The Unpainted Aristocracy of Nags Head

Figure 9. Some of northern Nags Head's “unpainted aristocracy” homes date to the 1830s and are the oldest seaside cottages on the Outer Banks. (Photograph by Blair Tormey. More about the photograph)

In northern Nags Head some seaside homes have survived the frequent storms of the Outer Banks. Located near the intersection of Virginia Dare Trail (NC 12) and East Soundside Drive, these “unpainted aristocracy” homes are the oldest summer cottages on the Outer Banks. Some of them date back to the 1830s.

The natural, unmodified topography of northern Nags Head is characterized by low dunes, an overwash-dominated backdune, a landward maritime grassland, and thickets of bayberry and cedar toward the sound side of the island. Jockey’s Ridge, an immense natural dune, is situated to the west of these homes. This type of topography represents the natural, pre-settlement landscape of the Outer Banks. Communities that have lived in concert with their surroundings have typically fared better than those that altered them. These development strategies continued until the boom that began in the early 1960s.