Collections and Services at the OBHC

The reference room at the Outer Banks History Center


The holdings of the Outer Banks History Center include manuscripts, books, photographs, periodicals and serials, maps, newspapers and public records on microfilm, oral histories, audio and video recordings, ephemera, and original works of art. The History Center holds nearly 300,000 items.

Subject areas address historical, cultural, economic, governmental, and scientific topics pertaining to North Carolina and to neighboring states.

Some collections located at the Outer Banks History Center are indexed through the MARS online catalog and Outer Banks History Center finding aids are available online.

Coastal Military Operations

The military history of North Carolina's coast encompasses the War of 1812, the Civil War, the Freedmen’s Colony on Roanoke Island, and World Wars I and II. Collection emphasis is on Civil War battles on Hatteras and Roanoke Islands, and includes maps, regimental histories, official reports, original documents and letters, original drawings, newspapers, period etchings, illustrations and contemporary published works. U-boat operations off the North Carolina coast during both World Wars, and the effort to defeat them, are documented in photographs, memoirs and histories of actions taken by the British and American navies and the U.S. Coast Guard.

Discovery and Early Exploration

The History Center holds research materials related to the European discovery and exploration of North America, including Roanoke Island and the Chesapeake Bay region. Works focus on the Roanoke Voyages and the Native Americans encountered by the Europeans. Other important holdings include copies of the published writings of Richard Hakluyt and John Smith, copies of the watercolors of John White, more recent archeological reports, and an important map collection that ranges from the 16th century to modern navigational charts.

Genealogy and Family History

The History Center serves as a starting point for regional genealogical research. Holdings include family history files and published family histories, town and county histories, regional newspapers, and copies of public records such as deeds and marriage records from Dare, Currituck, Hyde and Tyrrell counties.

Natural History and Environmental Sciences

Researchers visiting the History Center can trace the influences of man and nature on coastal North Carolina through special collections of natural history and the environmental sciences. Specialties include terrestrial and marine biology, aquaculture, botany, geology, geography, hydrology and oceanography, and meteorology. Important collections include those of geologist Dr. Robert Dolan, a leading scholar of shoreline dynamics and coastal geology, and holly expert Barton Bauers, author of a photographic survey of plant life in eastern North Carolina.

Personal and Organizational Papers

Collections of personal and organizational papers preserve the heritage of our region while providing researchers with a rich array of local history resource material. Holdings include the papers of our founding benefactor, David Stick. His decades as a civic leader, historical researcher and writer provide a large body of local history documentation. Holdings also include the artwork and papers of David Stick's father, Frank Stick, a magazine and calendar illustrator, and later a conservationist and developer.

Other collections of personal papers include materials from individuals important to the history of the Outer Banks including Warren O'Neal, creator of the Carolina boat, a modern sport fishing boat, diaries of Lillie Jacob Baum, a Currituck homemaker, and C. W. Hollowell, owner of the Nags Head Hotel. Organizational papers include records from many of the region’s private professional or civic organizations. Some of these organizations are defunct, while others are currently active. Documents from the Outer Banks Chamber of Commerce, Dare County Tourist Bureau, Roanoke Island Historical Association and the Lost Colony, the Elizabethan Gardens, the town of Nags Head, the Outer Banks Community Foundation and other organizations have found a secure, climate-controlled home with the History Center.

Shipwrecks, Lighthouses, and Aids to Navigation

Lighthouses, aids to navigation, shipwrecks and rescues have played important roles in the history of coastal North Carolina. The History Center boasts an extensive collection of material on shipwrecks and the U.S. Life-Saving Service, including its successor, the U.S. Coast Guard. A premier collection consists of several thousand original wreck reports, payroll records, telegrams, and other documents from the period 1883-1933. The History Center has many documentary sources and photographs related to lighthouses including copies of architectural drawings from the National Archives.


Research Services

The Outer Banks History Center is administered by the Division of Archives and Records and operates under North Carolina General Statutes 121 and 132 in carrying out its archival mission and programs. All are welcome to visit the Outer Banks History Center in person to conduct research. The Reading Room has reference and reading areas, public access computers, a microfilm reader-printer, photocopier, and access to audiovisual equipment. Our knowledgeable staff of archivists is available to assist with research and to retrieve materials from our stack room for use in the reading room. History Center staff can conduct limited reference services by phone, e-mail, correspondence, and fax. Lengthy or involved research may require an onsite visit.

Searching our collections may be conducted online through our catalog, MARS (Manuscripts and Archives Reference System). The History Center also maintains online finding aids to some of its holdings.

Reproduction Services

The History Center provides in-house photocopy, scanning and photographic reproduction services. Some holdings are subject to restrictions due to preservation concerns or require donor permission before being copied. Please consult our online fee schedule for complete information.

Requesting Information by Mail or Email

Beginning July 1, 2012 in accordance with policies of our parent agency, the State Archives of North Carolina, a $20 search and handling fee will be required for all researchers who are not residents of North Carolina for each reference inquiry delivered remotely via e-mail, correspondence, or fax. The limits of this fee are established by statute and it includes up to 20 photocopies, 8 copies from microfilm, or 1 scanned image. If copies of the requested information cannot be covered by the $20 fee, there may be an additional charge based on our current fee schedule, in which case, a statement of copying costs will be included in our response. We encourage out-of-state researchers to contact the Outer Banks History Center by phone or e-mail with an initial inquiry to determine the degree to which we anticipate being able to fulfill the search. 

Education and Outreach Services

In the lobby adjacent to the reading room, we present a wide-ranging selection of exhibits on topics of Outer Banks history and culture. The Outer Banks History Center is an active resource for the community and region. The staff conducts historical, genealogical, and cultural programs and activities and maintains an ongoing exhibit program. Call the History Center at 252-473-2655 for more information about our current exhibit and upcoming programs.