Beaufort County Travel Diary – EducationNC

Editor’s note: We are publishing a series of travel diaries this week. These pieces are part of our efforts to deepen our reach across the state and build closer connections with communities in all 100 counties..

Along the coast of North Carolina, rivers often represent boundaries between counties.

But not in Beaufort County.

Beaufort County lies both northeast and southwest of the Pamlico River, bordered by the cities of Washington, Bath, and Belhaven on the north bank and Chocowinity and Aurora on the south.

Beaufort County’s 45,000 residents are 66% white, 25% black, and 8% Latinx. The poverty rate is 18%, compared to North Carolina’s overall rate of 13%.

Washington—sometimes known as “Little Washington,” though locals prefer “Original Washington”—is the county seat. Founded and named in 1776, it was the first place named after President George Washington.

Watching the sunset over the Pamlico River on the rooftop deck of the Mulberry House in Washington. Katie Dukes / AdNC

Everyone I spoke to in the area told me that if I had visited Washington five years ago, I wouldn’t recognize it. The waterfront district has attracted new businesses and visitors.

My introduction to all that downtown has to offer began with one of the best sandwiches of my life at Down on Mainstreet. Their BLT features fried green tomatoes with the option of adding pimento cheese. (I added pimento cheese.)

Washington has no shortage of delicious restaurants. Anyone who’s been to Washington will tell you that Bill’s hot dogs can’t be missed, and they’re right. New additions include the Bank Bistro and Bar, Hackney, and Mulberry House, which has gorgeous rooftop views of the river.

The BLT at Down on Main Street in Washington has the option of adding fried green tomatoes and pimento cheese. Katie Dukes / AdNC
Lisa Jones and her husband pose at their Washington waterfront Underground Railroad Museum. Katie Dukes / AdNC

Washington is a city with a long history, and the all-volunteer team at the Washington Waterfront Underground Railroad Museum has spent years bringing that history to light.

Located in a train caboose facing the waterfront, the museum is less about its exhibits and more about the way Lisa Jones and her husband brought to life the experiences, wisdom and ingenuity of Beaufort County’s enslaved residents. In 2014, the museum became part of the National Park Service’s National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom.

East of Washington, you can visit Goose Creek State Park on your way to Bath, the first town founded by European settlers in North Carolina and the port the blackbird called home. Treat yourself to a pick-me-up in the form of coffee or ice cream at Duke & Dutchess Coffee Shoppe, motto “making friends one cup at a time.”

Continuing east will take you to Belhaven, a popular stop for boaters traveling the Intracoastal Waterway. Anytime I’ve told someone I’m going to Belhaven, they’ve asked me if I’m going to Spoon River, so be sure to make a reservation if you’re planning to be in town.

Across the street is Farm Boy’s Restaurant, a popular takeout spot. Around the corner you’ll find Gingerbread Bakery and O’Neill’s Snack Bar, a local favorite. A few doors down is Cloud 9 Creamery, which touts “ice cream + candy + good vibes.” I can attest to all three! Cross the street for some of the best fried pickle chips you’ll ever get at Fish Hook’s Café.

My favorite thing about the people I met in Beaufort County was their incredible generosity.

Rachel Midgett, owner of Rachel Kay Bakery in Washington, offers free food to anyone who can’t pay if they come in and ask for a “Rachel Special.”

Across the street, Tom Ryan, owner of Pamlico Books, donates proceeds from used book sales to Literacy Volunteers of Beaufort County.

Having dinner alone at the Tavern at Jack’s Neck in Belhaven, the woman I made small talk with gave me her phone number and invited me to stay at her place the next time I was in town.

The people of Beaufort County Schools embody this generosity. When I met Superintendent Matthew Cheesman – who was superintendent in Perquimans County when my father taught there – he called other staff members to be proud of them. One offered me a tour of the school district’s state-of-the-art podcast studio, and another volunteered to give me a tour of East Elementary School.

Kristen Riddle, public information officer for Beaufort County Schools, shows how the district uses its podcast studio. Katie Dukes / AdNC
Alicia Vosberg, principal of Eastern Elementary School, shows off one of the many wigs she wears in costume to inspire school spirit among students and staff. Katie Dukes / AdNC

Beaufort County Community College (BCCC) President David Loop offered me coffee and water and candy before I even stepped foot in his office. When I assured him I was fine, he kept looking for something else to offer me. (Fun fact: my colleague Nessan Hahn gave the commencement address at BCCC this year.)

There wasn’t a single person I spoke to in Beaufort County who wasn’t willing to share their time, energy, and experiences with a researcher who wanted to listen. In my experience, this openness is unique to the people of Beaufort County. Their generosity feels limitless.

Crab sculptures like this one in Washington can be found throughout Beaufort County. Katie Dukes / AdNC

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