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Historic Bath: The State's Oldest Town

10 miles E of Washington

This tiny historic hamlet on the Pamlico River is the oldest incorporated town in North Carolina. A well-known explorer and surveyor, John Lawson, laid out the original town back in 1706, with Bath's dozen or so settlers allocating a site for a marketplace, a courthouse, and a church, of course. Its most famous citizen was Blackbeard, who married and settled here for a "gentlemanly life," which he found so boring he abandoned it all, including his woman, to return to his life of piracy.

From 2005 to 2006, the town celebrated its Tricentennial (1705-2005) with outdoor dramas, military reenactments, a gala ball, and a visit by the archbishop of Canterbury.

Getting There -- Bath is reached by heading north of New Bern on Route 17, until you come to the intersection with Route 264 going east. At the intersection with Route 92, continue east into Bath.

If you have the time, you can also get to Bath by taking the toll-free Aurora/Bayview auto ferry (www.ncferry.org) north on Route 306 over the Pamlico Sound leaving from the sleepy little town of Aurora, home to the gigantic PCS Phosphate Mine. Over the years, the phosphate mines have produced a rich trove of ancient marine fossils (such as giant prehistoric shark's teeth) from the time when this area was underwater. You can see the collection at the Aurora Fossil Museum, 400 Main St., Aurora, NC (tel. 252/322-4238; www.aurorafossilmuseum.com; open Mon-Sat 9am-4:30pm; free admission -- donations accepted).

Sailors can easily make a stopover in Bath; it's just 12 miles from the Intracoastal Waterway.

Visitor Information -- For more information, stop at the Historic Bath Visitor Center, on 207 Carteret St. (tel. 252/923-3971; www.nchistoricsites.org; open Apr 1-Oct 31 Mon-Sat 9am-5pm and Sun 1-5pm and Nov-March Tues-Sat 10am-4pm and Sun 1-4pm), and view an orientation film, get a street map, or sign up for a guided walking tour. Self-guided tours are also available.

Exploring the Area -- Armed with a map, set out on a self-guided tour to take in the major houses of historical interest. These include a town museum in the 1790 Van Der Veer House, right out the back door of the visitor center; the 1751 Palmer-Marsh House, reached along an oyster-shell walkway; and Harding's Landing, accessed by going across Main Street.

From Harding's Landing, head south on Main Street to the corner of Craven Street, where you come to Glebe House. Several notable citizens of Bath have occupied this building (ca. 1835), which can be viewed only from the outside.

Beside the Glebe House on Craven Street is Bath's grandest landmark, St. Thomas Church, built between 1734 and 1762. It's the oldest church in the state.

One more block along Main Street leads to the 1830 Bonner House, the best example of North Carolina coastal architecture in Bath. It's characterized by spacious porches in front and back. An early-20th-century general store, Swindell's Store, on Main Street, is still in operation.

There is a $2 admission to either the Palmer-Marsh House or the Bonner House (sold at the visitor center).

Where to Stay & Dine -- If you fall in love with the picturesque nostalgia of Bath, as many visitors do, you can stay overnight. The town now has a B&B. The Inn on Bath Creek, 116 S. Main St. (tel. 252/923-9571; www.innonbathcreek.com), looks as if it's been around a long time. But innkeepers Mark and Kae Penner-Howell, tired of finding an old house to restore, built a new one, albeit in the style of the older historic homes in town. Each guest room is tastefully and comfortably decorated, with its own private bathroom (with shower). All prices are based on double occupancy and include a full breakfast featuring fresh fruit. Rates are $130 to $225 a night. MasterCard, Visa, and Discover cards are accepted. You can putter around town on one of the B&B's bikes or take a sailboat onto the river from the town dock.

For eating (it's not called dining here), there's that old standby, the accurately named Old Town Country Kitchen, 436 Carteret St. (tel. 252/923-1840). It serves up the best grub in town against a backdrop of seascapes, anchors on the wall, and handcrafted models of pirate ships. During the week, locals file in here for such Southern fare as fried pork chops and fresh collard greens. Fried shrimp is also a house specialty. On the weekend, seafood dominates the menu, including the house special: fresh fried oysters served with hush puppies. Main courses range from $6.50 to $17 (Tues-Thurs 7am-8pm, Fri-Sat 7am-8:30pm, and Sun-Mon 7am-2pm; cash only).

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.