Washington County hosts travelers and tourists from the world over each year.
The 424-square-mile county, hugs the southern portion of Albemarle Sound and the Roanoke River — referred to by some residents as the American Amazon. With a population of just under 12,000, the county boasts a wildlife population that easily tops that.
The American Black Bear, White-tailed Deer, Eastern Wild Turkeys of astronomical proportion, along with Gray Squirrels, Marsh Rabbits and Eastern Cottontail Rabbits mingle with Northern Bobwhite Quail and Wayne’s Black Throated Green Warblers, making the area an adventurers wonderland and a birders paradise.
Located on the edges of Bertie and Tyrell counties, Washington County was formed in 1799 and has historic roots that run deep in the State. It was named for George Washington and has become a destination for history buffs, sightseers, nature lovers, hikers and paddlers.
While numerous communities dot the county, the towns of Plymouth, Creswell, and Roper play host to most of those who visit.
Somerset Place National Historic Site
The bucolic setting of Somerset Place is the perfect backdrop for history enthusiasts looking to picture days gone by as one can almost hear the string music from the 1700’s whispering through the pines. Somerset Place Historic Site Manager Karen Hayes provides a yearly Days Gone By gathering during the summer months.
The Somerset Place Plantation offers a realistic view of 19th-century life on a large North Carolina plantation. Originally, this unusual plantation included more than 100,000 densely wooded, mainly swampy acres bordering the five-by-eight mile Lake Phelps, in present-day Washington County.
During its 80 years as an active plantation (1785-1865), hundreds of acres were converted into high yielding fields of rice, corn, oats, wheat, beans, peas and flax; sophisticated sawmills turned out thousands of feet of lumber. By 1865, Somerset Place was one of the upper South’s largest plantations.
According to Bill Barber, a site docent, “When people first moved here in 1660 they cut timber. They started making shingles in the early 1700’s. In 1768 to 1775 over 5 million shingles were exported. They would bring back sugar, flour and rum,” said Barber, adding, “We had the wood. We had the white cedar and cypress, very valuable woods.”
According to Barber, shingling began to taper off in the early 1900’s. Today one can tour the grounds and visit the dwellings of enslaved plantation workers, walk through the Pines and tour the plantation’s grounds and outbuildings. Somerset Place, 2572 Lake Shore Road,Creswell, N.C. 27928 Hours: Tuesday – Saturday 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Closed Sunday, Monday, and most major holidays Admission to the site and self-guided tours are free. Guided tour fees: $2/adults; $1/children (ages 5-12); $1/ seniors (ages 65 & older) Contact: 252-379-6020 firstname.lastname@example.org
A trip to Creswell, would not be complete without visiting the newly opened eatery, Barnyard Betsy’s. The property owned by Creswell Town Entrepreneur Paulique M.D. Horton is the center of activity in this tiny hamlet that serves as the gateway to Somerset Place and Lake Phelps and Lake Pungo.
Named after the owner’s grandmother, “Who served as a friend, mentor and inspiration,” according to Horton, has modernized sandwiches to fit today’s appetites. While named after Horton’s Grandmother, this is not your Grandmother’s Sandwich shop. The portions are large, the ingredients fresh and the ambiance delightful.
The recently renovated Bright BarnYard Red building has provided the town residents and tourists with some of the best Hoagies and Cheesesteak Sandwiches on the East Coast.
Much more than a simple sandwich shop, Horton and her team of culinary experts add warmth to cold sandwiches and heat up the place with their friendly, hospitable vibes that were obviously instilled by a family that cared about food and each other.
Currently the anchor store for this town on the rise, Horton and her team are now undertaking a town renovation that will include other retailers and services.
The Barnyard Betsy menu reads like a Philadelphia Cheesesteak and Hoagie playbook. Realizing the needs of the community and the early morning traveller, BarnyardBetsy’s also offers breakfast along with lunch. The outdoor patio, nestled under the pines is complete with tables, chairs and a house cat that purrs along with every bite.
Unlike other sandwich shops, Betsy’s offers an array of incredible hand made desserts complete with chocolate or caramel sauce if you dare. Open seven days a week Betsy’s is the perfect place for breakfast, lunch or dinner. It’s also open on Sunday. Location: 106 East Main St., Creswell, NC 27928, Hours: Monday through Wednesday: 11a.m. – 7p.m., Thursday through Friday: 11 a.m. – 8 p.m., Saturday: 9 a.m. – 8 p.m., Sunday: 9 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Lake Pungo, Phelps Lake
Both lakes are located within the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Reserve was established in 1990 and while originally, 12,000-acre the southwestern portion of the refuge is now known as the Pungo Unit and was established in 1963 as the Pungo National Wildlife Refuge.
It was merged in 1990 with Pocosin Lakes. The National Wildlife Refuge today encompasses 110,106 acres. The refuge is named for the pocosin peat wetlands that make up the majority of the protected habitat. Home to indigenous animals such as the black bear, alligator, two species of fox, bobcat, raccoon, coyote, opossum, beaver, river otter, mink and red wolf the reserve plays host to visitors from around the world.
It was the site chosen for the reintroduction of the endangered red wolf in 1987 and today there are twelve wolves in the reserve. It is located along the Atlantic Flyway and is home to more than 200 species of birds.
The Pungo Lake unit is a notable overwintering site for Tundra swans, snow geese, and many species of ducks, with about 100,000 waterfowl in residence between November and January, yearly.
Lake Phelps is North Carolina’s second largest natural lake. It has a surface area of 16,600 acres, and it is located primarily in Washington County.
The lake is a beautiful mystery formed on a vast peninsula lying between the Albemarle Sound and the Pamlico River and is believed to be more than 38,000 years old.
The Phelps Lake Loop Trail is a moderate, 6.4-mile loop hike with a 1060 foot elevation gain with an average slope of just seven percent. The trail features mild elevation gain, several bridge crossings and other trail obstacles, such as exposed roots and rocks.
One of the major attractions of the lake is the Phelps Lake Jumping Rock. Located on the northeastern shore of Phelps Lake, the Jumping Rock rises about 25 feet above this serene glacially-fed body of water.
The lakes are perfect for boating, kayaking and paddle boarding. Location: 2252 Lake Shore Rd, Creswell, NC 27928
Built around 1790, the Davenport Homestead in eastern Washington County is listed on the National Register of Historic Properties and is the oldest surviving homestead open to public in the region.
Home to generations of the Davenport line, the building first housed the family of Daniel Davenport, Washington County’s first representative to the North Carolina Senate.
After his death in 1808, Davenport descendants continued to live in the structure into the 1970s, leading lives little changed from those of their ancestors nearly 200 years before. Without the convenience of either electricity or running water, the homestead’s final occupants – Harriet and Jerd Davenport – led lives of true simplicity.
Both the original home and a collection of outbuildings have been furnished with pieces that tell a visual story of life in Washington County in the years following the American Revolution.
The Davenport Homestead is located about three miles off of U.S. 64 just west of Creswell, in the community known as Mt. Tabor. It is owned and maintained by the Historical Society of Washington County.
It has been renovated by the Historical Society and several outbuildings have been added. Daniel Davenport and his family lived in the house in the late 1700’s. Daniel was Washington County’s first state senator from 1800 until 1807. Davenport Homestead: Mt Tabor Rd, Creswell (NC), 27970, For More Information: https://www.facebook.com/Davenport-Homestead-115206958582792/
Town of Plymouth
The quaint town of Plymouth is currently experiencing a resurgence as its Main Street is becoming revitalized with eateries, antique stores and retail that fits the needs of the community and those who visit.
With two bookend museums, the Port O’Plymouth Museum on one end of Water Street, with a replica of the Albemarle docked at its banks, and the Maritime Museum and a replica of the Roanoke Lighthouse No. 2 on the other end is a window shopping stroller’s delight.
Located in the Inner Banks of northeastern North Carolina the town was first established in 1787 and now is the county seat.
A diverse community of 3,320 with a rich history, Plymouth used its location on the Roanoke River to become an important hub for commerce and trade.
In 1808 a federal customs house opened in Plymouth and by 1831 the United States Congress funded a lightship that was anchored at the mouth of the Roanoke River.
In 1867, the Roanoke River Lighthouse was lit to serve this purpose. A replica of the lighthouse, including a Fresnel lens, can be visited across from the Maritime Museum on the banks of the Roanoke.
With a rich Civil War history, The Port O’Plymouth Museum offers a wonderful visual overview of what took place on the banks of the river. Museum Curator Scott Liverman is quick to share his knowledge of the many artifacts on display, including a massive 30 star flag that once hung above the Federal House.
Plymouth also plays host yearly to a summer Boat Show, a Bear Festival and visitors casting a line or two.
For those in search of culinary adventures, the Riverview Cafe, (108 East Water St.) owned by Lou and Jill Manring offers a serene view of the Roanoke in the recently remodeled building.
The Riverview also offers a wide selection of local artisan crafted artwork and a selection of antiques of days past.
Down the block from the Riverview, Bistro 116, (116 E. Water St.) the creation of Chefs Daniel and Sylvie Batique offers a weekly changing menu focused on relaxed fine dining in a beautiful scenic river setting.
After dinner, guests may enjoy ice cream at the recently opened Le Rendez Vous Cafe (111 Water St.) where Batigue shares her taste for ice cream and her style with gifts and more.