For lovers of history, art and good food, it is hard to beat a short trip south on N.C. 11 for an eye opening, mouth-watering experience in Kinston.
For many visitors, the city’s charm lies in its ability to merge the present with the past. One of the most prominent displays in the area is a full model of the C.S.S. Neuse, a steam-powered ironclad ram of the Confederate States Navy which saw action in the American Civil War. The remains of the ship itself are in the C.S.S. Neuse Civil War Interpretive Center about a block away.
Just around the block are achievements in modern art and fine dining which make for a slew of activities for anyone seeking a day out.
“There is really a variety,” said Jan Parson, director of special projects and events for VisitKinston. “Food is probably the thing that pulls it all together. Everyone loves good food.”
Dining is certainly not to be missed out on. The town was rated by Southern Living Reader in 2019 as the No. 5 food town in the South. Those in Pitt County who enjoy the area’s barbecue tradition can visit King’s Barbecue. Someone looking for a different type of bite can try New American fare at Vivian Howard’s Chef and the Farmer on Gordon Street. After lining their stomach, visitors can enjoy local libations at Mother Earth Brewing or Social House Vodka’s Tasting Room.
Beyond food and drink, the city is a veritable jackpot for the area’s art lovers. Kinston’s art trail is the largest in the state and is constantly being updated.
“We have some beautiful sculptures that just went up last month,” Parson said.
For families, Parson recommended the Neuseway Nature Center and Planetarium. Sarah Bartlett, director of the planetarium, said that the center is broad enough to take a day of its own.
“There is so much in the park you can do in a day,” Bartlett said. “There is a train on site which is good for kids and adults. We also have a campground. We try to make sure there are plenty of ways for people to experience what we offer.”
Bartlett said that the nature center is a good place for fishing so long as licensed anglers bring their own rod and tackle. The center also offers free kayak rentals. An assortment of animals native to N.C. are on display.
“We have a cockatoo who will sing happy birthday to you,” Bartlett said.
The planetarium hosts a variety of afternoon shows, with two showings at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and three showings at noon, 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. on Saturday. The shows feature videos and presentations to educate viewers about space.
A history buff’s perfect day
Parson detailed an itinerary for visitors who like history and schedules.
“A good place to start is the C.S.S. Neuse Interpretive Center. You really understand Kinston through that interpretive center from colonialism all the way through Reconstruction,” Parson said.
“From there, you can head over to the C.S.S. Neuse replica. You can even arrange to go in if you call us ahead of time. After, you should really visit Harriet’s Chapel. It was the site of the First Battle of Kinston in the Civil War. After that you can grab some lunch at King’s or Queen Street Deli.”
“After that, you can tour Harmony Hall, which is a great example of Colonial and Civil War history,” Parson said. “Of course, the Capitol Historic Site out near Vernon Avenue, which is where the first Patriot Governor of North Carolina, Richard Caswell, is buried. They will tell you a bit about him. You can finish out with a driving tour to see the Battle of Line Fork, which was the second largest battle in North Carolina and the largest mass capture of Union soldiers.”
Matt Young, director of the C.S.S. Neuse Civil War Interpretive Center, said that the ship's replica is open for free every Saturday. The center also offers programs for those interested learning about the crew, civilians and slavery's effect on the region.
"Something we have in Kinston is cool history," Young said. "By which I mean indoors and air-conditioned."