NAGS HEAD, N.C.
Which banks are the Outer Banks?
News spread nationwide in September that Hurricane Florence struck the Outer Banks causing devastating flooding and destruction. Roads and bridges were closed and visitors could not go there.
Except that was not the Outer Banks with a capital O and a capital B, said Karen Brown, president of the Outer Banks Chamber of Commerce. It is a valuable internationally known brand built over many years, she said. The authentic Outer Banks stretches from Ocracoke to Corolla.
Visitors read the reports and did not come to Hatteras Island, Nags Head and Corolla as much as they would have, she said. Florence struck the bottom of the barrier islands. Roads and business reopened from Ocracoke to Corolla fairly quickly.
"That really hurt us," Brown said.
Geographically, the banks of North Carolina extend 175 miles from the Virginia line to beyond Cape Lookout, according to historian David Stick's 1958 book "The Outer Banks of North Carolina."
The North Carolina Gazeteer calls all the barrier islands the Outer Banks.
Wikipedia says it stretches 200 miles and includes Bogue Banks and Shackleford Banks where the coastline makes a sharp turn west. But the description adds that other sources restrict the name Outer Banks to the area from Ocracoke to Corolla.
"Some consider any barrier island the Outer Banks," said Eleanor Talley, spokeswoman for Visit North Carolina. "We always clarify where it is they want to go."
Reports calling Cape Lookout, Emerald Isle and Atlantic Beach the Outer Banks are misleading, said Lee Nettles, director of the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau.
"It plays on people's confusion," he said. "We're the most recognizable part of the chain of barrier islands."
Businesses and agencies by the dozens located in Hyde, Dare and Currituck counties use the popular moniker, from Outer Banks Hospital to the Outer Banks Wedding Association to Outer Banks Horseback.
The area near Cape Lookout markets itself more as the Crystal Coast even though it is part of state's long line of barrier islands, said Jim Browder, executive director of the Crystal Coast Tourism Development Authority.
"Geographically, before the marketers got hold of it, the Outer Banks were the Outer Banks," he said.
The branding began in earnest in the 1970s, when the Greater Nags Head Chamber of Commerce changed its name to the Outer Banks Chamber of Commerce, said John Bone, who served as the CEO of the chamber for 30 years beginning in the early 1980s.
The marketed name of the Outer Banks later included Ocracoke to Corolla, he said.
The state allowed taxes on lodging and meals in the 1980s and 1990s, which led to more money for advertising the region and helped spread the name further, he said.
But the Outer Banks name goes further back.
Historians have labeled the Outer Banks in different ways over the centuries, some not so flattering, according to Stick's research. Queen Elizabeth's 1584 grant to Sir Walter Raleigh called them "remote, heathen and barbarous lands." John White, leader of the Lost Colony, called it "Hatorask" in 1587. Surveyor Edward Randolf in 1699 called them "ye sand banks" populated with runaways and pirates.
Possibly the earliest publication of the name outer banks — lowercase — appeared in The Daily Journal of Wilmington in 1867, according to Sarah Carrier, a librarian for the Wilson Special Collections Library at the University of North Carolina.
The article praises the establishment of a steam boat making weekly trips from Norfolk to Washington, N.C. The vessel could travel the sounds and rivers and avoid the treacherous waters off Hatteras, the story said.
"…the outer banks give greater security against wind and sea to steamers passing through Albemarle and Pamlico sounds," it said.
Outer banks, not capitalized, also appeared in 1882 in both the Charlotte Observer and the Goldsboro Messenger.
Decades ago, locals named their beach after their town, said Danny Couch, a Dare County commissioner and historian of the region. Places were known as the Hatteras banks, the Chicamacomico banks or the Kinnakeet banks, he said. The Outer Banks name spread with the creation of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore in the 1950s and became associated with the northern barrier islands, he said.
"Now it's become the place name for the entire region," he said.