North Carolina

North Carolina History Attractions: Discover the Tar Heel State's Best Historic Sites

Filed Under: North Carolina
Trent Roche, flickr

One of the 13 original colonies, North Carolina has a fascinating history -- from its original Native American settlers to its role in the Revolutionary and Civil wars. Through it all, North Carolina has amassed a bounty of amazing historic sites; check out our top selections.

First in Flight

You’ve seen the “First in Flight” license plates, now see where it all actually happened. Begin your journey at Kill Devil Hills along the central part of the Outer Banks. In this scenic coastal town with 6 miles of shoreline stands the Wright Brothers National Memorial. Climb atop Big Kill Devil Hill to the 60-foot tower, which marks the site where Wilbur and Orville conducted the first successful airplane flight in 1903. At the Wright Brothers Visitor Center see a full-scale reproduction of the brothers’ glider. To really get into the aeronautical spirit, head to nearby Kitty Hawk Kites and soar over the sandy dunes during a hang gliding lesson.

North Carolina Pirates

Strolling along the Outer Banks’ peaceful shores, it’s hard to believe the area was once a favorite stomping ground for lawless pirates. But during the 17th and 18th centuries, dozens of pirates, including the infamous Blackbeard, sailed these waters. Start your exploration of North Carolina’s pirate sites at Beaufort, where Blackbeard’s flagship, Queen Anne’s Revenge, ran aground in 1718. At Beaufort’s North Carolina Maritime Museum, view a full-scale exhibit that includes thousands of artifacts from the ship. From nearby Swan Quarter, take the NC State Ferry for a trip to Ocracoke -- the remote barrier island that was the site of Blackbeard’s final battle.

Battleship North Carolina

Walk the decks of the majestic Battleship North Carolina near downtown Wilmington for an intimate reminder of the sacrifice and bravery of the young men who served on this 728-foot ship during World War II, earning it 15 battle stars. The Battleship North Carolina is moored along Cape Fear River across from the Wilmington Riverwalk, a scenic boardwalk with shops, restaurants and museums. Also within walking distance are several great restaurants, such as Aubriana's, which serves eclectic American fare such as its signature blackened lamb lollipops, as well as veal chops and mahi-mahi caught right off the North Carolina coast.

Civil War Trails

Start your tour of North Carolina’s most indelible Civil War sites in Goldsboro, where Union General William T. Sherman's troops first marched into the Tar Heel state. The Union troops attempted to destroy a vital railroad bridge that served as a link in the Confederate supply chain. Today, the 30-acre site includes a snake rail fence that gives the battlefield a distinctive period look, along with walking trails that wind through the former battlefield. You can find this site along with 231 others using the Civil War Trails guide, which encompasses 78 counties from Roanoke Island to Robbinsville. At the Bentonville Battlefield in nearby Four Oaks, NC, another stop along the trail, you can walk the fields where some 80,000 Union and Confederate soldiers fought one of the last major battles of the Civil War.

North Carolina's Historic Capital

An exploration of North Carolina’s history would not be complete without a visit to Raleigh, which was founded as the state’s capital in 1792. The Raleigh Heritage Trail highlights 10 must-see historic locations, including Haywood Hall. John Haywood, Raleigh’s first mayor, built this Federal-style home in 1799; today it offers a glimpse into 200 years of Raleigh’s past through photographs, furniture and fine arts. Next, go see Raleigh’s only remaining water-powered gristmill at the 574-acre Historic Yates Mill County Park, which was established in 1756. Finally, pay the governor a visit at the North Carolina State Capital.

The Beat Goes On

Before they joined James Brown’s band in the 1960s and contributed to such seminal funk classics as “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag,” brothers Melvin and Maceo Parker played in old tobacco warehouses and juke joints around their native Kinston, NC. The Parker brothers are just two of the great black musicians who will be honored through North Carolina’s African American Music Trail. Spearheaded by the NC Arts Council, the trail celebrates famous musicians from the 8 eastern North Carolina counties of Edgecombe, Greene, Jones, Lenoir, Nash, Pitt, Wayne and Wilson. The trail officially opens in spring 2013 and will include a guidebook and promotional map.

About the Author

Sam Boykin is the editor of Lake Norman Magazine and a freelance writer whose work has also appeared in Men's Journal, Outside, Reader's Digest, Scientific American, Garden and Gun and Maxim. He lives in Mooresville, NC, with his wife and 2-year-old daughter.

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