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Whether your idea of culture is a stroll through a museum or a deep dive into regional history, you’ll find plenty of intriguing spots in North Carolina to satisfy your appetite.
In Burlington, you can visit the site of an armed rebellion which took place in 1771 and which was led by backcountry farmers. In historic Bath, along the coast, you can see an early European settlement which became the state’s fist town.
Explore the boyhood home of Thomas Wolfe in Asheville to see where the author gained the inspiration which helped create his famous early 20th century stories. When you are in Brasstown, stop by Clay’s Corner – more than a small-town filling station, you can hear authentic bluegrass jams every Friday night.
Did you know hollerin’ is a competitive sport? That’s right – the National Hollerin’ Contest takes place each September in Spivey’s Corner. In New Bern, the grand Tryon Palace is a 20-acre site full of historical buildings, beautiful gardens, and an interactive history center.
The culture of the mountains is celebrated in style at the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area. This area includes some of the mountain region’s most celebrated landmarks and can easily fill a week of adventure and education. Visit the House of Flags Museum in Columbus or spend the afternoon at the Blowing Rock Art and History Museum. The Asheville Art Museum has a wide collection of regional arts and crafts, while the Franklin Gem and Mineral Museum holds some of the finest examples of mineral wealth to come from these hills. The Crossnore Weavers and Gallery has fine examples of textiles, while the Fly Fishing Museum of the Southern Appalachians in Bryson City has examples of rods and reels as they have evolved through the decades.
The sit-in movement for equality began at a Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, and you can learn about it at the city’s excellent International Civil Rights Center and Museum. In Charlotte, high art is preserved at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts and Culture. In Cherokee, you can learn about the incredible history of this proud nation at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian. Stop by Oconaluftee Indian Village and make sure to stay for the outdoor drama, “Unto These Hills.”
In Asheville, the Biltmore has been called America’s largest home – it’s a site to behold. Tour this 250-room house and its century-old gardens then roam across the estate’s 8,000-acre backyard, where you can raft and horseback ride, then end the evening with wine tasting and fine dining. Not far away, the Carl Sandburg Home is a national historic site which preserves the estate of one of America’s best-known poets and authors. Sandburg lived here for 22 years and today you can tour the home and its grounds – there are more than five miles of trails and a cute goat herd to see.
Charlotte is brimming with historic and cultural sites. See race cars and police cruisers at the North Carolina Transportation Museum, then stroll the grounds of the President James K. Polk Historic Site. In Mount Gilead, the Town Creek Indian Mound marks the spot where prehistoric people built a village and wooden defensive palisade. You can visit a reconstructed ceremonial center, a minor temple, and a mortuary, while the visitor center houses interpretive exhibits and has audiovisual programs.
The Triangle region is home to numerous important historic sites. The Bennett Place is where commanders from the Confederate and Union armies met to sign the South’s surrender papers. In Durham, the Duke Homestead protects the home, factory, and farm where Washington Duke first grew and processed tobacco – his sons later founded the American Tobacco Company and helped make North Carolina the heart of an international tobacco empire. Also, in Durham, Historic Stagville has the remains of the state’s largest pre-Civil War plantation – you can see four slave houses, a pre-Revolutionary War farmer’s house, a timber barn, and a family cemetery.
Headed to the coast? Check out Somerset Place in Creswell to get a realistic and comprehensive look into what life was like on a 19th century plantation – at its height it was one of the largest plantations in the South. In Wilmington, step aboard the U.S.S. North Carolina, a restored World War II battleship and museum with nine levels to explore – kids love playing with the (inactive) guns! Brunswick was a major pre-Revolutionary port on the Cape Fear River which was razed by British troops in 1776 and never rebuilt. You can walk among the ruins of this picturesque site and see building foundations and the earthworks of a Confederate fort. Fort Fisher is a Civil War site in Kure Beach which helped to keep the port of Wilmington open. Today about 10 percent of the fort remains – much of it has been lost to the eroding forces of the ocean – and there is also a restored palisade fence and a visitor center.
Gorgeous Edenton sits on Albermarle Sound. It was the birthplace of prominent abolitionist Harriet Ann Jacobs and was the site of the first permanent settlement in the state – it even served as North Carolina’s capital from 1722 to 1743. You can see the Roanoke River Lighthouse, which was built in 1886, as well as the 1776 Chowan County Courthouse.
Raleigh may not be the biggest city in the state, but it does have a huge collection of landmarks and cultural sites. Make sure to visit the state capitol, which was completed in 1840 and has been called one of the finest Greek Revival-style civic buildings in the country. The North Carolina Museum of History is an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution and the leading spot in the state to learn about the Civil War, the Revolutionary War, and mysteries of the Lost Colony. Other permanent exhibits chronicle the state’s agriculture, famous inventors, and notable sports figures.