Beaufort, North Carolina… pronounced “Bow-fert” to distinguish it from the town in South Carolina with the same spelling. Voted America’s Coolest Small Town by Budget Travel magazine in 2012, however the article doesn’t do this town by the sea justice by skipping out on many of the “cool” details other than the direct obvious: small town, on the ocean, good food.
I am fortunate to live right down the road from Beaufort. It only takes me about 35 minutes to get there. The most popular route is to go down Hwy 70 through Havelock, Newport, and Morehead City. By going this route you’ll hit about 50 red lights, and pass by endless miles of strip malls and chain restaurants. I prefer to take Hwy 101, a stretch of over 18 miles and scenic detour starting in the middle of Havelock off of 70 and an open two lane highway with no traffic lights except for the start and at the very end of the highway that drops me right into Beaufort. Small towns only marked by a sign and abandoned, weathered old farm houses are passed in the blink of an eye. Fields of cotton, cabbage, and sweet potatoes flank the highway. Small bridges pass over marshes and creeks inhabited by egrets. Rising over the tops of pine trees is a bridge crossing the Intracoastal Waterway with views of boat yards and the winding path of water for as far as the eye can see.
Aside from the exciting anticipation of arriving in Beaufort that is felt every time I take this route, I feel a sense of freedom, freedom from the worries of yesterday or tomorrow. Cruising down this highway, with my sunroof open and singing to the 70’s station on my Serious XM, I’m not thinking about anything else except that freedom.
Time always flies too fast on this highway, and as always, before I know it…I’m in Beaufort.
With a population of just over 4,300 residents it’s easy to see right away how special this town is. The town doesn’t need a speed limit, everyone drives at a pace as though the day won’t come to an end. A short drive past the local chain grocery store and a few fast food restaurants leads me right into the heart of the “old” part of Beaufort. Where history happened and where magic and memories are made today…historic Beaufort.
Originally Beaufort was inhabited by the Coree Indians, then the French Huguenots, and eventually settled by the British in 1709. 1n 1713 Robert Turner, with his land grant of 200 acres, laid out the town and named the streets. Three hundred years later, the streets of historic Beaufort are still holding these original names such as: Front street, Craven, Fulford, Pollock, Ann, Craven and Queen to name a few. Turner named the town after his friend Henry Somerset, Duke of Beaufort and it became incorporated in 1722. By the end of the 18th century, Beaufort was a bustling seaport full of sailors, pirates, merchants, planters (farmers) soldiers and fisherman.
One of the most well-known pirates of all time roamed the streets of Beaufort when he wasn’t reigning terror on the sea. His name was Blackbeard. For a very fun article to read about Blackbeard, click on this link… www.nationalgeographic.com/pirates/blackbeard.html
When Blackbeard was in port he stayed at the Hammock House on Hammock Lane. This oldest house in Beaufort, now turned private residence, was built for a group of sea captains upon a small hill, or hammock, and used as a navigation point on early maps. Eventually it was turned into a tavern, and thus became a favored locale for Blackbeard.
The Hammock House 1709
This quaint little town by the sea has over 100 homes that are over a century hold and several more private residences that are over 200 years old. Many of these homes have double porches, one on the first floor, with another on the second floor. This was a favored style by the sea captains during their voyages through the West Indies and the Bahamas. Quirky picket fences are distinctive to Beaufort and most of the old homes had them bordering their yards. This may be in part to a connection of an early law stating that pigs must be kept in the yards. If a pig was found outside a fenced in yard, the finder could slaughter the pig but must have given half of it to the church wardens to feed the hungry. Interesting reasoning behind the picket fences instead of simply for cosmetic reasons, eh?
This is my husbands favorite house in Beaufort. He likes it because this is another place that he feels would be “secure from a zombie attack”. LOL. Once used as a school house with the ground level class rooms and the top two stories were living quarters. Located on Front Street.
Mounted next to the door on these front porches there’s a plaque that is coveted by the owners of old homes in Beaufort. Not any “old” house can hang one of these plaques in the shape of a shield. The home has to be verified to be over one hundred years old by the Beaufort Historical Association. Below explains the symbolism of the plaques markings.
The border of the shield-shaped plaque is made up of a blue and silver checked border signifying fair play. This compony (Heraldry adjective) border was taken from the Duke of Beaufort’s coat of arms which displays a single row of squares with alternating colors.
The Red Rose of Lancaster at the bottom of the plaque represents the Lancaster lineage of the Duke of Beaufort’s family.
The gold menhaden at the top signifies “Fish Town”—the translation for what the Coree Indians called “Cwarioc”—the name by which Beaufort was known in the early 1700’s.
Some of these homes have been turned into quaint and cozy bed and breakfast inns. Such as the Delmar Gibble House now turned the Old Seaport Inn on the corners of Broad and Turner Street. As in previous posts, it’s been said that I love to see our American flag hanging out front of white houses. While walking the sidewalks of the these beautiful homes on Friday, I stopped to take a picture of the front of the Old Seaport Inn simply because of the American flag hanging from the upper front porch. Before I could focus the camera, the innkeeper stepped through the front door and onto the porch to drop off outgoing mail in the box hung next to the door. I seized this opportunity to introduce myself and ask a few questions about the inn. Meet Mary Cotter Hurst, a Cape Cod native who, along with her husband, fell in love with Beaufort and opened the Old Seaport Inn 9 years ago. Both Mary and her husband FJ are descents of ship builders and love the maritime coast. I didn’t have to ask why they fell in love with Beaufort…anyone with appreciation of boats and the coast can’t help not to have their hearts beckon to call Beaufort home.
What makes this inn unique above any others that I’ve stayed at is that Mary is an artist and has her own gallery inside the breakfast room with her work on display. What a gorgeous room for the guests to enjoy her simple continental breakfasts in every morning! Her artwork is a feast for the eyes and several of her pieces belong in private collections across the world.
The Old Seaport Inn B&B
The Old Seaport Inn was built in 1866 by a local merchant named Jacob Gibble after the Civil War ended. The home has many original features, but my favorites were the original hardwood floors and the original glass in the windows. You know what glass that old looks like…the bubbles trapped inside that can be seen easily with the human eye. The inn has three cozy rooms, named after various family members… Ethan, Cotter Hurst, and Sailor Jack, are all furnished with antiques and all have their own private bathrooms. I only intended to chat with Mary for a few moments, but it turned into the better part of an hour. As many of the residents of Beaufort are, Mary was polite, engaging, informative, and above all, had a warm and welcoming smile and bright personality that could have kept me longer. Through the course of our conversation Mary invited me to come back out the following day to attend the Mardi Gras on Middle Lane celebration. I was ecstatic! After having lived in the great state of Louisiana for many years there was no question of not going! I left Mary and the Old Seaport Inn feeling like I had just stopped in for a visit with an old friend at her home. This is the kind of inn that helps make memories when you’re on vacation, and Mary is just the kind of innkeeper that makes sure they are special ones.
Headed out of the Old Seaport Inn, I walked down to Front Street. Front Street runs along the waterfront, offering a beautiful walk along the boat lined boardwalk on one side and a stroll past specialty shops and restaurants one after another on the opposite side.
The General Store on Front Street. Wonderful place for Beaufort souvenirs, old day candies, and hand scooped ice cream and home made fudge.
During the summer months this town is moving and shaking, with walking tourists and red double decker tour buses. However during the off-season, like this past weekend, it’s like a quiet sleepy little village. Sure there are still a handful of tourists, but only the locals can spot them on these days. I walked down the boardwalk, watching the sea gulls play leap frog on the posts of the piers. Local women out for their morning power walks greeted me “Good Morning” as they waddled past me. Local gents were hanging out on the boardwalk by their boats having casual conversations. As I’d get closer, they’d break for longer pauses in conversation, and once I was near nodded their capped heads in a polite manner , smiled and greeting me “Mornin’”.
These are the locals of Beaufort, NC. Wonderful people, or as we say in the South… “good people”. This is a town steeped in Southern tradition and grace. When the women bump into a friend she’ll greet them with a hug and a big “Hey y’all!!!”. These ladies are as sweet as the tea that they drink, as strong as the foundations of the hundred year old homes, and move with the grace of one of the seagulls gliding in the air down on the boardwalk. The men wear ball caps or sun visors, tattered and worn, atop of their windblown and wavy salt and pepper locks. It reminds me of weathered driftwood, beautiful in color. The muscles of their forearms are formed by years of sailing and fishing. Their tanned skin with salt from the ocean glistens in the sun.
A sleepy weekday morning on the waterfront.
There are markers all over town that show the importance of the sea… from the navigational nautical star painted on a gazebo floor to the fishing equipment on the docks of private residences.
I’ve lived in many a town that relies on the tourist for its survival. These towns are sad to see you arrive and happy to see you leave. They only tolerate tourists for the money that they spend in the town. Beaufort is not one of these towns, and neither are the people like any other. On Friday morning, while I was on the boardwalk admiring the moored sailboats and looking for the wild ponies on Carrot Island across the waterfront, I had the pleasure of meeting Sandy and her poodle Lillian. Sandy is the owner of one of the small specialty gift shops on the boardwalk called Chinaberry. Here I was taking in the view and fidgeting with my camera, and Sandy, while setting up her shop sign on the boardwalk, says “Oh, I saw you down the street taking pictures!” Down the street, she meant at the corner of Turner and Broad Street when I was leaving the Old Seaport Inn. And here began a warm and pleasant conversation between us. I wasn’t treated as though I was a tourist or a stranger, I was treated as though I was a welcomed guest by, once again, another old friend. This is what makes the people of Beaufort so special and unlike anywhere else I’ve visited in my life. The people of Beaufort are a warm, welcoming group who love to share their town and the love they have for it. They are as interested in you as you are in them and Beaufort. There’s a quote that I have inscribed on a bench in my house and it says “May all who enter this house as guests, leave this home as friends”. THIS is Beaufort and its people.
Take a stroll down the boardwalk and stop at Queen Anne’s Revenge for a filling lunch with beautiful waterfront views.
After a stroll along the boardwalk and browsing the shops on Front Street, head over to The Old Burying Ground (Est. 1709) on Ann Street. Make sure you get a map from the Beaufort Historic Site, or take one of the tours conducted by the Beaufort Historical Association. The map has a 4 page spread on the most interesting people of Beaufort that are buried here.
The Old Burying Ground
Left and Top Right: The grave of the little girl of a sea captain. She wanted to see where her family came from, and after much persuasion, the mother allowed the father to take her back to London for a visit, provided that he promised to return her safely. On the return journey, the little girl died. Instead of burying her at sea, the father kept his promise to return their daughter safely. He preserved her body in a barrel of rum and brought her back home. This is her grave, where she was buried inside that same barrel. Children leave gifts for her of all sorts on her grave. Bottom Right: The family home still stands today on Front Street…the Sloo House, 1768.
We love visiting Shackleford Banks during the summer months so we are in Beaufort often. However there is more to this town than just being a place to spend an afternoon playing on the beach of wild pony inhabited islands or strolling the tree lined streets and visiting the historical sites. Beaufort hosts a wide array of activities all through the year. My favorites are described below.
This past weekend we attended Mardi Gras on Middle Lane. Groups of people from all walks of life mingled in the center of Middle Lane while enjoying bowls of rich gumbo and sweet king cakes and tapping their feet to the sounds of the live band playing Cajun music. When the parade started the crowd parted on each side of the street and the beads started flying in the air. It was a great time shared by all!
The Pirate Invasion held yearly in August shouldn’t be missed! Bring the little ones out for a day of fun in the sun on the streets of Beaufort! Pirate ships pull into to port on the waterfront and hordes of unruly pirates make their way into the streets-roaming the shops, engaging in battles with one another, and recruiting the young into honorary pirates! It’s a small glimpse of what life might have been like when Blackbeard and others roamed these same streets over 200 years ago.
My babies… with Pirates!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Enjoying a day on the boardwalk
One of my favorite holiday festivities exclusive to coastal living are the Christmas flotillas. Morehead City, Beaufort, Swansboro, New Bern, Jacksonville and other towns along the coast host these Christmas parades on the water every year. Beaufort is our favorite place to attend a flotilla. Largely in part to the people, secondly in part because it’s further out of the way for many to get to unlike the New Bern or Jacksonville flotilla, so the less of a crowd the more enjoyable it is! We wear our warmest winter coats, wrap ourselves with scarves, don our hands with gloves, sip on hot cocoa and sit on the boardwalk of Beaufort under the stars and watch boats sail past us in a parade of Christmas lights. It’s become one of the favored events of the holidays among my family and a tradition just as is attending the Nutcracker Ballet is every Christmas.
Don’t let the small size of it fool you into thinking that you can see all of Beaufort in one day. It’s just not possible. I’ve explored this town often over the course of the 2 years I’ve lived here just down the road…and each time I leave I always have something that I want to see or experience the next time that I go back.
When you are cooking over the stovetop, do you ever catch yourself stirring and stirring and stirring a pot that doesn’t require so much stirring and realized that you’ve tuned out and lost yourself in thought? Maybe if you’re a male, you might have caught yourself washing or waxing your car in the same place over and over and over again while your mind drifted off to somewhere else. This is the effect Beaufort has on me when I start to think about it. My mind drifts and my body goes into auto-pilot. In my mind I’m back in Beaufort, feeling the sun warm my skin, smelling the salt in the air, watching the wild ponies graze on Carrot Island across the waterway, listening to the sound of the “clink” and “clang” of the grommets on the nautical flags banging against the poles in the sea breezes, and remembering the smiles of the people of Beaufort.
All the things above, as well as too many others to list, are what make Beaufort “America’s Coolest Small Town”. Not just for 2012, but in my heart and those of Beaufort’s residents, for every year. The title awarded by Budget Travel magazine is an honor to hold, but it really didn’t tell any of us that live here anything we didn’t already know.
A creamy caramel latte and a Beaufort Bar (Beaufort made dark chocolate candy bar sprinkled with sea salt…mmm mmm mm!) at the Beaufort Coffee Shop.
Now that you know what makes this town by the sea so special, get your walking shoes on and start exploring it for yourself. Walk where pirates walked and swim where their ships sailed. Talk to the locals and listen to their stories. Bring your camera, and pay attention to details. Go home with the kind of memories that when you close your eyes you can still smell the salt of the ocean, the warmth of the sun on your skin, and the coastal breezes blowing through your hair.
As a book lover, and always in need of a good book to read on the sands of Shackleford Banks or on Beauforts waterfront, I love this mobile book store that is often parked in the parking lot of the bank on Front Street.
A statue of a Confederate soldier with his back symbolically turned towards the North. Outside of the Carteret County Courthouse.
Leaving Beaufort, a man digs for his own clams. There’s nothing quite like a clam boil on the banks of Beaufort!!