Historical Inlets of the Outer Banks

Inlets of the Outer Banks

The Outer Banks is a delicate string of barrier islands.  Constantly shifting, moving and changing.  The number and location of inlets across the barrier islands has also changed and shifted drastically over time.  Colonial records indicate the cows were so used to having water everywhere that they learned to swim from one island to another. 

Currituck is an Indian name which means “Land of the wild goose.” The land was well known for its abundant duck and goose around hunting circles. Currituck County was established in 1668 and was settled about 50 years after Jamestown.  It was one of the first settlements in the U.S. and included one of the five original ports. 

The number of inlets that have opened, closed or been filled in along the Outer Banks is astounding.  Some of the most remarkable ones are listed below.  Some of the Inlets were previously undocumented and recently discovered using ground-penetrating radar, as the map shows.

Currituck Inlet

The old Currituck inlet closed in the 1730’s but the New Currituck inlet had already opened up.  The New Currituck Inlet, east of where Moyock lies today, was active with trade, shipping and even attracted the pirate, Blackbeard, who was supposed to be a friend of the Collector of the Currituck Custom House. 

By 1828, all the Currituck inlets had closed and changed the sound from salt water into brackish water and Currituck became landlocked. 

Caffeys Inlet

Caffeys Inlet was located in Duck, it opened in 1770 and had closed back up by 1811. 

Roanoke Inlet

Roanoke Inlet, Like Currituck Inlet, no longer exists. It was opened before 1657 and closed by a storm in 1795.  It was located south of Nags Head.

Oregon Inlet

Oregon Inlet separates Bodie Island from Pea Island and currently has the 2.5 mile Bonner Bridge spanning the Inlet.  Oregon Inlet is a major port for charter fishing boats with ready access to the Gulf Stream.  It is also the location of a US Coast Guard station.   This inlet was formed in 1846 as a result of a hurricane.  The inlet was named after a ship that rode out the storm in the Pamlico Sound.  Due to shoaling and shifting sand, the inlet has moved over 2 miles south since it was formed. 

New inlet

New Inlet was initially formed in 1738 and separates Bodie Island from Hatteras Island.  It was closed by 1922 but re-opened again in 2011 after Hurricane Irene.  Pea Island is the area from New Inlet to Oregon Inlet. A temporary bridge was installed over New Inlet in 2011.  A new permanent bridge has recently been completed.

Isabel Inlet

As the name implies, Isabel Inlet was created by hurricane Isabel in 2003. The storm produced a 2,000 foot wide inlet, where reportedly dolphins swam from the ocean to the sound.  As a result, Hatteras Island was isolated for two months until a road could be built.  

While long term solutions were considered, like building a bridge or establishing a ferry service, ultimately the inlet was filled with sand pumped from the ferry channel on the southwest of Hatteras Island to minimize any environmental impact.  It is believed that this inlet originally existed in 1933 and the original piling from a bridge built in that period were exposed after the hurricane made a new cut.

Buxton Inlet

Buxton Inlet was formed in 1962 during the famed Ash Wednesday nor’easter.  It was filled with sand from the sound in the location known as the “Canadian Hole”.

 Hatteras Inlet

The current Hatteras Inlet was opened in 1846; it was formed on September 7 during a violent gale that also opened the present day Oregon Inlet located to the north.  Hatteras Inlet separates Hatteras Island from Ocracoke Island.  Between the 1760s and 1846, Cape Hatteras and Ocracoke Island were joined together as no inlet existed.

During the Civil War, the two Confederate forts guarding the inlet were quickly defeated in 1861 and 1862. 

The inlet today is about two miles across, but varies daily. There is no bridge from Hatteras to Ocracoke. A fleet of eight ferries provides a free 60-minute ride year round to people who want to traverse the inlet.

Ocracoke Inlet

Ocracoke Inlet separates Ocracoke Island from Portsmouth Island and is about 1 mile wide but also changes daily.  It is one of the oldest inlets in the Outer Banks.  This Inlet was likely traversed by the first colonist who arrived to Roanoke Island in 1585. 

Legend has it that the feared pirate, Blackbeard was killed in nearby Teach’s hole on November 22, 1718.  In 1715 the Inlet was the official port of entry to the mainland communities of Bath, Edenton, Washington and New Bern.

At one time, Portsmouth Island, on the Northeaster end of Core Banks, was the most densely populated place on the whole Outer Banks. It is now a historical site within the Cape Lookout national Seashore.

Drum Inlet

Drum Inlet and Ophelia Inlet are located south of Ocracoke Inlet.  Initially, Drum Inlet opened at mile marker 19 and was formed in 1899.  This inlet was closed naturally in 1919 and then re-opened in 1933 by a hurricane. 

In 1971, the US Army Corps of Engineers dredged and blasted a new inlet at mile marker 22 and called it New Drum Inlet.  The new inlet quickly shoaled and was never used by any commercial fishing vessels.  In 1999, Hurricane Dennis re-opened the original Drum inlet at mile marker 19.  It became known as the new old drum inlet (very imaginative).  This inlet naturally closed by 2008.  Hurricane Irene re-opened New Drum Inlet in 2011 at mile marker 22 and Old Drum Inlet at mile marker 19.

Hurricane Ophelia opened another nearby Inlet at mile marker 23 in 2005.  This inlet carries the name of the hurricane.  Hurricane Irene widened the inlet in 2011; it is currently expanding and has almost merged with New Drum Inlet.

The Outer Banks is a fascinating place; with a rich heritage and history.  Vacationers flock to our top ranked beaches and discover a connection to a shared history.  Come discover your spot off the beaten path to enjoy vacation with family and friends.  

For more information on purchasing a vacation home or relocating or retiring to the Outer Banks, contact Eillu. We are experts on the Outer Banks and are ready to help with your Outer Banks real estate needs.

Inlet graphic: https://www.ecu.edu/icsp/ICSP/Reports_files/PastPresentAndFutureInletsDec2008.pdf

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