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A Brief History of Monkey Island
(The Virginian-Pilot - July 25, 1991 by Ida Kay Jordan)
Currituck County Attorney Ike McREE, a participant in last week's outing,
marveled aloud that Currituck owns an island.
not something I expected," said McREE, who grew up in Raleigh.
The county acquired the island in 1987 from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in exchange for 54 acres of marshland. The island was given to the federal agency by the Nature Conservancy.
The tiny bit of land is described by Travis MORRIS, a local historian and real estate broker, as "the most beautiful island in Currituck Sound."
Tradition has it that this seven-acre island was the summer home of the Pamunkey Indians. The local lore is given credence by the existence of an Indian burial ground on the island's north end and by the island's very name. However, little was recorded about the small piece of land in the middle of the Currituck Sound until shortly after the Civil War.
MORRIS, a member of a prominent local family, noted in a 1976 paper that his grandmother's grandfather, Samuel McHORNEY, sold the island in 1866 to Benjamin SIMMONS for $15.
After several additional sales among Northerners during the next five years, the main part of the existing clubhouse was built. Morris wrote that his grandmother Carrie BOSWOOD, who died at age 100 in 1974, said the building had been there since she could remember.
Around the turn of the century, the property was acquired by L.W. and W.A. DAVIS, who each retained a share when the club was incorporated in Virginia in 1919 with a membership limited to nine.
Among those members was George HILL, president of the American Tobacco Co. His wife, Aquinas H. HILL, also became a member during the '20s. Another member was T.B. YUILLE, president of the American Cigar Co. Charles A. PENN, a Reidsville man who was executive vice president of American Tobacco and the perfecter of Lucky Strike cigarettes, joined in 1927.
In 1930, PENN bought out the other members. His son, Frank, assisted MORRIS with anecdotes about the club. Frank PENN recalled, for example, that Bob DAVIS, a New York Sun columnist and author of 28 books, continued to join his friends at the club even after he lost his eyesight. Legend has it that the sightless DAVIS would sit in a duck blind and, while his companion did the shooting, he would write down what was happening.
Another frequent visitor was Irvin COBB, whose 125 books made him a household name by the 1930s. PENN said that when COBB and his friends came to the lodge, they would bring one cook just to make the biscuits, a regular cook and a butler. PENN also remembered hunting with Elridge WARREN, former owner and publisher of Field and Stream magazine. PENN called WARREN the best marksman he ever saw and backed it up with a story. At a time when the bag limit on ducks was 22, PENN said, WARREN would take 23 shells with him. When asked what the extra shell was for, WARREN replied it was to give to his hunting companion.
Members of the PENN family continued to use the island until 1974, when family heirs decided to sell Monkey Island, Mary Island, Lungreen Island and Raccoon Island, plus two miles of Atlantic Ocean frontage and about 2.5 miles of Outer Banks frontage on the Currituck Sound.
The Monkey Island Investment Venture Corp., a group of investors from Texas, Oklahoma and Winston-Salem, paid $3 million for the package.
Monkey Island, a private club since it began in 1869, was opened to the public for the hunting season of 1974. Travis MORRIS operated it with a staff of Currituck residents. But the Monkey Island venture was short-lived. A 1975 recession was hurting sales of beach property and the PENN family reclaimed many of its holdings. Later, the PENN's sold Monkey Island to the Nature Conservancy.
© 2004 Kay Midgett Sheppard