Morehead City is Carteret County's largest town with a population of about 9,260 in 2014. The town began with an early land prospector from Virginia named John Shackleford. In 1714 Shackleford purchased approximately 1,400 acres throughout Carteret County and Morehead City. The second land owner in the Morehead City area was David Shepard, who in 1723 purchased the land now known as Shepard's Point. Other notable early settlers include William Fisher, Silas Webb, Bridges Arendell and past N.C. Governor John Motley Morehead. All of these names can still be seen around town.
In 1852 the state decided to extend a railroad line to connect Raleigh with the coast, and several towns vied to be the end location, hoping to bring growth to their communities. For a while it was considered inevitable that the line would end in Beaufort. In 1857 William H. Arendell, John Motley Morehead and others formed the Shepard's Point Land Company, purchasing 1,000 acres at the western end of the Shepard's Point. Sixty home lots were created, the first of which were sold during a public auction on November 11, 1857.
In 1858 John Motley Morehead sang the praises of the infant town: "The City of Morehead is situated on a beautiful neck of land or dry plain, almost entirely surrounded by salt water; its climate salubrious; its sea breezes and sea bathing delightful; its drinking water good and its fine chalybeate spring, strongly impregnated with sulfur, will make it a pleasant watering place . . ."
The sale of the land was successful, and more importantly Gov. Morehead was successful in his bid for the railroad's destination and ultimately one of two state deep-water ports. Morehead City was incorporated in 1861. When the N.C. Legislature authorized the incorporation of the town, surveyors laid out the streets and named the primary ones after men who had been influential in the area's settlement — Fisher, Arendell, Bridges, Evans, Shackleford and Shepard.
The town was started just in time to be taken over by the Union forces when they attacked Fort Macon on April 26, 1862, thus ending for a time any significant development. Even after the end of the War Between the States, Morehead City struggled to regain its commercial life until the 1880s, when the shipping industry began to bring business to town, once again turning the area into a hub of activity. In the early 1880s a new Atlantic Hotel was built in Morehead City, replacing the old Atlantic Hotel that had been destroyed by a hurricane. The Atlantic Hotel had 233 rooms and claimed to have the largest ballroom in the South. It drew the cream of the state's society to the coast until it was destroyed by fire in 1933. A plaque marks the location of the Atlantic Hotel—it's on the south side of Arendell Street, near Portside Marina.
The city began a road improvement program in 1911 to keep up with the town's steady growth. Better roads stimulated the growth of Crab Point, a part of the city east of Country Club Road and north of the 20th Street Bridge over Calico Creek. Morehead residents dubbed the area Crab Point because when tides came in crabs got trapped on the shoreline, making them an easy catch. In the early years Crab Point served as a port and had windmills for grinding grain and generating power for lumber companies. A private cemetery in the area has graves dating back to the early 1700s.
Today Morehead City is home to several large events, including the North Carolina Seafood Festival (the state's second largest annual festival) and the Big Rock Marlin Tournament (see our Crystal Coast Annual Events section for more about both of these events). The city continues to grow and strives to preserve its heritage as a fishing and port city. The most obvious recent improvements have occurred along the waterfront. Morehead City's leaders have provided a major face-lift to this charming section of town, resulting in wide sidewalks, new docks, bathroom facilities, public artwork, parks and a gazebo in City Park on Arendell Street. Waterfront restaurants, both new and old, and shops continue to bring visitors, and deep-sea charter fishing boats line the dock to give them a day at sea.
Some of the best places in Morehead City, however, are off the beaten path. You must cross Arendell Street, away from the waterfront, and walk down the side streets to Bridges Street, which parallels Arendell, to enjoy many fine old residences that have been refurbished. Some of these buildings have been turned into shops, bed and breakfast inns, art galleries and businesses. On the other side, a stroll along Evans Street will take you past charming older homes.