Nestled on Albemarle Sound, two hours inland from the Outer Banks, Edenton was established by cotton and peanut farmers in the late seventeenth century and incorporated in 1722 as the first capital of the North Carolina colony. To this day, it feels a little more New England than Old South. A sizable portion of its architecture dates back to the eighteenth century, including the 1736 St. Paul’s Episcopal Church and the red-brick 1767 Chowan County Courthouse, the most intact colonial courthouse in the country.
Follow the city’s guided walking tour of historic buildings, or take the trolley from the courthouse to the Cupola House, an architecturally unique mansion built in 1758. It’s framed by the expansive Colonial Revival Gardens, filled with fruit trees, beds of herbs, and other plants botanists believe could have been grown here prior to 1800. For a taste of the true colonial spirit, head to the Barker House museum and welcome center, a 1782 residence overlooking the bay where former owner Penelope Barker organized the Edenton Tea Party to protest unfair British taxation. Next door stands the relatively new Roanoke River Lighthouse; built in 1886, it is believed to be one of the last remaining square-framed structures of its kind.
Where to Stay
Cotton Gin Inn / Set in a restored 1900 cotton plantation, this food-focused bed and breakfast offers organic breakfasts, locally sourced appetizers during cocktail hour, and special supper-club events open to the public. thecottongininn.com
Where to Eat
The 51 House / Enjoy steaks, seafood, and views of the Albemarle Sound at the site where Penelope Barker inspired more than fifty women to sign a petition pledging to boycott British goods. the51house.com
Where to Play
Paddling trails / Rent a canoe or kayak at the Edenton Town Harbor and explore the area’s natural history on its many scenic waterways. visitedenton.com
1767 Chowan County Courthouse
With its brick facade, window shutters, and signature bell tower—complete with a weather vane—this National Historic Landmark is a model of classic Georgian architecture. The oldest continuously operating government building in the state, it has also witnessed the formation of a colony, state, and nation. Lawyer Joseph Hewes, who helped build the courthouse, went on to sign the Declaration of Independence. During the revolution, future Governor and Senator Samuel Johnston practiced law in the central courtroom. The hall also hosted meetings of the Masons of Unanimity #7, of which George Washington was a member. The chair in which America’s first president sat is on display. While court cases are no longer heard here, county business is still conducted in the offices.