The 1903 Camp Buildings
The Wright brothers used the Kill Devil Hills area toward the end of their first season on the Outer Banks in the autumn of 1900, following earlier experiments on Lookout Hill just south of the village of Kitty Hawk. Their first season consisted of only two days of work at the Kill Devil Hills site: October 19th, when they decided not to fly because of high winds, and October 20th, when they made several encouraging glider flights. They returned to the Kill Devil Hills site in 1901, this time pitching a tent about 1,000 feet east of the higher hill and building a rough shed to use as a workshop. They returned to the workshop for the 1902 season and, together with Kitty Hawk resident Dan Tate, rebuilt the dilapidated shed, adding an additional 10 feet to use as a quarters. In 1903, when they began their powered experiments, the Wrights made further improvements to the quarters and also built a second frame shed, measuring about 44 by 16 feet, to hold the Flyer and serve as a sheltered work area. Located a few feet west of the camp building, it is clearly indicated in the Wrights' photographs of that year.
The quarters building and the hangar rapidly deteriorated after the departure of the Wright brothers in December 1903. In the spring of 1908, when the Wrights returned to the site to test their modified 1905 Flyer, both buildings needed significant repairs. John Daniels, one of the Kitty Hawk lifesavers who witnessed their earlier flight efforts, warned Wilbur when he arrived at Elizabeth City about the ruined camp buildings and Wilbur purchased new materials for repairs. The sides of both buildings remained, but the roof of the old quarters was missing entirely and the interior was covered with sand. Wilbur hired two "semi-carpenters" to help make repairs and essentially to rebuild the structures. Largely similar to those in place in 1903, the new buildings still differed in minor ways and constituted new structures overall. Orville reused the buildings in 1911, though again with changes. Following the 1911 season, the brothers abandoned the site, and the effects of wind, sand, and weather completely destroyed the buildings. In 1928, when the National Aeronautics Association placed the first commemorative marker at the site of the first flight, little remained of the structures on which to base the location of the first flight takeoff (this was ultimately established by the surviving witnesses). Currently there are reconstructions of these building located in the approximate location based off of the Wrights’ photographs and the takeoff point.
Did You Know?
John Daniels, who was employed at the Kill Devils Hills Life-Saving Station in North Carolina was asked to take the now famous photograph of the first flight. Daniels had never operated a camera until the morning of the flight.