THE HISTORIC ALBEMARLE TOUR CELEBRATES MILESTONE ANNIVERSARY
AS THE OLDEST HERITAGE TRAIL IN THE SOUTHEAST
(WASHINGTON, NC) – Northeastern North Carolina’s Historic Albemarle region has a long and rich history that dates back to at least 1660 when the first permanent European settlers began to trickle down from Tidewater Virginia into the northeastern corner of the state. They established small homesteads in this untamed region, lured by the rich soil, expansive landscape, and bountiful environment. Before them, the Native Americans had already established a thousand year-old thriving society along the Albemarle’s sounds and rivers.
Since then, the Historic Albemarle has continued to attract visitors who are enchanted by this region’s rich history, culture, and environment. Granted, this 17-county region (bounded on the north and south by Virginia and the Pamlico River, and east and west by the Outer Banks and Interstate 95) is not one of the most heavily visited areas of North Carolina. However, this “road less traveled” sensibility is one of the reasons why the Historic Albemarle region retains much of its allure.
Characterized by small colonial-era towns and historic sites interspersed with a broad expanse of rivers and sounds, fields and wetlands, the Historic Albemarle is a history and nature lover’s dream. Since 1975, the 32-site Historic Albemarle Tour (HAT) has helped visitors discover and learn more about the region’s heritage, culture, and ecology.
Currently celebrating it’s 30th Anniversary as the oldest organized Heritage Trail in the southeast, the self-guided Historic Albemarle Tour imparts a sense of place and time and history. When woven together, the Tour’s diverse attractions, towns, and natural attractions offer an impressive glimpse into American and southern culture and heritage.
For 30 years, visitors to northeastern North Carolina have been directed to the Tour’s historic, natural, and cultural sites by familiar brown Historic Albemarle Tour signs that line the region’s highways and byways. Tour stops range from the one of the oldest surviving colonial homesteads in the state to the beautifully restored plantation home of North Carolina’s Federal era governor; from the restored homes and buildings of colonial Edenton to a Nineteenth century Outer Banks lifesaving station. It encompasses lighthouses, walking tours, museums, aquariums, gardens, arts organizations, eco-tourism activities, and the oldest outdoor drama in the country.
The Tour’s founders knew they had a unique opportunity back in the mid 1970s when the managers of some of the region’s historic sites and towns decided to pool their promotional and funding efforts. It was a new concept at the time, explains Russ Haddad, HAT President. “Back then, there were nine HAT members,” he says. “The Historic Albemarle Tour was one of the first organized attempt at regional tourism in North Carolina. Of course, now regionalism is pretty big stuff, but 30 years ago, it was a new concept.”
In 1975, under the leadership of Snookie Bond, a lifelong Edenton, NC, resident and regional tourism advocate, the original sites incorporated the Historic Albemarle Tour. Their mission was and still is to “promote cultural sites and natural attractions of the region as part of a total effort to develop the travel and tourism industry in northeastern North Carolina.”
However, attracting visitors has not always been easy. “Over the years, the lure of the Albemarle’s
unique attractions has been overshadowed by the development of North Carolina’s Outer Banks and other traditional coastal vacation destinations,” said Haddad. “That, combined with our limited marketing budget and the historical lack of a visitor-friendly infrastructure has resulted in small steps forward in our promotion efforts.”
But times have changed. Today’s travelers are rediscovering the charms and economics of rural and heritage tourism. In fact, the North Carolina Department of Commerce has created a Heritage Tourism Division to cater to this growing segment of the population. A recent study by the Department showed that while the beaches are still the top attraction in eastern North Carolina, nearly 45% of travelers to the region visited a historical site or park and engaged in outdoor activities.
Add an increasingly sophisticated network of accommodations, restaurants, shopping and improved four-lane highways, and the setting is ripe for heritage and cultural tourism to become a major economic development force for the Albemarle.
“Within a 200 mile radius of us are four major metropolitan areas, said Haddad. “With the new four lanes Highways 17, 64, and 264, access is easier than ever. Moreover, we have some of the most unique inns, restaurants, and shopping opportunities in the state. The result is a rediscovery of the Albemarle by folks who live in our own backyard.”
Thirty years after its founding, the Historic Albemarle Tour is still at the forefront of tourism in this region. And its members are presenting a unique glimpse into the unique and varied heritage of this ancient region to thousands of new visitors each year.
For more information and a free brochure of the Historic Albemarle Tour, call 800-734-1117 or visit www.historicnenc.com.