The Easy Life in Edenton

This comfortable, casual, and historic small town sits pretty on the coastal backwaters of Albemarle Sound.
Mark G. Stith

Edenton, North Carolina, is a cozy little town living on the edge. Actually, it's on the watery edge of Albemarle Sound, tucked away from the Atlantic Ocean and sheltered by the Outer Banks, which lie about 60 miles east as the seagull flies.

You feel that romance of land and sea here, especially when you walk into the park set on a peninsula surrounded by Edenton Bay. There's no sandy transition from surf to turf--just the water and terra firma.

Edenton, the state's second-oldest town, began in the late 1600s as a harbor town and was incorporated in 1722 as the first capital of colonial North Carolina. The once-busy port lies relatively silent now, almost abandoned in the scurry to settle inland. However, that haste meant that downtown Edenton remains relatively unscathed by development. Many gracious homes and other structures date to the 1700s and have been lovingly maintained or restored.

Check in to The Lords Proprietor's Inn, the best place to stay in Edenton. What a treasure: classy and comfortable with a great full breakfast (1-888-394-6622; rates range $155-$260 for a luxury suite; call for specials and other packages).

All things in Edenton revolve around the downtown historic district, spreading out for several blocks from where Water and Broad Streets intersect. Begin your tour at the Historic Edenton Visitors Center on North Broad Street. You'll get a good overview of where to go and what to do. Trolley rides through the historic district embark from the center during mornings and afternoons, and guided tours are available. Or you can get a self-guided tour pamphlet and stroll around on your own.

You'll probably want to drive from the visitors center down Broad Street to land's end and the heart of downtown, although you could walk there.

Take time to continue exploring. Park on Water or Broad Streets. (There's plenty of free parking on East King Street behind the courthouse.) Or you could just stroll by the remarkable homes in the Edenton historic district.

Start at the little peninsula of land jutting out into the bay at South Main Street. It's the perfect place for a grassy park and provides an unobstructed, panoramic view of Edenton Bay and Albemarle Sound.

You can't help but be drawn to the turret-topped Cupola House and its picket-fenced garden. If you sign up for the guided tour, you get to peek inside, but unfortunately, visitors aren't allowed. You can relax on the broad porches at the white clapboard Barker House across the street. Admission to The Barker House is free, and there's a bookshop carrying historical and cultural literature.

Lunch? Slip into Waterman's Grill on South Broad. Try the fried oyster sandwich ($7.95) or shrimp platter ($11.95-$15.95). Walk off lunch by ambling past the beautiful homes along Water Street, then head north on Broad Street to the Chowan Arts Council Gallery and Gallery Shop on East Church Street (turn right off Broad). This studio features local artists' works on display and for sale.

St. Paul's Episcopal Church, established in 1736, sits on the corner of Church and Broad Streets. Some headstones in the beautiful brick-walled church cemetery date back to the 1700s. The church sanctuary is open only for guided tours and worship services.

Time for dinner. If you're staying at The Lords Proprietor's Inn, you can make reservations there ($35 per person, but let them know when you book your room if you'll be having dinner). Otherwise, try Creekside Restaurant and Bar, which serves a mix of seafood and other entrées ($8.95-$16.95).

Linger over breakfast at The Lords Proprietor's Inn. Now you've got a dilemma--either continue rambling around Chowan County (which has several plantation homes a short drive away), get one more look at those beautiful houses downtown, or head for a day at the beach.

You can't do the beach justice in a day, but if you brought children along, you have no choice. The drive takes about an hour and a half from hopping in the car at Edenton to putting your toes in the sand at Jockey's Ridge State Park on the Outer Banks. That sounds pretty good to grown-ups too.

For more information: Contact the Chowan County Tourism Development Authority, P.O. Box 245, Edenton, NC 27932; 1-800-775-0111 or

This article is from the April 2002 issue of Southern Living. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.