An old picture of the Pioneer Theater in Manteo, now celebrating it’s 100th Anniversary.
The Outer Banks is a pretty interesting place with a history that has some twists and turns that create a fascinating story. The major stories have plenty of coverage, even if no one can quite figure out what actually happened as in the case of The Lost Colony.
However, there are other tales and stories that we do know about, they are often largely forgotten.
What Really happened when Oregon Inlet Opened
For about 30 or 40 years the only opening to the sea along the Outer Banks was Ocracoke Inlet. At one time there was Currituck Inlet a little bit south of the Virginia border and Roanoke Inlet just about where Pamlico Jack’s is in Nags Head today. But by 1810 both inlets had shoaled over and were closed.
Early September 1846 as slow moving tropical system moved up the coast. The wind had held steady for two days from the northeast, pushing water to the towns and estuaries along the mainland.
Calvin Midgett was woking parttime for the US Coast Survey and was looking over conditions with his supervisor C.O. Boutelle when “…A sudden squall came from the southwest, and the waters came upon the beach with such fury that Mr. Midgett, within three quarters of a mile of his house when the storm began, was unable to reach it until four in the afternoon,” Boutelle wrote.
Midgett’s family survived, the house was damaged and the force of the waters pushed through the sandbar to create Oregon Inlet.
By 1890 the waters of the Chesapeake Bay were no longer producing oysters. A recently completed survey of North Carolina Sounds had indicated tremendous potential for oyster harvesting and Maryland oyster companies dispatched boats and crews to dredge for the oysters.
Local oystermen, who had been using traditional methods for years and had neither the money nor inclination to dredge for oysters cried foul—often with drawn firearms.
The politics of the confrontation were complicated though. In the towns and small cities dotting along the mainland, the interlopers had hired hundreds of residents to process the oysters and to Elizabeth City or New Bern, dredging for oysters was an economic boom.
Nonetheless, the Governor finally decided the foreigners had to go and went so far as to mobilize the state militia.
In 1918 George Washington Creef, Jr. bought a movie projector and set up shop on Sir Walter Raleigh Street in Manteo. To this day, the Creef family still owns the Pioneer Theater, making it the oldest theater in the United States continuously owned by the same family.
In 1934, Herbert Creef, Sr. moved the theater to its current location on Budleigh Street. Herbert’s grandson, Buddy Creef owns the Pioneer Theater today.