There’s plenty of Roanoke Island information to be found out there, but let us give it to you from the perspective of a local writer who has lived here for many years and knows the people and the island well.
Somewhere between Mayberry and Nantucket lies the mystery that is Roanoke Island.
The Roanoke Island town of Manteo is often compared to Mayberry because it holds a similar small-town character — and characters — and all the charm, hospitality and friendliness that come with that designation. Since Manteo bears so much resemblance to fictional Mayberry, is it a coincidence that Andy Griffith lived here off and on since the 1940s and, in fact, chose his Manteo island home as his final resting place? Most likely not, since Griffith himself once said, “If Mayberry is anywhere, it is Manteo.”
Roanoke Island is also often compared to the northern isle of Nantucket, as much for the islands’ seaside natures as for their seafaring histories. The two islands share a sense of separateness from the mainland and beach communities, with residents that stake fierce pride in their histories and traditions, especially fishing and boat building. Historic homes, abundant foliage, boats in the harbor, bicycling tourists and flags waving in the ever-present wind are just a few of the similar sights on these two islands.
But let comparisons end there, because Roanoke Island is truly beyond compare. From the 1,500 live oaks and crape myrtles (you should see them all in bloom in the summer…amazing!) planted along the billboard-free corridor on the northern end to the veteran seafaring vessels at rest in Wanchese harbor on the southern end, Roanoke Island is unique, a place like no other. With watery views and lush vegetation, it’s one of the most beautiful places on the Outer Banks.
Geographically, Roanoke Island is floating in the sounds between the North Carolina mainland and its barrier islands, the Outer Banks. Twelve miles long and three miles wide, the island is surrounded by the Croatan and Roanoke sounds, linked to the rest of the world by three bridges. The newest bridge was completed in 2002, is the longest bridge in the state at 5 miles long and connects the mainland village of Manns Harbor to the Manteo/Wanchese junction.
The island harbors one town, Manteo, and one unincorporated village, Wanchese, with several other unincorporated areas around the island. Both named for Algonkian Indian chiefs and only a few miles apart, the communities seem as different as day and night. Manteo is the lively Dare County seat and the main arts hub of the area. It also has a great collection of shops, restaurants and attractions. Some of the most popular attractions are in Manteo, in fact: The Lost Colony, the Elizabethan Gardens, Roanoke Island Festival Park with Elizabeth II, Island Farm and the North Carolina Aquarium. This cultural center throws out the welcome mat for visitors in a way that's homier than many other beach towns since much of the town is walkable. Wanchese is more modest, a self-contained fishing village that hasn’t changed much in a hundred years and is perfectly happy to be the only Dare County community that doesn’t court tourism, which is why some tourists love it. The communities have in common, though, friendly residents who truly care about their island and its history.