What do you get when you combine history that dates back to the 1700s, the first Capital of North Carolina, a riverside setting, and some of the most unique, historic architecture in the state? You get the insanely charming, insanely historic and also naturally beautiful town of New Bern.
Where the Neuse and Trent Rivers meet, New Bern was founded in 1710 and rose to prominence as a haven for politics, trading, shipping, and settlement. As North Carolina's second oldest town, New Bern was home to plenty of firsts in its early days - the state's first printing press in 1749, first public banking institution in 1778, first book store in 1783, first postal service in 1790...and of course the state's first Capitol.
Tryon Palace was the Historic Capitol and Governor's residence from 1770-1794. Another fun first, New Bern was the first city in America to celebrate George Washington's birthday, where he visited Tryon Palace and even danced!
At the start of the Revolutionary War in 1795, Governor Josiah Martin fled the mansion and it was subsequently used for several different purposes the following years. In 1798, a cellar fire ravaged the palace, leaving only the stable offices and kitchen intact.
What you see today is a recreation of the historic structure. Preservation efforts began in the 1940s, one key player was Mrs. James Edwin Latham. In 1944, the New Bern native asked the state to assist in restoration efforts and specifically set up a trust fund for the Palace. Sadly, she did not live to see the recreation but her daughter oversaw the project. From 1952-1959 the Palace was meticulously reconstructed. Today, it is the central haven for tours and historic reenactments ranging from events like the Revolutionary War to the amazing Christmas by Candlelight celebration.
Although New Bern was damaged during both the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, many of the historic buildings and homes that make this town so unique still stand. A good place to start is the City Hall. The Swiss style architecture connects to New Bern's history - an original Swiss and German settlement.
The Visit New Bern website notes - "New Bern was named in honor of the founders home, Bern, Switzerland. When Bern, Switzerland was founded, it was named by a group of hunters. They named the city for the first animal they came upon on their hunting expedition. It was a bear. Bern is the old Germanic word for Bear, and the bear became the symbol of the city. It has been adopted by New Bern, as well."
New Bern has so much history - it might seem overwhelming! To break it up, visit historic districts like The Ghent, downtown and Riverside. You'll see amazing turn of the century homes and quaint buildings lining the street. One place to start is the Jones House pictured above. Built in 1809, Confederate spy Emeline Piggott was imprisoned here during the Federal occupation of the Civil War.
Another must visit is the William B. Blades House. Built in the early 1900s, it's one of the most beautiful examples of Queen Anne style architecture.
New Bern is also home to the gorgeous Christ Episcopal Church. Built in 1848, it's home to an outdoor chapel, and like many other buildings in New Bern (150 to be exact) is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. You'll also want to visit Cedar Grove Cemetery and the U.S National Cemetery with gravestones dating back to the 1800s.
If New Bern couldn't possibly have more...how about a unique visit from Budweiser Clydesdales and just behind them - the Pepsi Museum. Yes, New Bern is home to Coke's biggest rival, Pepsi! Invented in 1898 by local pharmacist Caleb Bradham, today, you can stop by the quaint museum and grab a Pepsi from the recreated soda fountain.
Tired and/or hungry? One place you must stop is the historic Harvey Mansion Inn. Built in 1804, it's a perfect example of the thriving seaport New Bern once was, not to mention the restaurant serves amazing food in an elegant setting.
I think one aspect that makes New Bern so truly unique is that while it's a modern city that also advances with today's times, it's one place in North Carolina where history is not only preserved, but comes to life. Today, New Bern is a romantic riverside town, it's no surprise it inspired Nicholas Sparks (a resident until 2014) who wrote the Notebook in 1996 and the setting for such a grand romance, New Bern.
I could go on and on about just how unique this town is, residents and visitors will gladly tell you as well. While North Carolina is packed to the brim with gorgeous, colorful, and historic small towns - New Bern is simply different from the rest.
Have you visited New Bern before or live here now? What are some key places you think people should visit?