8 North Carolina Cities That Feel Like Traveling Back In Time
As one of the oldest states in the nation and the first to declare independence from the Crown, North Carolina is loaded with history and stories dating back centuries. Many coastal cities and towns paved the way for early settlers while Scotch-Irish settled in the mountains, instilling their own culture. Today, North Carolinians are treated to a wealth of historic cities and towns where the past is still intact.
As North Carolina's first town and port, Bath was established in 1705 and not much has changed since. Today, it exists a sleepy, innerbanks town that stays quiet most of the year besides an influx of tourists wanting to explore history. Bath even had one notable resident, Edward Teach (AKA Blackbeard) who settled here in 1718. A haven for pirates and parties, Bath is even rumored to be cursed by traveling evangelist George Whitefield. Today, visitors enjoy notable landmarks like St. Thomas Episcopal Church established in 1734, the Parlmer-Marsh House, the Van Der Veer House and Bonner House. Stroll along Bath's Historic District to see all the sights and history.
For more information on what to see and do while in Bath, read our guide
2. New Bern
North Carolina's first Capitol, New Bern is home to the majestic Tryon Palace as well as a number of landmarks that reflect the Swiss heritage. Founded in 1710, it rose to prominence as a popular trading and shipping port and even was visited by George Washington. New Bern is home to a lot of firsts for North Carolina - like the first printing press, public banking institution, book store and postal service. A good place to start a historic tour of New Bern is City Hall. Historic districts like the Ghent and Riverside allow you to see a lot at once. Another must-stop is the Queen Anne style William B. Blades House. Don't forget to finish your trip with an ice cold Pepsi in the place of its invention.
For more information on what to see and do in New Bern, and see why we named it one of the most unique towns in North Carolina.
read our guide here
You'll find historic Beaufort on the Inner Banks; the 2.7 mile town is surrounded by nearly a mile of water. The town is the third oldest in North Carolina. Its history dates back to Coree Native Americans who referred to the land as "Cwarioc," or "Fish Town." European settlers first purchased the land around 1709 and created a thriving town and port. Beaufort also attracted Blackbeard and his former lieutenant Stede Bonnett. Blackbeard was said to frequent the "Hammock House" here. During the 1800s Beaufort transitioned from lively port to thriving city. Street names like Anne, Queen, and Moore (after Colonel Moore) still stand today - nodding to the Revolutionary past. Beaufort is perfect for a mix of history and coastal beauty with historical homes, sights, and also some full-on pirate cruises allowing you to shoot cannon balls at your enemies.
Read all about Beaufort and what to see and do in our guide
Filled with over 300 years of history, Edenton was established in 1712 and today boasts popular landmarks like Roanoke River Lighthouse and the Chowan County Courthouse. As a popular port, this small town still echoes history every which way. Edenton is the birthplace of famous author and abolitionist, Harriet Jacobs. The Chowan County Courthouse is one of the State's oldest courthouses. It is still in use today and a popular place for tourist to visit. The Roanoke River Lighthouse, built in 1886 is also an extremely popular and beautifully charming destination. Even just a simple stroll through downtown, or along the waterfront, will transport you back in time.
5. Old Salem, Winston-Salem
Away from the Coast and into the Piedmont, Old Salem is a hidden, Moravian gem tucked beside downtown Winston-Salem. Stroll the cobblestone streets, dine at The Tavern with servers in period attire, stop by a bakery for some traditional Moravian cookies, or even make wax candles. Most buildings date back to the 18th century but are stunningly well-maintained, providing this "living history museum" with a dose of modern realism. For a great way to see it all, take a horse-drawn carriage ride.
The lively Port City is equal parts coastal charm and historic getaway. Cobblestone streets, a historic district, Queen Anne and Victorian-era houses make the downtown seem like you've discovered a mini-Charleston with North Carolina flair. Settled by Europeans in the 1720s, Wilmington was officially established in 1739 and home to many early movers and shakers in North Carolina history. A great way to learn a bit about the history is visiting the impressive Oakdale Cemetery with 1800s grave plots including large, historic burial plots for some of Wilmington's most notable residents. Other sights to see include the Bellamy Mansion and the gorgeous River Walk filled with shops, restaurants, and bars. After a dose of history, cruise east to Wrightsville Beach.
Heading towards the mountains, this quaint foothills town has roots that date back to its establishment in 1787 with much of the downtown and surrounding areas listed on the National Register of Historic Places. A popular place is the Rutherford City Cemetery considered to be one of this most historic cemeteries in North Carolina with gravestones dating back to the 1770s. There's also St. John's Church, built in 1849, and St. Francis Episcopal Church, completed in 1899. St. Francis is an amazing example of Gothic-Revival architecture. Another popular place to visit is the Betchler Home. in 1832, Christopher Bechtler minted the country's first one dollar gold coin with the family minting over $2.24 million in gold coins during the mid-1800s. Christopher Bechtler's historic home, built in 1838 now exists as a living history museum.
For more information on what to see and do in Rutherfordton, read our guide
Established in 1760 and situated along the Tar River at the Piedmont's fall line, North Carolina's ninth oldest town served as a prominent Colonial trading port until the mid-1800s. Although Hurricane Floyd caused much damage to the town, today the Historic District consists of 45-blocks boasting over 300 structures. A good place to start is Tarboro Town Common, the second-oldest legislated town common in the country. The gorgeous park is filled with large oaks, war memorials, and inviting for a long stroll. Popular sights also include the Blount-Bridgers House that serves as a starting point for the Historic District National Recreation Trail leading you through scenic neighborhoods and dwellings of the town.
Who doesn’t love a good dose of history? North Carolina has just that! What are some of your favorite ‘back in time’ towns to visit?
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