For much of the 1700s Edenton stood in the first rank of towns, not just in North Carolina but in America as well. The town site was one of the first in the colony and in 1722 the village was incorporated and named for Royal Governor Charles Eden. For the next twenty years the royal governor lived here, establishing Edenton as the colonial capital.
Edenton flourished with artisans setting up shop on its streets while goos from across the British empire crossed its docks. While two busy shipyards were turning out considerable ships the town was giving America - and its growing desire for independence - citizens of importance. In 1774, fifty-one women in Edenton signed a protest petition agreeing to boycott English tea and other products. The Edenton Tea Party was the first political action by women in the American colonies and its impact indeed resonated in London.
Other prominent Edentonians included Joseph Hewes, a merchant prince and one of the wealthiest men in the colonies, whose contribution to the cause for independence led to his reputation as the “Father of the American Navy.” James Iredell, an Edenton native, was the youngest member appointed to the first United States Supreme Court by George Washington. A fellow justice, James Wilson, a signer of both the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution, was a regular visitor to Edenton and died here in 1798. Samuel Johnston was a local planter and the first United States Senator from North Carolina.
Ultimately, Edenton’s prominence faded rapidly. A hurricane silted the Roanoke Inlet in 1795 and closed the port’s easy access to the sea. When the new-fangled railroad came on the scene a few decades later townsfolk wanted no part of it. The world literally and figuratively passed Edenton by. There would eventually be a cotton mill and the state’s busiest peanut plant but for the most part the tiny town on a peninsula formed by Pembroke and Queen Anne’s creeks went about its business in anonymity.
With the recent emergence of heritage tourism, Edenton’s rich 18th century history suddenly became fashionable. The entire town has been declared an historic district and our hunt for landmarks will begin with a buffeting by the breezes from the Edenton Bay...
Edenton Harbor and Colonial Park
South Broad Street
Today a placid waterside park, this was an altogether different place during the Civil War. Bells were donated by various town insittutions to be melted down into bronze cannon. One, the St. Paul, came from St. Paul’s Episcopal Church and another, the Edenton, came from Choctaw County Court House.
Also located in the park is the Roanoke River Lighthouse, constructed in 1887 with each piling screwed directly into the river bed to keep it secure in heavy storms. Believed to be the last extant example in the United States of a rectangular frame building built for a screw-pile base, the lighthouse was in commission until 1941. A private owner moved the structure to his property in Edenton and in 2007 the Edenton Historical Commission bought the Lighthouse for $225,000 and paid $75,000 to move it to Colonial Park.
WALK OVER TO THE FOOT OF BROAD STREET AT EDENTON BAY.
509 South Broad Street
Penelope Barker was the reputed leader of the Edenton Tea Party in 1774; her husband Thomas Barker, planter and lawyer, built this house on a spacious five-lot plot three blocks further up Broad Street in 1782. At the time it consisted of four rooms and no entry hall. The house was expanded to its current size in the 1820s. After spending over 120 years in the family of Augustus Moore and his descendants the house was moved to its primo waterfront location in 1952 and renovated to serve as the town visitor center.
WITH YOUR BACK TO THE WATER AND THE BARKER HOUSE ON YOUR RIGHT, WALK UP BROAD STREET TO WATER STREET AND TURN RIGHT.
French Cannons on Edenton Bay
East Water Street at Courthouse Green
In the early days of the Revolutionary War Benjamin Franklin and two emissaries from Edenton arranged for the shipment of 23 cannon from France aboard The Holy Heart of Jesus. When ship captain William Boritz arrived at Edenton he demanded a transportation fee of 150 pounds for every 100 pounds of cannon. The ransom was non-negotiable and Boritz dumped his cargo in the bay. Six were hauled up for use during the Civil War and after Federal troops put them out of commission they observed that the cannon were a greater danger to the men behind them than to the enemy in front. Three cannon were mounted on this site in 1928.
WITH YOUR BACK TO THE WATER, WALK INTO COURTHOUSE GREEN.
between Water Street and King Street
This has been a public open space since the town was laid out in 1712. The green was terraced in 1961 and given a more formal appearance. The marble monument was sited here in 1932 and honors Joseph Hewes who came to Edenton in 1763 at the age of 33 and built a mercantile empire with a large fleet of ships - all of which he risked when he affixed his name to the Declaration of Independence as a delegate to the Continental Congress from North Carolina. In 1779 Hewes collapsed in Congress and eventually died in Philadelphia at the age of 49 - the second signer of the Declaration to die.
ON YOUR LEFT IS...
East Water Street at Courthouse Green
The core of this house dates to the 1770s when it was constructed by merchant Robert Smith. At one time the double porches that look out on Edenton Bay extended on all four sides, a common feature of Colonial homes in the West Indies.
Edenton Tea Pot
west side of Courthouse Green
After British Parliament passed the Tea Act in 1773 protests and boycotts percolated throughout the American colonies, most famously in Boston harbor. The Edenton Tea Party became a landmark because it was organized by women. Penelope Barker led 51 women in signing a statement of protest vowing to give up tea and boycott other British products “until such time that all acts which tend to enslave our Native country shall be repealed.” Their actions inspired other women to take up boycotts as well.
AT THE HEAD OF THE GREEN IS...
Chowan County Courthouse
East King Street at Court Street
After tiring of holding political and social meetings in private homes the Edenton Assembly mandated that a courthouse be built in 1712. A wooden structure was ready by 1718 but a more satisfactory building replaced it in 1724. This cupola-topped courthouse, magnificently sited at the head of a broad lawn facing Edenton Bay, was ready in 1767 and hosted patriots Joseph Hewes, Samuel Johnston and James Iredell in the incendiary days leading up to the American Revolution. Architecturally, with its beautiful proportions and exquisite Flemish bond brickwork it doesn’t get any better for Georgian public buildings in the South. Although Edenton constructed a more modern courthouse in 1979, the historic Chowan County Courthouse remains in use and is the oldest government building in North Carolina.
BEHIND THE COURTHOUSE IS...
Chowan County Jail
East King Street
Behind the courthouse was the jail complex. Tis is the fifth county jail to stand here and operated from 1825 until 1979. The jailer lived right here as well; the residence seen today dates to the early 1900s.
WALK BACK OUT TO THE FRONT OF THE COURTHOUSE. FACING THE WATER, TURN RIGHT ON EAST KING STREET.
109 East King Street
This was the Bay View Hotel when it was constructed in 1885. In 1926 it received a workmanlike make-over in 1926 by contractor Lord Byron Perry from Elizabeth City and re-emerged as the Hotel Hinton. Perry gave the brick hotel a modest central entrance with a colonnade of Doric columns. The Hotel Hinton offered 82 rooms and nearly every one boasted its own bathroom with hot and cold water - just like its big-city cousins. In 1960 Chowan County purchased the property and converted it into office space.
CROSS BROAD STREET.
James Iredell, Jr. Law Office
104 West King Street
The core of this building is Edenton’s oldest commercial structure, erected as a store in 1802 by Edmund Hoskins. It was enlarged when it became the law offices for James Iredell, Jr., in the years before he became North Carolina governor and then United States senator.
114 West King Street
This imposing Federal-style began life in 1810 as a house and private bank for John Blount. In 1816 the Bank of North Carolina purchased the property and operated it as a branch into the 1830s. William Badham acquired the property in 1855 and converted the structure back into a residence while greatly expanding it - the brick vault remains, however.
121 West King Street
This North Carolina landmark Greek Revival home, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was constructed in 1850. It sports two-story porticos with Doric and Corinthian columns and boasts eight Italian marble fireplaces inside. The house wound through the same family for almost 160 years until it had to be rescued by Edenton preservationists.
120 West King Street
This 1850 villa, probably adapted from popular architectural pattern books of the day, is often cited as the most opulent house ever built in Edenton. Wessington was built for Thomas D. Warren, a doctor and plantation owner. One of his paddlewheel steamboats used for passenger and cargo transportation in the Albemarle Sound was taken into the Confederate Navy in 1861. During the Battle for Roanoke Island on February 8, 1862 the CSS Curlew was run aground and burned. The wreck was discovered in 1988. The house, meanwhile passed to Pauline Carrington and Cameron Shephard. It would remain in that family, descendants of George Washington, for 122 years and in the 1940s it was named Wessington after the General’s ancestral English home.
TURN RIGHT ON GRANVILLE STREET.
304 Granville Street
George Franklin Barber, working out of Knoxville, Tennessee and busy in the Alamance region, became one of America’s most successful residential architects in the late 1800s, primarily through his plans published in catalogues and his own magazine. It is estimated that Barber sold some 20,000 sets of house plans, most for the then-popular Queen Anne style. This is considered one of his designs, form 1895. Although the house does not display the asymmetrical massing seen in Queen Anne homes it does boast the turned post-wrap-arond porch, fish-scale shingles and attached turreted porch emblematic of the style.
Edenton Baptist Church
200 South Granville Street
This is the third meetinghouse for the congregation that organized in 1817. The brick Colonial Revival structure topped by a large copper dome was constructed between 1916 and 1920.
Granville Queen Inn
108 South Granville Street
This Neoclassical house from 1907 with its overpowering full-length Tuscan portico is sometimes referred to as a Southern Colonial mansion. It has since been turned into an upscale inn.
TURN RIGHT ON CHURCH STREET.
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
100 West Church Street
This is the second oldest church standing in North Carolina and the oldest in regular use. The original St. Paul’s, a small wooden affair, was raised in 1702 as the first church in North Carolina. The first Flemish bond brick courses were laid on this building in 1736 but services were not held until 1760. The finishing touches on the interior woodwork would not take place until 1774. The entrance is through the base of the broad steeple, considered an ideal proportion fro a village church. In the churchyard are buried the proprietary Governors Henderson Walker, Thomas Pollock, and Charles Eden.
Edenton Post Office
100 North Broad Street at Church Street
This Depression-era project brought Edenton its first dedicated post office. The symmetrically proportioned Colonial Revival brick post office was built in 1931 on plans drawn up in the office of James Wetmore, Supervising Architect of the United States Treasury.
CROSS BROAD STREET.
James Iredell, Sr. House
105 East Church Street
James Iredell arrived in Edenton in 1768 at the age of 17 to assume the position of comptroller of customs for Port Roanoke. Two year slater he was admitted to the North Carolina bar and by the age of 26 he was a superior court judge and before he was 40 James Iredell was sitting on the first United States Supreme Court in 1790. He moved into this house in 1778, purchasing it from Joseph Whedbee, a silversmith. The earliest part of the house has been pegged at 1759, built by John Wilkins.
109 and 111 East Church Street
The first legislative enactment for the promotion of schools in North Carolina was a bill to erect a schoolhouse in Edenton, adopted by the assembly in 1745. The first classes in the private Edenton Academy took place in 1770 but it did not become a going concern until 1800. Girls were admitted ten years later. The Academy was absorbed into the Edenton public school system in the early 1900s. The original 1800 school building had been replaced by a rambling Victorian structure in 1895 and in 1906 it was cut and half, moved across the street to this location and turned into residences.
TURN RIGHT ON COURT STREET.
Edenton Graded School
101 Court Street
This was the town site for education for almost two hundred years until the 1980s. This Neoclassical school building was the third to stand here, constructed in 1916. When a new high school was built in the 1950s this was converted to an elementary school and re-named for former principal Ernest A. Swain. Today the brick building is serving as apartments and a gallery for the Chowan Arts Council.
TURN RIGHT ON QUEEN STREET. TURN LEFT ON BROAD STREET.
208 South Broad Street
This small-town movie palace opened in 1925 by Samuel Taylor. It features a wide, single-story entrance swathed in white terra-cotta with a full-width balustrade decorated with urns and a swag motif. To the rear is the two-story brick theater. Charles Collins Benton, a prolific Wilson architect, who occasionally dabbled in theater design, is credited with building the Taylor Theater. Despite financial rough patches through the years and alterations to the theater, the Taylor is still screening movies.
Citizens Bank Building
216 South Broad Street
Wilson architect Charles Benton delivered this Neoclassical presence to the Edenton streetscape in 1924 for the Citizens Bank. It features fluted Doric pilasters around the first of three floors.
A.T. Bush Building
315 South Broad Street
This two-story, three-bay commercial building from 1889 is typical of the type found in small-town North Carolina during the Victorian era with a recessed entrance and newly popular display windows. The facade boasts decorative pressed metal.
322 South Broad Street
William J. Leary, a physician and druggist, constructed this brick store building in 1872, in his 50th year. It remained in the family until 1920 and done duty mostly as a bank ever since.
Edenton Town Hall
400 South Broad Street
This Neoclassical building with its quartet of full-height Corinthian columns began its journey to Town Hall one hundred years ago as the Second Bank of Edenton. A post office was attached in 1920. It has been the home of the town government since the 1980s.
J.N. Leary Building
421 South Broad Street
The town’s standout commercial downtown building in the 21st century was built by J.N. Leary in 1894. This was one of several rental properties developed by Leary around Edenton - a common tale until you realize that J.N. Leary was Josephine Napoleon Leary - both female and African–American. She sold these properties in 1922 before she died the following year at age 67.
408 South Broad Street
This is one of the most loved and most scrutinized houses in North Carolina. After decades and decades of obfuscating local legend and lore an extensive dendrochronology procedure was conducted in 1991 to definitively date the yellow pine timbers inside the Cupola House. The conclusion? The house was constructed in 1758 making it the oldest in town. The original owner was Francis Corbin, land agent for the last of the English Lords Proprietors, Robert Carteret, Earl of Granville. In 1918, in dire financial straits, the first floor was stripped of its elaborate Georgian woodwork which was sold to the Brooklyn Museum. Horrified townsfolk quickly assembled one of North Carolina’s first preservation groups, purchased the property and eventually reconstructed that lost first floor in the 1960s.
CONTINUE WALKING A FEW MORE STEPS DOWN BROAD STREET TO THE WATERFRONT AND THE TOUR STARTING POINT.