Founded in 1710, New Bern is a city of firsts…
New Bern opened the first public school in the state. The first printing press. The first chartered fire department.
And the first ship built in North Carolina was launched here.
Come explore this city of firsts as we discover the best historical things to do in New Bern NC.
Tryon Palace was built for English Governor Tryon in 1770. It then served as the first state capital building for North Carolina. In 1791, Tryon Palace hosted a celebratory dinner for President George Washington.
The original Palace was destroyed by fire in 1798. It was restored in 1959 and reopened as a state historic site.
Tryon Palace features 18 galleries and exhibits.
Tour the extensive 16-acre Palace Gardens. See the Stable Office from the 1770s. It’s the oldest standing building in New Bern.
Location: 529 S Front Street
In 1747, New Bern became the first city in North Carolina to get a printing press. It took the combined actions of Governor Gabriel Johnson and Printer James Davis. The colonial government had resisted the idea for years. They were afraid of challenges to their authority.
Davis printed the first official publication for the colony in 1749. He then started the colony’s first newspaper, “North Carolina Gazette,” in 1751.
A historical marker marks the spot where the original press stood. It stands on Broad Street, between Craven and Middle Street.
Caleb Bradham invented Pepsi Cola in New Bern in 1893. It was originally called Brad’s Drink. He sold it from his downtown drug store on the corner of Middle Street and Pollock Street.
He incorporated Pepsi Corp in 1902. Pepsi quickly expanded to over 24 states. But, in 1923, Caleb and Pepsi Corp went bankrupt. Caleb went back to his drug store. Pepsi went on to become the #2 most popular cola brand in the world.
The Pepsi Store is a must-see on any list of historical things to do in New Bern NC. It stands on the site of Caleb’s original drugstore. Here you will find all things Pepsi.
Location: 256 Middle Street
Just four blocks from Tryon Palace you will find the New Bern Academy Museum. It is the site of the first public school in the state, founded in 1764.
After the original building burnt down. The school was rebuilt at its present location in 1809.
The museum's exhibits cover the Civil War and New Bern architecture.
The museum is free to visit.
Location: 508 New Street
On May 14th, 1845, New Bern created the Atlantic Fire Company #1. It was the first chartered fire department in the state. Then in 1865, the city chartered the New Bern Steam Fire Engine Company #1.
Competition broke out as each tried to outdo the other. The rivalry ended when the city council merged the two companies decades later.
Come discover their history at the New Bern Fireman’s Museum. The museum features firefighting equipment from the 19th and 20th centuries. See the famous fire horse, Fred. A key member of the firefighting team in the early 1900s.
Another popular exhibit covers the devastating fire of 1922.
Location: 420 Broad Street
The New Bern 1922 fire was one of the state’s most devastating fires. It burned nearly a thousand buildings and over 40 city blocks.
The fire started with a belt malfunction at the Roper Lumbermill around 8:30 am on December 1st, 1922.
That day, most of the town’s firefighters had already left for Raleigh. They went to watch the State Championship Football Game between New Bern and Sanford.
So when another fire broke out at a home on Kilmarnock Street, it took over ½ hour for firefighters to respond.
By then, high winds had spread the fire to nearby homes.
Luckily, there was only one death associated with the fire. Townfolk had found shelter at Cedar Grove and Greenwood Cemeteries.
Though New Bern won the State Championship, there wasn’t much to celebrate when they returned. New Bern laid in ashes.
The museum is located on the Tryon Palace Grounds. It opened in October 2010 and offers daily tours and special year-round events! With rotating exhibits, it’s a new experience every time you visit.
The four permanent exhibits are:
Location: 529 S Front Street
The Battle of New Bern was fought on March 14, 1862. You can still see the original fighting positions on the well-maintained 30-acre site. Imagine how young soldiers felt as the battle unfolded.
The New Bern Historic Society offers daily guided tours. The New Bern Battlefield park completes the North Carolina Civil War Trail system.
Location: 300 Battlefield Trail
Swiss and German settlers named New Bern after Bern, Switzerland. In Old German, Bern means bear, and the city became known as “Bear City.” In 2010, New Bern celebrated its 300-year birthday. For the event, 58 ceramic bear statues were placed throughout the city.
Once called the “Athens of the South,” New Bern has a rich cultural history.
You’ll be hard-pressed to see it all.
Discover its revitalized downtown featuring outdoor dining Friday and Saturday nights.
Walk New Bern’s great historic districts.
You’ll soon be adding more favorites to your list of historical things to do in New Bern!