The riverfront town of New Bern, which turned 300 in 2010, is the state’s second oldest town. For visitors to the Crystal Coast looking for a little change of scenery, the short jaunt inland can provide a day full of shopping, exploring and educational opportunities.
Accessible by land or by boat, New Bern is anchored to the waterfront by Tryon Palace Historic Sites and Gardens, the home of former Gov. William Tryon. The reconstructed version of the opulent mansion, completed in the 1950s for $3.5 million, follows the architectural plans for the home originally completed in 1770. A year after the home was completed Tryon fled North Carolina to become governor of New York. And in May of 1775, Gov. Josiah Martin deserted the mansion during the American Revolution. It went on to serve many purposes, including the state capitol building, a boarding house, school and Masonic lodge before being consumed by a fire in 1798.
The stable and one basement wall are the only original areas, however, the restoration of the site was done with painstaking detail – from the books on the library shelves to the plants outside the kitchen. Today, the site includes a collection of gardens, historic homes and the NC History Center, which opened in 2010.
While Tryon Palace may be one of New Bern’s biggest draws, people often find there is much more to do once they arrive. With a pedestrian friendly downtown, New Bern is one of those towns that invites you to park, walk and take in the surroundings, whether you’re out of enjoy the architecture or simply ready to grab a bite for lunch.
While downtown, it’s hard to pass up a visit to the Birthplace of Pepsi, 256 Middle St., the site where one of America’s favorite soft drinks found its start. Caleb Davis Bradham, a medical school drop out, took the skills he learned in college and opened Bradham Drug Co. Like most pharmacies at the time, he added a soda fountain and in 1893 he set out to perfect “Brad’s Drink” using carbonated water, sugar, pepsin, kola nut extract, vanilla and what he termed “rare oils.” The Pepsi-Cola Co. was formed in 1902 in the back room of the store and New Bern officially went down in the record books as the launch site. The store today features an old-fashioned soda fountain as well as an array of Pepsi themed merchandise.
Established in 1955, the New Bern Firemen’s Museum, 408 Hancock St., illustrates the town’s unique firefighting history from the site of the town’s first central fire station. New Bern’s original firefighting crew, the Atlantic Company, was the first organized fire department in the state and one of the first in the country. But in 1865, with many of its members off fighting in the war, Union troops developed the Button Company, starting a fierce rivalry until the groups merged in 1928. The Firemen’s Museum is a great place to catch the rest of the story – as well as discover some of the tools and techniques firemen have employed through the years.
Christ Church, 320 Pollock St., part of the Episcopal Diocese of East Carolina, provides the Gothic Revival bell tower many will recognize from the New Bern skyline. Used by mariners for navigation, the spire has watched over the town for more than 125 years.
Located in the heart of downtown, the church sits exactly where town founder Baron Christopher de Graffenried had suggested, at the center of town life. But it is actually the third church to be built on the site. The first, constructed in 1750, sat in the corner of the churchyard and was demolished when the second church was consecrated in 1824. Fire claimed much of the church in 1871, leaving only the walls to be integrated into the construction of the third and final church. Completed in 1875, the church is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The site is open from 12:30-4pm weekdays with docents eager to share the church’s history and architectural detail.
While downtown, it’s the perfect time to begin a little bear hunting. No, not the big game that keeps the skirmish out of the woods, but Bear Town Bears. To commemorate the 300th birthday in 2010, a creative nonprofit formed and teamed local businesses and artists to paint a tribute bear to mark the occasion. The idea took off like wildfire and today these uniquely-painted bears can be found around town and the outlaying area, donning their hats, carrying flowers, toting flags and shouting out their hometown pride.
If you happen to be in town on a Saturday, the active New Bern Farmer’s Market, 421 S. Front St., operates year-round as a venue for local farmers, gardeners, cooks and artists. Visitors will find plenty of the usual farm fresh vegetables they’ve grown to expect from a farmer’s market, but in New Bern the vision has been expanded to include a wide variety of area craftsmen. From glasswork and candles to homegrown honey and jewelry, there is a lot to browse at the site’s ever-evolving marketplace.
If local art is of interest, Bank of the Arts, the home to the Craven Arts Council, 317 Middle St., is free to visit and offers rotating displays throughout the year. In addition, local galleries team up every other month to present the New Bern ArtWalk.
Whether you come for a particular event, or are just looking for a way to spend a leisurely Saturday afternoon, New Bern has plenty to offer visitors and guests. To learn more, visit visitnewbern.com.