Brief History of Morehead City

In the early 1850s a group of investors known as the Shepard Point Land Company purchased 600 acres of land on the eastern tip of the peninsula that is now the site of Morehead City. Their objective was to take advantage of the deep channel of Beaufort Inlet that led into Shepard Point to construct a port and connect it by rail to Goldsboro. Governor John Motley Morehead, for whom the town is named, a principal member of this group, initiated construction of the railroad in 1855 and by July 1858 rail service had been established. The town was laid out in city blocks, reaching to 15th Street, with a system of alleys within each block in the form of an H, so that all houses and businesses could be serviced from the alleys. Each block contained 16 lots and much of that "Philadelphia plan" still exists today. The town was officially incorporated by the North Carolina Senate in 1860, by which time the town’s population had grown to more than 300.

The town continued to prosper until the Civil War when the town was occupied in 1862 by Federal troops. The war disrupted commerce and the port declined along with the town’s population. It was not until the 1880s with the construction of the Atlantic Hotel at the tip of the peninsula and its promotion by the railroad as the "Summer Capital by the Sea" for northern tourists that the area began to experience a resurgence. The popularity of this particular hotel with its train depot entrance, grand ballroom, piers, sailing and ferries to the beaches of Bogue Banks helped to establish Morehead City as a summer destination.

It was also during the 1880s and 1890s that fishermen who had lived on Shackleford Banks moved their houses, many still existing, by boat from the outer banks onto the mainland in the areas between 10th and 15th Streets, calling it the Promise Land. These fisherman became the nucleus of the fishing industry that has continued ever since to be a very important part of the economy of Morehead City. Fish caught by local commercial fishermen are shipped around the country and the world from Morehead City, and Morehead City is also widely known as a great center for sport fishing, drawing sport fishermen from all over the eastern United States. Indeed, it is now the locus of one of the major, annual international Blue Marlin tournaments, as well as other fishing tournaments.

The depression in the early 1930's and then World War II markedly altered the character of the town. The traditional downtown area had deteriorated and, as newer stores opened farther west, the deterioration in the old center of town accelerated. Finally in the 1980's a turnaround began when the town obtained a Community Development Block grant to replace an aging infrastructure and improve the appearance of the waterfront area. Subsequent grants, private investment and town monies have maintained the forward momentum so that the town now has a new sea wall, underground utilities, brick paved walkways with planters along the waterfront, all in the downtown area, and tree lined streets, renovated houses, new docks and new businesses.

The Community Today


The economy of our town is based on tourism, fishing - both commercial and sport - and some light industry. One of the two seaports in North Carolina is located in Morehead City. In addition, the hospital in Morehead City serves the entire county and is the second largest employer in the county after the school system. Higher education also plays a significant role in the economy and culture. There is a community college as well as several institutes, operated by the University of North Carolina, North Carolina State and Duke University, that carry out research and educate graduate students. The State also has a research and compliance arm of State Marine Fisheries located here in Morehead City.

Fostered by the tourism industry, Morehead City has an abundance of restaurants, many in its waterfront area, and is widely known for its variety of good places to eat. As a corollary, art galleries and various gift shops serve the tourists as well as the locals. Indeed, the Beaufort-Morehead City area has been cited as being among the top 100 "best small art towns in America" in a book by John Villani. Morehead City has also been cited by a national diving magazine as being among the best places worldwide to dive in several categories.

For more information about Morehead City's Downtown & Waterfront, contact




© 2011 Downtown Morehead City Revitalization Association
1001 Arendell Street, Morehead City, NC 28557 |  (252) 808-0440