Wanchese, located well off the beaten path of the typical Outer Banks beach towns, has a charm all its own with quiet residential side streets, local grocery stores and small dives that serve up the freshest seafood, and one of the busiest marinas on the islands. Wanchese has a long history of being a fishing village, and the residents take pride in that heritage. A brief tour of the town will present a collection of local homes and businesses with impeccable maritime gardens, and crab pots and painted wooden boats serving as coastal yard decor. While located miles away from the oceanfront, Wanchese can easily be considered as home to the true character of the Outer Banks. Salty, rustic, and scenic, a trip through Wanchese allows visitors to have an up-close-and-personal view of everyday Outer Banks life.
Local archeological digs have proved what islanders have always expected – Wanchese is a true fishing village. Historians believe that the town is, in fact, the first fishing village of the Outer Banks, as local Native Americans dating back to 900 A.D. settled here and made treks either by boat or along the shoreline to reel in the bounty of the Roanoke Sound. The town was a popular home for Native Americans for centuries, and would later become the home of the Roanoke Tribe, an eventual subset of the Algonquins. In fact, the town name of “Wanchese” is in honor of the tribe’s chief, who in 1584 accompanied the neighboring Chief Manteo on an expedition to England, but returned home the next year somewhat disenchanted with the new European arrivals. Some theorists postulate that it was Chief Wanchese’s aggression that sealed the fate of the infamous Lost Colony settlers in Manteo.
In the centuries that followed, a hardy collection of locals moved in, and while the area never became a popular tourist destination like neighboring Nags Head, Wanchese thrived for its’ proximately to Oregon Inlet, and therefore the route to the Gulf Stream.
Today, the village is home to the North Carolina Seafood Industrial Park, located at the southeastern point of the island. Here, commercial vessels and seafood dealers of all kinds congregate to sort through the day’s catch, and provide fresh North Carolina seafood for virtually all of the Eastern Seaboard. The bordering marinas also serve as a launching point for shrimp trawlers, flounder boats, and other huge vessels that travel out to the Gulf Stream and beyond for weeks at a time in search of large hauls to be brought home and distributed to the public. Most of the fresh seafood that winds up on the Wanchese docks ends up on the plates of Outer Banks restaurant patrons several days, if not hours later, making the town an instrumental, if barely visible, contribution to the local tourism scene.