Tryon Palace Historic Sites and Gardens is open year-round except for New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas and the day before and after it, Monday through Saturday from 9:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M. and Sunday from 1:00 to 4:00 P.M. It includes not only the houses mentioned but also the New Bern Academy Museum, a nineteenth-century schoolhouse full of exhibits that provide an excellent introduction to the town and area’s history. For information on the Tryon Palace complex, call 1-800-767-1560. The Craven County Convention & Visitors Bureau (P.O. Box 1413, New Bern, NC 28563/1-800-437-5767) purveys every sort of information about local attractions and events and lodging, including quite a few bed-and-breakfasts in historic houses. I stayed at the comfortable, modern Sheraton, which overlooks a marina on the Trent River a short walk from both Tryon Palace and the center of town (1-800325-3535). The Chelsea Restaurant (919-637-5469), at the corner of Broad and Middle streets, is not only one of the best places around to eat but also the cradle of Pepsi-Cola. Caleb D. Bradham manufactured the beverage above his drugstore there in the early 1900s after inventing it a few blocks away. The Pepsi history is honored by a mural at the Chelsea painted by a former New York City police officer.
For information about the James City Historical Society, write to 502 Vail Street, New Bern, NC 28560, or call 919-633-5059. It is open noon to five, Monday through Thursday.
If you’ve got time while you’re in the area, drive forty-five miles south of New Bern to visit Beaufort, like New Bern one of the state’s three oldest towns and the only one with the distinction of having been attacked and briefly captured by Spain in 1747. The Beaufort Historic Site, on part of the town laid out in 1713, brings together seven restored buildings from the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries; picturesque Front Street offers not only a scattering of waterfront seafood restaurants but also the North Carolina Maritime Museum (919-728-7317), full of displays on both the natural and the human history of the state’s coast plus an annex in which you can watch actual wooden boatbuilding and repair and model-making taking place. Across fifty yards of water from Front Street, a cluster of grassy islands makes up the Rachel Carson component of the North Carolina Coastal Reserve, known for its herd of wild horses. The horses make a pretty view grazing on the dune grass as you sit at your Front Street lunch, but they can seem less romantic after you learn that they are feral stock accidentally left there in the 1940s and are hell on the native fauna and flora. The state has them on birth control to keep the population down.