Preserving the Past for the Future–National Historic Preservation Month

Earlier this month, Raleigh’s Mayor declared May to be National Historic Preservation Month. In her proclamation, Mayor McFarlane stated,

…it is important to celebrate the role of history in our lives and the contributions made by dedicated individuals in helping to preserve the tangible aspects of the heritage that has shaped us as a people and a county….

Mayor McFarlane asked the people of Raleigh to “join their fellow citizens across the United States in recognizing and participating in this special observance.”

National Historic Preservation Month isn’t new. It began as a week-long celebration in May 1973, and in 2005, was extended to a month-long event by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. During the month of May, preservation groups, historical societies, businesses, and civic organizations across the U.S. encourage preservation through events that promote our nation’s historic places and our heritage, and strive to educate people about the past and the impact it has on the present. Teaching children about the people, places, and events of the past, along with the importance of preserving the tangible objects that remain, is a vital lesson. Our children are the future caretakers of the past, so it’s up to us to instill in them a curiosity for history and an appreciation for the things that came before us.

We are lucky in North Carolina to have many places of historical significance throughout our state, with several right here in the Triangle. There are too many to name them all here, but hopefully this list will inspire you and the kids to learn something new about something old. As the end of school approaches, it’s the perfect time to add a few of these to your summer “to-do” list. Whether it’s for an afternoon outing or a weekend getaway, these historic places and museums are a perfect way to engage kids in history and introduce them to the importance of preserving it, while having some great family-fun!

Must-See Historic Sites Around the Triangle:

Ayr Mount Historic Site, Hillsborough: A plantation house built in 1815 containing beautiful furnishings and art of the period. Also visit the nearby Historic Occoneechee Speedway Trail, once a NASCAR dirt speedway, it’s now a peaceful 4-mile walking trail through the trees.

Bennett Place, Durham: Site of the largest surrender in the American Civil War.

City of Raleigh (COR) Museum, Raleigh: This small museum educates visitors about the history of Raleigh and houses artifacts relating to the Capital City.

Duke Homestead, Durham: This site teaches visitors about farming life in the mid-19th century and includes the home, farm, and factory buildings that once belonged to tobacco farmer, Washington Duke, and his family. 

Fuquay-Varina Museums Complex, Fuquay-Varina: Home to five museums and historic structures showing what life was like in the early days of the town.

Historic Oak View County Park, Raleigh: Explore this early 19th-century farmstead to learn about the daily lives of early farmers in our area and be sure to visit the resident goats and chickens.

Historic Raleigh Trolley, Raleigh: Sit back and relax in the AC on this trolley tour of some of downtown Raleigh’s historic highlights.

Historic Yates Mill County Park, Raleigh: Learn about agricultural history and enjoy a stroll through the 174-acre wildlife refuge.

Joel Lane Museum House and Gardens, Raleigh: This 1769 plantation manor was home to the “father of Raleigh”, Joel Lane. Visit here to see what 18th-century life was like in the Piedmont and learn about Colonel Lane’s contributions to the city.

Mordecai Historic Park, Raleigh: Once the location of the largest plantation in Wake County, today you’ll find the oldest home in Raleigh on its original site, the birthplace of our 17th president, Andrew Johnson, and other early 19th century structures.

N.C. Executive Mansion, Raleigh: Home to N.C.’s governors for over 100 years, this beautiful house holds a collection of 18th and 19th century N.C. fine and decorative art.

N.C. Museum of History, Raleigh: Discover N.C.’s fascinating past and the impact its people have made on the world.

N.C. State Capital, Raleigh: Our state’s capital building since 1840, visit here to learn about state government and the history of Raleigh and N.C.

Pope House Museum, Raleigh: Once the home of N.C.’s first licensed African-American doctor, this 1901 home is the only African-American historic house museum in N.C.

Pullen Park, Raleigh: You’ve probably taken the kids here before, but did you know that it was the first public park in N.C. and the 5th oldest operating amusement park in the U.S.? The carousel, built in 1911, is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Raleigh Fire Museum, Raleigh: This small museum holds a collection of photos and objects that tell the story of 150 years of firefighting in Raleigh.

Stagville State Historic Site, Durham: This site was once the location of one of the largest plantations in N.C. Several of the original late-19th-century structures still stand.

Wake Forest Historical Museum, Wake Forest: The town’s history and key figures in the creation of Wake Forest University are showcased, along with the area’s oldest historic structure, the Calvin Jones House.

Further afield:

Alamance Battleground, Burlington: Walk where soldiers of the American Revolution fought for our nation’s freedom.

Battleship North Carolina, Wilmington: Climb aboard this World War II vessel and imagine what life would have been like above and below deck.

Biltmore Estate, Asheville: Witness how American “royalty” lived in the late 19th century and early 20th century, while touring America’s largest home and its beautiful gardens.

Charlotte Hawkins Brown Museum, Gibsonville: Once the location of a school for African American students founded in 1902, the original buildings and museum now teach visitors about the life of the school’s founder, Dr. Brown, as well as the history of African Americans, women, and education.

Fort Fisher, Kure Beach: This fort was used during the Civil War to keep the port of Wilmington open to blockade runners. Although not a historical site, the nearby N.C. Aquarium is a must-see if you’re in the area.

High Point Museum, High Point: A museum focusing on the history of High Point, including the importance of the local furniture industry. The grounds include original 18th and 19th-century structures, like a working blacksmith’s shop.

Historic Bath, Bath: N.C.’s first town and first port. Visit original houses and a church, and walk in the footsteps of the infamous pirate, Blackbeard.

Historic Edenton, Edenton: N.C.’s second oldest town and the location of its first capital, this historic district features architecture representing over 250 years of history.

Historic Halifax, Halifax: Founded in 1760, the town of Halifax was an important political and commercial center during the American Revolution.

Historic Rosedale Plantation, Charlotte: This authentically restored antebellum plantation home sits in 9-acres of beautiful gardens.

Körner’s Folly, Kernersville: This quirky home built in 1878 by the interior and furniture designer, Jule Körner, functioned as both a catalog of his work for potential clients and as his family home.

N.C. Transportation Museum, Spencer: See the largest remaining roundhouse in North America, get a close up look at historic trains and cars, and take a train ride.

Old Salem, Winston-Salem: A living-history museum focusing on the culture of the Moravian community who originally settled this area in 1753. While there, be sure to visit the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts (MESDA), which houses a wonderful collection of decorative arts made and used by the people of the early South.

President James K. Polk State Historic Site, Pineville: Learn about the life and accomplishments of our country’s 11th president at his birthplace, tour the historic cabins, and visit the 18th-19th-century cemetery.

Reed Gold Mine, Midland: Tour underground tunnels, pan for gold, and learn about the history of mining where the first documented U.S. discovery of gold happened.

Roanoke Island Festival Park, Manteo: See what life was like in 1585 for the first English settlers. Visit the American Indian Town, Adventure Museum, and Elizabeth II ship. Costumed interpreters bring the past to life.

Town Creek Indian Mound, Mt. Gilead: This ancient burial site is the only state historic site in N.C. dedicated to interpreting our state’s Native American heritage. See a reconstructed burial house, artifacts found in the area, and learn about the “Pee Dee Indians”.

Tryon Palace, New Bern: Completed in 1770 for Royal Governor William Tryon and his family, this palace also served as our state’s first permanent capital and the location for the first sessions of the N.C. general assembly after the revolution. See other period homes and a school, and visit the extensive N.C. History Center.

Vance Birthplace State Historic Site, Weaverville: View the log house and outbuildings of Zebulon Vance, a N.C. Governor and U.S. Senator in the mid-1800’s.

Wright Brothers National Memorial, Kill Devil Hills: The Wright brothers achieved the first ever successful airplane flight here in 1903. Learn about the brothers’ tireless journey to reach the sky.

For more information about National Historic Preservation Month and North Carolina’s historic places, check out these sites:

National Trust for Historic Preservation—31 Ways to Celebrate Preservation Month

N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources

Raleigh Heritage Trail

Raleigh Historic Development Commission

Have a favorite N.C. historic site or museum not listed here? Please share it in the comments below!


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