Roanoke Island lies between the Outer Banks and the mainland of North Carolina. Protected by other barrier islands, this island was a haven for many groups of people. The Algonquins were early inhabitants and they were still there when the English arrived in 1584. Sir Walter Raleigh explored the island and had a cordial relationship with the Indian tribe. The following year, he sent seven ships with orders to build a fort, Fort Raleigh, to protect themselves from Spanish attacks. Once the English soldiers erected an earthen fort, only 107 soldiers and colonists remained there. The following year more settlers arrived and discovered that the solders had fled due to conflicts with the Algonquins. These new colonists encountered many difficulties and subsequently “disappeared.” There are many theories as to what happened to these settlers. Some say that they were killed by the indigenous tribes, others say that they just moved to another island. To this day, their fortune remains a mystery.
“The Lost Colony” is a popular outdoor and symphonic drama performed at the Waterside Theater at Fort Raleigh National Historic Site that recounts the story of these early New World colonists. Interestingly, Andy Griffith of Mayberry fame performed for “The Lost Colony” and made Roanoke Island his home.
The Elizabethan Gardens are adjacent to the Fort Raleigh Historic Site. The gardens, which grace 10 acres along the Albemarle Sound, are maintained by the Garden Club of N. C. In honor of the early English settlers, the club members attempted to replicate a 16th century Elizabethan pleasure garden. The Roanoke Island Historical Association donated the land for the gardens and they opened to the public in August of 1955.
There are two acres of formal gardens and the rest of the acreage remains in its natural state and features native species of plants. Over 500 different plants are on display. Among them are 125 species of camellias, “the Rose of Winter,” which were in bloom while we were there. Other plants there include hydrangeas, magnolias, and tulips. Some of the oak trees date back to the late 1500’s.
Nestled among the flora are a number of statues. The most acclaimed is the figure of Virginia Dare who was the first English child born in the New World colony. The sculptor, Maria Louisa Lander, represents her as she might have looked as a young woman. There are, however, no records of her after her birth.
Another noteworthy statue is that of Queen Elizabeth I. She encouraged Sir Walter Raleigh to come to the New World. Her image greets you as you enter the gardens.
One of the highlights is the Sunken Garden. It is a beautiful classical garden with a central fountain of Aphrodite. The four surrounding statues represent Apollo, Diana, Venus, and Jupiter. The boxwood hedges set in a geometric pattern, the crape myrtle trees, and seasonal flowers complete the formal garden.
The Gazebo overlooking the Albemarle Sound is a 16th century replica constructed using period tools and techniques. This structure adds to the overarching theme of the park.
Near the entrance is the Queen’s Rose Garden with a lovely collection of fragrant roses. Among them is a rose bush from Windsor Castle that Queen Elizabeth II gifted to them.
There are so many points of interest throughout the Elizabethan Gardens. We found them to be an amazing and tranquil place to spend some time.
The town of Manteo is on the same island and is one of the oldest towns in North Carolina. Founded in the 1580’s, the town was named for Manteo, an American Indian from the Croatan tribe. He was one of two indigenous men who accompanied Raleigh back to London and returned on a resupply ship several years later.
Today downtown Manteo with its many restaurants, shops, and waterfront boardwalk is a charming place to visit. Over the bridge from the downtown is Festival Park. It recounts the early history of the area and also has a replica of a 16th century sailing ship that you can board.
Along the downtown waterfront is a marina, a gazebo, and green spaces with benches where you can relax and take in the view of the Roanoke Sound and the Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse.
The Roanoke Marshes Light is a screwpile lighthouse. These beacons were constructed to aid with navigation through the sounds and waterways along the coast. This type of lighthouse gets its name from the fact that it sits atop pilings that are screwed down into the soft and sandy ground. Usually the structure above is a 1.5 story wooden building with a cupola that houses the lens.
The Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse was the first of sixteen screw pile lighthouses in N. C. sounds. Located in the Croatan Sound at the end of the island, the initial one was constructed in 1831, the second in 1857, and the final one in 1877. The last one was decommissioned in 1955.
The one seen at the end of the pier in Manteo is a replica of the 1877 lighthouse. It is 37 feet tall and has a fourth order Fresnel lens that is on loan from the Coast Guard. Inside the building is a small museum and information about the region. This picturesque lighthouse is open daily year around and is free to the public.
We spent a delightful day exploring Roanoke Island. At the end of the day, David was excited that we found a great ice cream shop in Manteo. Many thanks again to our friends Victor and Gracia for showing us some beautiful and interesting places in and around Manteo.