The town of Edenton is home to nearly 5,000 residents and was once the colonial capital of North Carolina. In recent years Edenton has become a popular retirement location and destination for “heritage tourism.” The town is rich in history, offers beautiful views, and is home to many bed and breakfast inns.
The Virginian Pilot recently posted a nice write up about Northeast North Carolina’s quaint town…
“Edenton has aged well.
Incorporated in 1722, the town’s main business district is as active as it was when colonial sailing vessels crowded the bay with cargos of local goods bound for New England and the West Indies.
Edenton’s Broad Street was named last week one of four great main streets in the state by the North Carolina Chapter of the American Planning Association, joining Charlotte, Hillsborough and Asheville. Mt. Airy got the people’s choice award for having a great main street.
Going against the trend of many downtown business districts, Broad Street shops are busy. Not one retail front is vacant.
“We’ve added three new stores in the last month or two,” said Jim Blount, owner of Blount’s Mutual Drugs.
A popular movie house built in 1925 draws crowds on Friday nights. Afterward, it is a short walk to any one of a handful of restaurants. Large holly trees shade wide, brick sidewalks. Colonial-era homes are interspersed with tall, narrow commercial buildings dating from the late 19th century.
The town has an ambience similar to Williamsburg’s, said Mayor Roland Vaughan, who runs a jewelry shop from a 132-year-old building.
“That’s been true of downtown Edenton ever since I’ve grown up here, that this is the center of the community,” Vaughan said.
Jean Byrum Brown and her husband, Steve, are the third generation to run a Broad Street hardware store. Her grandfather, Thomas Campbell Byrum, founded the business in 1914. Loyal customers can have accounts and pay off the bill as they are able. Steve Brown says they try to greet people as they walk in the door, and if an item is not available, the Browns will send shoppers to another store.
It doesn’t hurt that big box stores have never come here and that more than 50,000 tourists annually visit the historic sites.
Change does not come easily here, either.
Edenton’s population hovers around 5,000, the same as in the 1950s. A map of the downtown drawn in 1769 by a French surveyor looks as if it could have been drafted this year. Vaughan has been mayor for 17 years; town manager Anne-Marie Knighton has 23 years on the job; and tourism director Nancy Nicholls has held her post for 20 years.
Edenton residents have always had a strong sense of town preservation, Vaughan said. Maybe it was because the town was an early capital.
“There’s a certain amount of grandeur associated with that,” he said.
In 1918, residents formed a corporation to save the deteriorating Cupola House. In 1948, a group of women borrowed $15,000 – without their husbands’ knowledge – to save the 1773 home of James Iredell, one of the first justices of the U.S. Supreme Court. Edenton avoided burning and bombing during both the Revolutionary War and the Civil War.
Edenton was the colony’s first capital and remained so until 1743. The town’s early settlement began with travelers from Nansemond County going down a route that went around the western side of the Great Dismal Swamp. It was then and still is known as Virginia Road, but it has the official route name of N.C. 32.
Later into the 1700s, Edenton served as a busy port where ships entered and exited the Outer Banks through an inlet just across the sound from the town. But storms closed that inlet and shipping commerce subsided.
The courthouse, built in 1767, is one of the oldest of its kind in the United States. St. Paul’s Episcopal Church – Joseph Hewes, signer of the Declaration of Independence, attended there – is the second-oldest church building in North Carolina.
Close to the waterfront sits the 254-year-old Cupola House, where a group of residents has maintained a Colonial-era garden for nearly 40 years.
Open to public, the garden is a popular lunch-hour destination for Broad Street merchants.
Joe Heard, planning director for Kitty Hawk, presented Edenton’s main street award Tuesday for the North Carolina Chapter of the American Planning Association. In his remarks, he summed up what he believes visitors think when they come to Edenton.
“You are blessed with a truly special place.”"