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Exploring the Past in North Carolina

Archaeology and History Sites in North Carolina

Bellamy Mansion

The neoclassical Bellamy Mansion in Wilmington was built between 1859 and 1861, just before the American Civil War. John D. Bellamy, who ordered its construction, came from a wealthy slave-owning family. Aside from the main house, several other buildings are also open to visitors, including the slave quarters and carriage house. After a devastating fire in 1972, the mansion was restored and opened to the public as a visitor attraction.

Cape Hatteras Light Station

The Cape Hatteras Light Station was built along an area of coastline known as the ‘Graveyard of the Atlantic’ for the large number of shipwrecks that occurred there. In 1803 a sandstone lighthouse was built along the coast but proved inadequate so was rebuilt in the late 1860s. In 1999 it was moved for preservation. It is now the tallest brick lighthouse in the United States, decorated in a distinctive black and white stripe pattern.

Duke Homestead and Tobacco Factory

Located in Durham, the Duke Homestead was built in the 1850s by the tobacco industrialist Washington Duke. After the farm was sacked by Union troops during the Civil War, the Duke family switched focus from tobacco growing to tobacco processing. Duke University bought the land in 1931. Several historic buildings are preserved on the site, including several barns and the homestead itself. Various special events take place throughout the year. Entry is free.

Fort Fisher

Fort Fisher near Wilmington was built by the Confederate Army in 1861. Amid the Civil War, they used this coastal fortification to defend trade entering and leaving the city along the Cape Fear River. The Union Army attacked the fort in December 1864 but was repelled by Confederate artillery. On their second attempt, in January 1865, Union troops successfully overwhelmed the fort and took the soldiers stationed there prisoner. Various earthworks survive.

Judaculla Rock

Judaculla Rock near Sylva is a large soapstone boulder onto which have been carved a range of mysterious petroglyphs. Much mystery still surrounds the origins of the carvings. The rock has spiritual significance among the Cherokee; it has been claimed that Judaculla was a giant in Cherokee legend. The single rock contains over 1500 motifs carved onto it, making it the most heavily decorated rock east of the Mississippi River.

Old Salem Museums and Gardens

The Old Salem Museums and Gardens scatter across the Old Salem Historic District in the city of Winston-Salem. In the 18th century, the area was settled by members of the Moravian Church who had migrated from Central Europe. Many buildings surviving from the 19th century have been conserved; reenactors in period costume help bring the past to life. Also present are a visitor’s centre and the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts.

Reed Gold Mine

The Reed Gold Mine in Midland is the site of the first documented commercial discovery of golf in the U.S. Following the initial discovery of a gold nugget in 1799, gold mining spread throughout North Carolina and into other southern states. Many people flooded into the region to work in the new mines, including those who had learned their skills in Cornwall. The mine ceased to be used in 1912.

St. Philip’s Church, Brunswick Town

Visitors to Brunswick Town can explore the ruins of St. Philip’s Church. The church was built in 1768, at which point it served as a place of worship for local Anglicans. Amid the American Revolutionary War, the British Army attacked the town in 1776 and destroyed the church. Its ruins are recognised as part of the Brunswick Town Historic District, along with other historic features in the area such as Fort Anderson.

Town Creek Indian Mound

The Town Creek Indian Mound near Mount Gilead represents a prehistoric platform mound that was once part of a village settlement. Human activity at the site took place between the 12th and 15th centuries. Archaeologists refer to the community who lived here as members of the Pee Dee culture, a part of the broader South Appalachian Mississippian culture. Archaeological excavation began in 1937 and has continued at intervals ever since.

Wright Brothers National Memorial

The Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kill Devil Hills marks the location where Wilbur and Orville Wright made the world’s first successful airplane flight in 1903. A stone monument erected in 1932 commemorates the momentous event and is accompanied by a replica of the timber hanger in which they stored their pioneering airplane. A visitor’s centre helps to explain the importance of the flight and the significance of what the Wrights achieved.

Popular Tours and Activities in North Carolina with GetYourGuide

Museums in North Carolina

Billy Graham Library

Perhaps the most famous American evangelist of the late 20th century, Billy Graham was a North Carolina native. This museum opened to the public in 2007; its gallery brings together a range of historical artefacts associated with Graham’s international ministry. Several historic buildings are also preserved on the site, including the home in which Graham grew up. Graham’s 2018 funeral took place on the grounds of the Library.

Cape Fear Museum

The Cape Fear Museum in Wilmington is the oldest history museum in North Carolina. The United Daughters of the Confederacy established the museum in 1898, although it moved to its current location, a 1930s armoury, in 1970. The museum examines both the natural history of the region and the story of its human habitation, stretching from prehistory through the American Revolution and onto recent events. A small exhibit focuses on North Carolina basketball star Michael Jordan.

Greensboro History Museum

The Greensboro History Museum occupies a Romanesque Revival-style Presbyterian church built in 1892. The building ceased being used as a church in 1929, after which it was ultimately converted into a museum of local history. As well as displaying a broad range of historic artefacts, from photographs to clothing, the museum also has life-size reconstructions of historic buildings, among them a 19th century schoolhouse and an upper-class dining room.

Horne Creek Living Historical Farm

The Horne Creek Living Historical Farm near Pinnacle in Surry County is a working farm that is maintained to retain the appearance that it might have had in the early 20th century. At the heart of the farm is the 19th century Hauser Farmhouse. Also present are a visitor’s centre and the Southern Heritage Apple Orchard, where around 400 species of apple are grown. Special events take place throughout the year.

International Civil Rights Center and Museum

Established in 2010, the International Civil Rights Center and Museum in Greensboro focuses attention on the African-American civil rights movement of the 1960s. The museum occupies the art deco Woolworth’s store where, in 1960, the Greensboro sit-in protest occurred. It helps to celebrate the event and impact on the civil rights movement. The building was threatened with demolition in the 1990s but saved and converted into the museum by campaigners.

Levine Museum of the New South

Located in Charlotte, the Levine Museum of the New South focuses on the heritage of the Piedmont Crescent area in the period following the American Civil War. Opened to the public in 1996, it has since expanded. Among the various displays of historical artefacts are reconstructions of an old cotton mill and mill house, the home of a tenant farmer, and an African-American hospital from the days of segregation.

Mountain Farm Museum and Mingus Mill

At the Oconaluftee river valley in the Great Smokey Mountains various historic timber buildings have been assembled since the 1950s, helping to preserve them for posterity. These include a log farmhouse, an apple storeroom, a barn, and a working smithy. Together, these make up the Mountain Farm Museum. Nearby stands Mingus Mill, a timber watermill built in 1886. An ideal site for anyone interested in the heritage of this beautiful mountain region.

North Carolina Museum of History

The North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh showcases the life and times of people who lived in this state in past centuries. Over 150,000 artefacts are now in its collection, which was begun in the late 19th century by the private collector Frederick Augustus Olds. One of its permanent exhibitions is the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame, established in 1963. The main displays are supplemented by temporary exhibitions throughout the year.

Oconaluftee Indian Village

At this open-air museum, visitors can immerse themselves in a reconstruction of a Cherokee settlement as it would have appeared in the 18th century. The Cherokee Historical Association run the village, which includes various domestic dwellings as well as work sites and spaces for ceremonial and religious activities. Reenactors dressed in period costume carry out traditional crafts, some of which are for sale. Lectures also take place on facets of Cherokee history.

Textile Heritage Museum

Learn more about the important role played by the North Carolina textile industry at the Textile Heritage Museum in Glencoe. Situated in a structure built in 1880, the museum hosts a collection drawn from cotton and textile mills across the state. This includes both textile objects and items used in their manufacture and sale. The museum is within the Glencoe Mill Village Historic District, which encompasses nearly fifty 19th century buildings.