NEW BERN - HISTORY
Having made my way up to the roundabout, I suppose I'd better start on the historical tour of New Bern. Now, in case you haven't already noticed, the first thing to tell you is how beautiful it is. It's also the second oldest city in North Carolina and was founded apparently by the Baron de Graffenried of Bern, Switzerland, who came here with some Swiss and some German Palatinates in 1710.
It was chosen by Governor William Tryon to be the state capital of North Carolina in 1765, and a mansion house known as Tryon House was built here. The first United States congress met here in August 1774 - totally against the instructions of the British. It's lofty position didn't last long however, and in 1790 the state capital moved to Raleigh, which is now the unalterable state capital. Apparently there's a replica of Tryon Palace here in New Bern. This is because the original burnt down in 1798.
New Bern was also the home of the first printing press in the whole of North Carolina.
In the Civil War it fell to Union forces on 14th March 1862, and it was the capture of this that led to the assault on Fort Macon between 23rd March and 26th April 1862, about which I wrote elsewhere. What a shame.
Its other claim to fame is that it is where Caleb Bradham invented a drink based on coca and kola extracts mixed with carbonated water. "Brad's Drink" is better known today as Pepsi-Cola.
There is of course much more history than this, and you'll find it liberally inserted throughout the page as I come to something of historical importance.
So what else is New Bern famous for? Ahh yes - the roundabout.
Now of course I say "the roundabout" because I think this is the only one in the whole of the USA (there is a pretend one in the parking lot of the shopping mall at Columbia, but that doesn't really count, and there is also a roundabout in Pictou, Nova Scotia)
So here it is, in glorious technicolour, just to prove my point. The next time someone says to you that there are no roundabouts in the United States of America, you can reply "yes there is. There's one in New Bern, North Carolina, and I have seen the photograph to prove it too."
And such was what I wrote in 2005. Ever since then they have been springing up like mushrooms and it seems to be some kind of status symbol for a town to now proudly claim that "we have a traffic circle", as The Lady Who Lives In The SatNav calls them. I've noticed this from my own experience of travelling in North America, and even the BBC has seen fit to comment albeit a whole SIX YEARS after my remark. Nevertheless, in my experience New Bern was here first.
From the roundabout I walked down the main street towards the Courthouse that I had seen in the distance. However, I was quickly distracted.
What caught my eye was a Ford Windstar parked up on the side of the road here. The owner had left his vehicle parked up here, with his mobile phone inside on the dashboard, in full view of all of the passers - by. Now, I asked myself how long would that last up there on display in a car parked in the UK? It would be gone in less time than it would have taken me to type out this paragraph.
Another thing that caught my eye was some-one here blowing away the leaves, just like someone else was doing in Charleston. And, of course, the wind was coming along and blowing them all back again, just like the wind was doing in Charleston. Do people do useless things like this all over the USA, or is it just on the eastern seaboard that everyone seems to have lost their marbles?
But, what with New Bern being the capital of Craven County, the county courthouse is situated here. It is really quite a beautiful building in the "Second Empire" style, and was erected at the beginning of the 1880s.
A short way further on down the road was the local city Fire Department' fire station. Not normally that that would interest me, except for the fact that on display in the window was this fine beast
What with the reflection of the light on the window, I wasn't sure if this photo would come out properly, but nevertheless it was worth a try. And the results weren't too bad at all.
In case you're wondering, it's an "American LaFrance" and it doesn't half look impressive in this window. Much more interesting than any modern-day stuff. I've actually see one of these before, and out and about, too.
American LaFrance by the way is still churning out Special Purpose vehicles for fire departments and the like today.
New Bern is another place where they have a railway line that runs down the middle of the street, only in this case through through a nice respectable suburban street. If you look closely at the railway tracks if you click on the image to enlarge it, you can see that they are all nice and shiny with no trace of rust on the surface. This, of course, implies that the railway line is still in regular use. Imagine what a Health and Safety Commissioner in the B liarite Nanny State would make of this.
I wonder what kind of noise that would make with a Baldwin 4-8-8-4 rolling down here with a 200-wagon freight train. It would be more than enough to silence the anti-airport brigade that we have here in Brussels, thats for sure.
And this line running down the street is not a new thing either. Private Henry Clapp of the 45th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, which occupied the town in 1862, wrote to his family that "the railroad runs right through the principal street."
Further on down the street is a nice old traditional east coast church, so I headed on down there, camera at the ready.
I couldn't see a board outside to tell me whose church it was, so I went for a good furkle round to see if there was a notice board to help me
I was interrupted mid-furkle by this dinky little tourist bus that drove past the corner on which I was standing. This was worth a photograph too.
It's similar to the one I saw down the road at Wilmington so there's probably a local company churning them out by the hundred not too far from here
Once it had disappeared out of shot, I resumed my search for a noticeboard, but was interrupted yet again, only this time on a more permanent basis. So I never did get to find out about the church. If you can identify it, then please .
Now, remember just a bit further up the page I drew your attention to the railway that runs down the middle of the street, and how shiny the railway tracks were.
Well, if anyone was wondering about this railway line, then just look here in the photo on the left. Yes, it's a train. And it's come clanking down the street that we just saw. And this train wasn't just content with clanking along and ringing its bell, it had to sound its siren too as it crossed the street, just to make sure that everyone in the neighbourhood was awake. And this was what had distracted me. In fact, it had probably distracted everyone
There is a story that I have heard that actually concerns the inhabitants of New Bern and the railway line.
At the town cemetery, a young widow of 18 was burying her husband of 85. The mourners were all gathered around the widow expressing their sympathy, and explaining how much they would miss her husband.
"Not half as much as me" sobbed the widow. "I shall miss our beautiful 8 o'clock in the morning lovemaking sessions"
"You mean you both led an active sex life?" asked one of the mourners with incredulity
"Why, yes" replied the widow. "Every morning we would lie awake in bed and make love to the ringing of the bell of the 8 o'clock train as it clanked down the main street on its way to the harbour. In fact, we'd probably still be doing it today if that fire engine hadn't gone past"
So seeing as this was about 8:00 in the morning, where would my anti-airport brigade be now? It's reminiscent of the scene from "A Few Dollars More ", where Clint Eastwood interviews the old prophet in his shack at the side of the railroad?
So seeing as how slowly the train was moving, I had to set off in pursuit.
But, needless to say, I became distracted.
This is a dinky little house just here on the corner of Hancock and Pollock. Now these are two names to conjure with, that's for sure, especially as they are in such close conjunction. The house was occupied by some attorneys at law, so it seems. The junction of Pollock Street and Middle Street is where Caleb Bradburn had his drugstore.
But the conjunction of these two names reminded me of two students who presented themselves for enrolment at some University or other. One of them, presumably the literate one, introduced himself and his friend as
"His name is Mycock and my name is Hiscock"
One is also reminded of the three Conservative councillors for some Council in the West Country somewhere - namely Allcock, Gross and Green.
But I digress
There were lots of nice houses all along here - doubtless all very expensive. And outside one of them was an absolutely beautiful bird table, absolutely beautiful. Sitting on this bird table was an absolutely beautiful red bird, a type of bird I had never seen before. I immediately went to take a photograph of it but just as I was about to press the shutter, the batteries went flat, and while I was changing them, the damned thing flew away.
So I never did catch up with this train, and it rattled and clanked and whistled and hooted its way across some kind of decrepit wooden bridge across the river, that you can just about see in the photograph below right behind the road bridge. I would have followed it, but I was distracted yet again, this time by the waterfront.
It's very hard to believe that all around here was a busy, thriving and presumably dirty and dingy commercial waterfront area.
What had attracted the early settlers here in 1710 was indeed the same thing that attracted the Union Army here in 1862 - namely this nice proud headland sticking out between the River Neuse and the River Trent, with good deepwater access to the Pamlico Sound and hence the Atlantic Ocean. It is well sheltered from the prevailing winds, gales and occasional hurricanes, and there is a good fertile agricultural hinterland behind it.
One can easily understand the port establishing itself here almost as soon as the first citizens arrived. The port played a major role in the prosperity of New Bern and I was lucky enough to see some early photographs and paintings of the town that showed lumber mills, warehouses, docks, fishing fleets and all sorts of things one would expect from a busy maritime centre.
New Bern must really have been a thriving place back in 1860. No wonder it was a prime target for Union forces in the early part of the Civil War.
It goes without saying that when the city fell to the Union Army in 1862, the Confederates burned absolutely everything they couldn't carry away with them when they left. Cotton, raw materials, buildings, all that kind of thing. It further goes without saying that what remained of the city was looted by the invaders.
The Civil War had a devastating effect on the prosperity of the city, and the years of "reconstruction" had their effect here just as they did everywhere else over the southern United States. Decline, poverty and rural decay set in.
The growth of road transport - which is evident from the photograph on the left with the bridge from the new highway that passes over the Neuse - and the increasing size of ships led to its terminal decline and eventually the sweeping away of all the last vestiges of its living maritime history. All that remains now are the boats of the tourists and pleasure trippers moored along its pleasure quays.
Speaking from a tourist point of view (and don't forget that for all intents and purposes I am really a tourist here) this is a really beautiful city and the people here should be really proud of what they have achieved in making the town what it has become. I'll tell you all something now - and that is that New Bern is certainly and without any doubt one of the most beautiful towns I've ever visited in the United States. But of course, having said that, nothing can beat Santa Fe.
One can't help thinking however of how many jobs and how many futures have been lost by the wholesale destruction of this sort of port and harbour. Tourism is a nice clean economic activity but it's not really anything fulfilling and it doesn't really have any kind of career or any kind of future. It's not one of the necessities in life and is thus always one of the first branches of economic activity to be at the mercy of the icy blast of a recession. A couple of lumber mills and the odd fishing fleet here would make much more of a lasting contribution to an active city life.
OUT OF TOWN
But lackaday and rue, I couldn't loiter as I had lots of things to do, and, as usual, not very much time in which to do it. Shame! Back to the car! But not to be downhearted. If you really want to see what New Bern may have to offer without actually going there, you can see some of it on streaming web cam.
Now while I was driving back through the town towards the shopping area, I heard a very interesting story on the radio about someone who wanted a cat. Now, they applied to adopt a stray cat, and had to fill out all kinds of forms and so on. Yet they were rejected. Now how can you possibly be rejected for adopting a stray cat? I don't think I've ever heard anything as crazy as this in all my life.
But if you want to know why I was heading back towards the shops, well one of the things I had to do in the USA was to visit a "Target" somewhere to exchange a swimsuit for the delightful Tainea. And there was just such a "Target" here in New Bern, merely a couple of hundred yards from the "Palace Motel", so that seemed like the place to be. It was by now 9:00 (yes, you know I'm an early riser on holiday) so off I set.
So, pulling off the highway into the car park, I went into the store to make the exchange. And Tainea's swimsuit having been duly exchanged, it was back on the road.
Well, not exactly. Only to the end of the car park in fact. I just couldn't leave New Bern without taking a photo of the road signs at the car park exit, which you can see here on the left. And if you can explain to me exactly what they mean, please me, because I'd love to know.
And just over the road was this interesting early jet fighter. I couldn't leave New Bern without taking a picture of it and, when I get more time, I'll do some research on the subject and tell you what it is. America jets are not my strongest subject.
ON the radio they were talking about the Akron cow-tipping championships. Well, I would do pretty well at that. After all, I left that waitress in that pizzeria in Colebrook, New Hampshire a dollar or two when I was there 4 or 5 years ago. Here in New Bern, however, they were having the annual bull-riding championships, just to make life interesting. It's a shame they weren't having a bull ... er ... shipping championships. I know a few people who would do rather well at that, but I was really hard of hearing anyway. I had better be moving.
On down the road to the bridge over the new highway, a sharp left turn down the slip road, and quickly northwards in the general direction of Washington. That's what I figured. And that's what I did.
I roared over the new bridge that you saw in one of the photographs above, and was greeted with a really impressive view of New Bern's waterfront and the confluence of the Trent and the Neuse. I couldn't resist a quick "point and click" from a moving vehicle, as you can see on the left. It's nice to see I'd not lost much of my former technique from the 1970s when I was much more involved in photography than I am today.
Yes, that was New Bern, folks. I was sad to be leaving here. Hard to believe that I'd only been here a couple of hours. I had really come to like most of what I saw of the city. I still cannot get out of my head the idea that this place bears more than a passing resemblance to Bathurst in New Brunswick. But it's a shame I couldn't stick around. I had many more exciting things to do yet.