North Carolina History Center Enriches Tryon Palace Visit


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When King George III wanted to project the power and wealth of the British Empire in the colony of North Carolina, he built a grand government house in New Bern, the colony's capital. Tryon Palace, named after Royal Gov. William Tryon, still inspires awe.

This gem in North Carolina's tourism treasure chest now has a modern-day companion: the soaring $60-million, 60,000-square-foot North Carolina History Center, which opened in October 2010 across from the 18th-century palace grounds.

"We really try to immerse visitors in the real stories of the past," says Trish Ashburn, Tryon Palace's marketing and communications manager. "We carefully designed the center to allow people to interact with the past, rather than have someone throw history at them."

The effort worked. Modern, technologically savvy and interactive exhibits await visitors. A photo exhibit, for example, allows families to pick a historic background for a portrait that, once taken, can be instantly emailed to a provided email address.

The center - and palace - are enhanced by the History Navigator, a portable, interactive device that offers visitors contextual video, audio and images of history, landscape and architecture. More importantly, it presents history from the viewpoints of historic citizens, including African-Americans, children and town leaders. It also offers the perspective of professionals employed behind the scenes at Tryon Palace, such as the curator and gardener.

Hands-on history

Families no doubt will spend plenty of time in the center's Regional History Museum, which offers exhibits representing the long, rich history of North Carolina's Down East region, and in the Pepsi Family Center, which offers hands-on experience with New Bern's past.

The Regional History Museum tells the history of the Inner Banks. See the remains of a dug-out canoe thought to have been made by Native Americans who inhabited the region long before Europeans arrived in the New World. Another exhibit shows how youngsters lived in New Bern through the years.

Forests and swamps that characterize the area made it a center for naval stores from Colonial times through the 19th century, which is why resources such as timber for boat-making, tar and turpentine are on display.

The Pepsi Family Center, named after New Bern druggist Caleb Davis Bradham's invention of Pepsi Cola in 1898, features a time machine through which visitors gain access to an 1835 river village in North Carolina's Central Coastal Region. Once inside, visitors can enjoy a range of hands-on activities. Sail the Snapdragon, a 19th-century merchant ship, or help run a kitchen that operated before the invention of gas stoves, electric can openers - even canned vegetables.

Have a bite to eat at Lawson's Landing: A Riverwalk Café, which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Palatial perspectives

Tryon Palace was completed in 1770. The British Empire's power to tax its Colonial subjects provided plenty of funding for constructing the lavish home. Flanked by a number of outbuildings, the palace also features beautiful and extensive formal gardens, to remind Gov. Tryon of London's fine estates.

Parties and games were held on the rear lawn, which offers a breathtaking view of the Trent River. The Neuse River borders the eastern edge of New Bern and also offers a scenic stroll after a long day of fun and history.

Guides in period dress lead visitors through the reconstructed palace, which burned in 1798 and was rebuilt during the 1950s based on architectural plans discovered by a member of the reconstruction group.

The main building was Tryon's home, where he threw royal parties and received official visitors. It also accommodated the Colonial legislature. Visitors can walk through the massive, high-ceilinged Council Chambers, viewing rich furniture and life-sized portraits of King George III and his queen, Charlotte (after whom the North Carolina city was named).

Upstairs, accessed by a set of dark mahogany stairs that seem to float in the air thanks to their cantilevered design, the family quarters include a room for children that contains period toys. The commission that organized Tryon Palace's rebuilding scrupulously collected period toys, furniture and equipment to lend the mansion authenticity.

Don't forget New Bern

After touring the palace complex, spend the rest of the day exploring downtown New Bern, which is within walking distance of Tryon Palace. New Bern's compact central business district is surrounded by water on three sides, so scenic strolls and breathtaking sunset views are plentiful.

The cradle of Pepsi Cola, New Bern claims a tiny drug store at Middle and Pollock streets that sells Pepsi trinkets. The two-room New Bern Fireman's Museum (a few blocks away at 408 Hancock St.) will soon expand into an adjacent vacant fire station. In addition to antique fire engines and displays about the 1922 fire, the museum exhibits the stuffed head of Fred, a horse that pulled a fire truck for 17 years before the advent of motorized equipment. Fred marched in parades, helped fight the 1922 fire and died at the age of 25 from an apparent heart attack on the way to a false-alarm fire. Push a button and Fred becomes a talking horse, telling the story of more than 165 years of New Bern's firefighter history.

Kids will love the Cow Café, a cow-themed restaurant featuring homemade ice cream and a delightful train that travels on a track suspended above the tables.

Since New Bern gets its name from Bern, Switzerland, and the bear is one of Switzerland's symbols, you'll spot decorated fiberglass bears throughout town. Pick up a map at the New Bern Visitor's Bureau and kids can play "Where on the Bear" to find hidden features on each bear using clues listed on the map.

Learn more about Tryon Palace and the North Carolina History Center at   www.tryonpalace.org. Learn more about New Bern at www.visitnewbern.com.  n

Paul V. Brown Jr. wrote for newspapers for 30 years before starting his own business in Durham. His family has long enjoyed touring North Carolina attractions, and he shares those experiences on a travel blog at http://nearlytheretravel.blogspot.com.

Special family events through March

Tryon's Tales for Tots: Do you Jonkonnu?
Wed., Jan. 11, 10-11 a.m.
North Carolina History Center
$6 per child, adults free
Visit the George W. Dixon House to learn about the enslaved servants who lived and worked there, and about the African Christmastime tradition of Jonkonnu. Preschoolers will make their own Jonkonnu masks to take home. Program intended for children ages 3-5.

Free Day: In Search of Independence
Sat., Feb. 4, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
Tryon Palace and North Carolina History Center
Free admission to first floors of the historic buildings and parts of the History Center; reduced prices at other venues. A look at the many conflicts that shaped U.S. history, with hands-on crafts, games and activities for the whole family.

Tryon's Tales for Tots: Happy Birthday George!
Wed., Feb. 8, 10-11 a.m.
North Carolina History Center
$6 per child, adults free

Learn about America's first president, George Washington, by visiting the Stanly House, where he once slept. Program intended for children ages 3-5.

Scouting Out Tryon Palace: Girls on the Homefront
Sat., March 3, 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m., Tryon Palace
$10 per student, $12 per adult (prepayment required)
Learn about the often-tough life of girls on the homefront when North Carolina was involved in wars. Includes hands-on activities, games, crafts and tours of the Governor's Palace, gardens and the North Carolina History Center. Some activities have a minimum age requirement.

Tryon's Tales for Tots: A Kid's Life
Wed., March 14, 10-11 a.m.,
North Carolina History Center
$6 per child, adults free
What was it like to be a kid in the 1830s in New Bern? Visit the Hay House to try some of the chores and games the Hay children would have experienced when living there. Make a thaumatrope, a special optical illusion toy popular during this time. Program intended for children ages 3-5.

Tryon Palace and North Carolina History Center
529 S. Front St., New Bern, 800-767-1560
www.tryonpalace.org

Available passes: two-day pass ($20 for adults, $10 for children grades 1-12); one-day pass ($15 for adults, $6 for children); gallery and garden pass ($12 for adults, $4 for children); and garden pass ($6 for adults, $3 for children).

New Bern Visitors Bureau
203 S. Front St., New Bern, 800-437-5767
www.visitnewbern.com

Great find:
Flounder's Seafood and Smokehouse
425 Hotel Drive, 252-636-1200

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Cost: Free

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Where:
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Cost: See website for fees

Where:
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4620 Lake Wheeler Road
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View map »


Sponsor: Historic Yates Mill County Park
Telephone: 919-856-6675
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More information

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