Some vibrant – and not so vibrant – county seats

Published 3:29 pm Tuesday, August 8, 2023

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Whiteville was my last stop on July 3, probably the hottest day of my statewide challenge so far.

Whiteville is the county seat of Columbus County, centered around the old courthouse, built in 1914-1915 and currently undergoing a major remodeling.

Columbus County was created in 1808. In 1810, a community was planned on land owned by James B. White and originally called White’s Crossing. A post office called Whiteville started in 1821 and the town was incorporated in 1832.

The Union army sacked the town late in the Civil War.

Whiteville hosts the Pecan Harvest Festival annually. Vineland Station, the town’s depot built in 1903 and one of the state’s first brick depots, serves as Whiteville’s Civic Center. Several old churches and a bank building caught my eye, as did some historic houses within a couple blocks of the courthouse.

Nashville, county seat of Nash County, was first called Nash Court House and then became Nashville in 1780 and got a post office in 1805.

Nashville features many historic homes. The town and its county were named for Francis Nash, who was mortally wounded at the Battle of Germantown, Pa. while in command of N.C. troops during the Revolutionary War.

The first courthouse was completed in 1778 and a historical marker denotes the ghost of the pastor convicted for murder who still inhabits it. The next Nash County courthouse was built in 1921 and a newer one is now in use.

Nashville hosts the Blooming Festival each spring and Gov. Roy Cooper was born here.

Next up was the town of Washington, county seat of Beaufort County. I had heard of it for years but had never stopped in.

Washington is located on the northern bank of the Pamlico River. It is commonly called “Original Washington” or “Little Washington” to distinguish it from Washington, D.C.

Established in 1776 on land donated by Col. James Bonner, Washington is the first city named after George Washington, the first United States president.

Washington has many historical buildings, some from colonial times. The North Carolina Estuarium has more than 200 scientific exhibits along the Pamlico River that includes a ¾-mile boardwalk. The waterfront area is beautiful and had plenty of boats parked in the dock areas.

The courthouse was built about 1786 and was originally 42 feet by 42 feet but expanded later. It is one of the oldest public buildings in N.C.

The 1913 Turnage Theatre has been renovated from a vaudeville/movie theater to a center for performing arts.

A cannonball from Union Army guns during an attack on Washington is displayed in an attorney’s office downtown.

Dominique Wilkens, NBA Hall of Famer, who was called the “Human Highlight Film” for his thunderous dunks in the NBA, is from Washington.

The Bank of Washington, built in 1852, is still in use but I don’t think it’s still a bank.

Washington was seized by Union troops in March 1862 and Confederate efforts to recapture it failed. The Union troops withdrew in April 1864.

The First Presbyterian Church was built in 1823, rebuilt in 1871 and restored in 1954.

My next county seat was Bayboro, county seat of Pamlico County at the headwaters of the Bay River.

Bayboro is a small residential, agricultural, fishing and commercial community. Bayboro was named for the Bay River and settled long before it was incorporated in 1881. It is the oldest incorporated town in the county and was the first to have town water.

Its location is based on waterway commerce and commercial fishing associated with the town’s Bay River Harbor during colonial times. During that time, waterway traffic was the main source of moving goods and commerce to Pamlico County. The courthouse did not appear to be historic.

I drove on to New Bern, county seat of Craven County. New Bern was founded in October 1710 by Swiss colonists who named their settlement after Bern, Switzerland where many of them came from. New Bern is the second-oldest European settled colonial town in North Carolina, after Bath.

It served as the capital of North Carolina from 1770 to 1792. After the Revolutionary War, New Bern became wealthy and quickly developed a rich cultural life.

When Raleigh was named the state capital, New Bern rebuilt its economy by expanding trade routes to the Caribbean and New England. James Davis was the first printer and first postmaster of the colony of North Carolina and owner of the North-Carolina Gazette, North Carolina colony’s first newspaper.

In 1862, Union forces captured New Bern and held it until after the end of the war. Over 10,000 slaves escaped under the protection of the army.

By 1890, New Bern had become one of the largest lumber producers in the south, but that business gradually dried up.

New Bern has an especially interesting fire department history. The manned fire service began in 1845. It was taken over by Union soldiers during their Civil War occupation, and then service moved on to steam fire trucks and then motorized trucks in 1914. All this can be seen in a fantastic fire museum.

Late in the afternoon, I tried to get some pictures of Tryon Palace, used by the British governors from 1770-1775. It was seized by American patriots early in the Revolutionary War and accidentally burned in 1792. The palace has been restored for tours, but the gates were closed for the day.

I made my last stop of the day in Trenton, the county seat of Jones County, and another small town with little information available.

Jones County is the fourth least populous county in N.C. The Jones County courthouse was built in 1939. The economy has been based on lumber and tobacco. Late in the afternoon, I found a historic church under construction and a historic water powered mill.

At the end of the day, I had completed 85 county seats and 9.3 miles on my feet.

See you soon with more eastern counties.