We’d gone into the visitor center in Columbia, North Carolina, for a quick stop before Somerset, but had gotten waylaid by an alligator.
There was a nature loop that went from the center, through a swamp and along the river. There resided an alligator which, said a visitor center employee, several recent visitors had sighted. Mr. History Tourist and I had never seen an alligator in the wild, so we decided to go on an alligator hunt. Ultimately, though, the only thing we found was misery. The flies and mosquitoes were so thick through the swamp that we gave up before any alligator encounter.
But that’s why we didn’t get to Edenton until 3:30. Edenton, founded in 1712, is a small waterside town often said to be one of the prettiest in the US. It’s located about 20 miles north of Somerset. Our intention had been to spend the morning at Somerset and the afternoon in Edenton. So much for intentions.
Edenton’s historic properties all closed at 4:00. So. “I’d suggest you go to the lighthouse,” said the employee at the Historic Edenton visitor center. “It’s small enough that if you go right now, you’ll have time for the tour.”
The Roanoke River Lighthouse, now sitting on the waterfront in downtown Edenton, was originally located further up river, where the Roanoke River meets Albemarle Sound. It’s the cottage style building two photos above.
This iteration of the lighthouse is the third. The 1835 original was purposely scuttled during the Civil War to discourage blockage runners and the second destroyed by fire in 1885. The current structure, built in 1887, operated until 1941.
In 1995 it was bought by a private citizen and moved to mainland Edenton, where it served as residential rental property. After he died, it was bought by the Edenton Historical Commission and moved to its current location at the harbor in downtown Edenton, and restored. The curator tasked with the interior restoration sent out a mass mailing to the residents of the local area, asking for donations of 19th century furnishings. She was inundated and that, according to the tour guide, was how they furnished the keeper’s area.
From the lighthouse, we went a few hundred feet to the Penelope Barker House Welcome Center, which was opened until 5:00. You can see its back/land-side in the photo with the lighthouse.
Penelope Barker was born in 1728 and widowed three times, each husband leaving her wealthier than the last. She’s credited with leading the 1774 “Edenton Tea Party,” in which 51 women from Edenton signed a petition that pledged not to buy or use British goods. It was one of the first coordinated political efforts by women in the American colonies.
Penelope and her third husband, Thomas, started this house in 1782 and it’s been expanded through the years. Originally located two blocks north, it was rolled to its present site in 1952. It now houses a welcome center, an event space, exhibit space (there was an exhibit on historic Edenton women when we were there) and a museum store.
After the Barker House, we walked a block to Edenton’s historic main street, where we had an acceptable but not particularly memorable seafood dinner at the Waterman’s Grill. Even the shops had closed by the time we were done, but we took a stroll along the street anyway.
You may be able to see the name “J.M. Leary” and the date 1894 on the buildings in the photo above. Josephine Leary had been born enslaved in 1856, but by the time she died in 1923, she’d become a wealthy real estate mogul. She had these buildings built as business rental properties.
The last place we wandered passed, on our way back to the lighthouse car park, was the 1758 Cupola House. Its website says that it’s “considered the finest wooden example of the Jacobian style of architecture in the South.”
I’d wanted to stay in Edenton the weekend that we’d arrived in North Carolina, but there’d been a bicycle rally in town and no hotel rooms to be had. So I’ll have to come back, for a longer-than-a-partial-day stay, to bask in its historic charm and to see all the historic sites that I didn’t get to visit.