Small Coastal Towns
Towns Along The Albemarle Sound
A wet, sinuous main street welcomes floating visitors to North Carolina each year. Our portion of the 3,000-mile long toll-free route known as the Intracoastal Waterway cuts its way through sounds, bays, rivers and canals on a trip of historic proportions.
This voyage begins where North Carolina nestles up against its northern neighbor in what we call the Albemarle Region. There, the Dismal Swamp Canal links Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay with the Albemarle Sound, a shallow, tide-less inland body of primarily fresh water. Boaters find the calm waters a relaxing way to cruise. The waterway meanders by picturesque towns that have changed little since Europeans first set foot here.
It’s not hard to picture four-masted schooners bobbing in the harbor at Elizabeth City, where they once waited for their cargos of hemp, flax, pork, rice, indigo and lumber. Today, there are plenty of new docks and boating facilities near downtown and attractions like the Museum of the Albemarle. You might think that Elizabeth City – three times voted one of the best small towns in America – was named for a queen. Not so. In 1794 Elizabeth Tooley deeded some land she owned for the purpose of erecting the town. Grateful citizens immortalized her.
The sleepy river town named for the earl of Hertford is a good next stop on the sound. A narrow, winding road tracks the tea-colored river, where Victorian and Georgian homes sit under Spanish moss-draped Cypress trees. Baseball hall of fame legend “Catfish” Hunter was born and raised here. The Newbold White House – built in 1730 - is thought to be the oldest existing structure in the state. Across the river is Leigh’s Plantation, a huge brick home with dozens of rooms, including a third-story ballroom.
Edenton, honored in 2011 as one of America's Prettiest Towns, stops many Intracoastal Waterway boaters with its natural beauty and its Colonial era historic district of Jacobean, Georgian, Federal, Greek Revival and Victorian homes. The town, which was the first permanent settlement in the state, has excellent marinas convenient to the visitor center and downtown. Shopping and restaurants are within walking distance of the docks.
Another good stop on the Albemarle Sound is Columbia, which sits on the Albemarle-Pamlico peninsula alongside the Scuppernong River. Chartered initially as Elizabeth Town, its name was changed to Columbia in 1810 because it was often confused with another North Carolina town called Elizabethtown, not to mention nearby Elizabeth City. About 900 people call Columbia home today. A tidy, historic district of homes built mostly in the early 1900s is worth a walk-through, and in warmer months kayaks are available for exploration of the Scuppernong River.
These are just a few of the historic stops on the Albemarle Sound portion of the Intracoastal Waterway. Other Albemarle Sound venues to visit include Fort Raleigh National Historic Site on Roanoke Island, as well as the Wright Brothers National Monument at Kitty Hawk and Nags Head Woods.
added: December 22, 2008
updated: September 27, 2012