New Bern, North Carolina: Population = 28,227, elevation = 10 feet, average January low temp = 34.9, Average July high temp = 90, average sunny days = 213, annual snowfall = 2.4, annual rainfall = 55.4, air quality index = 85, water quality index = 81, comfort index = 30, median age of residents = 39.8
From inland Raleigh, our next jump is to coastal New Bern. New Bern is located on the banks of the Neuse River, where it widens prior to meeting the Atlantic. It is a historic old city, having been settled in 1710 by Swiss and German immigrants. It is named after Bern, Switzerland. Since Bern is Swiss for bear, it is also called Bear City and sports many whimsical, gaudily painted bears. Some of the city buildings even have what look to be stuffed real bears sticking out of the walls.
Back in the Colonial days, the governor of the North Carolina Province was William Tryon. He is probably most famous for building an elaborate mansion, funded by raising taxes. The taxpayers were very unhappy about this state of affairs and promptly nicknamed it “Tryon Palace”. The Palace still stands, rebuilt after a fire and long neglect. It is not really much of a palace, by European standards, but it is solid, spacious, and, for the times, very modern.
Across the city from the palace, there is a historic district of beautiful old homes from the early 1800’s to mid 1900’s. There are many fine examples of Federal and Victorian styled homes, nestled into a lush landscape of manicured gardens and towering old trees.
Closer to the middle of town, you will find the New Bern Firemen’s Museum. That definitely is a stuffed bear on the front of the building. Inside are horse drawn wagons, steam powered pumpers, and a hook and ladder unit. There is also a lot of history. Firefighting in New Bern started with the Atlantic Hook & Ladder Company in 1845. In 1865, the Union army occupied New Bern and a group of their soldiers formed the Button Company to fight fires. After the Civil War, the Atlantic Company was back. Both Companies raced to be the first ones at the fire and fistfights were many and vigorous. Finally, in 1928, one firehouse was built for both Companies. The building was symmetrical, with each half housing a Company and their equipment. The rivalry today is a lot friendlier.
Take a stroll through downtown New Bern, and you will find more historic buildings, fine restaurants and fun little eateries, a few breweries and taprooms, and lots of nice little mom-and-pop shops. There are cute little courtyards with benches where a person can rest their bones after a long stroll. Some of the bigger buildings have large yards with huge trees, dripping Spanish moss. It is a sociable, fun, and welcoming town and the parking is free. It breaks our hearts to have to leave before the Beer and Bacon Festival.
Meanwhile, across town, is the other half of the story. Like so many of the towns we have visited, New Bern has both a quaint little historic downtown, and a sprawling modern suburb. Out West of the city, away from the rivers and mansions, are the malls and big box stores. Get an antique lawn rake at Mitchell’s Hardware downtown; get a riding lawn mower at Sears in the Mall. It is the best of both American worlds.
Next up: Myrtle Beach, South Carolina