It is paradoxical that some part of the failure of the Cape Lookout Development Company’s grand design was owed to their failure to build some form of railroad or trolley to the Cape, because their hopes emerged just on the cusp of what turned out to be a period of sustained construction of roads and bridges onto (and on) the Outer Banks.
These local developments occurred in the context of the often-chronicled Good Roads Movement, spearheaded in North Carolina by the indomitable Harriet Berry but part of the larger national movement (initially led partly by bicyclists, oddly enough, but more closely tied afterwards to a push for better farm-to-market roads) for good roads (1880-1916), and of the state’s 1921 Highway Act (which provided new tax funds to construct hard-surface roads connecting county seats and principal towns).55 [ILLUSTRATION: NC highways ca 1924 EncycNC p566. CAPTION: Fig. 9-24: North Carolina highways as of 1924. Powell (ed.), Encyclopedia of North Carolina, 566. Map by Mark Anderson Moore. North Carolina Office of Archives and History.] As the highways lengthened (to 7,551 miles in 1928) and became better, the number of automobiles multiplied. Between 1920 and 1928, registered automobiles in the state grew from127,405 to 418,864 – a better than three-fold increase.56
All up and down the Outer Banks, there were efforts to build bridges and improve roads. In the early 1920s, Dare County moved toward bridging Roanoke Sound. The bridge was finished by1928, but did not go much of anywhere. On the Roanoke Island end, it connected with the only hard-surfaced road in the area (built by the state in 1924 between Manteo and Wanchese), but on the beach side it connected only to sand tracks. Such lacks were general in the coastal counties; a 1924 map shows virtually no hard-surfaced highways east of Wilmington, New Bern, Washington and Edenton except for a north-south segment from Wilmington to Jacksonville (perhaps constructed during World War I). Indeed there were not a lot of them anywhere in the state.57
Other bridges followed. The 1925 state legislature authorized funds for a bridge on old N.C. 342 (now U.S. 17) across Albemarle Sound, and another spectacular three-mile one was built on U.S. 32 in 1938.58To the south, in late 1926 Carteret County residents watched as the 8,200 foot causeway linking Morehead City and Beaufort across Bogue Sound.59 By 1930, the three mile-long Wright Memorial Bridge stretched across Currituck Sound, and the next year a state highway through the Kitty Hawk and Nags Head beaches was finished, making it possible to drive on modern roads from Currituck to Manteo.60 Several decades passed before other new bridges were built, but the two-mile Oregon Inlet (later Herbert C. Bonner) Bridge opened in 1963.61 And virtually everywhere the new bridges and roads went, tourist development followed with new motels and tourist housing.
The new roads and bridges were part of a transportation system that also included – importantly for the Outer Banks – a new state-operated ferry system as well. Private ferries had operated throughout the state since colonial times, but by the 1920s few of them remained. In 1934, however, the Highway Commission began subsidizing one private ferry at Oregon Inlet, and bought it in 1950. Another acquisition and a new state-run ferry across the Alligator River in the late 1940s led to the organization of a state ferry service by the mid-1950s. In time it came to operate twenty-four ferries on seven routes – the second-largest ferry system in the country – each of them critical to the tourism industry.62
Post-World War II Private Tourism Development
The end of World War II brought a dramatic increase in travel and tourism virtually everywhere. Reunited families, the arrival of small children, the availability of new automobiles, the growth of roadside motels, the building of new highways and bridges, the opening of theme parks and other attractions, and (especially in Florida) the use of DDT to control mosquitoes and air conditioning to make the heat bearable were some of the most important factors spurring tourism.63
On the North Carolina coast, four developments were central to the expansion of tourism after the war: publicist Aycock Brown’s efforts in Dare County (and those of towns and counties that quickly copied his), sport hunting and fishing, and the coming of two national seashores at Cape Hatteras and Cape Lookout.
There is nearly complete consensus that Aycock Brown was a publicity wizard who virtually singlehandedly generated a tourist boom in Dare County. The northern Banks were in a crisis at the close of the war. 64 Commercial hunting had decreased, shad production was down, military bases had closed, and even the Coast Guard was boarding up its stations. Returning servicemen were looking vainly for work. Tourism seemed like a promising direction for development, but long-established resort areas to the south offered stiff competition.
Brown turned out to be more than equal to the challenge. He had done public relations work for the old Pamlico Inn, and worked as a reporter for the Beaufort News. He had even had an unsuccessful term as a police reporter for the Durham Herald. His duty station on the coast during the World War II had broadened his knowledge of the Outer Banks. After the war he had worked in publicity for the outdoor drama The Lost Colony, and was freelancing for the Sanitary Fish Market and even a dog track at Moyock. Then in 1952 he began a twenty-six year stint as director of the Dare County Tourist Bureau, a position from which he planned, pushed, cajoled, beguiled, and finagled the county’s explosive tourism growth into being.65
Many Outer Banks counties and towns were forming Chambers of Commerce at the time Brown came to Dare County, but most of them amounted to little more than a post office box, and were accomplishing little. But the garrulous and indefatigable Brown knew how to get the job done. Neither a swimmer nor a fisherman himself, he took countless photographs of (preferably female) swimmers, fishermen and anything else he thought he could place somewhere – anywhere. [ILLUSTRATION: Aycock Brown photo bathing beauty and Hatteras lighthouse p41. CAPTION: Fig. 9-25: Aycock Brown photograph of a bathing beauty and Cape Hatteras lighthouse. Brown and Stick (eds.), Aycock Brown’s Outer Banks, 41.] Lawrence Madry of the Virginian Pilot recalled that Brown
will get a story printed in your newspaper or magazine --the New York Times or the National Geographic, it doesn't matter -- by inundating you with his own stories or photographs, or completely knocking you off guard with the depth of his kindness, or spilling you into some deep well of laughter, pushed by the overwhelming force of his zany personality.
Jim Mays, an editor for Norfolk’s WTAR, said Brown knew
how to conjure up via long-distance telephone a compelling conviction in the minds of faraway journalists that a dead whale washed up on the beach at Rodanthe is a story of major international significance.66
Whatever Brown’s strategies and tactics, tourism quickly became – and has remained – Dare County’s main industry. The new Southern Shores development opened in 1947, and Dare County s Atlantic Township (including Kill Devil Bills, Kitty Hawk, and Southern Shores), which in 1926 had had a tax value of slightly over $100,000, increased to more than $6 million in 1957.67
Fortuitously, Brown’s assertive and imaginative promotional activities came on the very eve of major state and Federal involvement in tourism development on the Outer Banks.