The Museum of the Albemarle is considered the showpiece of downtown Elizabeth City, and is a must-stop for any new explorer of North Carolina's "Inner Banks." Located along the waterfront within a sprawling and stately green-roofed complex, the museum will impress visitors inside as well as out, with a myriad of exhibits that cover every nook and cranny of this region's deep history, wild landscape, and fascinating local culture.
Though the three-story building is relatively new, and was constructed in 2008, the museum itself is a longstanding Elizabeth City icon, and was originally established in 1967 within a former North Carolina Highway Patrol station, just south of the city's limits. The museum is actually a branch of the central North Carolina Museum of History, and focuses on all the historical, environmental and cultural components that make this northeastern corner of the state wholly unique.
The heart of the museum is the sprawling, 6,200' square foot "Our Story" exhibit, which true to its namesake, tells the complete story of the Albemarle region via more than 700 artifacts on full display. Representing virtually all aspects of the area, the items, both big and small, tell the centuries-long history of North Carolina's coastal natives, explorers, farmers, watermen, and the generations of residents who have made a home in this dynamic and coastal location.
Other unique exhibits within the sprawling center include the hard-to-miss "North Carolina Shad Boat" display, which presents a 1904 original shad boat built by renowned builder and wood carver, Alvirah Wright, the "Albemarle Timeline," which chronicles the history of the region from the first natives to present-day, and "Out of the Blue: Coast Guard Aviation," which pays homage to the heroic Coast Guard heroes who call the area home.
Some of the most fascinating exhibits focus on the region's history, like The "River Bridge" display, which tells the tale of how a small bridge along Pasquotank River connected the region to the rest of the world well before the Revolutionary War, and an expansive Civil War exhibit. In this display, titled "Under Both Flags: Civil War in the Albemarle," museum patrons will uncover the stories of the local residents who served and sacrificed during the war, and how the waterways and lands were used as key points during the Union's gradual stronghold over the south.
A comprehensive portrait of all of these events can also be found at the "Across Three Centuries: Art from the Edwin T. & Diana D. Hardison Collection" exhibit, which features 36 works from all over the world that date back to the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. In addition, visitors can get a literally inside look into everyday life in the 18th century via "The Jackson House," a popular exhibit that comprises of a small, authentic house that was built by Daniel Jackson, Jr. and his wife Elizabeth in the year 1755. This exhibit is complimented by "The Proctor Smokehouse," a slightly smaller building that was built in Perquimans County between 1826 and 1850, and was a place for storing and preparing meats, which was instrumental to daily life in the Albemarle region.
Finally, unique aspects of modern culture can be uncovered at the "Al Norte al Norte: Latino Life in North Carolina," which explores the life and culture of Latino residents in the northwestern North Carolina region.
All of the aforementioned exhibits are more or less permanent additions to the expansive museum, but the Museum of the Albemarle also features a wide range of travelling, or temporary exhibits, in addition to several programs that are designed solely for the museum's youngest patrons. The Discover Room, for example, allows kids to uncover what Albemarle life was like long ago with a fun series of hands-on, interactive exhibits. Guests can read stories, take photos in full historic costumes, color and create rubbings, and much more, making this a popular destination for budding history buffs. These kid-friendly exhibits are always changing, ensuring that every new visit comes with a new discovery for young visitors.
The museum is easy to find, and is located on the appropriately named Water Street in the center of the waterfront downtown area. The gorgeous building is an unmistakable sight in the city, and there is plenty of parking available both adjacent to the museum, and along the riverfront for patrons, with completely impressive views in virtually all directions.
The Museum of the Albemarle is open Tuesdays through Saturdays, from 10:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m., and is closed on all state holidays. Admission to the museum and all the exhibits is completely free, however donations are always greatly appreciated and encouraged.
The museum also has a wide range of special events, (some with a small additional fee), which cater to a far-reaching range of interests and age levels. Held both during museum's standard hours of operation and after hours, the sheer number of special programs ensure that virtually any visit may coincide with a distinctive presentation, exhibit or workshop. For a complete list of upcoming events, visit the museum's website at http://www.ncdcr.gov/ncmoa/Events.aspx.
Before leaving, visitors will also want to make a quick stop at the museum's gift shop, which features an extensive collection of local crafts, and historical and educational books, toys, and souvenirs. With more than 90 local artisans and craftsmen represented, the museum gift shop is a fantastic spot to stock up on unique treasures that can't be found anywhere else in North Carolina.
The Museum of the Albemarle is a show-stopping attraction that is effectively the heart and soul of this small but distinctive city. Covering all corners of life and history in the Albemarle region, the museum is the perfect "first stop" for newcomers who want to delve into all the fascinating stories and essential roles that this community has played in North Carolina for centuries. A budget-friendly and family-friendly excursion, the Museum of the Albemarle is sure to both shed light on the deep roots of this waterfront region, and leave newcomers completely fascinated and wanting more.
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