Heritage of Carteret County. Vol.1. Beaufort, N.C.: Carteret Historical Research Association, 1982.
Interviews by the author:
Kemp, Rodney. "Morehead City Walking Tour." Carteret County Historical Society, 1999.
Lefler, Hugh Talmage, and Newsome, Albert Ray. North Carolina: The History of a Southern State. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1963.
Morehead City Woman's Club, A Pictorial Review of Morehead City 1714-1981. Morehead City: Community Improvement Program of the Morehead City Woman's Club, 1982.
North Carolina Yearbook & Business Directory: 1903, 1905, 1910, 1915. Raleigh: The News & Observer.
Sanborn Map Company, Insurance Maps of Morehead City, N.C.: 1885, 1893, 1898, 1904, 1913, 1923. Microfilm, Carteret County Technical Institute.
Taylor, Mark Thomas. "North Carolina Fisheries in the Old and New South," M.A. Thesis, North Carolina State University, 1990.
Weber, Michael L. From Abundance to Scarcity: A History of U.S. Marine Fisheries Policy. Washington: Island Press, 2002.
Yesterday and Today: A History of Morehead City. Morehead City Woman's Club, 1998.
† M. Ruth Little, Longleaf Historic Resources, Morehead City Historic District, Carteret County, NC, nomination document, 2003, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.