The Start of a Heartwarming Holiday

By Molly Harrison | Wednesday, September 27, 2017

13th Annual Manteo Preservation Trust Tour of Homes
Photos by Melody Leckie

Cities have their place for big-time holiday excitement, but it’s the small town holiday celebrations that really warm people’s hearts.

One of the most endearing seasonal celebrations in North Carolina happens in the tiny town of Manteo over the first weekend in December. Townspeople and visitors come together for a tree-lighting ceremony and caroling on the waterfront on Friday night and then a parade and a holiday home tour on Saturday. The downtown shops, restaurants and inns are open all weekend long, and the town fills to the brim with friendly faces and good cheer.

Manteo Preservation Trust’s Holiday Tour of Homes is a stand-out tradition in this thriving coastal town. Manteo is the most well-developed community on the Outer Banks, thanks to its welcoming downtown waterfront area and compact historic district. Fanning out from downtown is a collection of charming homes and buildings, 120 of them considered historic and many built new with historically architectural elements that blend well into the town’s Southern coastal style. The easy walkability of Manteo allows visitors to stroll the streets and appreciate the homes and yards and – once a year – step inside some of the homes for a peek at Manteo living. The Holiday Tour of Homes includes numerous homes and occasionally a historic building, each decorated in the owner’s individual style and tradition.
Fresh cranberries and apples
“It’s a showcase event,” says Jeanne deCamps, a Manteo Preservation Trust member who opened her home for the tour in 2016. “It highlights the architecture and styles of the town from the oldest dwellings to some of the newest that are being built like the old. It lets people see the unique charm and architecture of Manteo, where great care has been put into preserving the look and feel of the historic area homes.”

deCamps says her open house on the tour was a spectacular day. “Seeing all the locals and meeting people from out of town was a fun experience. We met so many wonderful people,” she says.

Manteo residents recommended that you spend the entire day in town on the day of the tour. Come early for the Manteo Christmas Parade, which begins around 10:30 a.m., and stand along one of the downtown streets to see the elements of a quintessential homespun parade – marching bands, local dignitaries, goofy cars and floats, emergency vehicles, Lost Colony and colonial characters, and Santa atop a fire truck. After the parade, visit the shops in Manteo and get lunch in a local restaurant.
Decorated Christmas Tree
At 12 p.m. it’s time for the Holiday Tour of Homes. The tour begins at Outer Banks Distilling at 510 Budleigh Street. The building, which was built in 1946, fits well in the historic district. This is where you can purchase tickets, pick up a map, buy a Manteo Preservation Trust tree ornament and enjoy a few refreshments before starting out on the tour. Some lucky tour attendees will be able to snag a free decorated bicycle from Manteo Cyclery to use for the tour, as owner Brian Brockway lends his bicycles on a first-come, first-served basis.
The tour locations are within walking distance, but driving is an option and parking is typically not a problem. While the tour locations are kept a secret until the last minute, the sites are a mix of historic, new and restored properties full of stories and individual character.

Near the end of the tour, starting at around 4 p.m., attendees are welcome to come back to Outer Banks Distilling for samples of their products, including Kill Devil Silver Rum, Kill Devil Honey Pecan Rum and others.
Holiday sleigh on front porch of home
Outer Banks Distilling co-owner Scott Smith says it’s one of the highlights of the year for his business. “It brings awareness to the beautiful homes and community as a whole,” he says. “This is a community unlike anywhere else, and it has a completely different feel from the beach communities of the Outer Banks.”

When the tour is over around 6 p.m., there is always the option to enjoy dinner in a Manteo restaurant. To keep the fun going, head over to the WinterLights outdoor light show in The Elizabethan Gardens.

Manteo Preservation Trust board member Grizelle Fearing, whose mother was one of the founding members of the organization more than two decades ago, says the tour is the trust’s only annual fundraiser. Through ticket sales and Friends memberships (which get you free tickets to the tour), the trust raises money to fulfill its mission of preserving Manteo’s small town character and enhancing the public’s awareness of Manteo’s cultural heritage, which includes ties to boat building, fishing and generational families.
Wooden Outer Banks gingerbread house
Manteo Preservation Trust’s first project was to define the Manteo historic area and criteria for historic homes. Later, the trust started a plaque program to recognize the historic homes. Over the years the trust has advised Manteo homeowners on how to preserve the architectural look and feel of the town, preserved memorabilia and photos from residents and contributed money to other town projects. Their biggest project was restoring the belfry in the 1901 Dare County Courthouse and putting the bell back into play. Now, once again, the bell can be heard throughout downtown at the top of every hour. That project cleaned out the coffers, and Manteo Preservation Trust is working to rebuild their fund balance to continue their mission of maintaining Manteo’s sense of place.

The history that is held within the town’s homes and buildings is a treasure, and you are invited to experience it firsthand. Join Manteo Preservation Trust on the first Saturday in December for a tradition that sets the tone for a heartfelt holiday season.

Come Join Us! 
Manteo Preservation Trust 13th Annual Holiday Tour of Homes
Saturday, December 2, 2017, 12 to 6 p.m. 
Tickets are $20 each

Purchase tickets on the day of the tour starting at 11:30 a.m. at Outer Banks Distilling, 510 Budleigh Street in Manteo. To join the Friends of the Manteo Preservation Trust or to donate the organization, see the website at For more information, email

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


About the Author Molly Harrison
Molly Harrison is managing editor at OneBoat, publisher of She moved to Nags Head in 1994 and since then has made her living writing articles and creating publications about the people, places and culture of the Outer Banks.