Mix spectacular scenery with affordable attractions and antique shopping, add a liberal dash of southern hospitality, and you have Raleigh, N.C., a great destination for those of us who love historic travel.
Established in 1792, North Carolina’s capital city was named after Sir Walter Raleigh, the explorer who in 1587 founded the first English colony in the New World on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. Raleigh is one of only three U.S. capitals that was planned on paper before being built.
The State Capitol, which was completed in 1840, is a National Historic Landmark considered to be the best preserved example of a civic building in Greek Revival architecture. The governor’s office is on the first floor, but other areas can be seen on public tours. In addition to learning about the architecture, your tour guide will fill you in on a number of local legends. Is there really a ghost of a Confederate soldier who roams the second floor? Did spies use “secret rooms” in the Capitol during the Civil War?
Built from native North Carolina materials, the Queen Anne-style North Carolina Executive Mansion was completed in 1891. The 30-room house has a large central hall that divides the major public rooms, which are on the first floor. This entrance hall features Corinthian columns framing a grand pine stairway with carved oak leaves, plus two exquisite cut-crystal chandeliers. The home is framed by an old fashioned rose garden, a southern Victorian garden, and a practical garden that provides fresh food and cut flowers. These gardens are enhanced sculptures and lawn ornamen ts created by North Carolina artists. Tours for the public are scheduled through July 21; contact the Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau for exact times.
As the capital city, Raleigh is home to two state museums of art and history, both of which have free admission. The North Carolina Museum of Art displays 5,000 years of artistic heritage. See works by American artists as well as collections of African, Oceanic and New World art, Egyptian, Greek and Roman art. The North Carolina Museum of History tells the stories of generations of North Carolinians and others who have shaped the state’s history. The museum contains the largest historical flag collection in the United States, a Civil War exhibit, a replica of the Wright Brothers’ plane and the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame.
Mordecai Historic Park was once the heart of an extensive antebellum plantation built in 1785 by Henry and Polly Lane. The home is named for its second owner, Moses Mordecai, who married the Lane’s daughter, Margaret. The house remained in the Mordecai family until 1968. Today visitors can tour the Mordecai House, which is the park’s Greek Revival house museum.
The birthplace of Andrew Johnson, 17th president of the United States, and other historic structures have been relocated from Raleigh and the surrounding area for preservation efforts. They are grouped together in a village street setting that provides a glimpse into 19th century Raleigh life.
Country music star Ray Price owns a glitzy Harley Davidson dealership that’s one of the largest on the East Coast. Price’s Legends of Harley Drag Racing Museum is on the second floor. There’s free admission to check out more than six decades of American motorcycle history. Harley Davidson bikes representing each era from 1936 to the present, both in original and restored condition, are on display.
Five Points is a funky Raleigh neighborhood where trendy stores and art galleries intermingle with restaurants and pubs that offer lively menus and libations. It’s a great destination for antique shopping at Antiques at Five Points, Gessnert Art & Antiques, and Acquisitions, Ltd.
When it opened in 1949, Cameron Village was the south’s largest shopping center. Now one of Raleigh’s seven unique retail areas, it’s home to Carolina Antique Mall and Antiques Emporium.
Other noteworthy shops for antiquers include Herb Highsmith Interiors in the Glenwood South area, and the William Cozart Shop, which is downtown.
Some of Wake County’s other municipalities offer their own blend of history, cultur, and attractions.
At the turn of the 19th century, tourists flocked to Fuquay Springs because they believed water from the local mineral spring would cure whatever ailed them. The old spring, largely forgotten for many years, was recently turned into a local historic site. This is also the home of Bostic & Wilson Antiques & Interiors.
All aboard for Apex, home of the North Carolina Railroad Museum! In addition to several trains that offer rides periodically, there’s a “Bonsai Garden Railroad.” This is a 6,685-square-foot “G” scale model that’s fenced in with a walking path around it. (This museum operates on limited hours, so check with the Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau for exact hours.) While in Apex, stroll down Salem Street, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, and check out Antiques on Salem Street.