If the Hatteras Lighthouse is the most iconic symbol of the Outer Banks, then the Wright Brothers Memorial, must surely be a close second. The 60’ granite monument rising from the 91’ hill can be seen for miles and is a stunning reminder of the genius of Wilbur and Orville Wright. It is an iconic symbol of American Ingenuity. This post is a little about the memorial and its history.
Inscribed around the outside of the monument are the words “ IN COMMEMORATION OF THE CONQUEST OF THE AIR GENIUS ACHIEVED BY DAUNTLESS RESOLUTION AND UNCONQUERABLE FAITH.”
At one time, the tower served as the visitors’ center. Vistors climbed inside it as well. On either side of the doors to what was that visitors center rest the busts Wilbur and Orville Wright. On a clear day, the view from the top of the hill is spectacular. Being the highest point around, the ocean, the sounds and towns of Kitty Hawk and Kill Devil Hills are clearly visible. Nags Head Woods and Run Hill dominate the vista to the south and west.
The monument is certainly the most visible architecturally significant work at the Wright Brothers Memorial, but it is not the only one. The Visitors Center, designed by Philadelphia architecture firm Mitchell/Giurgola Architects was dedicated in 1960. Clearly a modernist design it drew rave reviews from critics when opened. According to 2002 NPS report on the building, was the first of its kind. “The building became a national showcase. It helped legitimize the use of modern architecture in the national parks,” the study’s authors wrote.
The Visitors Center houses an exact replica of the 1903 Wright Flyer as well as a small but very interesting museum. Well worth including that in a visit to the Wright Brothers Memorial
Architects Alfred Easton Poor and Robert Perry Rodgers won the 1928 competition commemorating 25 years of flight with their classic art deco design.
It was not until 1931 that construction on the monument would begin, however. Although it no longer looks like a sand dune, that is what Big Kill Devil Hill is. By 1928 our strong northeast winds pushed the dune 450 feet south. William H. Kindervater of the US Army Quartermaster Corps stablized the dune before construction could start.
Three years of planting beach grass and shrubs finally stabilized the hill enough for construction.
Construction actually moved along fairly quickly—especially given how remote the Outer Banks was at the time. Construction materials were shipped by rail to Elizabeth City, and the larger, heavier pieces sent via barge to a dock and rail system that was created for the monument. At this time, a wooden bridge connected Kitty Hawk with the mainland. That bridge was barely adequate to handle day to day traffic. Unfortunately, sending a truck loaded with granite across the bridge was simply impossible. The dedication of the monument occurred on November 18, 1932. Despite nasty weather, some dignataries including Orville Wright attended.
Most days there is a cost to drive into the park. You can see park hours at the Wright Brothers Memorial web site. During off hours, there is a separate entrance off Colington Road for the airport. There is no cost to park there and that lot is almost always open.