Allan Smith is checking weather radar patterns on his smartphone when the media group I’m in pulls up for a kayaking tour. He’s not a professional guide—in fact, he’s the retired superintendent of Edenton-Chowan schools—but he’s more than happy to babysit our small group if it means he can get some extra time on Queen Anne Creek.
It’s my first opportunity to go kayaking, so I’ve got a “devil-may-care” attitude about the weather. The rest of the group agrees, and next thing I know, I’m slung back in a small vessel, learning how to get the rhythm of proper paddling techniques down.
Being that low in the water, it’s amazing to see how dark Queen Anne Creek is. “Tannins from the cypress trees leach into the water, making it look black,” Dr. Smith tells us. The dusky hue doesn’t seem to bother the fish that roil the water in front of my boat as they search for food. Nor does it bother the bald eagle, the osprey or the great heron flying overhead, looking for a chance to snag one of those fish.
Welcome to Edenton, North Carolina.
Edenton lies on the Inner Banks of the Albemarle Sound in Chowan County, only 90 minutes away from Coastal Virginia, depending on your starting point. It was settled in 1658 by explorers venturing out from Jamestown, making it the first permanent settlement in what is now North Carolina.
It’s a town steeped in history (pun intended—the Edenton Tea Party is considered one of the earliest organized women’s political actions in U.S. history) that you can take in by guided walking tour, trolley tour, boat tour or all on your own. I recommend any of the available guided walking tours, which all begin at the Historic Edenton Visitor Center, because you can learn many details you might not find on your own. For example, on the second-story window of the Cupola House, which was built in 1758, your guide can point out where young Sarah Penelope Bond used a diamond to scratch this message: “When this you see remember me. SPB 1835.”
Available on request, there are specialty excursions that may include single or two-stop visits on the Harriet Jacobs Walking Tour. Harriet Jacobs was born into slavery in Edenton but eventually escaped, became an abolitionist and reformer and wrote the autobiographical novel Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl under the pseudonym Linda Brent. Before escaping to the north, she hid in her grandmother’s attic in Edenton for nearly seven years to watch over her children.
Other historic venues within walking distance of the downtown area include the Iredell House, the 1767 Chowan County Courthouse, the Penelope Barker House Welcome Center and the Roanoke River Lighthouse. A guided trolley tour exposes visitors to several other historical sites such as the cotton mill, the many homes built by the Badham family and what is now believed to be the oldest home in North Carolina, dating back to 1718.
To hear offshore narratives of the area’s history, grab a boxed lunch from 309 Bistro and let retired Navy submariner Captain Mark Thesier provide you with a different perspective of Edenton. His environmentally friendly boat, the Liber-Tea, runs on 12 golf cart batteries to provide a smooth and quiet ride. Captain Mark will also be happy to take you out for a “Bring Your Own Wine and Cheese” sunset cruise.
For accommodations in Edenton, the Hampton Inn is just off Route 17 and offers comfortable rooms, including some suites with jetted tubs, an outdoor pool and an excellent breakfast selection each morning. To get a more historical perspective, visitors can stay at one of the grand bed and breakfasts that include the Captains Quarters Inn, the Granville Queen Inn and the Inner Banks Inn.
The Inner Banks Inn is actually a group of buildings that offers a number of rooms (including the Tillie Bond Cottage that has two suites for travelers bringing their canine companions along) and has an excellent new restaurant called The Table. Led by Executive Chef J.D. Fairman, The Table is growing in reputation in Northeastern North Carolina thanks to a cuisine style offering of ocean/river/farm to fork that merges the best of local flavors with a twist of the unexpected (think Outer Banks scallops, butternut squash, heritage rice, tangerine, miso and ginger). The menu changes weekly, and chef tastings are a favorite with guests who desire a unique and personalized experience. And don’t miss their Sunday brunch. Seriously.
Out-of-town boaters can also tie off at the town dock and enjoy two free nights of hospitality (get more details at the Edenton Town Harbor). Several restaurants are within walking distance of the harbor, including Waterman’s Grill, featuring “Good Food. Good People. Good Times.
Speaking of boats, Albemarle Sportfishing Boats—which recently merged with Carolina Classic to create a new company called Albemarle Boats, The Carolina Classic—is based in Edenton and manufactures all of their offerings there. You can take a tour to see how the boats are made, from the mold that creates the hull and cabin features to the custom cabinetry and upholstery.
Before you leave the history and hospitality Edenton offers, take a ride out to Nixon Fishery. Bring a cooler and take a taste of Edenton home with you.
For additional information, go to VisitEdenton.com, or contact Nancy Nicholls, Tourism Director for the Chowan County Tourism Development Authority, at 800-775-0111 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.