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Community Roots: Selections from the Local Legacies Project
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Cast of The Lost Colony, Manteo, NC
Cast of the Lost Colony, Manteo, NC. Courtesy Roanoke Island Historical Society

The Lost Colony

  The mystery of the lost colony of Roanoke Island has been passed down from generation to generation since their discovered disappearance in 1590-three years after the settlers from England landed. Did the 120 men, women, and children assimilate with the friendly Croatoan natives or the Chesapeake tribe? Or were they massacred by the unfriendly Wanchese tribe? This legend gains more poignancy when you consider that Virginia Dare, the first child born of English parentage in America, was among these brave pioneers.

On July 4, 1937, the symphonic outdoor drama, The Lost Colony, opened its first season at Wayside Theatre at Fort Raleigh, part of North Carolina's Outer Banks. It has continued every summer since then, although the original 3,500-seat amphitheater, which contained permanent sets on several stages, was severely damaged twice. During its 1947 season, a disastrous fire completely burned the main stage and other areas. A volunteer crew of 100 quickly formed and rebuilt the theater in six days, and the show went on. In 1960, Hurricane Donna destroyed the back stage and weakened the main stage, but with the help of federal and state funding, the theater was rebuilt even stronger. In 1996, the state of North Carolina and the federal government awarded the Roanoke Island Historical Association, which produces the play, $2 million to renovate the theater, which included Americans with Disabilities compliance.

The Roanoke Colony Association-predecessor to the Roanoke Island Historical Association- was organized in the 1880s to acquire and protect the site of the first English colonization efforts in the New World. In 1932, it was rechartered as the Roanoke Island Historical Association, which turned the land deed over to the National Park System in 1941. The Lost Colony Outdoor Drama is part of the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, which is administered by the National Park Service, and represents the nation's only connection to Elizabethan England.

The play, which has drawn more than three million people since it opened, was written by North Carolinian and Pulitzer prize winner, Paul Green. This popular outdoor drama is the result of efforts by the Roanoke Island Historical Association, one of the oldest and largest nonprofit arts organizations in the country, which provided the impetus to build the theater and produce the play.

Just as the story of the Lost Colony is part of America's heritage, the production of the Lost Colony is truly a local legacy. Many cast, production, and crew members have stayed with the play for decades, including generations of families. The English expatriate, A.Q. "Skipper" Bell, who designed and built the original amphitheater, continued to rebuilt and restore it until his death in 1964.

Project documentation comprises The Lost Colony 1999 souvenir program.

Originally submitted by: John Edwards, Senator.

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The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.

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