Dare County (1870)

Written By Jonathan Martin


Dare County, one of North Carolina’s coastal counties, has a rich history with national significance.  Named for America’s first English child, Virginia Dare, this northeastern county was originally part of the Tyrrell, Hyde, and Currituck Counties. In 1870, the North Carolina Legislature passed an act that separated Dare County to make transportation improvements as well as an increase in taxing procedures.


Manteo, the county seat, is named in honor of the Croatoan who helped the English establish the Roanoke Island Colony. Other communities within the county include Kitty Hawk, Nags Head, Wanchese, Kill Devil Hills, and Southern Shores. Also, Dare County has nearly 85 miles of uninterrupted coastline, and includes the famed Roanoke Island.


Formerly occupied by the Croatoan before English settlement, Dare County was the site of many colonization attempts. In the 1580s, Sir Walter Raleigh, the famous British adventurer and soldier, tried to establish a colony, in what he considered a New World, on Roanoke Island, but a lack of supplies doomed his efforts.  After several years of isolation from the Old World, rescuers were unable to locate any colonists—of whom the whereabouts and fate are still an unsolved mystery.


The success of Wilbur and Orville Wright’s first flight occurred in Dare County.  Performing one of the most important events of the twentieth century, Orville Wright flew “The Flyer” 120 feet in 12 seconds on December 17, 1903, in Kill Devil Hills. Although several witnesses remarked at how anti-climatic the event was, the brothers attempted several more flights with the longest lasting nearly one minute and reaching a distance of 852 feet.  The Wright Brothers National Memorial commemorates this accomplishment.


Tourism has been Dare County’s main industry since the late–nineteenth century. The resorts, beaches, and historical sites attract many.  Several museums and attractions in the region include the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, the North Carolina Aquarium, and the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge.