Tourism is big business in North Carolina, and heritage tourism is especially popular in the Eastern Region, where many of America's earliest settlements began, Revolutionary and Civil War battles were fought, and maritime history was made.
The 13-county area is part of a consortium seeking National Heritage Area Designation status from Congress, which would secure federal funds to develop, package and promote historical, natural and cultural sites throughout 40 counties in Eastern North Carolina.
Top heritage attractions in the region include Cape Lookout Lighthouse and the ghostly town of Portsmouth on the southern Outer Banks, Historic Beaufort, the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum & Heritage Center at Harkers Island and the North Carolina Maritime Museum in Carteret County, which features exhibits on the famed pirate Blackbeard and his ship, the Queen Anne's Revenge. Civil War sites at Kinston and Fort Macon have also been drawing visitors lately as part of North Carolina’s 150-year Civil War commemoration.
One of the most visited historic venues in the Eastern Region is Tryon Palace in New Bern, which served as the first permanent capitol building of North Carolina in the 1770s. The property added an interactive North Carolina History Center in 2010 that includes a Pepsi Family Center and a Regional History Museum.
“We also have the Duffy Exhibit Gallery, Cullman Performance Hall, Lawson’s Landing: A Riverwalk Café and a museum store on site,” says Trish Ashburn, Tryon Palace and North Carolina History Center Marketing and Communications Manager.
Home to Seven Baseball Hall of Famers
Another must-see stop in the region is the North Carolina Baseball Museum, the only museum of its kind in the nation officially deemed to represent an entire state. Located in Wilson, the facility is part of Fleming Stadium, the home field for the Wilson Tobacconists, the minor league baseball team of the Coastal Plains League.
“The museum is open Thursday through Sunday, with 5,000 artifacts highlighting baseball on all levels in North Carolina,” says Kent Montgomery, North Carolina Baseball Museum board member. “We cover youth, high school, college, minor leagues and semipro, and recognize the more than 370 Major League Baseball players who were born in North Carolina, including seven Hall of Famers – Luke Appling, Rick Farrell, Jim 'Catfish' Hunter, Buck Leonard, Gaylord Perry, Enos Slaughter and Hoyt Wilhelm.”
Cradle of Jazz
A future attraction being developed in the Eastern Region is the African American Music Trail, which will span Edgecombe, Greene, Jones, Lenoir, Nash, Pitt, Wayne and Wilson counties. The trail, overseen by the North Carolina Arts Council, is scheduled to open in February 2013.
“The musicians honored on this trail will reflect their home communities, with their sounds transcending time and place,” says Rebecca Moore, North Carolina Arts Council Senior Program Director for Marketing.
The trail will pay homage to legendary jazz, blues and gospel musicians with ties to the region, including natives Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, Reverend Gary Davis, Billy Taylor, Blind Boy Fuller and Elizabeth Cotton. Interactive kiosks will be located at various arts councils and visitor's centers and include descriptions of musicians, venues, sites and other music resources, along with directions and a local calendar of events.
Kinston has been designated as the African American Music Trail headquarters, and North Carolina artists David Wilson and Brandon Yow are working to design a Gateway Music Park in the city that will serve as the trailhead.