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The History of Emerald Isle, North Carolina

Early History of Emerald Isle

Boat at SunsetLike many of North Carolina's coastal islands, Emerald Isle was first home to Indians; the Algonquin Indian tribe occupied the surrounding countryside from about 500 A.D. to colonial times. Later, the area was settled by whalers and fishermen.

Located on the western end of Bogue Banks, with Bogue Sound dividing it from the mainland, the Emerald Isle area overlooks a small inlet. The settlement of the mainland area inside Bogue Inlet by English colonists began around 1730, at the mouth of White Oak River.

This was, of course, famous pirate territory. Blackbeard sailed from Teach's Hole at Ocracoke Island, just to the north around Cape Lookout. In the early 1720's, Beaufort (on the mainland across from the eastern end of the island ) was an official seaport --complete with customs office. Twice during the summer of 1747, pirates sacked Beaufort.

During the Revolutionary War, a number of patriot privateers operated through the inlet. Following the war, Swansboro --on the mainland-- assumed such importance that in 1786 it was declared a separate customs district.

Captain Otway Burns, naval hero of the War of 1812, was born and grew up in Swansboro. In 1818, Burns brought national attention to the area by constructing the first steamship ever to float in North Carolina waters. Captain Burns continues to draw attention to this day, as he saw to it that an actual cannon from his privateer The Snap Dragon would adorn his grave in nearby Beaufort.

The Civil War ended the relative prosperity enjoyed by the mainland communities behind Bogue Inlet. Later, with the decline in the trade of naval stores, the major industry became fishing.

Emerald Isle, which takes its name from the large maritime forests on the island, was mostly uninhabited until the 1950's, when small family cottages began to appear.

Recent History of Emerald Isle

"In the early 1900s, the area occupied by Emerald Isle was owned by John A. Royall, a New Englander who owned many islands in neighboring Onslow County. In 1922, Mr. Royall sold the property to Mr. Henry K. Fort of Pennsylvania for $70,000. Mr. Fort was connected to the Dixon Pencil Company of Pennsylvania and planned to use cedar from the property in the manufacture of pencils. I don’t think any timber was ever used to manufacture pencils. Instead, Mr. Fort drew up plans and specifications for a resort development. There still exists a copy of those plans which are remarkably similar to the way the Town has developed.

"Upon the death of Mr. Fort, the land was inherited by his daughter Anita. She sold the timber rights to W. B. "Bill” McLean in 1946. McLean saw the potential to develop the island as a seaside paradise, but Anita Fort did not want to sell the property and McLean did not have enough money to buy the property.

"Anita later agreed to sell the property for $350,000, and McLean began asking friends if they would be willing to invest in his dream along with his friend George Spell. J. A. "Bus” Singleton, Bill’s brother-in-law threw in, as did Hiram Grantham, another family friend. Between the four of them they had $200,000 which was pretty much their life savings. They still needed another $150,000 which was obtained when Robert Holding, then president of First Citizens Bank of Smithfield, put down the money in the name of his three sons, Frank, Lewis, and Robert Jr.

"After the purchase, the land was divided into 54 blocks, 1,100 feet wide each, running from the sound to the sea. The seven then drew numbers to see who owned which parcels and development started. It is said that Emerald Isle received its name when a consultant hired by Bill McLean and George Spell to advise on the property purchase, flew over the Bogue Banks. The area appeared with its lush forest, a green gem in the middle of a sea of sparking water. The advisor suggested the name 'Emerald Isle'."

Recent History Provided by
Art Schools - Mayor, Emerald Isle, NC