It’s easy to see why Edenton, North Carolina, has been dubbed one of the South’s prettiest towns. Its tree-lined streets, historic homes, walkable downtown, and location on Albemarle Sound invite visitors to enjoy its hospitality.

Edenton’s allure also lies within its place in the history books. It’s a community of firsts, including the state’s first permanent settlement and first Colonial capital. North Carolina’s oldest known house, the Lane House, built in 1718, can be found here. And, the town lays claim to the first political action by women in the colonies. Joseph Hewes, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, also called this home.

Within 1 square mile, Edenton, a four-hour drive from Washington, D.C., has more than 170 historically important buildings, many from the 18th and 19th centuries. Most of these architectural gems are located within a few-block radius of the town’s center.

“You can park your car upon arrival and explore the area from your choice of inns located within the historic district in our downtown, one of North Carolina’s Main Street Communities,” said Nancy Nicholls, who promotes the area. “Unique shops, art galleries, and dining options await your perusal.”

Discovering the past

Guided walking tours start at the Historic Edenton State Historic Site on North Broad Street. At this visitor information center, located in the 1892 Louis F. Zeigler House, you can view a short informational video and exhibits on the town’s history.

Daily tours visit several historic sites, including St. Paul’s Episcopal Church (circa 1736), North Carolina’s second-oldest church; the James Iredell Sr. House (circa 1773), once home to a justice of the first U.S. Supreme Court; and the Cupola House (circa 1758), a Jacobean-style home with an octagonal cupola and Colonial Revival flower gardens. A tour highlight is the 1767 Chowan County Courthouse, the country’s oldest courthouse still in use. 

“Edenton was originally known as the Town on Queen Anne’s Creek,” explained Keith Furlough, a historic site interpreter. “After the death of Charles Eden, North Carolina’s first governor, the name was changed to Edenton. It was one of the first four towns established in the state.”

Edenton Historic Trolley Tours depart from the waterfront near the Penelope Barker House, which serves as the Edenton Welcome Center. In 1774, Penelope Barker rallied 50 local women to boycott English tea and other high-priced goods in what became known as the Edenton Tea Party.

The narrated trolley tour travels by many of the same sites as the walking tour, but also through the Edenton Cotton Mill Historic District, consisting of 57 early-20th-century millworkers’ houses, an office building, factory, and church. On weekends, the Edenton Cotton Mill Museum of History is open in the former mill office with displays of artifacts, photographs, and news clippings about the mill (which operated for more than a century), the mill village, and restoration efforts.

Edenton’s maritime heritage

After the 50-minute trolley tour, meander through Colonial Waterfront Park, where interpretive plaques tell the stories of the town’s maritime history and role in the Maritime Underground Railroad.

One of those Underground Railroad stories belongs to Harriet Jacobs. Born a slave, she escaped in 1842 via this network after hiding in her grandmother’s attic for years to avoid an abusive master.

Insider tip: Ask at the visitor center about the Harriet Jacobs’ tour.

The Roanoke River Lighthouse, built in 1886, was moved from its Roanoke River location to the Edenton waterfront in 1995. It is a screwpile lighthouse, a type familiar to lighthouse lovers in the Chesapeake Bay region. The one-and-a-half-story Arts and Crafts bungalow, open for tours, is furnished with circa-1915 mail-order items.

From the waterfront, head up Broad Street, the town’s main street, to shop at Edenton Bay Trading Company and other boutique shops, or to catch a movie at the restored 1929 Taylor Theater. Or, stop by the Chowan Arts Council, Edenton’s only nonprofit arts gallery, to view works of local and regional artists.

Winding down

For casual dining, try the Garden of Readin’, a used book store and tearoom, or 309 Bistro and Spirits. Other dining options include Waterman’s Grill, renowned for seafood, and The Table at Inner Banks Inn, which serves American regional fusion cuisine and has an exceptional Sunday brunch.

Inner Banks Inn, which is pet friendly, has a variety of accommodations in several historic buildings. Or, make a reservation at the Captain’s Quarters Inn or Granville Queen, both located in Edenton’s historic district.

“Edenton is a perfect getaway, where 300 years of history meets relaxation on and off the water,” Nicholls said.

For more information

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