Whalehead is a beautifully restored 1920s Art Nouveau style residence that is open to the public for museum tours. The grand residence that is part history, part romance and part mystery, harkens back to a 1920s past in Heritage Park, overlooking the Currituck Sound. Formerly the Whalehead Club, Whalehead in Historic Corolla invites visitors to experience its intriguing past and hear its fascinating story.
Whalehead is an architectural treasure that exudes history while delving into the 1920s lifestyle of its matriarch and patriarch, Edward Collins Knight Jr. and his wife, Marie Louise Lebel Bonat Knight. The Knights shared a passion for hunting waterfowl, so when Mrs. Knight was not allowed admittance into the all-male hunt clubs, her loving husband had the majestic, canary-yellow, 21,000-square-foot "mansion by the sea" constructed for his bride.
Today, visitors to the Whalehead will see original signed and numbered Tiffany lighting fixtures, corduroy walls and cork flooring, along with an Otis elevator and basement, all firsts on the Outer Banks. Docents proudly point out the restored Steinway piano, the petite Art Nouveau "grandmother" clock, and a cast-iron safe within an ornate, marble-topped sideboard.
Like all great histories, like all great romances, it is the element of mystery that attracts people to Whalehead in Historic Corolla. The home, now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is open for tours year-round; admission prices vary by the type of tour.
Whalehead has fantastic tours and events for all ages almost year-round. All tours have been specially designed by Whalehead's Curator and Educational Team to encompass history, architecture and construction, the lives of the servants, maritime heritage, and Outer Banks legend and lore. For more information including days, times, and pricing on tours at Whalehead, click here to view their listing.
In 1922, Corolla, North Carolina was a much different place than it is today. There was the Currituck Beach Lighthouse, a United States Coast Guard Lifesaving Station, a one-room schoolhouse and post office, and only a few other stores and residents. This area of the Outer Banks was originally called Currituck Beach, and other small, secluded beach communities such as Wash Woods, Seagull, Poyners Hill and Whalehead existed nearby.
To say life was simple here would be an understatement. There was no electricity at the time (that came in 1955), no paved roads, and no modern amenities. What this area did have was plentiful waterfowl including Canada Geese, Mallards, Black Ducks, Swans and other species. Demand for waterfowl at top restaurants up and down the East coast made the area a popular spot for hunters and other wealthy individuals who bought land and built hunting lodges and outbuildings. In 1918, market hunting was outlawed on the Outer Banks and the sales of migratory waterfowl was deemed illegal, which made way for the sale of many existing properties and hunting lodges that were previously used in commercial endeavors.
Edward Collings Knight, Jr. was a wealthy industrialist who also loved nature enough to consider himself a conservationist, and Mr. Knight also had a passion for hunting waterfowl. Discovering this hidden gem in the Outer Banks, Mr. Knight purchased the former Lighthouse Hunt Club along with four and a half miles of land on the Currituck Sound. He and his second wife, Marie Lebel Bonat Knight, visit their new property while on honeymoon, and begin transforming the hunt club into a winter retreat mansion on the Outer Banks. Their vision included five stories of luxury in a 21,000 square-foot paradise that featured modern conveniences such as electricity, running hot and cold water, indoor bathrooms and even a refrigerator. A splendid example of Art Nouveau architecture, their home was completed in 1925, the Knights rename the property Corolla Island. In 1939, new owners rename the property The Whalehead Club.
Featuring eighteen-inch thick walls reinforced by steel beams, Whalehead was years ahead of its time in an architectural sense. With five chimneys, copper-shingled roof, and humidity-resistant cork floors, Corolla Island combined Pennsylvania farmhouse, French-Canadian country, and Arts and Crafts styles. To provide electricity and water for the home, a 2,200-gallon pumping system was installed in the boathouse and fed to the house via underground lines. One of the main influential architectural styles on Corolla Island was Art Nouveau, as evidenced by the curved rooflines, paint color choices, ornamental chimneys, Tiffany lighting, and distinctive porches and friezes. To this day, Whalehead contains some of the most important examples of Art Nouveau ornamentation in the United States.
Currituck County purchased the Whalehead property in 1992 in order to ensure public Sound access. Restoration of the property began in 1999, and by 2002, the property had been restored to a near-identical state as it existed in the 1920s. Thousands of visitors to Corolla, NC in the Outer Banks of North Carolina tour this grand jewel each year.
With the Outer Banks storied history of pirates, shipwrecks, and lost colonies, it should come as no surprise that there have been many signs that point to the existence of paranormal activity in the area, and you have to look no further than Whalehead to find proof. Coastal Paranormal Investigations group conducted exhaustive research in the Summer of 2009, and their findings are available when you take one of the haunted tours of Whalehead - the Daylight Ghost Tour or the Moonlight Legend, Lore & Ghost Tour.
Over the years, many visitors to the Whalehead Club insist that there's an energy in the house that that makes them uncomfortable. Many stories exist about hauntings is this restored hunting lodge retreat, including one incident where a police deputy claims someone grabbed his leg while he was on the second floor of the coastal mansion by himself. The most widespread indications of a malevolent presence in the home centers around the portrait of Mr. Knight in the dining room, where many visitors claim they smelled cigar smoke odor. This is a bit eerie when you consider Mr. Knight's fondness for smoking cigars in that very room so many years ago.
So if Whalehead is haunted, who is haunting it? That is the question many have pondered over the years. Is it the spirit of a little girl whose spirit still remains trapped in the home after all these years? There's a story of a child once running out of the house, screaming hysterically. The child claimed that a little girl was trying to grab him, but no one with the child saw anything. The story of the ghostly little girl was also reported by paranormal investigators, who claim to have seen this very girl in the basement of the home. The basement seems to be at the center of more intrigue when you consider that at one point, the elevator leading to it had to be shut down and bolted because it would regularly run to the basement without any living person at the controls. And while paranormal investigators did conclude that the house indeed possess spirits, it was the malevolent nature of the presence that worried them, so much so that they would not even spend the entire night there.
Although there are no murders or crimes of a horrific nature that have been documented to occur at Whalehead, the mystery still remains. The only documented evidence that points to how and why thse hauntings still occur happened back in 1933. The Knight family came to visit their retreat home in October, no different than any other year, really. However, three weeks later, they left abruptly without provocation or explanation, never to return.
Visit the listing page for Whalehead in Historic Corolla for more information on tours, deals, and events going on now.