Friday, January 13, 2012

Gotta Go: Bath, N.C.'s oldest city

A traveling preacher in the colonial era is said to have cursed Bath, North Carolina’s first incorporated town, to perpetually remain a small

town. So it has. For visitors to this historic place, turns out it is more blessing than curse.

Like its big-city cousins of Savannah, Ga., or Charleston, S.C., Bath is built on a bay, in this case the confluence of Bath and Bay creeks. That
made the historic village important to the young North Carolina colony and convenient for pirates. One of this nation’s most notorious
buccaneers, Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard, was a frequent visitor and by legend wed a young woman from the area not long before he was killed at Ocracoke Inlet in 1718.
There are several historic buildings to tour; details in a moment. But first, Bath is a pleasant place to spend some time. Whether as a destination or as a side trip on the drive to the Outer Banks, a stroll through town offers massive lazy trees, aged clapboard architecture, and just enough history to satisfy a curious mind.

And of course there is glistening Bath Creek, the wide bay that serves as the town’s southern border. Bonner’s Point, a city park, looks out over the bay. Dotted with picnic tables, it offers the perfect spot for lunch or a breezy afternoon nap.

English explorer John Lawson founded Bath in 1701, and it was incorporated in 1705 as the state’s first town. North Carolina’s first library was established in the town in 1701 as well, the gift of a British minister.
The state maintains the historic area’s Visitor Center, which offers a short film on Bath’s history. Guided tours of some of the history buildings in town begin in the Center.

Among the historic homes are the Palmer-Marsh House, built in 1751, and
the Bonner House, built in 1830, whose front porch offers a stunning view of the bay. Drop by nearby Van Der Veer House (built around 1790) for a self-guided exhibit on the history of Bath. There’s also St. Thomas Church, built around 1734 and still an active parish. It is open to visitors.

The Historic Bath Visitor Center, at 207 Carteret St., is open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., except on state-recognized holidays. A ticket to tour the Bonner and Palmer-Marsh houses is affordable: $2 for adults, $1 for children. Call 252-923-3971 for more information.

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