Pirates Of The NC Coast
NC Waterfront Towns
Main Street was often liquid in North Carolina’s earliest days. Today, the streets of the small towns at the North Carolina Coast make a wonderful place to stroll and shop. So sail on in to explore our coastal towns; here are a few suggestions:
Bath - North Carolina’s oldest incorporated town - is not the prominent place it was when established. The town celebrated its 300th anniversary in 2005. Edward Teach, known as Blackbeard the Pirate, held sway over the busy docks. Royal Governors and Colonial Assemblymen sauntered down the streets of this Pamlico River settlement located 50 miles from the Ocracoke Inlet.
Considered the seat of Beaufort County government, Bath remained at the center of the colony’s political life. Four governors - Robert Daniel, Thomas Cary, Charles Eden, and Matthew Rowan - lived here, but the tide turned in 1776 when the town of Washington was built. This new town 15 miles up the Pamlico River drew trade, and eventually, the seat of government, away from Bath.
Bath, population 605, remained a small village, and visitors today appreciate the town that time forgot. Original town boundaries mark the outline of the Bath National Historic District. Tours originate at the Visitors’ Center, where you can view a short film on the town’s history. St. Thomas Church (1734), the oldest existing church in the state, is on the tour as are the Palmer-Marsh House (1751), Bonner House (1830), and the Van Der Veer House (1790). It’s a short, but historic, walk down Bath’s Main Street.
One of the "100 Best Small Towns in America" – another waterfront town – is our next stop. Elizabeth City, on the Pasquotank River near the Albemarle Sound, is the commercial and economic hub of northeastern North Carolina.
Founded in 1793, it was not until the Dismal Swamp Canal opened in 1805, linking North Carolina with Norfolk, that the town found its footing. Canal traffic now is more likely to be pleasure boats than commercial ships. This tourist traffic spurred on waterfront development in the town’s center. Elizabeth City has earned the nickname, “Harbor of Hospitality” for impromptu dockside wine and cheese parties thrown by the “Rose Buddies,” who also hand out roses to visiting boaters.
The new home of the Museum of the Albemarle is a great place to start your visit. It interprets 400 years of European settlers’ history along the Albemarle Sound. With your new historical understanding, it’s time to shop. Benches and new brick sidewalks, landscaping and period lighting are being added to improve the visitor experience.
Entrepreneurs, like City Treats’ owner Tammy Jones, have begun opening new stores downtown. Along with Jones’ candy and ice cream store, visitors can find art galleries like Red Rabbit, and the Carolina Theater and Grill. Built in the old Love State Theater, the grill features first-run movies and fine food. Waterfront Treasures – which also sells local crafts - is one of the many antique stores along the waterfront.
Sailing south, we come to our third coastal town: Swansboro. Algonquin Indians first lived here at the mouth of the White Oak River. In 1730, European settlers set up camp at the port that became known as Swannsborough. It was incorporated in 1783, honoring Samuel Swann, speaker of the NC House of Commons.
During the War of 1812 native son, Otway Burns, earned fame sailing from the port in his schooner Snapdragon to fight the British. The port prospered until the Civil War, when residents turned to naval stores and lumber to make a living. The Great Depression sent these businesses under. Commercial fishing took up the slack. Now, although tourism is a primary cash crop, the town has not lost its quiet character as a colonial port.
The town’s historic district runs along the river. So, visitors can keep an eye on the boats while dining in waterfront restaurants or shopping in specialty and antique stores. A visit to Swansboro will show you why it is called “The Friendly City By The Sea.”
The next time you need some liquid Main Street refreshment, visit one of North Carolina’s cool waterfront towns.
added: January 2, 2009
updated: January 2, 2009