Homes for the Holidays

By Beth P. Storie | Thursday, October 11, 2018

Photos by Melody Leckie

The picturesque, waterside town of Manteo lends itself well to celebrations with the walkable aspect of the streets, the friendliness of the locals, the postcard-worthy beauty of the restored historic homes and the new ones built to fit in and the waterfront area. It’s a town that dresses up nicely and that loves a get-together, especially ones that celebrate holidays.

So, when the first weekend in December approaches, townspeople start getting ready for an event, the Holiday Tour of Homes, that has invited both visitors and Outer Bankers to town for 14 years now to amble through island homes and businesses, mingle with new friends and neighbors and kick off the Christmas season. Manteo Preservation Trust started this tour as a way to open homes and other structures to the public to help underscore the organization’s focus on preserving the island’s architectural and cultural heritage. Once you step inside these lovely, restored homes and businesses, their beauty and historic significance is clear. But every year, there are also recently built homes on the tour that show how you can successfully mingle modern aspects with classic design.

Throughout the years of the tour, participants have had the opportunity to see houses in the process of restoration that are then on the tour the next year in all their glory. They’ve seen large showplaces as well as more humble island homes. They’ve been able to admire brand new houses that fit so well into the Manteo style that you’d think they’d been there for decades. They’ve toured close to century-old buildings that have been restyled into bed and breakfast inns, a distillery and other local businesses.

Grizelle Fearing, a director of Manteo Preservation Trust for years and the lead organizer of the tour since its inception, talked with us about her experience. “One of the things I love about this tour is that we have so many new faces every year, but we also have such loyal visitors, folks I see come back almost every year. That’s a testament, I think, to the variety we have on the tour, but it also speaks to people’s support for protecting and promoting the essence of a place like this. Manteo feels different than any other town on the Outer Banks because we’ve valued and saved so much of what was here 100 years ago. And what we’ve added is very much in keeping with the look of the town. I think, more and more, that experiencing a town that is individual, that’s truly unique, is interesting and fun for people. When you’re in Manteo, it has its own architectural and cultural language, so to speak, that isn’t found anywhere else.”

The structures are pleasing at any time of the year, but add the decorations that make them festive for the holidays, and you have a particularly appealing experience. Though tour directors tell the home and business owners that this isn’t a decorating contest, you can still expect to Ohhhh and Ahhhh as you walk through. Some are dressed up like they’re going to a party; others are more subdued and let the beauty of the structure shine. Either way, you want to linger in each place, letting your eyes fill up.

The tour is part of the trifecta of events in Manteo that welcomes in the holidays on the first weekend in December. Friday night, townspeople and visitors gather downtown in front of the historic courthouse for a pageant that includes singing, dancing, a bonfire and lighting of the town’s massive Christmas tree. Saturday morning, people from all around come back to the waterfront to see the Christmas Parade (and, if they’re in the know, to collect the tossed candy into brought-along bags) and then go sit on Santa’s lap to recite each child’s special wishes. Following the parade, tour goers have time for a quick bite at a local restaurant, then it’s tour time.

The Holiday Tour of Homes begins at noon, with check-in and light refreshments at Outer Banks Distillery on Budleigh Street. From there, you’re given the tour pamphlet, and you are free to take the tour in any order you wish. In fact, tour directors suggest that you don’t go in the same order as the pamphlet so that traffic at each house is lighter. As was the case last year, the local cycle shop, Manteo Cyclery, has bikes available to borrow at the Distillery for any tour goers who would prefer to pedal their way around Manteo.

The tour is visually appealing no matter what time of day you take it, but as twilight falls and the decorative lights twinkle and the candles are lit, the experience becomes enchanting. Wandering Manteo’s safe streets, full of holiday cheer and new decorating ideas, is a splendid way to welcome in the season. Come join in on the fun!

Come Join Us!

Saturday, December 1, 2018
Noon to 6 p.m.
Outer Banks Distilling
510 Budleigh Street, Manteo
$20 tickets

Manteo Preservation Trust Logo
Manteo Preservation Trust
P.O. Box 234, Manteo



About the Author Beth P. Storie
Beth Storie first came to the Outer Banks for the summer of 1976. She fell in love with the area and returned for good three years later. She and her husband published the national guidebook series, The Insiders' Guides, for more than 20 years and now are building OneBoat guides into another national brand. After spending time in many dozens of cities around the country, she absolutely believes that her hometown of Manteo is the best place on earth, especially when her two children, six cats and one dog are there too.