Updated July 6, 2010.
Knotts Island History by Della Lewark.
Being unique in it's location and peaceful tranquility, Knotts
Island offers a break from the rush of the urban, rush-a-day world
of today. Sometimes called North Carolina's "lost colony" we offer
something the outside world seems to have forgotten. Time to
pause, take a deep breath of clean, fresh air and reflect upon a
world of yesterday and find food for the soul for tomorrow.
Knotts Island may well be the oldest community of continuous
settlement in North Carolina-certainly the oldest in Currituck
county. It appears as "knot isle" on the Comberford map published
in 1657 from surveys made even earlier. There was a James Knott in
Virginia as early as 1628 and some of his progeny set sail for
For a long time it was supposed that this island- approximately 7
miles long and 3 miles wide at its widest point-actually 1 mile
wide at the northern tip-was actually in Virginia and Byrd's
surveyor's were surprised when their line put most of it in North
The western part of the island is called Mackay Island. This was
once the estate of Joseph P. Knapp who loved Knotts Island and
Currituck as many of us do. His estate consisted of a 3 story
mansion with spiral staircase and wings adjacent for servants
quarters. He employed a number of full time and part-time
employees. He was a great hunter and a crack shot. His request was
to have his remains returned to Currituck and strewn over
Currituck sound. Mr. and Mrs. Knapp have a plot near Moyock, N. C.
There is a school named for Mr. Knapp.
His estate changed hands twice after his death and finally the
federal government purchased it and it is now known as Mackay
Island National Wildlife Refuge. The mansion and adjoining
buildings were torn down much to the regret of many local
The northern part of the island is approached over a vast marsh
with canals on both sides of the road. The canals are fished
regularly for bass. The land supports substantial and attractive
forests and thrifty farms as well.
From the waterfront at the south end of the island visitors may
look down the entire length of narrow 35 mile long Currituck
Sound. The water is shallow here and "carp holding pens" may be
seen. Some years the "carp harvest"‘ is worth $250,000. It is
estimated that approximately 5 million dollars annually are spent
on fishing and hunting in Currituck County by visitors and
residents, with Knotts Island contributing her fair share.
The eastern part of the island supports most of the homes and
clubs, stores, churches and school along Knotts Island channel and
Knotts Island bay. The island may be reached only two ways- by the
causeway to the north and the ferry to the south. Until the late
1930's the only way to reach the island or get off- was by way of
horse and cart on an oyster—shell covered cattle trail that ran
through the marshland or by boat. Both these proved long and
arduous. Time was when residents here wanted to go to Norfolk they
came to a station at the south end and be rowed out to a pier head
in deeper water and catch a steamboat late in the evening, spend
the night aboard and get to Norfolk the next day. Today we make
the same trip by automobile in an hour or so. While aboard the
steamer they were served meals. Old folks tell of the way they
looked forward to these trips as one would look forward to going
The soil is good in many places and the extent of it is large.
Quite a few farms are still in use and very productive. There are
several cattle farms here also. The island is the center of
productive waterfowl hunting area and hunters from the northeast
and midwest flock regularly. Fresh water fishing is always good.
Back years before automobiles and highways the only means of
livelihood was hunting and net fishing and farming. The people
here were dependent upon themselves for survival. There was a time
when the islanders had their own blacksmith, funeral parlor and
two one room, one-teacher schools, one in the north end and one in
the south end. With the highway in the 30's and the coming of more
automobiles the people began to seek better occupations in the
Norfolk-Virginia Beach area. Electricity came in 1945.
Many of the approximately 700 people here have ancestors dating
back to the 1800's who came to the area when the coast guard
operated a station on the outer banks just across the bay. During
the years people from the station moved inland. There are two
churches on Knotts Island. The methodist and the baptist. Old
folks tell of having no church for many years. They met in private
homes and read and studied the bible.
Circuit rider preachers would go from one community to the other.
As he traveled so did the people. When the preacher held revivals
on Knotts Island people of the outer banks, Churches Island,
Bell's Island and Currituck would come by boat and stay in homes
on Knotts Island for the one or two weeks, then return home. When
the preacher visited other communities Knotts Islanders would
accept the hospitality of their neighbors across the bay or sound.
Caleb Ansell, native and landowner of Knotts Island, obtained a
grant from the Edenton assembly to build a church in 1771.
Records show that the first methodist church was constructed in
1811. It is interesting to note that when the Yankees came to the
island during the civil war (1861-65) the federal soldiers camped
in and about the church much to the chagrin of the congregation
who were allied with the confederacy. The present structure,
located near the island's center is the third building erected on
the same site. In 1911 the present sanctuary was constructed. The
interior of the sanctuary is soft brown tongue and groove lumber
and picture molding which reflect a turn of the century
architectural style. The woodwork is arranged artistically around
various colored stained glass windows. Once a part of a four part
circuit it became independent in 1956. The educational building
was added in 1949, along with a beautiful brick parsonage. A
modern kitchen and two more rooms were added in the summer of
1971. The enrollment is 240 today. The baptist church was
organized from a reform church in which it is said each member had
to take his own chair. in June 1876 they requested admission in
the Portsmouth association and in September 1876 17 members were
on roll. In 1878 a church was built in which "gracious revivals"
were held. 1879 saw the church well organized and 44 members. The
first preacher was J. T. Tuttle. Today there are 45 members and
good fellowship prevails.
The school building located near the center of the island was
presented to the people of Knotts Island by Mr. and Mrs. Joseph
Palmer Knapp, a publisher from New York. Construction was begun in
the summer of 1925 and the corner stone was laid in November of
the same year. The building was first occupied in January of 1926
with the first enrollment of 113 pupils. The advantages of musical
instruments and music lessons were among the many projects
financed and offered by Mr. and Mrs Knapp to each child.
Today the Knotts Island elementary schools enrollment is 118.
There are 5 teachers, 2 teachers assistants, a music teacher
present daily with a traveling art teacher, and vocational teacher
visiting us once or twice weekly.
The high school students attend school in Currituck county via
Knotts Island ferry. The ferry's first trip was made September 2,
1962. It was designed primarily for use in transporting children
to and from school via Currituck Sound. It travels approximately 8
miles per hour. Takes 45 minutes to cross the 6 mile span. Some
6,000 cars use the ferry annually, many of them sight-seers and
tourists. The N. C. state highway commission maintains the ferry
year round free of charge. In the fall and winter ducks, geese and
swan may be seen from the ferry deck. Many islanders dream of the
day when a bridge may connect us with our native and beloved
Most of the homes here are modern by todays standards, with most
of the modern day conveniences prevalent. There are several homes
here above average.
Today Knotts Island is famous for its hunting and fishing.
We have a volunteer fire station and a kindergarten among our
Sportsmen know of no other sport that satisfies their longing to
get into the open and feel free and akin to nature as does trying
to outwit the largemouth bass or trying to down of the many
species of ducks or a big honker. The ducks and Canadian geese,
swan and the greater snow geese all spend winter in the Knotts
We welcome you to our island and hope you will enjoy your stay
with us. When you leave we hope to remain in your most pleasant
thoughts when you reflect upon Knotts Island. To us there is no
other place on earth like it. It is a little bit of "Heaven on
I gratefully acknowledge the following for the information
Faye Lewark for all her research and notes kept through the
Jane Miller Brumley for information about the churches.
And from books by: "A New Geography of North Carolina" by Bill Sharpe 1961." “The North Carolina guide" and excerpts from the famous 1728 diary of William Byrd