Halifax County is full of doers, not watchers. From its earliest days, when quill was put to parchment and tool to stone, its residents have helped steer the region and nation. It’s no different today. Interesting museums, well-crafted food and drink, and natural wonders – each offered with plenty of Southern hospitality – create numerous hands-on adventures. Here are eight you must try.
1 Count Sylvan Heights Bird Park’s more than 2,500 birds
1 Count Sylvan Heights Bird Park’s more than 2,500 birdsScotland NeckSee on map
The resident flamingos and friendly parakeets – the latter eagerly perching on outstretched arms and hands – always seem hungry, so pick up several bags of food and seed sticks before entering The Landing Zone at Sylvan Heights Bird Park. They are some of the more than 2,500 birds – including swans, parrots, cranes, and the world’s largest collection of rare and endangered waterfowl – that you’ll see or interact with here. Take in the colorful sights and exotic sounds as you follow the self-guided tour of the park, which organizes birds by their home continents. With room for kids to run and eat picnic lunches, plan on your visit stretching several hours.
2 Savor local tastes at longtime favorite Ralph’s Barbecue
2 Savor local tastes at longtime favorite Ralph’s BarbecueWeldonSee on map
Have a craving for the tangy vinegar-based sauce of Eastern North Carolina barbecue? Satisfy it at Ralph’s in Weldon, an almost 70-year favorite of locals and travelers. Hanging in the lobby is a painting of Ralph. He watches over the third generation of Woodruffs, who continue his dedication to friendly service and homemade dishes. Start with a bowl of rich Brunswick stew – made from the family recipe that patriarch Ralph used – and hushpuppies still warm from the fryer. If you can’t choose among the smoked daily pork barbecue, crispy fried chicken or fresh seafood dishes, try a combination plate. Or visit the buffet that’s well-stocked with Southern staples. Whatever you order, save room for the legendary banana pudding.
3 Let Roanoke Rapids Theatre entertain you
3 Let Roanoke Rapids Theatre entertain youRoanoke RapidsSee on map
Standing tall within sight of I-95, Roanoke Rapids Theatre attracts top regional and national acts. One evening you can listen to country, rock or beach music, and the next you can watch a play or comedy show. And there’s more beyond its main stage. Stop by on Wednesdays to toss a game or two of cornhole in the atrium, or enjoy music and karaoke during Live After Five on Thursday and Friday evenings. It even hosts drive-in movies. For an encore, grab a small plate, salad or sandwich at its Balcony Bistro & Bar, which is open for Thursday through Sunday dinners and weekend lunches.
4 Relive the Halifax Resolves, America’s first Declaration of Independence
4 Relive the Halifax Resolves, America’s first Declaration of IndependenceHalifaxSee on map
On April 12, 1776, almost three months before the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence, North Carolina’s Fourth Provincial Congress approved the Halifax Resolves. It was a colony’s first move toward independence, putting Halifax on par with Philadelphia, Lexington and Concord, or Yorktown. Experience these patriots’ lives at the state historic site. Watch the Visitors Center’s short film, which describes Halifax’s early years and the region’s rise to prosperity, and review its many exhibits. Follow the self-guided tour to several 18th- and 19th-century structures including the Owens House and Eagle Tavern. Visit the Montfort House, whose foundations were uncovered by archaeologists, telling the story of an early wealthy resident and the only Provincial Grand Master Mason of North America. The grounds also include colonial and African American cemeteries and a Roanoke River overlook.
5 Explore the Roanoke Canal, the state’s longest museum
5 Explore the Roanoke Canal, the state’s longest museumRoanoke RapidsSee on map
Halifax County is home to some of the country’s best preserved early 18th-century engineering, including a 35-foot single-arch aqueduct. See it by using the Roanoke Canal Museum and Trail’s free bike lending program, pedaling the level 7.5-mile trail that makes this museum our state’s longest. Along the way, keep an eye open for bald eagles, warblers and a host of migrating birds, whose presence led to the former towpath becoming part of the North Carolina Birding Trail. Back at the museum, explore two floors of interactive exhibits, displays and artifacts that explain each chapter in the canal’s story.
6 Eat farm-to-table at The Hen & The Hog
6 Eat farm-to-table at The Hen & The HogHalifaxSee on map
Halifax native Glenn Patterson Wilson spent 30 years designing hotel interiors in more than 80 countries before kicking off a renovation of her hometown’s downtown with The Hen & The Hog. Its relaxed atmosphere mimics her visits to English pubs, where locals and travelers gather. The food is the best reason to join them. The Southern-inspired dishes use local ingredients, with their producers proudly listed on a sign behind the bar. Try a thoughtfully crafted sandwich or salad, such as the Southern Wedge with pimento cheese dressing, for lunch. Thursday’s dinner service is low-key, adding upscale appetizers such as fried oysters, and includes plates such as shrimp and cheesy grits. Upscale dinner offerings are served Fridays and Saturdays, but it’s closed Sundays and Mondays.
7 Stay at Bellamy Manor and Gardens
7 Stay at Bellamy Manor and GardensEnfieldSee on map
Wind your way through the county’s extensive farm fields and up the plant-lined driveway at Bellamy Manor and Gardens, where a glass of wine and conversation with other guests and the owners, Suzann and Wayne Anderson, await on the bed and breakfast’s porch. Much of the nearly 150-year-old estate’s gardens are visible from the four recently renovated rooms, which feature Wi-Fi, walk-in showers and pieces of North Carolina-made furniture. And while the shaded hammocks also are inviting, save the relaxing for later. Tour the 4-acre property, read a book from its library, or head out for dinner on a recommendation from the owners. But definitely join them at the large dining table for the daily Southern breakfast that includes locally made country sausage and ham, warm baked goods and seasonal produce that Wayne’s brother grows nearby.
8 Wet your whistle at Weldon Mills Distillery
8 Wet your whistle at Weldon Mills DistilleryWeldonSee on map
Extensive renovations to a factory and historic grist mill will become Weldon Mills Distillery, the state’s newest spirits producer that is expected to open Spring 2019. It will remain connected to the past through local farms, which continue to ship corn there, though for a new purpose. Learn more about local history and distillation on a tour. Each will include a tasting, where you can sample its bourbons, including one that raises money for Wounded Warriors and families of fallen soldiers – causes close to the Army veteran co-owner – and a second that supports rockfish preservation. Every spring, an uncountable number of rockfish swim up the Roanoke River and past the distillery, stopping at the rapids in Weldon, the self-proclaimed “Rockfish Capital of the World.” The run offers catching at its best: Expect to land 20 or more each day, regardless of your fishing experience.
This article was produced in partnership with Halifax County Convention and Visitors Bureau.