The small town of Edenton may very be one of the first Inner Banks destinations to rise to regional and even national fame as a stunning spot along coastal North Carolina to enjoy a full, historic vacation, just a few short miles away from the Atlantic Ocean-facing beaches. The coastal community is a small town at heart with a deeply rich history and a big personality that is sure to charm anyone looking for a quiet but engaging weekend destination that's relatively close to home.
Filled with historic sites, culture and arts, and plenty of waterfront views to go around, this small town is a perfect launching point for discovering the stunning landscapes but secretively underrated coastal towns and destinations along the Inner Banks.
Edenton is virtually surrounded by water, as the expansive downtown area, where most of the action in this small community can be found, faces a wide harbor that connects with the expansive miles of the Albemarle Sound. Small creeks, like Pembroke Creek, cut through the heart of the town, making it a favorite destination for kayakers, boaters, fishermen, and mariners of all varieties, with plenty of dock-space and marinas for passing mariners to relax and stay a while. In fact, Edenton's premier waterfront park, Colonial Park, offers a large quantity of complimentary boat slips, (complete with restroom and shower access), that are available to any passer-by for a two night stay.
Just off the water, visitors will find dozens if not hundreds of historic homes, (including a number that are open to the public and operate as local B&Bs or museums), and a quiet small-own atmosphere that is rich in historic ambiance and southern charm.
This hospitality, history and love of the water, are seemingly all ingrained traits in Edenton, and the small community was a popular destination from the moment it was founded in the mid-17th century. In 1658, adventurous explorers from the Jamestown region veered south through the wilderness, eventually reaching the small coastal region which boasted its own, naturally-made harbor, now known as the Edenton Harbor. It didn't take very long for a subsequent settlement to be founded, and in 1712, the settlement became its own town, called originally the Towne on Queen Anne's Creek. Just ten years later, the town was renamed to the much easier to say "Edenton," in honor of North Carolina's Governor Charles Eden who had died earlier in the year.
During its early years, Edenton blossomed as a shipping and trade hub, and even became the capital of North Carolina from 1722 to 1743, complete with a stately governor's residence. Even though the state capital would inevitably move, the town of Edenton never lost its importance, and even became a nationally recognized town in 1774, when 51 local women, led by Penelope Barker, formed an alliance, and subsequently drafted and signed an oath to boycott all English goods. The headline-making "Edenton Tea Party" essentially became the first women's political action of the new United States, and Edenton would find itself, and not for the first or the last time, in the American history books.
During the Civil War, Edenton would again rise to regional fame as the home of the Edenton Bell Battery. In 1862, just after after the war had officially begun, a local artillery was formed under the leadership of a local attorney, William Badham, Jr., and one of their first orders of business was building an arsenal of guns and cannons to protect the vulnerable and highly desirable, (due to its waterfront proximity), town of Edenton from advancing Union soldiers. With limited supplies, the troops began constructing guns and cannons out of donated bells, plucked from many of the community's local churches and governmental buildings, earning the operation its namesake of the "Edenton Bell Battery."
After the war, the town enjoyed a small burst of economic revival with the regionally thriving lumber industry, but otherwise, the town slowed down to a quiet pace. Shipping ports had been moved to more major hubs, like Norfolk or Wilmington, NC, and it wasn't until the latter portion of the 20th century that locals realized that their wealth of historic structures and incredible waterfront locale could put this small town on the national map again, this time as a tourist destination.
Today, visitors can explore this history in detail with a visit to the famed Barker House, (which is also home to two cannons from the original Edenton Bell Battery), a stroll by the historic 1886 Roanoke River Lighthouse, or a stay in one of many historic bed and breakfasts, like the Mulberry Hill Inn or the Parsonage Inn.
Newcomers to the area who want a quick overview of the town are advised to start their exploration along Broad Street, a relatively small downtown street that runs through the heart of the town, and leads to an exceptional number of attractions located along the Albemarle Sound borders, including the aforementioned Barker House, Roanoke River Lighthouse, and the acclaimed Chowan Arts Center.
Edenton also has exceptional fishing and boating opportunities, both through the seemingly endless waters of the Albemarle Sound, or via the small canals that drift alongside the outskirts of the Great Dismal Swamp. Visitors can even see, first hand, the work involved in making these waters desirable to all species at the Edenton National Fish Hatchery, a budget-friendly attraction that's stocked with exhibits and aquariums, and is a must for nature lovers.
As for non-historic or water based pursuits, visitors will find an abundance of antique shops and small coastal art galleries, as well as nearly two dozen locally acclaimed restaurants. Ranging from breezy and simple cafes to waterfront bistros, newcomers are advised to pay careful attention to the local seafood specialties, as this waterfront region is known for serving up fresh catches of the day on a regular basis.
For accommodations, folks will find two major chain hotels, as well as a small handful of local vacation rentals and campsites, but frequent vacationers attest that the best way to stay in this town is at a locally run and regionally acclaimed bed and breakfast. In fact, this community has around seven different B&Bs, many of which are converted historic homes that are easily found in the heart of the downtown area for easy exploring.
A walking tour is a perfectly accessible method of exploring the local sites and historic attractions, although there are also a number of small tour companies that provide trolley or guided tours through the area, and shed new light on Edenton's unique role in national history, from the first Jamestown explorers to the watermen who carved out a life by the open sound waters.
While the Inner Banks is more or less sparsely explored by visitors, Edenton is arguably one of the biggest of these "small" tourist destinations. A gorgeous waterfront community that's filled with history and southern hospitality, weekend vacationers will find plenty of reasons to appreciate and love this quiet coastal community.
Plan a weekend visit or just a little day-trip off the beach to Edenton, and see why this destination has paved the way for the Inner Banks to become a surprisingly engaging vacation destination on its own merit.