Historic Edenton State Historic Site

Location: Edenton, North Carolina

Webpage: North Carolina State Historic Site

General Description: The second oldest town in North Carolina, Edenton was founded in 1712 and was the capital of North Carolina from 1722-1743.  Over he next half century it was the major seaport for North Carolina shipping naval stores, timber, and agricultural crops to England and Europe.  Leading up to the Revolutionary War, it was the location of the “Edenton Tea Party” where 51 women, led by Penelope Barker, signed a petition agreeing to boycott English tea and other imports in protest against the unfair taxes being imposed by England, such as the Stamp Act.  It was the first example of political action by women in the English colonies.  Joseph Hewes, a resident of Edenton was appointed to be the first Secretary of the Navy in 1776 and was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.  James Iredell, also from Edenton, was the youngest member of the first Supreme Court appointed by President George Washington at the age of 38.  The fortunes of Edenton began to decline following the hurricane in 1795 which closed the Roanoke Inlet through the Outer Banks and further by the 1805 Dismal Swamp Canal that allowed access to Norfolk, Virginia.  However, Edenton remained an important port for navel stores up to the Civil War where it was an important port on the Underground Railroad, which is the subject of Harriet Jacobs autobiography, “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.”  Today Edenton is a small North Carolina town on the shores of Albermarle Sound that has redefined itself to preserving its history.  There are many homes along a few blocks facing the old harbor that date from the 1700s, 1800s, and 1900s that are required to maintain the period architecture.  Some have been designated at National Historic Landmarks, including the Cupola House (1758), Iredell House (1800), Chowan County Courthouse (1767), and Barker House (1762).  There is a lovely public park at the location of the old harbor and this summer they opened the restored Roanoke River Lighthouse to the public.  Visitors can either walk to view the many homes and historic site or take a trolley from the Welcome Center.

Impressions:

1) While I was skeptical about visiting an old town, since often times you are looking at a town in decay.  However, this is not the case for Edenton!  I was pleasantly surprised to find the residents have really embraced the tourist trade and a lot of work has gone into creating a nice little town.  The downtown area is in excellent shape, although the merchants don’t appear to be getting much business.  They are mostly merchants you would expect to find in a small town, instead of focused on the tourist trade.  It does not have the feel of a “tourist trap”.  The public park in the old harbor is very nice with picnic tables and playground equipment.

2) The renovated lighthouse has been placed on pilings over the water and looked interesting although we did not pay to take a tour.

RoanokeRiverLighthouse

3) We spent over an hour walking around the old residential streets along the waterfront where most of the homes had signs giving the date of the original structure.  It was interesting to compare the architecture of the different periods, especially when you would find a 1700 house alongside an 1800 or 1900 house.

CupolaHouse EdentonHouse2 EdentonHouse1

4) The Chowan County Courthouse was not open, which was unfortunate, since it is one of the oldest structures in the town (1767).  The jail behind the courthouse is also an historic structure dating from the 1800s and it was used as a jail until the 1960s.  The door was open to the jail so we were able to look inside at the cells.  Tiny, dark, and only rudimentary electricity.  A very dismal place indeed.

ChowaCountyCourthouse CountyJail

5) Even though the day was cloudy and cool, it was a nice early afternoon.  You could easily spend a long day exploring the town, especially during the summer when more of the tourist attractions, including tours of the homes, would be opened.  I would recommend it if you are interested in old towns and especially old homes.

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