Off the Beaufort Waterfront

Beaufort, North Carolina is a community rich in history, both on and off the Beaufort waterfront. With its historic homes, burying grounds and other historic sites, visitors enjoy stepping back in time with a visit to the Beaufort Historical Association. The vocabulary word for today is “palimpsest,” defined by Webster’s Dictionary as “a parchment or tablet that has been written upon or inscribed two or three times, the previous text or texts having been imperfectly erased and remaining, therefore, still partly visible.” The Beaufort Historical Association has appropriated this term to describe the colonial village it has recreated at the 100 block of Turner Street, a cluster of historic buildings around an open lawn used for community gatherings, comprising the Beaufort Historic Site.

Here, you will learn that early trade consisted mainly of lumber shipped to the West Indies in exchange for glassware, cloth, furniture, coffee and rum. A saltworks factory on Shackleford Banks figured into local commerce, as did a whaling community that introduced the look and feel of New England. During the 19th century, commercial trade was all but phased out as fishing enterprises moved in and the town became unofficially known as “fishtowne,” a designation still seen occasionally among the shops and signs of Beaufort. The emphasis was on menhaden, a type of herring, and a few references to that also linger about here and there.

Three different tours are offered, one of them aboard a 1960s English double-decker bus. Another visits the Old Burying Ground and the third provides a choice, your pick of three of the houses in a colonial village that has been set up to illustrate an 18th and 19th century community. Leffers Cottage, 1778, is a prime example of a cottage with “a story and a jump,” or what real estate agents currently call a story and a half. And that is not a reference to the real story, which is about Samuel Leffers, the schoolmaster from New York who settled here in 1764. His descendants gave the house to the Beaufort Historical Association in 1983 and it was moved to the Historic Site from its original spot at Live Oak and Front streets.

Josiah Bell House was built in the 18th century and acquired by gentleman farmer Josiah Bell in 1825. Bell was a tax lister and county justice, and would have presided over the 1796 county courthouse, just a few doors down. The extravagant furnishings, perhaps a bit gaudy by today’s standards, demonstrate the wealth and prosperity that Beaufort’s elite proudly put on display.

John C. Manson House, 1825, is an example of the so-called Federal period, characterized by interior embellishments that, in this case, have been painstakingly recreated according to historical research and best guesses. Manson was an officer in the War of 1812 and, thereafter, a merchant in downtown Beaufort. His wife was a descendent of Josiah Bell and the house was built on Bell property.

Carteret County Jail, 1829, was the third jail built to incarcerate local miscreants, the first one dating back to 1737. Like Leffers Cottage, this structure was uprooted and moved to its present site, at great expense due to its mass of 500 tons. The stocks stand outside and a recently discovered hole in the beam over the stairs could only have been used for a hangman’s noose.

An Apothecary Shop and Doctors Office, 1857, was built by Dr. William Cramer, who died of yellow fever in 1864. It was taken over and moved by Dr. Josiah Benjamin Davis and ultimately his son George, also a doctor, added a medical office to the back, so that medical exams took place in the rear of the building while medications were poured and mixed in front. George also played the organ that is still on the premises.

Carteret Courthouse, 1796, was the third courthouse built in Beaufort. The first was destroyed by fire and the second wiped out in a hurricane. Originally located at the corner of Ann and Turner Streets, this one-room structure was the setting for the Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions for 40 years.

The Old Burying Ground, a block away from the Beaufort Historic Site, was deeded to the town in 1731 by Nathaniel Taylor. Its ancient, mostly inscrutable graves are shrouded under 100-year-old live oaks. They contain the bricked and vaulted remains of soldiers from the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812 and the Civil War, as well as slaves, star-crossed lovers and famous privateers (pirates). One of the most notorious of these was Otway Burns, a colorful and government-sanctioned prowler of the high seas.

Another portal to the past is the Beaufort Ghost Walk, offered nightly during the summer months, which includes a misty glimpse of Hammock House, Blackbeard’s former home. Discover all the sites that are found off the Beaufort waterfront for a full exploration of this historic NC town.