Morehead City was the brainchild of John Motley Morehead, governor of North Carolina from 1841 to 1845. Governor Morehead foresaw the commercial potential of Shepherd's Point,the promontory at the intersection of the Newport River and Beaufort Inlet, and envisioned "a great commercial city" there. Morehead and his associates acquired a large portion of the surrounding property and then made plans to extend the North Carolina Railroad from Goldsboro to Shepherd's Point.
A public auction was held in 1857, and 150 lots were sold in the new town. Within three days of the celebration of the railroad's completion in 1858, every property parcel in the city and the surrounding area was sold.
The Civil War interrupted Morehead City's development as a port. Following the war, the shipping terminal deteriorated, but the railroad continued hauling vast quantities of seafood to the state's inland sections.
In the late 1800s, Morehead City received a new group of residents from nearby Shackleford Banks. Many whaling families were driven from Diamond City and the other Shackleford settlements by the great hurricane of 1899. While most of these salty folk moved to Harkers Island, one group came to Morehead City and settled along present-day Bridges Street in a tract still known as the "Promised Land."
Until recently, Morehead City was known more as a resort community than a major port. A large charter-fishing fleet, the town's central location on the ICW, and the proximity to Atlantic Beach have all served to promote Morehead City as an ideal spot to spend a summer vacation. This popularity continues unabated. It is rare indeed to find a North Carolinian who has not spent at least one vacation in Morehead City.
Governor Morehead's belief in the commercial viability of the city has been vindicated at last. Under Governor Kerr Scott, a large bond program was approved which funded a modern port terminal. Commercial traffic has steadily increased since those early days.