Historic Elizabeth City

Elizabeth City is in Pasquotank County of North Carolina. It is the county seat of Pasquotank County. It is also the largest city of the county. The city is known as the “Harbor of Hospitality”. It was founded in 1794 and has a long history of shipping. This is because it is located at a narrowed bend on the Pasquotank River. The city is the economic center of the region. It is also home to many historic sites and cultural traditions.

The city was first named Elizabethtown when it was founded. However, there was confusion with a different town with the same name. In 1804, it was renamed “Elizabeth City” in honor of a local tavern proprietress. Elizabeth “Betsy” Tooley donated most of the land for the city, so it was only appropriate to attribute the name to her.


In the mid eighteenth century, the location of Elizabeth City was a trading site. A small community was established in the area, with additional construction. Some of the early buildings included minor roads, a schoolhouse and church.

The Dismal Swamp Canal was constructed in 1793. The start of this construction fueled the city’s economy. Improvements to the canal made Elizabeth City successful in the early 19th century. In 1829, the federal government bought 600 stocks in the Dismal Swamp C anal. The Norfolk lottery raised additional funds for expansions. The funds helped with widening and deepening. This allowed larger boats to go through the canal to ship goods.

As travel slowly improved, neighboring cities also got a taste of this success. The Portsmouth and Weldon Railroad allowed for goods to be transported. This led to new opportunities in the area. These opportunities made Elizabeth City into a deep-water port with various included industries. These were;

· Lumbering

· Shipbuilding

· Grain fish and oyster processing


Elizabeth City is located along the Pasquotank River. The river connects the city to Albemarle Sound. It sits on a total area of 12.2 square miles (31.7km2). The city is 5.09% water. It is in the inner banks region of North Carolina. It is largely flat, marshy and 12 feet above sea level.

The Battle of Elizabeth City

The Battle of Elizabeth City was a naval battle between Confederate and Union battalions near the city. It happened on the Pasquotank River in 1862. Unionists won the battle and captured the city.

Registered Sites

Many of the sites in Elizabeth City are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. These include;

1. Elizabeth City Historic District

2. Elizabeth City State Teachers College Historic District

3. Elizabeth City Water Plant

4. Episcopal Cemetery

5. Norfolk Southern Passenger Station

6. Northside Historic District

7. Old Brick House

8. Riverside Historic District

9. Shepard Street-South Road Street Historic District


The city serves as the county seat of Pasquotank County. It is led in a council-manager manner. The city council comprises eight council members and the city manager. The current city manager is Rich Olsen. His roles include;

· Appointing department heads and city employees

· Overseeing administrative departments

· Informing the council of relevant municipal conditions

The council members perform legislative duties. These include;

· Adopting city policies

· Choosing a temporary mayor from the council members

· Holding the city manager responsible

The mayor and council are elected every two years. Each of the four wards elects two council members. The mayor serves an executive function. He or she is the head of council meetings. The mayor casts a tie-breaking vote in the council when required. The council holds meetings every second and fourth Monday of the month. The meetings are then rebroadcast to the public on a public service channel.


Elizabeth City has a number of interesting sites to visit. It is home to Arts of Albemarle and the Museum of the Albemarle. This is a regional arts council located in the Lowery-Chesson Building. The building has three art galleries. It houses the state of the art McGuire Theater for the performing arts. There are also many conference and meeting rooms.

1. Museum of the Albemarle

The Museum of the Albemarle was established in 1967. It was founded in a former Highway Patrol Station south of the city. The museum’s main exhibit is “Our Story”. It interprets the rich history and culture of the region. The gallery features more than 700 artifacts from the counties of the Albemarle region.

2. Virginia Dare Hotel and Arcade

The hotel is a gorgeous architectural masterpiece. It was completed in 1927 and was designed by William Lee Stoddart. The building has 9 stories and dominates Elizabeth City’s skyline. It served the city’s social events for 40 years. Today, it serves as an apartment complex.


North Carolina is famous for its activities. Elizabeth City holds its fair share of festivals and fairs. Some of the recurring ones include;

1. North Carolina Potato Festival

The potato is one of the region’s most significant crops. Elizabeth City holds this festival in celebration of the potato. The festival is held in mid-May. It takes place in downtown Elizabeth City. It has become one of the most popular events in northeastern North Carolina.

2. Albemarle Craftsman Fair

This event happens every year during Christmas time. It is sponsored by the Albemarle Craftsman Guild. The fair brings together artisans to demonstrate their traditional crafts. Many of these craftsmen wear period costumes to the fair. Crafts that are often featured include;

· Quilting and fiber arts

· Pottery

· Jewelry

· Woodwork

3. Juneteenth Celebration

This River City Community Development Corporation sponsors this annual event. It celebrates the freeing of African Slaves in America. Over time, it has become a multi-racial, multi-cultural celebration of American freedom. The festival features vendors and informational booths. There is entertainment and good food.

Elizabeth City is a reasonable sized City. It offers cultural, economic and educational value to all who choose to visit it. The city has held on to its traditions in this era, which is remarkable. There are a lot of family-friendly locations for visitors and locals alike. Residents are welcoming and supportive of all people. There are hotels and motels or accommodation and numerous locations to explore. It is the perfect vacation spot for the ideal North Carolina experience.

Looking for other Historic Areas across Eastern North Carolina?

Then please check out our complete list of former battle sites and other historical attractions throughout the Eastern North Carolina area here:  The Historic Albemarle Trail.

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