When you think of destinations in North Carolina, the town of Edenton might not come to mind. Perhaps you’ll think of Asheville and the Smoky Mountain region or the Outer Banks or Charlotte. But Edenton should make it onto your list. Its history, beautiful homes and charming downtown make it appealing.
Edenton was considered to be North Carolina’s first capital and has also been referred to as one of America’s prettiest towns. It is one of the South’s most beautiful places, and here are four places worth checking out on your visit.
1. Penelope Barker House
Start at the Penelope Barker House Welcome Center. This house was constructed in 1762 two blocks away and was then moved to its current location along Edenton Bay. It now serves as the home of the Edenton Historical Commission. But it is a great place to get tourism information, visit the gift shop, or purchase a ticket for a historic trolley tour. Here, you will learn about the Edenton Tea Party that was organized by Barber. In 1774, 51 local women signed a resolution boycotting British tea, which became one of the earliest organized women’s political actions in the nation’s history.
2. Historic Chowan Courthouse
The second place you must visit is the Historic Chowan Courthouse, one of the finest examples of Georgian Colonial architecture. It is the oldest remaining government building in North Carolina and the oldest functioning courthouse in America, still occasionally used by the NC Supreme Court.
Take a guided or self-guided tour of the historic structure and learn about the rich history that happened here. For example, President James Monroe visited on April 4, 1819 with Secretary of War John C. Calhoun and a dinner and grand ball was held in Monroe’s honor the following night in the assembly room. You can also sit in the judge’s seat or just gaze across the public square down to the waterfront.
3. Iredell House
Your next stop should be the Iredell House. The home, built in 1773 and enlarged in 1810, once belonged to James Iredell, Sr. who was appointed to the first Supreme Court of the United States by President George Washington. Later, James Iredell, Jr. would occupy the home as well. He later served as governor of North Carolina.
It is now owned and operated by the State of North Carolina. Other historic dwellings that offer some educational interpretation have been moved here, including a schoolroom and other structures. Guided tours of the interior are available.
4. Roanoke River Lighthouse
For a unique experience, visit the1886 Roanoke River Lighthouse. Once used to guide ships navigating the waters of the Albemarle Sound into the Roanoke River, this fully restored lighthouse now serves as a museum in the Edenton harbor. Visitors can see how lighthouse staff lived until it was automated in 1933.
All of these sites are within walking distance of each other, as well as the quaint and historic downtown that has an active movie theater, an actual Sears still in business, an art gallery and several boutique shops. A number of restaurants exist to grab lunch or another meal, including Emilio’s General Store. If you have time, check out other historic places such as the old jail, the 1758 Cupola House and the Cotton Mill Museum of History.
Edenton has been home to several notable figures in American history, including Joseph Hewes (one of three signers of the Declaration of Independence from North Carolina and grandfather of the U.S. Navy), Hugh Williamson (signer of the U.S. Constitution), and Harriet Jacobs (author of “The Life of a Slave Girl”). The town is quite proud of its former residents and its historic preservation efforts. In Edenton, you will get to enjoy originals, not reproductions.
by Shuan Butcher