Established in 1753, Portsmouth Island was one of largest settlements along the Outer Banks, but changing shipping routes, the Civil War, and a lagging economy caused many people to leave and never return. The last residents remained until the early 1970s, and shortly after, the village fell under the care of the National Park Service and the Friends of Portsmouth Island.
Now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, many of the buildings on Portsmouth Island have been restored. Visitors can explore the church, Coast Guard station, schoolhouse, and post office for a glimpse at old island life. The interiors look as if the people just left, and you can look into the windows of some old buildings and see the former villagers’ belongings.
A restored house has been converted to a Visitor Center with exhibits on the island’s history. Restrooms are available, too, but drinking water and food are not. Visitors are encouraged to bring plenty of water and snacks, plus sunscreen and insect repellent.
A long walk away from the village lies Portsmouth Island’s beach. It’s expansive, clean, and completely natural offering solitude, surf fishing, and outstanding shelling.
Visitors can explore Portsmouth Island on a guided walking tour, a boat tour of the surrounding islands, shelling, birdwatching, surf fishing, sandbar swims and more!