Maritime Museum now open in Historic Corolla Park
Travis Morris and Wilson Snowden started collecting old boats in the 1990s and storing them in barns and carports with a dream that someday a museum would exist to tell the story of Currituck’s maritime history.
That dream was realized July 15 at the ribbon cutting ceremony for the Maritime Museum, a 10,000-square foot facility located in Historic Corolla Park. The museum features 12 boats that each tell a different story of the men and women who navigated the waterways and shaped the history of Currituck. There are dozens of photographs and interactive exhibits in each section of the room, shedding light on both the foundational and the overlooked aspects of waterways: fishing, hunting, lightkeeping, lifesaving, enforcing, bootlegging, boat-building and decoy-making.
In the mid-1800s, visitors to the Currituck County Outer Banks didn’t come for the quiet beaches or the wild horses. People came from New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and farther primarily for the duck hunting, which was said to be among the best in the East Coast. Men would gather together and build large hunt clubs and then venture out on duck hunting trips.
For museum director Chandler Sawyer, the stories are ingrained into the fiber of his life. “This has been a long time coming,” he said of the museum opening. “This place tells the story of how I used to live, of how I grew up and how I still live,” he said.
Sawyer’s ancestors arrived in Currituck County in the early 1700s. One of the boats in the museum, Mother Goose, belonged to his grandfather Travis Morris. “I remember watching fireworks from it every Fourth of July,” Sawyer recalled. Mother Goose, originally named Bell, was built in 1948 by local boat builder Pat O’Neal for the Bells Island Hunt Club to transport hunters to and from hunting spots.
“The museum tells the story of how we grew up in Currituck. We used the water for commerce, for pleasure, for our livelihood. It shaped our lives,” Sawyer said.
The museum is educational, certainly, but visitors will also find themselves drawn to the photographed faces of the weathered fishermen and by quotes and stories on the wall that tell of a way of life on the water. A slow self-guided tour through the building confirms that these stories are worth preserving and sharing.
Riggs Ward created all of the graphic and IT elements at the museum, working in connection with the architect to create a visual and interactive experience. “The museum is elevating these boats to the point that they’re almost art pieces – making them important and sharing the stories associated with them,” said Michael Radtke of Riggs Ward.
Said commissioner Bob White in his remarks before the ribbon cutting, “For over 20 years this [museum] has been in motion. It’s all about serving the public here and preserving Currituck heritage.”
Said another visitor, “For a lot of folks, Currituck is a place. For a lot of other folks, Currituck is a lifestyle.”
That lifestyle is chronicled in the Maritime Museum. The building itself combines modern technology and amenities while showcasing nautical elements like a vertical wall of decoys and rows of beautifully preserved wooden paddles. Tradition and heritage are valued in Currituck County and it’s clear that commissioners and staff members are dedicated to promoting and sharing those values with residents and visitors alike.
Entrance to the museum is free. Hours are 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. The museum is located at 1140 Village Lane in Corolla, across from the Currituck Beach Lighthouse at Historic Corolla Park.