I’ve read about the history of England’s first colony on Roanoke Island in North Carolina and how after two years away, when the Governor returned, the colony was abandoned, so I was excited to finally get to see the site when I visited the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site.
I think my expectations were a bit high though, since it wasn’t what I really expected. Not in a bad way, but it turns out that the area is a simple site that includes a small visitor center, some informational signs, a reconstruction of Fort Raleigh and then several nature trails that take you through the area.
You won’t find the Lost Colony or find any real exploration of the archaeological excavations in the area. The site is better described as the area where “we think the Roanoke Island colony was.”
The Fort Raleigh National Historic Site is located on Roanoke Island in the sound behind the Outer Banks of North Carolina. The easiest way to reach the site is on Highway 64 and it’s about 3 miles from Manteo.
I know that my partner and I were excited to visit the lost colony area. We started at the visitor center which is home to an exhibit hall along with a small theater that shows a movie on the Historic Site. We spent about 20 minutes wandering through and reading the various displays. It is not not the most intricate look at the area, but for those without much background on the settlements, it’s a good introduction. There’s also a small exhibit on recent archaeological excavations in the area and a recreation of a room from an Elizabethan home.
From the visitor center, we headed out onto the nature trails to visit the reconstructed Fort Raleigh. We first came across a small outdoor display on the Island’s history during and just after the Civil War. During that time, the island, held by the Union, was a place for slaves from the south to gain their freedom. After that, the trail heads off into the woods and you come upon the Fort Raleigh reconstruction. There’s not that much to see and really no interpretive information given at the Fort, which I found to be a bit disappointing. The Fort consists of some simple earthen works surrounding a flat central area.
From here you can walk over to the Lost Colony Theater area or over to the Elizabethan Gardens. There’s also a nature trail that takes you down along the shoreline of the island. The area is fairly flat, so walking anywhere is pretty easy. We didn’t explore everything and didn’t go everywhere, but we still spent about an hour walking around.
I have to say I was a bit let down. The visitor center is pretty run of the mill and the reconstructed Fort Raleigh is just a small set of earthen works. There’s very little interpretive information available and unless you have a distinct interest in the history of the Lost Colony, there’s not all that much to see here.
However, if you are visiting the Outer Banks area and want to spend a few hours exploring the area’s history, I think a stop at the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site is worth it. You’ll learn about England’s first attempts at settlements in the New World, get a bit of history on the Freedmen’s colony during the Civil War and have a nice place to walk around and take in a bit of the island’s natural setting.
In the end, I probably wouldn’t go again, but I am glad that I did get to visit.