Travelers along US 158 will cross the famous Chesapeake and Albemarle Canal en route to the Outer Banks. This historic waterway, which was conceived more than two centuries ago, continues to be a useful route for commercial and leisure mariners who are passing through Currituck County.

History

The following timeline provides a brief overview of the Chesapeake and Albemarle Canal's lifespan to date.

  • 1772 - The concept of the Chesapeake and Albemarle Canal is first proposed to the Virginia General Assembly. The project would be proposed to both Virginia and North Carolina governments more than 10 times in the decades that follow
  • 1787 - The Chesapeake and Albemarle Canal's competitor, the Dismal Swamp Canal, opens for maritime traffic
  • 1856 - Construction begins on the canal after technology has had a chance to catch up with the steam power required for the project. Nine "Iron Titans" start carving out trees and trucks to create the line of navigation
  • 1859 - The canal is completed, and becomes a heralded engineering marvel. The new route is effectively two canals which are 30 miles apart, and includes a "Virginia Section" which connects the Elizabeth River with the North Landing River and a "North Carolina Section" which connects the Currituck Sound with the North River
  • Late 1800s and early 1900s - Maritime traffic gradually shifts to the new Chesapeake and Albemarle Canal, leaving the Great Dismal Canal relatively obsolete.
  • 1899 - Great Dismal Swamp canal is renovated at the cost of more than a million dollars. Traffic increases slightly.
  • 1913 - The United States Government decides to purchase the Albemarle and Chesapeake over the Great Dismal Swamp Canal.
  • 1929 - The US government purchases the Great Dismal Swamp Canal as well - not out of necessity, but more as an act of "fairness."
  • 1940s - The Intracoastal Waterway and the Chesapeake and Albemarle Canal becomes vital to the US government as a safe route for carrying cargo, as it is protected from the German U-Boats that lurk offshore.
  • 1960s to Today - The Chesapeake and Albemarle Canal is the preferred route for commercial traffic as well as motorboats and sailing vessels that are passing through the regions. Small marinas are established along the route in Coinjock for recreational users.

Accessing the Chesapeake and Albemarle Canal

The best way to access this historic canal is via the small town of Coinjock, which is home to two local marinas - the Midway Marina and Motel and the Coinjock Marina. A public boat launch is located in Coinjock as well.

Via the Chesapeake and Albemarle Canal, mariners can cruise the North River as well as the Currituck Sound's Coinjock Bay. The barrier Island Currituck Beaches, as well as the Mackay Island National Wildlife Refuge, are also located between 4-8 miles away from the eastern entrance to the North Carolina section of the canal.

Quick Facts about Chesapeake and Albemarle Canal

  • The Chesapeake and Albemarle Canal was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2003.
  • The canal has always been a popular route for commercial vessels and shipping. Between 1970 and 1979, commerce on the canal portion of the ICW averaged about 1.4 million tons annually.
  • The North Carolina Cut of the Chesapeake and Albemarle Canal, which connects the sound with the North River, is just 5.5 miles long.
  • Although the "cuts" in Virginia and North Carolina comprise of just 14 miles total, the canal itself - which flows through the North Landing River and the Currituck Sound - is about 200 miles long.
  • The Chesapeake and Albemarle Canal has an average depth of just 8' feet
  • Mariners can stop at the two marinas in Coinjock for a waterfront meal on the ICW at the Coinjock Marina's restaurant, or an overnight stay at the Midway Motel and Marina.
  • The best way to travel the canal is via a sailboat or motorized vessel. Kayaks and smaller watercraft are allowed, but will have to contend with much larger vessels
  • For a quieter trek with less traffic, head to the Great Dismal Swamp Canal, which is almost solely used by recreational - not commercial - vessels.
  • For a fun overnight trip, check out Elizabeth City, which is located northwest of Currituck County. The area offers a wealth of B&Bs, restaurants, and charming museums and historic sites.

 

Corolla Wild Horse Fund
The Farmer's Daughter
The Cotton Gin

The Cotton Gin

Jarvisburg location is temporally closed. For those traveling to the Outer Banks, The Cotton Gin is a beloved landmark with its large windmill and picturesque gardens. The Cotton Gin has stood in the same location since 1929, starting as a working cotton gin and growing to a gift store with 4 locations. Visitors are treated to a unique shopping experience in our main store in Jarvisburg, as well as our beach stores in Corolla, Duck, and Nags Head. Explore room after room filled with décor for your home and coastal fashions for both men and women. Discover the brands you really want, like, Vera Bradley, Vineyard Vines, La Mer Luex, Simply Southern, Lindsay Phillips, Scout, Pandora, Kameleon, Brighton, Spartina, Tommy Bahama, Southern Tide and Salt Life and Old Guys Rule - all under one roof!

 

Don’t forget the gourmet market, or shop our beautiful linens for your bedroom and bath. We also feature coastal books and fine art, or just a whimsical fun gift to bring home to family and friends. Stop by soon and don’t forget to try our estate grown wines in our stores or visit our vineyard and winery, Sanctuary Vineyards, located adjacent to the original Cotton Gin in Jarvisburg.

 

Most know The Cotton Gin as a must-stop shop for fine gifts, beachwear, souvenirs and so much more, but this retailer has a long-standing history within the Outer Banks. A local landmark that holds almost a century of memories, The Cotton Gin started from humble beginnings and continues to adapt to the times and tourists. Tommy Wright’s family has been in the Outer Banks for nearly 200 years. His great-great grandfather, Jacob Francis Wright, shipwrecked in Duck back in the early 1800s. Calling these barrier islands his new home, Wright and his family acclimated to their new environment.

 

Adaptation is a common theme for the Wright family. Tommy and his wife Candace, who continue to steer The Cotton Gin, have seen not only their business change with the times, but the Outer Banks as a vacation destination as well. A farm market in Jarvisburg eventually transformed and flourished into several retail locations dotting the Outer Banks.

 

“As the area changed and tourism took off in the 1960s, the family saw people coming for vacations, so they began to grow vegetables and things developed from there,” says Tommy Wright. The Wright family expanded upon the farm market and began to remodel a working cotton gin, later transforming the gin into The Cotton Gin general store in the late 1960s. While the additions to the farm store drew visitors, it was their encounters with the Wright family that kept people coming back year after year, which is something that remains true today.

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