City Spotlight: New Bern, NC

By Nicky M. | Arcadia Staff
Located in eastern North Carolina, New Bern is a small city near the Neuse and Trent rivers. Settled during the early 18th century, it has gone on to become one of the oldest colonial towns in the state, and is well-known for its four historic districts. Here, we’re exploring the rich history and attractions that make New Bern the tourist destination it is today!

A Land of Crape Myrtles and Pepsi

Although a European settlement was not established at New Bern until 1710, the area had been occupied by indigenous peoples for thousands of years prior. Most notably, the Tuscarora people (originally from the Great Lakes region) migrated south to settle the area prior to the arrival of the Europeans. Their village, named Chattoka, thrived along with several others until the arrival of Bernese and Palatine immigrants. Discouraged by the slow advance of colonists onto their land, the Tuscarora eventually resorted to war in 1711. The war, one of several American Indian wars, ended with a victory for the colonists, and the remaining native Tuscarorans were moved to a small reservation.

The C.J. Sauthier map of New Bern, drawn 1769.Following the Tuscarora War, New Bern grew quickly into the first permanent seat of colonial government in the state. By 1770, the Governor’s Palace and state capitol were located in New Bern. It remained the home of the state governor until the government was relocated to Raleigh in the 1790s. Today, the Governor’s Palace is also known as Tryon Palace.

Despite the removal of the state government, New Bern remained the largest city in North Carolina during the 19th century, aided by an economy based on involvement in the Triangular Trade. But the Civil War brought an end to this participation, as New Bern spent the majority of the war under Union occupation. During this time, the Union set up a refuge on the Trent river for escaped slaves and other refugees, making New Bern a major destination for those looking to escape slavery.

Following the Civil War, New Bern reinvented itself as a center for lumber production, and grew into one of the largest lumber producers in the American South. At one time, four large lumber mills existed within the small city. This lumber boom lasted until the 1920s, at which point the mills slowly began to close. Today, only one lumber mill is still in operation.

Perhaps the most memorable contribution from New Bern, however, came from a small drugstore in 1893. That year, a fountain beverage known as "Brad's Drink" hit the market, and became wildly popular for its sweet flavor throughout town. The brainchild of drugstore owner Caleb Bradham, Brad’s Drink was eventually renamed Pepsi, and has become one of the most popular sodas in the world.

Today, New Bern is a town proud of its history and heritage, and welcomes visitors to visit over 50 registered National Historic Places. The town’s historic districts are also home to some of the city’s 2,000 crape myrtles, which are now designated as the town’s official flower. Despite being hit hard during 2018’s Hurricane Florence, New Bern has since bounced back, once again proving its reputation as a resilient Southern staple.
From Tryon Palace to Union Point Park

To complement our history of New Bern, we’re also offering a gallery of some of the most historic places in the city:

This photo, taken at downtown’s Union Point Park, showcases some of the wildlife that can be found in the city.
Harvey Mansion, which was built between 1797 and 1804, has been used from everything like a home to a college.
Tryon Palace is a recreation of the original palace, designed and built by John Hawks for Governor William Tryon in 1767–70.
Built on the site of the original drugstore, the Hughes Building displays a plaque showcasing its history as the birthplace of Pepsi-Cola.
The oldest church in New Bern, First Presbyterian church was built in 1822.