As the esteemed second oldest town in North Carolina, as well as the original seat of North Carolina state government, New Bern has more than its fair share of educational sites and exhibits that will impress visitors from the inside and out.
Featuring dozens of museums and attractions, as well as ancient homes that span the centuries, New Bern is arguably the optimal destination for an education on regional and state-wide history.
But as essential as New Bern is to this region’s history, it’s also known for its miles of fun and fascinating locales. As a result, new visitors will discover that in this town, education and entertainment go hand in hand, as New Bern’s legacy is often illustrated through enticing exhibits, hands-on museums, and real-life representations where history seamlessly integrates with a modern age.
Take your explorations to a new level of enjoyment and enchantment, and further a local education with a visit to any of these essential New Bern destinations.
North Carolina History Center
One of New Bern’s richest destinations to soak up the local history and culture is also the newest, and the sprawling 60,000’ square foot North Carolina History Center is an essential spot for anyone who wants to learn more about this corner of the coastal North Carolina region. The $65 million dollar complex is actually home to a number of different and separate museums, which includes the Pepsi Family Center – an interactive site designed with kids in mind, and the Regional North Carolina History Museum, where the tale of the state is told from its pre-historic roots to its present day stature. The Duffy Exhibit Gallery is an additional unique component of the complex, thanks to its intricate array of exhibits that outline the talents of the region’s artists, and the on-site museum store and café ensures that everyone can enjoy a fully educational day of exploring, shopping, and dining, without ever leaving the site. From top to bottom, this new-in-2010 complex will thrill visitors of all ages and interests, and is already making a claim as the most educational, and most fun, destination in the heart of New Bern.
Tryon Palace and Gardens
Visitors can take a step back in history while admiring one of the grandest mansions in North Carolina with a visit to the sprawling and stunning Tryon Palace and Gardens. Located in the heart of the downtown area, this attraction centers on the original late 18th century Tryon Palace – which was carefully reconstructed in the 1950s by following the original plans. Once the home of the North Carolina Governor during the years before and after the American Revolution, the home is outfitted with a wealth of period antiques and costumed interpreters and / or volunteers, who explain the rich history and significance of the home in detail. In addition, the site has a number of original and replica outbuildings, as well as 16 acres of stunning gardens that represent more than three centuries of period plantings and landscapes. With centuries of history around every corner that ranges from 1700s furnishings to authentic domestic demonstrations, and a collection of historic homes and structures in the surrounding neighborhood that can also be toured, Tyron Palace and Gardens is a must-see destination for any visitor who wants to get to the root of North Carolina history.
New Bern Firemen’s Museum
The New Bern Firemen's Museum sheds light on a unique chapter of New Bern history – namely, its status as the home of the oldest fire department in North Carolina. Found in the heart of the downtown area in an original two-story firehouse, the New Bern Firemen's Museum is stuffed with unique memorabilia and exhibits that will make learning a joy for museum patrons of all ages. Kids and adults can check out centuries of historic fire engines, revisit the Great Fire of 1922 – the largest urban fire in North Carolina history, and even meet “Fred” a stuffed and legendary local fire house. With so many different stories and treasures that will keep everyone entertained, the New Bern Firemen's Museum earns its reputation as one of the most unique and altogether entertaining museums in the Inner Banks region.
Birthplace of Pepsi
New Bern is home to a lot of distinctive “firsts.” The town was the first capital of North Carolina, was the home of the first fire department, and was one of the first communities established in the state. But one of New Bern’s most unique claims to fame is its status as the birthplace of one of the world’s most famous beverages, Pepsi Cola. In 1893, a local pharmacist named Caleb Davis Bradham created a sweet and carbonated beverage that was made with a sugar surplus, and sold it to New Bern customers under the name of “Brad’s Drink.” In 1898, the name was changed to Pepsi Cola, and a legendary soda was officially born. The old drug store where the beverage was first created and served still stands, and modern day visitors can tour the site where Pepsi was invented with a visit to the now museum and shop. Within the downtown brick structure, visitors will find a world of Pepsi memorabilia such as old photos, newspaper articles, and other artifacts from Pepsi’s rise to fame. With original architecture throughout, and a real-life soda fountain on the premises so Pepsi lovers can grab a drink, the Birthplace of Pepsi store and museum is a distinctive must-stop attraction for history fans of all tastes.
New Bern Academy Museum
Technically part of the Tryon Palace and Gardens complex, the New Bern Academy Museum is a unique destination that shines a spotlight on local history both inside and out. Located in the central downtown region, this original 1809 brick structure was a school house for nearly two centuries, as well as a temporary hospital during the Civil War when Union Forces took up temporary residence in New Bern. Today, the former schoolhouse has been converted to a small museum, with four distinct exhibits housed within four original classrooms. The different rooms of displays concentrate on the Civil War, New Bern Architecture, and the history of the building itself, and feature fascinating stories of New Bern’s significance in coastal North Carolina. From the amazing architecture that has remained unchanged, to a wealth of period relics such as doctor’s instruments from the Civil War era, the New Bern Academy Museum boasts history around every corner, which makes it a fascinating and educational attraction for all varieties of New Bern visitors.
New Bern Battlefield Park
Visitors can trace the path of one of the most important Civil War battles in the Inner Banks with a visit to the New Bern Battlefield Park – a historic site that’s located just a few miles outside the New Bern town borders. The 30 acre field has remained unchanged since it first served as the site of the March 14th 1862 Battle of New Bern, and visitors can even still see the original trenches that were used more than 150 years ago. History buffs who pay a visit to the park can stop into the Visitor’s Center to learn more about the battle’s significance and the Union occupation that followed, or can trace the story of the Civil War in the Inner Banks region by following the “History Walk,” which is an interpretive trail with 35 distinctive panels that tell the story of the Civil War in New Bern. With a unique setting that includes wetlands and deep forests, and intricate details and artifacts including an 11.5 ton granite monument to the fallen soldiers, the history of New Bern is alive and continually fascinating at the distinctive New Bern Battlefield Park.
Bank of the Arts
With a historical setting and a rich and cultured interior that showcases New Bern’s brightest talents, the Bank of the Arts is a unique destination for a myriad of reasons. Located in the downtown region and serving as the home for the Craven Arts Council, this original 1913 former bank is an impressive site for fans of both historic architecture and modern arts and culture. The Bank of the Arts is home to an ever-changing series of exhibits from regional artists in a wide array of mediums, such as painting, sculpture, photography, pottery, and fiber art, and as a result, virtually every visit is an opportunity to discover a new southeastern United States talent. In addition to the regular exhibits, the Bank of the Arts is also a resource for new visitors who want to discover more about the vibrant New Bern arts scene, such as upcoming concerts and shows, special events, and even available art classes, which makes it a fantastic first stop for furthering an artistic education. With colorful displays and a wealth of info on local artistic happenings, the Bank of the Arts is a resource for budding artists and creatively inclined visitors alike.
New Bern Historic District
Take a stroll down any block in Downtown New Bern, and chances are you’ll encounter dozens of ancient brick buildings, historic residences, and charming antebellum mansions. These site and more all make up the expansive New Bern Historic District – a rich historical region that was established and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, and which features nearly 500 structures with construction dates that range from the Colonial era to the mid-1900s. The district contains a number of stunning examples of Victorian and Federal styles, which will delight architecture fans, and is easy to admire thanks to an expansive location that extends throughout the town of New Bern. Visitors can pick up maps and more information at local visitors’ centers, or can sign up for a walking or trolley tour to enjoy a full experience that uncovers the stories, legends and fascinating tales of this rich and cultured community.
Visitors who are enjoying an expedition through Downtown New Bern can pay a visit to one of the most distinctive cemeteries in the city with a stop at the Greenwood Cemetery. Located on the corner of Cypress and Bern Streets, this site is the first city-owned cemetery for African Americans, and is the second oldest public cemetery in New Bern, which in turn is the second oldest town in North Carolina. The markers and gravesites within the cemetery date back several centuries, and sites of note include the final resting place of James Edward O’Hara, a famous African American legislator from the postwar period, as well as the graves of five brave men who served in the U.S. Colored Troops during the Civil War.
Cedar Grove Cemetery
Visually stunning and historically rich, the Cedar Grove Cemetery is distinctive as the final resting place of hundreds of Confederate Veterans who lived in the New Bern region. The cemetery is found on the corner of Queen and George Streets in the downtown region, and is easy to spot thanks to massive trees that are dripping with Spanish moss, as well as a towering monument / statue that serves as a Confederate Memorial, and which depicts a Confederate soldier guarding his fallen colleagues. Because of its ties to the Civil War and its impressive landscape, the Cedar Grove Cemetery is a must-see destination for Military History buffs of all varieties.
The Attmore-Oliver House is a stunning and historical residence in the heart of New Bern that is owned by the New Bern Historical Society, and which is open for guided tours. Famed among ghost hunters as one of the most haunted houses in the region, the Broad Street residence was first constructed in 1790, and was enlarged in the 1830s to include three stories, massive brick fireplaces, and expansive porches on the front and back of the property. Originally built for local resident Samuel Chapman, a retired officer in the Continental army during the Revolutionary War and a clerk of the Craven County Supreme Court, the property is outfitted with rooms of period antiques as well as centuries of history and fascinating stories. The home is open for self-guided tours from Monday through Friday, and is a striking example of how New Bern’s elite residences lived in the first century of this historic town’s existence.
John Wright Stanly House
The John Wright Stanly House, which is part of Tryon Palace and Gardens complex, is distinctive as one of the oldest residences in New Bern and was designed by architect John Hawkes, who also created the plans for the original Tryon Palace. Constructed around 1779, the home is hard to miss thanks to a stately appearance that features two stories within a Georgian style frame dwelling, and a locale in the heart of the downtown area. Moved to the downtown spot in 1965, the home served as a private residence as well as a library before finally being restored and added to the complex of Tryon Palace properties. Open seasonally for tours and special events, the home that’s stocked with period antiques is a fine representation of early life for prominent New Bern residents.
Visitors driving along US Highway 17 just a few miles away from New Bern will surely notice the stately Foscue Plantation house - a modest but remarkable two story brick plantation home on the edge of the Trent River that was built in 1824 by Simon Foscue, Jr. Still in exceptional condition since it was first constructed, the Foscue Plantation remained in the Foscue family for nine generations and was added to the National Register of Historical Places in 1971. Now open for tours, and still outfitted with rooms full of period antiques, visitors can explore a myriad of sites and components of the property that represent what southern life was like in the 1800s, and which includes a working basement, three stories of living space, a family cemetery, a garden, forest, and acres of plantation land bordering the river. With plenty to see and a convenient locale on the edge of the main route that hugs the North Carolina coastline, the Foscue Plantation is a fun stop during any tour of the New Bern area.
East Carolina Aviation Exhibit, Havelock
Take a trip to Havelock – a popular town just a 20-30 minute drive away – to dive into the history of aviation in the Coastal Carolina region with a visit to the East Carolina Aviation Exhibit. Located within the sprawling Tourist & Event Center, which is a fine resource for new Havelock visitors who want to discover the different things to see and do, the exhibit highlights the roots of local Havelock and aviation history, which includes the incorporation of the town, as well as the community’s status as home to one of the largest and oldest Marine Air Corps bases in the United States. A wealth of exhibits and artifacts are on display, which includes authentic and historic aircraft both within the building, and on the surrounding grounds. From replicas of Civil War forts to modern day instruments and technology that today’s aviation heroes use, the East Carolina Aviation Exhibit is a fine destination to learn about the Inner Banks’ most recent role in military and regional history.
Aurora Fossil Museum
Take a drive to the nearby town of Aurora to discover one of the state’s most fascinating natural science museums, the Aurora Fossil Museum. Featuring a huge array of natural treasures and marine fossils from a neighboring phosphate mine, visitors can explore a wide array of relics that can date back millions of years, and which include shimmering gem stones, fossils from around the world, and even a “shark hall” that has massive teeth from one of the most ferocious creatures ever to patrol the earth - the C. Megalodon. The hundreds if not thousands of fossils on display are an educational treat in their own right, but visitors of all ages – and especially young explorers – will want to reserve some time to check out the on-site fossil pits, where a myriad of treasures can be discovered. The remains of ancient sharks, whales, corals, and seashells can all be uncovered in these massive fossil piles, which visitors can then take home as a free and natural souvenir. Fascinating inside and out, the Aurora Fossil Museum is a must-see destination for naturalists and budding archeologists of all ages.
North Carolina Estuarium
Take a trip to the nearby town of historic Washington, NC, and discover a site that pays homage to the countless ecosystems and species that call the Pamlico and Tar River landscapes home. The North Carolina Estuarium is a sprawling complex on the edge of the river that outlines the history of the Pamlico/Tar River estuary, which is where the local North Carolina rivers meet the sea. On the premises, visitors can admire a number of local aquariums, watch informative videos on the local habitats this region has to offer, and even observe the local wildlife up close and personal by taking a stroll on the river walk, which hovers above the water. Seasonal boat tours are also available for amazing views of the local environments, and a gift shop is also on-site which boasts a wealth of unique and wild treasures. With so much to see and do through on-site exhibits and area river tours, the North Carolina Estuarium is a unique destination that will impress nature fans of all ages.
North Carolina Maritime Museum
The nearby town of Beaufort, which is found on the edge of the Crystal Coast, is home to one of the most popular museums in the Southern Outer Banks – the North Carolina Maritime Museum. This stately museum that’s found in the heart of Downtown Beaufort features a wealth of exhibits that trace the maritime history of the region, from the earliest Native Americans who thrived on the local hunting and fishing opportunities, to modern day commercial fishermen who continue to carve out a life by the water. With intricate displays that include seashells from 150 countries around the world, relics from the Civil War, and even artifacts from Blackbeard the Pirate’s famous ship the Queen Anne’s Revenge, the North Carolina Maritime Museum is a fascinating destination that offers a wealth of information on more than 300 years of waterfront history. Before a visit, be sure and check for corresponding special events, like special guest lectures on different chapters of local history, kids’ programs, and the museum’s famed “Build a Boat in a Day” workshop, which is regularly held throughout the year.
History Museum of Carteret County
Centuries of local history can be discovered in-depth with a visit to the History Museum of Carteret County. Located in the town of Morehead City, which is roughly a 45 minute drive away from Beaufort, this museum is a fine destination for everyday explorers and researchers alike, thanks to an extensive on-site research library with more than 10,000 documents, publications, photographs, and other first-hand relics. In addition, the museum itself has ever-changing exhibits that can include memorabilia and personal accounts, period clothing, ancient Civil War artifacts, and much more, making every visit an opportunity to learn more about this storied region of the North Carolina coastline. With countless pieces and displays that trace the roots of Carteret County, a trip to the History Museum is a historic step back in time that is entertaining for visitors of all ages.
Tips and Tricks for enjoying the Educational Activities of New Bern
- Want to learn more about the story of North Carolina’s second oldest town? Then sign up for a tour. New Bern offers a wealth of walking tours, trolley tours, and even boat tours that head to the most historically rich regions of the city, and which share a wealth of unique stories that this community has to offer.
- New visitors can learn more about the educational options – which includes historic sites, museums, and other points of interest – with a visit to the sprawling New Bern Visitors Center and Conference Center. With plenty of brochures, guide books, maps, and more info available, this downtown destination will introduce newcomers to all the educational things to see and do around the town.
- Be sure and check out the individual events calendars at local museums and points of interest to make the most out of your upcoming educational explorations. Many area sites offer special programs such as classes for kids, guest lectures, and even craft or arts projects, which can make a visit even more engaging and fun.
- Want to pick up an educational souvenir or two to take home? Check out the local book stores and antique shops. The downtown area is home to an eclectic collection of stores that can boast vintage treasures, area guide books, and everything in between.
From incredible museums to centuries-old homes, New Bern is the perfect destination to further a North Carolina education. Make your upcoming vacation both memorable and an authentic learning experience, and discover all the ways that New Bern makes an area education miles of fun.