Anyone who has visited Whalehead, the restored Art Nouveau house museum in Corolla, North Carolina, knows what a magical and wonderful place it is. However, many are not aware of several unique (and some strange) facts about the 90 year old historic home on the Currituck Outer Banks. We asked Ann Sensibaugh, Director of Education at Whalehead, to provide some interesting facts and not-so-common knowledge about this popular Outer Banks attraction.
1. The property on which Whalehead sits was originally called “Corolla Island” and spanned four and a half miles from the Curritcuck sound to the oceanfront (or from Whalehead to where the Food Lion or the Timbuck II shopping center is located today).
2. Mr. Knight, who built Whalehead, and his friend J.P. Knapp, a New Yorker who built a similar winter home on Knotts Island, were the founders of a group called “More Wild Game Birds for America”. This organization was eventually restructured and reorganized and is now called Ducks Unlimited.
3. When Whalehead, situated on a sand dune, was built in the 1920s, there was no green vegetation around it and the ocean could be viewed from the home.
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4. Whalehead has 21,000 square feet, five floors and took three years to build at a cost of $383,000 (not including the land).
5. Mr. Knight’s father, E.C.Knight, Sr., earned the Knight fortune by starting off his working life as a grocery store clerk.
6. Whalehead was the first home in the region to have electricity. Mr. Knight generated his own power through the use of generators housed on the property in the Boathouse.
7. In 1925, the house was equipped with an electric refrigerator, clothes washer and a dishwasher.
8. Whalehead features an Otis #1 counterweight elevator, the first series ever manufactured by the Otis Company.
9. Early guests to Whalehead could have salt water baths. The salt water, thought to have medicinal qualities, was pumped into the house’s private bathrooms.
10. Whalehead was equipped with a fully stocked wine cellar during the Prohibition.
11. The Knights held a Christmas party every year for the locals, and they made certain that every man, woman, and child in the village of Corolla had a duck or goose, fresh fruits and a wrapped gifts for the holidays.
12. The decorative details in and on the house are in the Art Nouveau style, a decorative form that fell out of favor after WWI. All of the Art Nouveau woodwork and decorative objects predate the home by 20 years.
13. All of the Tiffany lighting in Whalehead is hand signed and numbered by Louis Comfort Tiffany.
14. Six of the original pieces of furniture have never left the house, except for restoration. All other furnishings have been bought back, given back or loaned.
15. The house originally had cork and wooden floors covered with 12 inch square, black and white linoleum tiles. Such tiles were a novelty in the 1920s and thought to be very stylish.
16. The roof on Whalehead is made from copper, and each of the over 10,000 shingles has seven individual folds. Mr. Knight originally ordered slate for his roof, but the load was too heavy and copper was substituted.
17. Whalehead is said to have a basement. Actually, the basement is the first floor of the home. Mr. Knight built the first floor in brick and then pushed dirt around the brick walls to give the illusion of a basement.
18. Whalehead originally had a swimming pool, perhaps the first on the Outer Banks.
19. During WWII, Whalehead was the home to the mounted Coast Guard.
20. In 1940, Mr. Ray Adams, Whalehead’s second owner, bought the house and property for $25,000.
21. From 1959 to 1962, Whalehead was leased to a private educational foundation and used as a boys’ summer school known as Corolla Academy.
22. Whalehead was leased by Atlantic Research Corporation for the testing of Poseidon rockets in 1962 and then bought by the company in 1964.
23. Whalehead was purchased by Currituck County in 1992 at a bank auction. At that time, only around 40 acres of the original 2200 were left, and the home was in terrible disrepair (to the extent that many thought it could not be saved).