Englishman John Lawson, Surveyor General of North Carolina, was the driving force behind the founding of New Bern. On March 8, 1705, Bath became the first town incorporated in what was to become North Carolina. Part of the incorporated land was owned by Lawson. He became one of the first town commissioners. In 1709 he published a book about his adventures entitled A Voyage to Carolina.
While back in London to publicize A New Voyage to Carolina, Lawson sweet-talked a Swiss town official, Christoph von Graffenried, into founding a new colony on the Carolina lands. Lawson knew just the spot - a bluff above where the Neuse and Trent rivers flowed. Lured by the promise of cheap land and the dream of silver mines, von Graffenried organized a group of 650 displaced German Palantines hoping for religious freedom to the New World. In January 1710 he sent two ships of settlers ahead. Disease ravaged the expedition and what wasn’t claimed by illness was plundered by a French vessel in the Chesapeake Bay.
Lawson laid out the town with the principal streets in the form of a crucifix, one running northwest from the rivers’ junction and a traverse road, which was fortified with ramparts, running from river to river. When de Graffenried arrived in September 1710 he name the town for his country’s capital, Bern. The settlement was under constant threat by Tuscarora Indians and in 1711 Lawson and de Graffenried were captured while on a canoe trip up the Neuse River. Lawson was tortured to death and de Graffenried freed presumably because he was so well dressed the Tuscarora mistook him for someone who could keep peace (de Graffenried’s being the only account of the incident to survive.)
It was enough for the Swiss who sold his holdings in the enterprise to Thomas Pollock and by 1714 had left these shores forever. The Tuscarora too had been dispatched by this time - defeated and off to New York where they joined the famous Five Nations as the Chautauqua. By the time the town was incorporated as the second n North Carolina in 1723 there wasn’t much Swiss left to it besides the name.
Lawson and de Graffenried’s vision of a prosperous, well-situated town didcome to pass however. It developed into the largest town in the colony and the royal government set up shop here. Busy trade routes between New Bern and Boston and Salem brought an air of New England sophistication to the outpost. Tobacco, molasses, lumber and naval stores kept the docks humming in New Bern through the 19th century.
From an early time the town has never been shy about moving buildings around town in lieu of just tearing them down. Although the waterfront has lost its industrial heritage the wrecking ball has been slow to swing on the streets behind where many landmarks remain from the 18th and 19th century. Our walking tour will seek them out but first we will start at the point that John Lawson picked out 300 years ago...
Union Point Park
210 East Front Street
This scenic spot at the confluence of the Neuse and Trent rivers was occupied by Chattawka Indians, a band of the Tuscaroras and this is where the Baron de Graffenried set up shop in 1710. For two centuries the point was occupied by oyster plants, wharves, turpentine stills and even a trash dump. It was converted into a public park int he 1930s.
LEAVE THE PARK AND CROSS THE STREET. BEGIN WALKING ALONG SOUTH FRONT STREET (THE TRENT RIVER AND CONVENTION CENTER WILL BE ON YOUR LEFT.)
221 Front Street
Most of the buildings from New Bern’s days as a bustling seaport have been swept from the waterfront but this one, a grand 9,000-foot brick structure built by English shipping merchant John Harvey in 1797, survives. Harvey used the Federal-style structure as home, office, storeroom and warehouse. Like its 18th century cousins the Harvey house, vacant and dilapidating, faced the wrecking ball in the 1970s but the city’s plans were scuttled by the Keeper of the National Register. The Harvey Mansion has re-emerged as a restaurant.
TURN RIGHT ON CRAVEN STREET.
Isaac Taylor House
228 Craven Street
Scottish-born Isaac Taylor came to America made his fortune as a shipping merchant and came to America as a gentleman planter. He named his plantation three miles north of New Bern after his hometown of Glenburnie. In town in 1792 he constructed a fine side-hall, four-story Federal brick home with the first floor serving as a counting house for his business interests. During the Civil War the house was occupied by two of Isaac’s granddaughters, Phoebe and Catherine. The two sisters refused to leave when ordered out by Union troops and spent the war on the third and fourth floors, ferrying food and supplies to the top floors via a pulley system rather than deal with the Union troops below. Isaac Taylor is the great, great, great grandfather of singers James and Livingston Taylor.
RETRACE YOUR STEPS TO FRONT STREET AND TURN RIGHT. TURN RIGHT AT MIDDLE STREET AT THE NEXT CORNER.
First Baptist Church
239 Middle Street
The church was organized on May 11, 1809 in the home of Elijah Clark at the junction of of Middle and Craven streets. This is the second sanctuary for the congregation, erected in 1848 after Clark sailed to New York City to bring back plans. The red brick Gothic Revival church with its landmark turrets was constructed at a cost of $12,000.
The Birthplace of Pepsi-Cola
256 Middle Street
Caleb Davis Bradham’s medical career was derailed by his father’s failing business and he returned to New Bern and eventually opened the Bradham Drug Company store at this location in 1893. Soon he was offering a new concoction, “Brad’s Drink,” at his soda fountain which he believed helped ease digestion. By 1898 he was calling his blend of “carbonated water, sugar, pepsin, kola nut extract, vanilla and ‘rare oils’” Pepsi-Cola. As the name was being officially registered in 1903 Bradham was still mixing the syrup by hand in the back of his pharmacy. After selling 7,968 gallons of syrup that first year Bradham began peddling Pepsi-Cola in six ounce bottles. By 1910 there were 250 Pepsi franchises in 24 states. Bradham’s success continued until World War I when he purchased stockpiles of sugar, betting the price would rise after hostilities ended. Instead the price fell dramatically and his over-valued sugar inventory forced the Pepsi-Cola company into bankruptcy and the 56-year old Bradham lost his final assets for $30,000 in 1923. After declaring bankruptcy, Bradham returned to operating his drug store. It would not be the last bankruptcy for Pepsi which would endure other owners and formulations before emerging as the world’s second most popular soft drink.
ACROSS THE INTERSECTION TO YOUR RIGHT IS...
Christ Episcopal Church
320 Pollock Street
The parish was organized in 1715 and has been a presence on this ground since 1750 when a church was erected in the corner of the current churchyard. The building was demolished in 1824 in favor of a new church with a three-stage tower supporting a soaring steeple. That meetinghouse burned in 1871, with only the walls left standing. Those walls were incorporated in the current sanctuary which was completed in 1875 and retains the form of its predecessor. The Gothic Revival bell tower rises 150 feet above the tree-studded grounds. The fanciful wooden entrances are created in the Victorian Stick Style. The church is the repository for important Revolutionary relics. In the churchyard, with its muzzle imbedded in the ground, is the Lady Blessington cannon seized by a New Bern privateer from the British ship Lady Blessington. The church also retains a silver communion service in a walnut case that was a gift to the parish from King George III in 1752.
ACROSS THE INTERSECTION TO YOUR LEFT IS...
400 Pollock Street
New Bern’s tallest downtown building was erected by the Elks fraternal organization in 1908. The five-story Beaux Arts corner building was executed with yellow brick and terra-cotta decorations. The Elks used the top floor for their lodge activities while the lower floors housed stores, offices and a public library for a time.
TURN LEFT ON POLLOCK STREET.
512 Pollock Street
The Attmore family house was built in 1790 and enlarged around 1834. The New Bern Historical Society purchased the house in 1954 for $30,000 and operates it as a museum and special events venue.
600 Pollock Street at George Street
Royal Governor William Tryon constructed this government house and residence between 1767 and 1770. Royal Governor Josiah Martin abandoned the palace in 1775 and after Americans won their independence from Great Britain the building became North Carolina’s first official capitol. While attending a ball in the palace in 1792 President George Washington was moved to remark, “It is a good brick building hastening to ruin.” That ruin came quicker than anyone could foresee. The capitol was moved inland to Raleigh in 1794 and the main building and kitchen wing of the palace burned in 1798. In the 1950s, using the original architect’s drawing and meticulous on-site archaeological surveys, the palace was reconstructed.
WALK PAST THE PALACE AND TURN LEFT ON EDEN STREET.
Robert Hay House
227 Eden Street
This two-story-with-attic wood frame townhouse displays an unusual sidehall, one room deep original configuration. This was probably a spec house constructed around 1810 and purchased in 1816 by Robert Hay, a 62 year-old Scotsman who made wagons, riding chairs, gigs and other vehicles. Hay purchased the house for his new wife Nancy Harney and lived here until his death at the age of 96 in 1850. Today the house is used as a living history museum by the Tryon Palace complex.
231 Eden Street
This two-story frame house was constructed around 1809 for John Jones who operated a turpentine distillery in town. In the Civil War the building served as a federal jail after Union troops drove the Confederates from New Bern. Confederate sympathizers, including spy Emeline Pigott, were retained here.
WALK BACK TO POLLOCK STREET AND TURN RIGHT. TURN LEFT AND WALK UP GEORGE STREET ACROSS FROM THE PALACE ENTRANCE.
John Wright Stanly House
307 George Street
John Wright Stanly arrived in town in 1772 and quickly became a leading ship owner and molasses distiller. By the time of the American Revolution, Stanly may have been the wealthiest man in North Carolina. He poured money into the patriots’ cause and lost 14 ships harassing the British fleet. In 1779 he spent $30,000 to build this Georgian-style house, probably designed by John Hawks, who had crafted plans for Tryon Palace. John Wright and Ann Stanly both died during a yellow fever epidemic in 1789, leaving nine young children, none of whom was of age to occupy the house. It would not be until 1798 that Stanlys would again live in the house. The house departed the Stanly family in the 1830s, launching it on a peripatetic existence around New Bern. Originally constructed at Middle and New streets, it has been moved twice and served a number of masters including Major General Ambrose Burnside who used it as his New Bern headquarters during the Civil War. The building did duty as the New Bern Library for thirty years and as apartments. Part of the Tryon Palace Complex since 1965, the Stanly House constructed of hand-hewn longleaf pine stands as one of the finest examples of Georgian architecture in North Carolina.
Major John Daves House
313 George Street
John Daves was a town carpenter who distinguished himself on the field during the American Revolution and became a major in the North Carolina cavalry. After the war, Daves was named the Caretaker of the Palace. His house, an amalgamation of three cottages, dates to 1770.
CROSS BROAD STREET AND WALK ONE BLOCK TO NEW STREET. TURN RIGHT.
520 New Street
Palmer and Tisdale have their names attached to this handsome 1760s house but a string of interesting characters have lived here. The house was constructed for Robert Palmer, a customs agent in Bath who had come to town to accept an appointment as a Justice. Palmer was a staunch loyalist with no taste for rebellion and sold the house in 1776 and sailed out of the country. William Tisdale, a metallurgist, bought the house. Tisdale was a delegate to the North Carolina Provincial Congress and also a justice in Craven County. In 1780 he was tabbed to design and engrave the first North Carolina state seal. In 1796 French-born Francis Xavier Martin became the owner. Martin was a printer and editor to the successor of the North Carolina Gazette, North Carolina’s first newspaper. He later migrated to Louisiana where he became a Supreme Court Justice. After Martin the resident here was John Louis Taylor who was destined to move to Raleigh and become the North Carolina Supreme Court. When Taylor departed he sold the house to Asa Jones, a wealthy planter and shipper. The house then remained in the Jones family until the 1950s.
517 New Street
This was the home of Francis Hawks, son of Tryon Palace architect John Hawks, but neither had a hand in the original construction. The three-bay Georgian house with a gambrel-roof (one of two surviving in New Bern) was built around 1760. Hawks, a customs collector, bought the property in 1807. He made the additions that can be seen on the end of the building. The house was moved here from Hancock Street in 1975.
New Bern Academy
514 New Street
This was the first school authorized by the North Carolina Assembly and a special tax on liquor funneled funds for its support. Students still paid tuition so it was not technically the state’s first true public school. The current building dates to 1810; it did duty as a hospital during the Civil War. The Academy ended in 1899 when the school was folded into the New Bern city school system but the building served educational purposes until 1972.
First Presbyterian Church
412 New Street
New Bern’s Presbyterians organized in 1817 and by 1819 local builder and architect Uriah Sandy was leading the construction of this splendid, Federal-style church. The highlights of the building, completed in 1822, are its tall Ionic portico and square tower that diminishes in four stages to the cupola. The church has retained much of its interior and exterior integrity for almost 200 years.
WALK BACK A FEW STEPS TO HANCOCK STREET AND TURN RIGHT.
St. John’s Masonic Lodge and Theater
516 Hancock Street
St. John’s was chartered in 1772 as the third Masonic lodge in North Carolina. After meeting for years in the Tryon Palace, work was begun on the lodge and theater in 1801 under the direction of Master builder John Dewey. Both the lodge and theater have remained in continuous use since 1809 - it is the oldest running theater in America. The Federal-style brick lodge sports a Palladian facade an exemplary interior woodwork.
TURN RIGHT ON JOHNSON STREET.
William B. Blades
602 Middle Street at Johnson Street
New Bern-born architect Herbert Woodley Simpson was to go-to town architect in the early decades of the 20th century when new lumber barons vied with each other via their houses. Simpson received virtually every important commission for the better part of 30 years. This rambling corner house was created for lumber magnate and banker William B. Blades. Simpson used Queen Anne massing and his favored Neoclassical details to create the house in 1903.
John D. Flanner House
305 Johnson Street
Erected in 1855 this house introduced the Italianate style to New Bern, most noticeable here in the roof bracketing. Over the following three decades the Italianate style would be far and away the architectural style of choice in town.
520 Craven Street at Johnson Street
Although this 1848 house has been modernized you can still look up and see a “Widow’s Walk” between the fully enclosed interior end chimneys. And, in fact, the Jerkins-Richardson House is indeed said to be haunted but not by a sailor lost at sea of a grieving widow but by a blue-uniformed Union soldier.
Charles Slover House
201 Johnson Street
This is considered New Bern’s finest Greek Revival residence, constructed in 1849 probably by Hardy B. Lane who assembled many similarly styled buildings around town. The imposing three-story, five bay house sports especially fine Flemish bond brickwork, trimmed out in brownstone window lintels. In 1908 the house was purchased by Caleb D. Bradham, brewer of Brad’s Drink, now known as Pepsi-Cola.
TURN RIGHT ON EAST FRONT STREET.
Eli Smallwood House
524 East Front Street
Asa King was doing the best housesmithing in New Bern in the early Federal period and this side-hall brick building from 1810 may have been his finest work. The delicately crafted Palladian portico in certainly one of the best Federal entranceways in North Carolina.
Larry I. Moore House
511 East Front Street
This is a Southern Colonial mansion as imagined by Herbert Woodley Simpson. The Colonial Revival house is dominated by a Corinthian portico looking over a series of Ionic-columned porches. It was constructed in 1908 for lawyer and future state senator Larry Ichabod Moore.
501 Front Street
This was one of New Bern’s statelier Georgian home, with a pedigree into the 1770s. Timber magnate Edward K. Bishop engaged Herbert Woodley Simpson in 1907 to provide a Neoclassical make-over. While he was remodeling Simpson turned the house towards the water.
TURN RIGHT ON NEW STREET.
Centenary Methodist Church
309 New Street
The Methodist church dates its founding in New Bern to Christmas Day, 1772. For the remainder of the century the Methodists would be serviced by circuit riding preachers, including Francis Asbury, who ministered in town 14 times. A church, the second to be erected in New Bern, was ready by 1802. This Romanesque-flavored sanctuary with towers flanking a circular entrance is the third for the congregation, completed in 1904.
TURN LEFT ON MIDDLE STREET.
United States Post Office
413 Middle Street
New Bern got its first post office, a Romanesque Revival structure, in 1897. Rather than expand that building in the 1930s, the federal government convinced the city to buy the old building for its city hall, paid for the relocation of the John Wright Stanley House and dropped another $325,000 on this Georgian Revival brick structure, one of the largest and costliest on the Carolina coast. Local architect Robert F. Smallwood provided the design which was amplified by twinned limestone columns and a cupola on the roof. Inside, a ceremonial courtroom dominated the second floor, awash with bronze chandeliers and decorated by murals from New Deal artists. The building handled mail until 1992.
TURN LEFT ON BROAD STREET AND WALK ONE BLOCK TO CRAVEN STREET.
Craven County Courthouse
300 Broad Street
In 1861 the Craven County Courthouse burned but because of the outbreak of the Civil War it would be twenty years before commissioners got around to replacing it. Plans for the new courthouse came out of the Philadelphia shop of Samuel Sloan. Sloan was a nationally influential architect but the war had diminished his practice and he increasingly turned to North Carolina for work later in his life. The French Empire courthouse in 1883 would be one of his last projects before dying of sunstroke a year later at the age of 69. Local builder John Lane was responsible for putting together the bricks, multi-hued slate roof and dramatic central tower.
TURN RIGHT ON CRAVEN STREET.
300 Pollock Street at Craven Street
With a nod to its mother city, Bern, Switzerland the town’s city hall is dominated by an imposing clock tower. This yellow brick and terra-cotta Romanesque structure was built in 1897 by the federal government as a post office. As part of the deal for a new 1930s facility it became the New Bern City Hall. A mechanical Seth Thomas Clock operated in the tower from 1911 until 1999 when it was replaced by an electronic system. Look up over the arched corner entrances to see black bears, the symbol of the city - and of Bern, Switzerland as well.
TURN LEFT ON POLLOCK STREET, A BLOCK OF VICTORIAN-ERA HOMES. AT FRONT STREET TURN RIGHT AND WALK ONE BLOCK TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT AT UNION POINT PARK.