Whalehead is an historic house museum on the northern Outer Banks. The grand residence, dressed in bold yellow and striking copper, stands on a vast green lawn bordering the Currituck Sound. At first sight of the more than 21,000-square-foot Art Nouveau home, so out of place in the Outer Banks landscape, it’s immediately apparent that it has an intriguing past and a fascinating story to tell.
Once you’ve had time to gaze over the lush green live oaks and take in the beauty of the home’s exterior, step inside and take a jaunt back in time to an era reminiscent of prohibition and fights for women’s rights. Shortly after being wed, the original owners, Edward Collings Knight Jr. and Marie-Louise LeBel Knight, purchased a four-mile tract of land running from ocean to sound. While taking residence in the Lighthouse Hunt Club, they embarked on a building project that would take three years to complete. Just as visitors to our area today take pleasure in the opportunity to get away from it all, so did the Knights. While they kept a grand permanent residence near Newport, Rhode Island, the “cottage” at Corolla Island was their winter retreat. After a chilly day spent in the blinds hunting waterfowl, they could relax in the library by a roaring fire while partaking in a game, reading, listening to music or simply enjoying the gorgeous views from the room’s window-lined walls. Peeking into the library and spying the custom-made 1903 Steinway piano, you can just imagine Mrs. Knight sitting down to play a few melodies for her guests. Later, they would be treated to a marvelous duck dinner prepared for them by their beloved cook, Miss Rose, who was one of about a dozen servants who traveled to and from Corolla Island each year with the Knights.
Today, the property is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and has been owned by Currituck County since 1992. The painstaking process then began of restoring the house to its original 1925 grandeur with the replacement of the copper roof. The exterior of the house and boathouse are again the original paint colors as are the interior walls. The interior has been completely restored, from the coffered ceilings down to the cork floors. Many of the original fixtures and details remain: the water lily motif carvings again stand out near the dining room ceiling, the duck head door handles are back in place, the Tiffany glass light fixtures shine again, the mahogany trim and woodwork has been refinished.
A team of researchers ensured restoration accuracy, and recent efforts have focused on filling the home with original and period pieces. Mrs. Knight’s Steinway piano, Mr. Knight’s iron safe, portraits, Perkinhammer china, Louis Majorelle furniture are just a few of the pieces that now grace Whalehead.
In 2008, the kitchen was furnished back to the 1920s, including the original Frigidaire refrigerator. Visitors can stand in the room and see the old tools used to prepare meals for the large household and guests entertained by the Knights. It offers a real appreciation for the stark differences between performing routine kitchen tasks then and now. There is a Hoosier cabinet in the corner, and the original kitchen table is once again in the center of the room under a pot rack.
Today, Whalehead is open to the public for tours. Give them a call for operating hours and tour prices. Whalehead sits on 39 acres of pristine soundfront property providing bike paths, a public boat ramp and areas for picnicking, fishing and crabbing and is located in Historic Corolla along with the Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education and next to the Currituck Beach Lighthouse. The grounds of Whalehead are perfect for a relaxing afternoon outdoors away from the beach and are available to rent for ceremonies and receptions as well as for corporate events and family reunions.