Regional History Museum located in the North Carolina History Center

Regional History Museum

Explore the history of North Carolina’s Central Coastal Region through artifacts, graphics, audios, videos, and touch-screen interactives. Follow the “River of Light” to explore five centuries of the region’s history and learn more about the key forces that shaped its development.

Settle into the “environment” of a central coast forest, and learn the crucial role that geography, climate, and ecosystems have played in the history and development of the Central Coastal Region. Discover how the modern landscape emerged over the millennia and how it continues to evolve today. Videos and interactive programs explore the relationships between people and natural systems in this region over time.

How did Europeans survey and claim the land on their arrival centuries ago?  John Lawson settled near New Bern and explored the area and kept drawings of flora and fauna.  Browse through some of his plant samples collected.  You many recognize some! 

Through the exhibits in the “Community” galleries, discover the diverse peoples who settled this region and their lifestyles and cultural traditions.  Listen to them reveal their experiences in their own words. 

The “Peopling of North Carolina” gallery introduces the history, contributions, and interactions of the first Native Americans, early European explorers and settlers, and enslaved Africans brought to North Carolina. 

In “Family Life,” explore the history of regional foodways; the varied experiences of women, children, and free and enslaved people of color. Discover the ways one local family recorded their history over the decades. 

“Culture and Society” reveals how recreation, celebration, and education enriched daily life, “Institutions” reveals the role of churches, philanthropic organizations, schools, and government in shaping society and community. 

Throughout, you’ll hear the diverse voices of this region through oral histories of former residents of the African-American community of James City. Listen to recordings of tunes once popular in 18th- and 19th-century New Bern, and watch a video of the song and dance of a Jonkonnu celebration.

In “Work,” learn how major industries have defined the economy of the Central Coastal Region, and waxed and waned over time in response to natural resources, the availability of labor, and changes in technology.  Explore how the production of naval stores (like turpentine, rosin, and tar), commercial fishing, agriculture, and the timber industry exploited and devastated the region’s natural abundance. 

Learn about the ingenuity of local entrepreneurs like Pepsi-Cola inventor Caleb Bradham, photographer Bayard Wootten, and barber John Carruthers Stanly; the artistry and creativity of urban artisans like silversmith Freeman Woods; and the stamina and skill that the women of this region, both free and enslaved, brought to domestic work. 

You will also discover how the region’s enslaved peoples sought to shape and control their own lives even as they shaped the industries in which they labored.

There are many stories to uncover and many voices to listen to in the Regional History Museum.