North Carolina: First in flight … and Pepsi … and primitive antiques

The Biltmore Estate, America’s largest private home, is located on 8,000 scenic acres just south of town. The 250-room French Renaissance-style chateau was opened Christmas Eve 1895 by George Vanderbilt, grandson of railroad magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt, and today is owned by his grandson, William A.V. Cecil. Self-guided tours are available for 30 rooms that exhibit George Vanderbilt’s priceless collection of art and antiques. Don’t miss the 15th-century Flemish tapestries that adorn the 75-foot long banquet hall and a chess table once owned by Napoleon. Tours also include manicured gardens designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, the conservatory, Biltmore Estate Winery, and the newest addition, Historic Horse Barn, which interprets the agricultural side of the property. Christmas at Biltmore Estate is a two-month long celebration where American and Vanderbilt Christmas traditions come to life amidst extravagant holiday decor. World-renowned experts will be conducting free how-to programs on decorating and entertaining. Note: Biltmore attracts more than a million visitors every year, so expect long lines and crowds. And you might want to visit the restroom before you enter the house; home tours take about two hours and no facilities are available.


Established in 1792, North Carolina’s capital city of Raleigh 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. The North Carolina Museum of History tells the stories of generations of North Carolinians and others who have shaped the state’s history. Displays include 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. 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, New World, Egyptian, Greek and Roman art. The only East Coast appearance of a special exhibit, “Monet in Normandy,” will be on display until Jan. 14, 2007.

Mordecai Historic Park was once the heart of an 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 this Greek Revival house museum and see many original furnishings.. 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. Ray 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.

Founded in 1766 to house professional Moravian craftsmen, Salem was a haven for entrepreneurs. Now known as Old Salem, it is one of America’s most authentic and well-documented colonial sites. Visitors can explore four museums: At The Historic Town of Salem, costumed interpreters help visitors experience 18th and 19th century life in the Moravian community. The Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts (MESDA) is the only museum dedicated to exhibiting and researching the original decorative arts of the early South. Its 24 rooms and seven galleries showcase the furniture, paintings, textiles, ceramics and metalwares made and used regionally through 1820. With more than 1,200 antique toys spanning from 225 A.D. to the 1920s, The Toy Museum at Old Salem is regarded as one of the world’s most prestigious toy collections. A child-sized replica of the 1771 Miksch House is an interactive play space for young children at Old Salem’s Children’s Museum. Old Salem observes the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday season with an eight-week-long celebration featuring workshops, candlelight tours, children’s events and weekend festivities.

New Bern    
The second-oldest town in North Carolina was first settled in 1710. The town was a hub of political activity during the Revolution and served as the first capital of North Carolina during the early 18th century. Later it became an important seaport. Pirates, including the infamous Blackbeard, roamed the coast. Today much of the town’s economy is centered around the largest United States Marine Corps air station which is headquartered at nearby Cherry Point.

Tryon Palace, which is often described as the most beautiful building in colonial America, is set on 14 acres of lush gardens and grounds. Built in 1767, this Georgian mansion served as both the home for Royal Governor William Tryon and the colonial capitol. Abandoned after the capitol moved to Raleigh, it was destroyed in a 1798 fire. In 1952 a new 15-room Tryon Palace was reconstructed on the original site from the authentic architect’s plans. Using an inventory guide originally made by Tryon, portraits of royalty were purchased from English castles while New England was scoured for the finest American furnishings. Today the restored palace is of special interest to connoisseurs of rare English and American furniture and decorative arts.

Three more homes on the site and the nearby New Bern Academy are included in the Tryon Palace admission price. “George Washington slept here!” That’s the factual claim made by the John Wright Stanly House, home of a wealthy Revolutionary War patriot that is noted for its elegant woodwork. While Washington was entertained at nearby Tryon Palace, he spent the night in this home. Furnished in Federal and Empire antiques, the George W. Dixon House reflects the maritime history of the era. At the Robert Hay House costumed interpreters portray members of the working class family who lived here in 1835. Don’t be surprised if they ask you to help with daily chores! Located four blocks from the Tryon Palace complex in a historical residential neighborhood, the circa 1860 New Bern Academy offers a self guided museum tour of New Bern Civil War history.

Outer Banks
In 1900, Orville and Wilbur Wright came from their Ohio home to this open space of windswept sand to test their gliders and discover the secrets of flight. During 1902 they launched nearly 1,000 glider flights that perfected the principles of flight control that are still used today. On the morning of Dec. 17, 1903, Wilbur and Orville solved the mystery that had baffled mankind through the ages by making a short 12-second flight covering 120 feet. The age of aviation was born. Today, the Wright Brothers National Memorial at Kill Devil Hills commemorates this accomplishment. Begin your tour by visiting a 60-foot granite monument with these words inscribed at its base: In Commemoration of the conquest of the air by the brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright. Conceived by genius. Achieved by dauntless resolution and unconquerable faith. Near the memorial, the Wright Brothers Visitor Center houses reproductions of the 1902 glider and 1903 Wright flyer. The fragile machines and regularly scheduled talks by National Park Service personnel provide a glimpse into the efforts made by the brothers during their three years of work on the Outer Banks. Exhibits chronicle their early Ohio ventures, which include a newspaper and bicycle shop. Other displays demonstrate the principles of aeronautics discovered by the Wrights that still hold true today. Outside stands a reproduction of their camp, including the hangar and living quarters. Nearby, granite markers record the four flights of December 17, 1903.