Editor’s note: This week we’re running a travelogue series. These pieces are part of our effort to deepen our reach across the state and build closer connections with communities across the 100 counties..
Along the North Carolina coast, rivers often represent boundaries between counties.
But not in Beaufort County.
Beaufort County is located both northeast and southwest of the Pamlico River, with 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% Latino. The poverty rate is 18 percent, compared to North Carolina’s overall rate of 13 percent.
Washington – sometimes called “Little Washington”, although locals seem to prefer “The Original Washington” – is the county seat. Founded and named in 1776, it was the first place to be named after President George Washington.
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 both new businesses and visitors.
My introduction to all that downtown has to offer began with what was absolutely one of the best sandwiches of my life at Down on Mainstreet. Their BLT features a fried green tomato with the option of pimento cheese. (I added paprika cheese.)
There is no shortage of delicious restaurants in Washington. Anyone who’s been to Washington will tell you that Bill’s Hot Dogs can’t be skipped, and they’re right. More recent additions include Bank Bistro & Bar, The Hackney and Mulberry House, which offers great rooftop views of the river.
Washington is a city with a long history, and the team of volunteers at the Washington Waterfront Underground Railroad Museum has spent years bringing that history to light.
Housed in a train car in front of the boardwalk, this museum is less about its exhibits and more about how Leesa Jones and her husband bring to life the experiences, intellect, and ingenuity of the enslaved residents of the Beaufort County. In 2014, the museum became part of the National Park Service’s National Underground Railroad Network for Freedom.
In eastern Washington, you can visit Goose Creek State Park on your way to Bath, the first town settled by European settlers in North Carolina and a port that Blackbeard called home. Grab a treat in the form of coffee or ice cream at the Duke & Dutchess Coffee Shoppe, with the motto “Making friends one cup at a time.”
Continuing east will bring you to Belhaven, a popular stop for boaters traveling the Intracoastal Waterway. Every time I’ve told someone I was going to Belhaven, they asked if I was going to Spoon River, so be sure to make a reservation if you plan 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’Neal’s Snack Bar, a local favorite. A few doors down is Cloud 9 Creamery, which touts “Ice Cream + Caramels + Good Vibes.” I can vouch for all three! Cross one more street for some of the best pickle fries you’ll ever have at Fish Hook’s Café.
What I loved most about the people I met in Beaufort County was their incredible generosity.
Rachel Midgette, owner of Rachel K’s Bakery in Washington, is offering free meals to anyone who can’t afford to pay if they come in and order the “Rachel Special.”
Across the street, Tom Ryan, owner of Pamlico Books, donates proceeds from the sale of used books to Literacy Volunteers of Beaufort County.
Dining alone at The Tavern at Jack’s Neck in Belhaven, the woman I spoke to 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 embodied that same generosity. When I met with Superintendent Matthew Cheeseman, who was the superintendent in Perquimans County when my father taught there, he called other staff members just to brag on 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.
David Loope, president of Beaufort County Community College (BCCC), offered me coffee, water and candy before I could even set foot in his office. When I assured him it was fine, he kept looking for something else to offer me. (Fun fact: My colleague Nation 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 an investigator who would listen. In my experience, this opening is unique to the people of Beaufort County. His generosity feels limitless.