A Year-Round Guide to Franklin and Nantahala

No matter how much of a history buff you are (or aren’t), you probably know that when Wilbur and Orville Wright’s flying machine lifted off from a dune in Kill

Madison County Championship Rodeo

No matter how much of a history buff you are (or aren’t), you probably know that when Wilbur and Orville Wright’s flying machine lifted off from a dune in Kill

Rosemary and Goat Cheese Strata

No matter how much of a history buff you are (or aren’t), you probably know that when Wilbur and Orville Wright’s flying machine lifted off from a dune in Kill

Bragging Rights: 10 Lesser-Known Reasons We’re Proud to Call North Carolina Home

No matter how much of a history buff you are (or aren’t), you probably know that when Wilbur and Orville Wright’s flying machine lifted off from a dune in Kill Devil Hills on a winter morning in 1903, the brothers made North Carolina first in flight. And most everyone is aware that North Carolina is home to the nation’s first public university to confer degrees. But there are other, lesser-known reasons North Carolina claims the first, biggest, and bests. Read on for 10 cultural superlatives that may surprise even the sharpest trivia buff.

 

Meymandi Concert Hall in Raleigh serves as the headquarters for the North Carolina Symphony. Photography courtesy of NC DNCR

We have excellent taste in music.

Whether you prefer the classical style of Mozart or Beethoven, movie soundtracks, or popular hits from rock stars, the North Carolina Symphony has a performance for you. From its headquarters in Meymandi Concert Hall at the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Raleigh, the symphony has been lifting spirits since it was founded in 1932 as the country’s first state-supported symphony.

The symphony entertains and educates at its 300 concerts, programs, and events across the state each year, including series in Chapel Hill, Fayetteville, New Bern, Southern Pines, and Wilmington. At its summer home, the outdoor Koka Booth Amphitheatre in Cary, plan to spread a blanket and take in the Summerfest series under the stars.



 

Explore the North Carolina Museum of Art’s 164-acre museum park and its more than 30 outdoor sculptures, like Thomas Sayre’s Gyre. Photography courtesy of NC DNCR

… And art.

North Carolina became the first state in the country to set aside public funds to purchase works of art in 1947. That’s when the General Assembly appropriated $1 million, which bought 160 paintings and sculptures and 25 pieces of furniture and decorative objects.

Today the North Carolina Museum of Art boasts more than 4,000 objects, including major holdings in European paintings from the Renaissance to the 19th century, Egyptian funerary art, sculpture and vase painting from ancient Greece and Rome, American art from a range of periods, and international contemporary art.

 

Playwright Paul Green’s most famous work is performed at the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site’s Waterside Theatre in Manteo each summer. photograph by Chris Hannant

… And theater.

In 1587, more than a hundred English men, women, and children settled on Roanoke Island — only to be discovered missing three years later when English ships returned to bring supplies.

Learn their story at Roanoke Island’s Waterside Theatre — the stage is three times larger than most Broadway shows — where The Lost Colony has been staged since 1937, making it the longest-running outdoor symphonic drama. Written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paul Green, the play was created for the 350th anniversary of the birth of Virginia Dare, the first English child born in the New World.

 

 In the late 1800s, every foot of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse mattered to mariners sailing the “Graveyard of the Atlantic.”  photograph by Peter Doran

We love our lighthouses enough to protect them.

When it was completed in 1870, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse stood 1,500 feet from the ocean. But a century later, only 120 feet separated it from the ocean because of shoreline erosion.

In 1999, the Cape Hatteras Light Station, which includes the lighthouse and other historic structures, was successfully relocated 2,900 feet from its original location. Measuring 198.49 feet from the bottom of its foundation to the top of the tower, it’s the tallest brick lighthouse in the United States — and one of the largest ever to be moved due to erosion problems.

Though temporarily closed for restoration, the lighthouse normally invites its visitors to climb 257 stairs to the top. Catch your breath and take in the spectacular views at eight landings along the way. Want to learn more from home during the restoration? Explore it virtually.

 

We played a part in the career of a baseball legend.

Babe Ruth hit his first career home run in North Carolina. Photography courtesy of NC DNCR

Babe Ruth hit his first home run as a professional baseball player on March 7, 1914, in Fayetteville. It was there that Ruth’s fellow Baltimore Orioles players learned that their manager, Jack Dunn, had become Ruth’s legal guardian to keep him on the team.

The story goes that the older players nicknamed him “Dunn’s baby,” in part because Ruth liked to play with the hotel’s elevator buttons. “Dunn’s baby” quickly gave way to the nickname “Babe.”

Modern baseball fans can catch the Fayetteville Woodpeckers, a Single-A Minor League affiliate of the Houston Astros, hitting home runs at the 4,600-seat Segra Stadium in downtown Fayetteville.

 

Guests of Pinehurst resort can play a round of golf — or simply explore downtown. photographs by Emily Chaplin and Chris Council

We respect the game of golf — in all its forms.

The country’s first miniature golf course was built in Pinehurst when James Wells Barber, a London-born New Jersey shipping magnate, completed a course on his estate around 1916 to entertain his guests.

Upon seeing the house and course, Barber purportedly exclaimed, “This’ll Do!” Those words inspired the course’s name, “Thistle Dhu.” Today, guests of Pinehurst Resort can enjoy a free 18-hole putting course that shares the same name.

 

Construction on Biltmore Estate began in 1889 and it opened to friends and family of the Vanderbilts on Christmas Eve of 1895. photograph by Emily Chaplin

We’re all invited to the largest home in the United States.

Tucked in Asheville’s majestic mountains, the Biltmore Estatethe largest home in the country — was built in the late 1800s as the country retreat of George and Edith Vanderbilt, and features 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, and 65 fireplaces, extensive gardens, and a winery.

Experience it for yourself, either by exploring on your own or via guided tours, including the Rooftop Tour, the Backstairs Tour, or the Behind-the-Scenes Winery Tour & Tasting. Plan your trip around seasonal exhibits and events, and don’t leave without shopping and dining in Biltmore’s Antler Hill Village.

 

The North Carolina Zoo’s Africa region features a multitude of habitats that are home to chimpanzees, giraffes, gorillas, zebras and elephants. Photography courtesy of NC DNCR

We’re serious about our animals.

Just south of Asheboro, the North Carolina Zoo is the nation’s largest natural-habitat zoo. It’s also among the first American zoos designed from its inception around the natural-habitat philosophy.

Take a walk through the zoo’s 500 acres, where you can see more than 1,700 animals that live in habitats representing Africa and North America. (A new region, Asia, is coming soon!) The zoo also offers a global desert.

In 2021, the zoo was recognized by the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums as the recipient of its annual Environmental Sustainability Award.

 

Two trails snake through the 426-acre Jockey’s Ridge State Park — one runs from the parking lot to the ridge and on over to Roanoke Sound; the other makes a loop through wetlands and maritime thickets near the sound. photograph by Chris Hannant

We can watch the sunset from the tallest sand dune.

Reaching heights of more than 60 feet, Jockey’s Ridge in Nags Head — the tallest living sand dune on the East Coast — is a destination for kite-flying, hang-gliding, and a good, old-fashioned ecology lesson.

Visitors learn the story of Carolista Fletcher Baum, who, in 1973, helped save the dune that was slated to be destroyed for residential development by planting herself in front of a bulldozer to stop it. A year later, the dune and Nags Head Woods were declared a National Natural Landmark, and in 1975, the General Assembly appropriated funds to create Jockey’s Ridge State Park.

 

Mount Mitchell Byway, a 52-mile stretch of road, takes you to the top of the highest peak east of the Mississippi. photograph by GreenStock/iStock/Getty Images Plus

… And the tallest mountain peak.

We claim the tallest mountain east of the Mississippi. It also happens to be the first state park in North Carolina. At 6,684 feet, Mount Mitchell, just south of Burnsville, was named after Dr. Elisha Mitchell, a science professor at the University of North Carolina, whose geological studies led to its identification.

Come explore the park’s network of trails, and take in breathtaking views of the park’s spruce-fir forest from an easily accessible observation deck. In warmer months, plan to visit the park’s museum, gift shop, campground, and restaurant.

This story was published on Apr 13, 2022

Cate Lineberry

Cate Lineberry is a bestselling author and former editor for National Geographic and Smithsonian magazines. Her latest book is Be Free or Die: The Amazing Story of Robert Smalls' Escape from Slavery to Union Hero.