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COROLLA, N.C. (AP) — Jill Landen peered through and around the branches of the Christmas tree standing on the third floor of Whalehead in Historic Corolla, built nearly 100 years ago.

She identified ornaments made from the original copper shingles removed from the leaking roof of the 21,000-square-foot, 35-room mansion.

“Here’s a starfish and here’s a horse,” said Landen, the site manager and curator. “And here is a turtle.”

The small, copper ornaments with a bluish patina are mostly shaped like Outer Banks flora and fauna. The first was a tiny copper frame with a photo of Whalehead. A hummingbird is on sale this year into the spring. A few of last year’s jellyfish with dangling copper wire tentacles remain. None of the others are left.

“We’ve sold out of all of them,” Landen said. “We sell them until they’re gone. They typically go quickly.”

People covet a piece of Corolla history, she said.

Northern businessman Edward Knight Jr. and his wife, Marie Louise Lebel Knight, built in the early 1920s the mansion they called Corolla Island as a winter retreat. It towered over the flat, sandy landscape of remote Corolla and the small village of locals nearby.

The Knights painted the exterior bright yellow and decorated in the modern style of Art Nouveau with Tiffany fixtures. They brought innovations to the beach such as electricity, running hot and cold water, indoor bathrooms and a refrigerator.

Corolla had no paved roads at the time. Almost all transportation and commerce was by water. The Currituck Sound was famous for the millions of waterfowl that wintered there. The Knights invited their wealthy friends to come there for good hunting, good food, song, dance and drinking. Marie Knight often played the grand piano that still sits in the massive library.

The opulence was in stark contrast to the plain homes and one-room schoolhouse in the village. The Knights hired locals as hunting guides and to maintain and clean the grounds and mansion. They made sure the locals got a goose for Christmas.

The Knights spent winters there for over a decade until 1934. They both died within weeks of each other in 1936. A subsequent owner changed the name to Whalehead Club, the most widely known title. In recent years, the name changed to Whalehead in Historic Corolla. The home changed hands over the years before going into disrepair in the 1970s and 1980s. Currituck County bought the property in 1992 and later began the $5.6 million restoration. Original construction cost $383,000.

Crews from Gordon Sheet Metal of Elizabeth City removed the 11,000 copper shingles and replaced them with new ones with more interlocking features to keep weather out. The same company had hammered the original shingles in place back in the Roaring ’20s.

The question was what to do with 11,000 copper shingles.

“There was so much copper,” said Elaine Goodwin, visitor relations coordinator.

They make bracelets for sale. For a while the staff made birdhouses with copper roofs. The Christmas decorations made each year since 2000 proved to be the most popular.

“We wanted something we could do every year,” Goodwin said.

Don and Donna Drew of Copper Creations in Melfa have done several ornaments over the years, including the hummingbird.

“Each piece is put together one at a time,” said Donna Drew. “Not one is exactly the same in color or shape.”

Early each year, Goodwin, Landen and others decide the design and submit it to a copper artist to have 300 ornaments made by July 1. They sell for $15.

Landen estimates there are enough shingles to make ornaments for at least 10 to 15 years. It’s not too late to begin a collection, she said.

“It’s something that is actually part of the house that somebody can own,” she said.

For information on tours of the house and buying ornaments, call 252-453-9040.


Information from: The Virginian-Pilot,