A Brief History


A Brief History

The first land grant made by the British government in North Carolina was what is now Colington Island, a small spit of land surrounded by the Currituck, Albemarle, and Roanoke Sounds between Kill Devil Hills and the mainland. Sir John Colleton, for whom the island is named, set up a plantation on the island's sloping sand hills in 1664. His agents planted corn, built barns and houses, and carried cattle across by boat to graze on the scrubby marsh grasses. According to historians, Colleton's plantation was the beginning of the barrier islands' first permanent English settlement.

Over the next several decades, stockmen and farmers set up small grazing stocks and gardens on the sheltered sound side of the Outer Banks. Runaways, outlaws, and entrepreneurs also arrived in small numbers, stealing away in the isolated forests, living off the fresh fish and abundant waterfowl, and running high-priced hunting parties through the intricate bogs and creeks. Inhabitants also engaged in salvaging: When a shipwrecked vessel floated onto shore, local residents quickly appropriated the wood off the boat, loosened sails from the masts, and scavenged anything of value that was left on board. If victims were still struggling ashore, the locals helped them, even setting up makeshift hospitals in their humble homes. 


Colington Island

In 1633 Colington Island became the first land in Carolina to be deeded to an individual. Today this 2-mile-long, 2.5-milewide island, although developing rapidly, is one of the last of the Outer Banks communities to experience growth. In 2003 3,414 people made Colington their year-round home.

The east end of Colington Island lies a mile west of the Wright Brothers Memorial, linked by a bridge over Colington Creek, which separates the island from Kill Devil Hills and Dare County beaches. Colington's other borders are surrounded by open water. Kitty Hawk Bay is to the north and Buzzard Bay is to the south. The mouths of four sounds (Currituck, Albemarle, Croatan, and Roanoke) converge on the west side of this family community.

Colington, named after its first proprietor, Sir John Colleton, was originally tilled to grow grapes for a winery shortly after settlers in 1664 founded the first Outer Banks community. The grapes, along with crops of tobacco, fruits, and vegetables, failed after three successive hurricanes. But by the early 1800s, a thriving fishing community had grown on two halves of the island: Great Colenton and Little Colenton, cleaved in 1769 by the Dividing Creek. Fishing, crabbing, and hunting sustained islanders generation after generation. Eventually, years after the rest of the barrier islands, Colington natives got paved roads, telephones, and electric service.

Now, they have tourism as well. Just like the four- or five-generation families that live here, Colington Island has its own unique Outer Banks identity. High, uneven dunes meet dank, brackish swamplands. Thick groves of pine, dogwood, live oak, beech, and holly drip Spanish moss over expanses of sandy shoreline. Thin creeks widen to unexpected harbors and bays. In summer months, soft-shell crab holding pens illuminate strips of scrubby yard along the sounds at night, the naked light bulbs glaring out of the darkness like a Reno casino. Advertisements for waterfront property in pricey new subdivisions are posted not far from where trailers and campgrounds line the twisting road. Mansions are barely evident perched on their sandy shelves overlooking Colington Road, the most heavily traveled secondary road in Dare County.

Colington Harbour, the island's first subdivision, was built in 1965. Since then, numerous other subdivisions have been constructed along canals, marshlands, and sound fronts and in woodlands throughout Colington Island. After a year of weighing benefits and risks, newcomers and natives hammered out a reasonable zoning plan. Several restaurants, a storage garage, and a go-kart track mingling with crab shedders and fish houses along the road illustrate the conflict and challenges this sheltered community faced over dramatic change. With new development approved every year, residents have accepted the inevitability of growth. The future face of Colington will be determined by the strength of the zoning plan and the people who molded it.




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