The village of Corolla was a thriving community that began to grow in 1875 after the lighthouse was built. The area was popular for waterfowl hunts, and in 1890, at the peak of the market, 200 residents lived in the village. After WWII, the population declined until the 1980s. It was a sleepy little village, with wild ponies roaming through the streets. Then in 1984 the road was extended to Corolla. It is now the northernmost town in the Outer Banks section of Currituck County that is accessible by road. Local residents usually stress the second syllable, which they pronounce like rah - as Ca rah la. It is not correctly pronounced like the name of the Toyota Corolla
You can still get a sense of the old village by walking in the shade of the oaks and pines on the dirt road on the west side of NC 12 behind the lighthouse.
A few of the historic buildings from the old village remain and have been restored to look as they did when they were built.
Several of the restored historic homes that have been converted into shops, so you can go inside, including the Lewark and Parker residences. A new building was built to look like the old Callie Parker's store.
A walking-tour map is available at many of the shops in the area or at Twiddy & Company Realtors, whose owners took charge of restoring the buildings. The restored Corolla Schoolhouse is on the tour but it is a private office and not open to the public. At the time of the schoolhouse construction (the mid- to late 1890s), there was no public school. The children of government employees went to the private/Government School whose teachers were paid by their parents. In 1999, retired Corolla postmaster, Norris Austin, was the only surviving Corolla resident who was a former student. Norris was the fourth member of his family to attend the school, when he entered it in 1944. By 1955, when he graduated, the enrollment had dwindled to fifteen and finally just five students, according to records. It finally closed in 1958. After that, the children had to attend school on the other side of Currituck Sound. We would see the ferry with the school bus on it when we were on our way to the Albemarle Chesapeake Canal.
The actual old school building was moved to its current location in 1999. With the underpinnings of the old school exposed, it was revealed that the 19th century watermen who originally built the school, apparently used everything they could find - including large timbers from shipwrecks that were plentiful along the shores at that time.
"You can see the old wooden pegs, and there's no mistaking these support beams were once part of a ship," said Contractor Jim Andrews of Kitty Hawk. "They even used old iron nails that were obviously salvaged off of the beach." Other exciting finds have been an old chalkboard and the original beadboard, dating back to the late 1800's. "We've found old doors in recesses behind walls and some of the original shingles," said Andrews. The schoolhouse was returned to its original white color with cedar shingles.
The walking tour will also take you past the 1878 U.S. Lifesaving Station that was moved to the village and the historic Whalehead Club. The Whalehead Club was built next to the lighthouse.
It was built by northern millionaires as a 'hunting lodge' in the 1920s. It is being restored as a waterfowl museum. Between Duck (the next village south) and Corolla there is a bird sanctuary (the Pine Island Audubon Sanctuary).
For me Corolla is really about the Currituck Beach Lighthouse. The historic light station at Corolla village (36 22 36 N, 75 49 51 W) is known as the Currituck Beach Lighthouse. It should NOT be called the Corolla Lighthouse. We visited Corolla and the Currituck Beach Lighthouse in 2004 when we were staying in a condo in Duck.
The Currituck Beach lighthouse is one of eight lighthouses positioned along the Outer Banks and was built after the Civil War to fill in the remaining darkness between Bodie Island and Cape Henry, Virginia. Construction was begun in 1873, at the Whaleshead settlement adjacent to Currituck Sound and was completed in 1875. It stands 163 feet high and is constructed of more than one million bricks left unpainted in order to distinguish it from the other lighthouses along the Outer Banks. The lighthouse remains today an active aid to navigation. It was automated in 1939 and still flashes at 20-second intervals. For a number of years this was the only lighthouse along the Outer Banks open to the public.
It is the only lighthouse in North Carolina still housed in its original structure. It is one of only a dozen lighthouses nationwide with an original Fresnel lens still in use. In 1973, the lighthouse was added to the National Register of Historic Places."
The lighthouse grounds provide many opportunities for photos, even if you do not want to climb the tower.
The Lighthouse Keepers' House, a Victorian "stick style" dwelling, was pre-cut and labeled, shipped by barge and then assembled on site. In 1876, when the Keepers' House was completed, two keepers and their families shared the duplex. The two louvered structures flanking the Keepers' House are cisterns which store rain water.About 1920 another building was moved to the site for a third keeper and his family. The house was abandoned in 1939 when the lighthouse was automated, and served for a time as storage for hay.
In 1995 the restored little keeper's house was returned to service as a Museum Shop offering visitors models of lighthouses, books and other lighthouse and wild horse-related items. Other historic structures located within the lighthouse compound include an outhouse and a storage building. The two-hole privy has been repaired and the storage building with its four sharp finials has been restored and now serves as the lighthouse staff office.