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August 19, 2012

Escape to Edenton, N.C.: Must-See Sights in One of America’s Prettiest Small Towns

A boat sails into Edenton Harbor.

Guest blogger and frequent visitor Emily McMackin reveals what makes Edenton one of America’s prettiest small towns, along with its can’t-miss sights, shopping and cuisine.

Everyone needs a hideaway. A place you discover all on your own and find yourself wanting to return to as often as possible. For me, that place is Edenton, N.C.

I first came to Edenton on a work trip. My job as a magazine editor often takes me places I would have never visited otherwise — and that’s what brought me to this town of 5,000 near North Carolina’s Outer Banks.

A few weeks before my visit, Edenton was named one of “America’s Prettiest Small Towns” by Forbes magazine — and it was obvious why. The first time I turned down North Broad Street, the town’s main thoroughfare, I felt like I was crossing into another time.

Lush oaks, elms, sycamores and magnolias towered above the road like a canopy, draping columned homes in curtains of green. Crepe myrtles colored yards in rainbows of pink and filled the air with fragrance.

Nearly every house had a spacious front porch with a swing and an American flag fluttering in the breeze. I was tempted to trespass just so I could sit on one for a little while.

Right away, I was captivated by Edenton’s storybook beauty, but I soon discovered more about this town that I loved. Here are three reasons I keep coming back and why you are sure to fall in love with it, too.

Steeped in Stories

Grand historic homes line North Broad Street, Edenton's main thoroughfare.

Edenton folks are natural-born storytellers, but perhaps that’s because they live in a place so rich in history. Established in 1712, this waterfront town is the second oldest in North Carolina and served as its first Colonial capital until 1743.

Almost every street has a historical marker, including two for National Historic Landmarks. Downtown is full of restored homes spanning two centuries and showcasing a range of architecture, including Jacobean, Georgian, Federal, Greek Revival and Victorian styles.

For a small place, Edenton has played a big role in shaping American history. History buffs won’t want to miss:

Chowan County Courthouse: Built in 1787 with funds raised by Declaration of Independence signer Joseph Hewes, this Colonial courthouse is the most intact one left.

Cupola House: Constructed in 1758 for one of the royal governor’s agents, the home is known for its gardens, modeled after their original 1769 layout.

Barker House: This mansion was home to Penelope Barker, leader of the Edenton Tea Party, America’s earliest group of female political activists (a teacup-themed memorial to the ladies can be viewed nearby). From rockers on the back porch, tourists can admire watercolor reflections of historic homes across Edenton Bay.

Edenton Harbor: Part of the Maritime Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Trail, Edenton’s Harbor on the Albemarle Sound has a deep history. Visitors can walk the docks where Edenton native Harriet Jacobs, whose Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl memoir documented her harsh treatment as a slave, secretly boarded a boat bound for Philadelphia and sailed to freedom in 1842.

Haven for Hospitality

Spend the evening at The Pack House Inn and enjoy a breakfast of blueberry pancakes the next morning.

If you love bed and breakfasts, Edenton is for you. Innkeepers are famous for their attentiveness. One of my hosts got up before sunrise to brew coffee and put out sweet bread for me when I left early one morning to catch a flight.

Some of them, like bed and breakfast owners and New England transplants David and Dora Drohen, moved to Edenton after falling in love with it themselves. For a memorable stay, book a room at:

Granville Queen Inn Bed and Breakfast: Guest chambers in this turn-of-the-century Victorian house come with antiques, crystal chandeliers, fireplaces and private balconies. Don’t miss rocking on the grand front porch or breakfast in the plantation room, where delicacies like poached pears, crepes, sausage puffs and frozen amaretto cream baskets of mixed berries are served.

The Pack House Inn: Given the best innkeepers award by Bed and Breakfast Directory, this 1915 tobacco packing house includes period furnishings, canopy beds, fluffy bathrobes and a kitchen stocked with an endless supply of homemade treats. Guests receive a chilled bottle of Chardonnay upon arrival and can choose between blueberry pancakes or egg souffle for breakfast, with sides of home fries, grits, sausage links and fruit cocktail.

Turn back time with a visit to the Downtown Cafe & Soda Shoppe and order a milkshake, sundae or float.

Delectable Dining, Specialty Shopping

A downtown stroll is mandatory to the Edenton experience. Holly trees line brick sidewalks, where locals stop to shoot the breeze. The marquee of restored 1925 art deco Twin Taylor Cinema lights up each evening as it did 80-plus years ago, and 19th-century commercial buildings house some of best restaurants and antique stores. Foodies should try:

Waterman’s Grill: Savor the finest Carolina cuisine — crab cakes, seasoned shrimp, stewed tomatoes and corn pudding — in a candlelit yet casual setting. Have a glass of muscadine wine and save room for pineapple upside-down cake!

Downtown Cafe & Soda Shoppe: Scoot a red patent leather stool up to this old-fashioned soda fountain and enjoy a sundae, milkshake or float in this former pharmacy-turned-cafe.

Edenton Coffeehouse Bakery & Cafe: Linger over a used book and a latte, smoothie or frappuccino at this coffee bar and its adjoining bookstore (appropriately named The Garden of Good Readin’). The cafe bakes its own biscotti and has daily soup and sandwich specials. My recommendation? Try the apple chicken salad.

Love souvenir shopping? Don’t leave town without stopping by:

Edenton Bay Trading Company: This bayside shop sells everything from sea salt truffles and Carolina wines to coffee-table books, handmade jewelry and beachy collectibles. I bought my souvenir there — a shell box with red velvet lining. Every time I look at it, it reminds me of Edenton and all its hidden gems.

Visit for yourself to see what treasures you can uncover in one of America’s prettiest small towns!

For even more visuals or to create a travel board for your trip to Edenton, check out our latest Pinterest board featuring Emily’s picks!



About the Author

Emily McMackin
Emily McMackin
Emily McMackin is an editor, writer and perpetual storyteller with an incurable addiction to coffee, magazines, Neil Diamond and Caribbean travel. She resides in Music City USA (that's Nashville, Tenn., ya'll!), where you'll find her staking out live music, salsa dancing, scouring town for the best latte and working on her first No. 1 (book that is).




  • http://www.facebook.com/robert.quinn.39904 Robert Quinn

    I love what you write! Edenton is special and a well kept secret, 300 years old, founded November 6,1712

  • ANNIE GRAY LANE

    I am fortunate to be the mother-in-law of one of Edenton’s favorite sons, attorney Samuel B. Dixon, better known as Sambo. Through him and his family, I have come to know and love this community. I have watched my grandchildren grow up here and thrive in the warmth of the entire town…….Everyone should be so fortunate !

  • Chuck Schmieler

    My wife & I just bought one of the historic homes in Edenton. The town is really beautiful, however, we chose Edenton for the people. You will not find more genuinely nice people anywhere!