The northern Currituck Beaches were settled around the same time as the Currituck mainland in the late 1600s. A hearty but tiny population of fishermen and wild horses made the narrow sand bar home for several centuries. The horses, descended from shipwrecked Spanish mustangs and local feral animals, roamed the beaches and marshes freely, only occasionally pressed into service hauling boats by the local lifesaving service or a solitary fisherman.
Colonial residents of Currituck and the colony of Virginia argued vehemently over tax jurisdiction. It seems that neither of the parties knew exactly where the dividing line between the colonies was located, and Currituck residents felt they were unjustly taxed by the Virginia government. After 45 years of acrimonious debate, both sides agreed to survey the boundary in 1728. Representatives met in March that year on the desolate, windswept beaches near present-day Carova, then worked their way westward. The account of their often-contentious adventure was published several years later and to this day remains the source of some amount of snobbery between Virginians and North Carolinians.
In the nineteenth century, the U.S. Lifesaving Service established stations every six to eight miles along the beaches of North Carolina. In Currituck, they were erected At Wash Woods, Penny's Hill, Whale Head, Poyner Hill, and Seagull. A lighthouse was erected near Corolla. Today, the Wash Woods station is a renovated rental home, and all others have been destroyed by the elements.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, a population boom came to Currituck County. And although no paved road existed north of the Dare County line, developers knew that it was only a matter of time before vacationers would discover the charms of Currituck's beaches. Carova and Swan Beach were planned in hopes that a paved road would someday connect the northern Outer Banks with the Virginia beaches. At the time, developers left easements for a planned thoroughfare called the Ocean Pearl Highway from the Currituck beaches to Virginia Beach.
But by 1984, when Highway 12 was extended north to Corolla, those plans were shelved after state and federal agencies completed purchase much of the remaining land in northern Currituck. Once the Reserve, refuge, State Park, and Nature Conservancy lands were established, the paved road became impossible. Although more homes are constructed along these beaches every year, and the four-wheel drive traffic on the beach increases, development here is constrained by the limits imposed government and privately-owned land, which should help it retain its pristine state.