Envisioning an important port city, John Motley Morehead, the twentieth Governor of North Carolina, and others carefully planned Morehead City.
During the early 1700s, white settlement began in present day Carteret County and Morehead City. In 1714, a prospector named John Shackelford acquired 1400 acres throughout present day Carteret County. In 1723, David Shepard, for whom Shepard Point is named, also bought property. William Shepard, David Shepard’s son, sold 600 acres to William Fisher in 1791. The youngest of Fishers’s daughters, Sarah, married Bridges Arendell, Sr. The Arendells were an important and powerful family in Carteret County and Morehead City.
In the mid-nineteenth century, John Morehead expressed interest in establishing a port city. In 1853, before the North Carolina Legislature provided partial funding for railroad construction across the state, John Morehead and Silas Webb visited Carteret County to study Beaufort Harbor and Port and determine whether a larger port could be developed. Impressed by the location and potential of Shepard’s Point, Morehead purchased six hundred acres of property from the Arendell family. With that property, the Shepard Point Land Company was formed, and on November 11, 1857, the first lots were sold.
On February 20, 1861, with Bridges Arendell, Jr. as mayor, the city was incorporated. Morehead City grew because the port, Pier 1, was built at Shepard Point, where the Newport River was eighteen to twenty feet deep and had a mile wide channel. Developers considered this location more advantageous than the Beaufort and Carolina City’s channels depths of only twelve feet. Another aid to Morehead City’s development occurred when the terminus of the 1857 Atlantic and North Carolina Railroad was constructed to Shepard’s Point. Morehead City continued to experience steady demographic and economic growth until the Civil War. During the conflict, federal troops occupied the town, and many denizens fled.
The port and railroad were not the only contributing factors to Morehead City’s growth. Recreational value also helped: The shoreline and bountiful fishing have always attracted visitors and residents to Morehead City.
After the Atlantic and North Carolina Railroad line connected Morehead City with the rest of North Carolina, citizens named the street Arendell Street, in honor of Bridges Arendell Sr., who played a major role in developing the town. Arendell Street was later the main street of downtown Morehead City and turned into NC Highway 70.
The downtown streets running north and south are numbered; those running east to west are named for the developers and first leaders of Morehead City, including William Fisher, Bridges Arendell, Peter G. Evans, David Shepard, and John Shackelford.
Morehead City was to become a popular vacation spot on the Atlantic coast. As its population and development expand, Morehead City continues to be an important city, not only in North Carolina’s history but also in the state’s economy.
Heritage of Carteret County 2 Vol. (Carteret County Historical Society, 1982).
By Carteret County Historical Society,
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Region: Coastal Plain
Governor John Motley Morehead strongly encouraged the 1861 incorporation of Morehead City. Image courtesy of the North Carolina Office of Archives and History, Raleigh, NC.
Morehead City in the 1920s. Fishing has brought business, tourism, and residents to the Morehead City area. Image courtesy of the North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Libraries.
Morehead City yacht basin, early 1940s. Image courtesy of the North Carolina Office of Archives and History, Raleigh, NC.