Best-Kept Secrets

Best of the Best-Kept Secrets: The Northeast corner

Merchants Millpond State Park.
Merchants Millpond State Park. Courtesy of Bill Russ

See & Do

Camden County Heritage Museum, Camden

This museum, housed in the former Camden County Jail, offers a unique view of the past that includes historical photographs, tattered letters, old weapons, artifacts and 18th-century relics from a Yeopim Indian reservation. The second-floor bullpen shows four cells designed to hold up to four prisoners each. 17 N. N.C. 343, Camden. 252-338-5530.

Livermon Park and Mini-Zoo, Windsor

Asheboro might claim the state’s largest zoo, but Windsor is likely the only town where a pair of buffalo roam within a block of downtown. The town operates a free mini-zoo alongside a playground, housing dozens of animals from emus to donkeys to peacocks. The zoo has been a fixture of the Bertie County seat for more than 30 years. 102 N. York St., Windsor. 252-794-5553,

Deadwood, Bear Grass

Down a country road there is a small, clever Old West-style theme park with a train, kiddie roller coaster and mini golf course. The storefronts include an arcade, ice cream shop and the Smokehouse Grill Restaurant, which is packed on weekends. 2302 Ed’s Grocery Road, Bear Grass. 252-792-8938,


Elizabeth City

Inside Elizabeth City’s oldest brick house, a Greek revival structure dating to 1853, you can see wonderful antiques – a sampling of furniture and wares from the 1840s Empire Period to the 1890s Eastlake Period – and hear Bonnie Calliotte tell their stories. Calliotte also offers a scrumptious proper tea, putting out her great-grandmother’s hand-painted china and serving her own homemade treats – tiny sandwiches (the crusts cut off), scones and Devonshire cream, hand-rolled truffles, tarts with goat-cheese fillings and an array of sweets. 400 W. Main St., Elizabeth City. 252-435-5427,

Dismal Swamp State Park, South Mills

Not as dismal or as swampy as the name implies, this part of the swamp was heavily logged in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and the roads and ditches the loggers built helped make it drier. The park is home to bears, river otters and lots of birds. You can rent canoes and kayaks. 2294 US 17, South Mills. 252-771-6593,

History House Museum, Tillery

This museum features old photos, artifacts from daily farm life and a video featuring the stories of Tillery’s oldest residents. 321 Community Center Road, Tillery. 252-826-3017,

Jim “Catfish” Hunter Museum, Hertford

Not too many people have legendary status in New York and Hertford, N.C., but that is the case for Jim “Catfish” Hunter. At this museum, you can delve into the life history of a native son who was more noted for his football prowess (and good looks) in high school than the pitching arm that gave him national professional baseball prominence. A pitcher, Hunter who 224 games and five world championships in his 15-year major league career with the Kansas City/Oakland A’s and the New York Yankees. He retired to farm and coach Little League in Hertford, where he died in 1999 from ALS, often called Lou Gehrig’s disease. 118 W. Market St., Hertford. 252-426-5657.

Merchants Millpond State Park, Gatesville

This pond’s dark, tea-colored, acidic waters are shaded by towering bald cypress and tupelo gum trees, gnarled and twisted by free-growing mistletoe. Spanish moss drapes from tree branches, and resurrection ferns are a common sight. Aquatic plants, such as the floating yellow cow lily and the submerged coontail, thrive. Visitors can enjoy the flora and fauna many ways – by canoe, hikes, fishing and camping. 176 Millpond Road, Gatesville. 252-357-1191,

Newbold-White House, Hertford

Built by a Quaker family in 1730, this compact farm house overlooking the Perquimans River is the state’s third oldest house and the oldest one open to the public. It was designed to look like an English cottage and is made of brick, which helped it survive. There’s a colonial kitchen garden and a muscadine grape vineyard, as well as a visitor’s center, gift shop and a replica of an 18th-century dugout riverboat called the Periauger. 151 Newbold-White Road, Hertford. 252-426-7567,

Parker’s Ferry, Winton

This is one of three remaining cable ferries in the state, where a system of steel cables guides the boat across on a short ride across the river. A century ago, these crossings were a common sight along the wide rivers of Eastern North Carolina, but most have long since been replaced by bridges. Parker’s Ferry can handle just two cars and no more than six passengers at a time. Plenty of tourists make the trek for the novelty. Parker’s Ferry Road, Winton.

Roanoke River Lighthouse, Edenton

This lighthouse was built in 1886 and for 68 years sat on pilings near Plymouth. Emmett Wiggins bought it in 1955 and had it moved by barge to Edenton, where he made it his home until he died 40 years later. The four-room lighthouse is now a state historic site and has been filled with period furniture. Colonial Park, Edenton. 252-482-7800,

Taylor Theater,


This theater, built in 1925, originally opened as an opera house. It then operated as Edenton’s primary movie house for years until facing demise several years ago. But the town rallied with a “Save the Taylor” fund-raising campaign. The Taylor still offers first-run movies and afternoon and evening fun for those interested in a step back in time. 208 S. Broad St., Edenton. 252-482-2676.

Water Street museums, Plymouth

In a three-block area on Water Street in picturesque downtown Plymouth, you can stroll among three museums. The Roanoke River Maritime Museum explores the heritage of the area’s waterways, including a replica of the Civil War ironclad, the CSS Albemarle. Down the street, wander deeply into the Civil War era at the Port O’ Plymouth Museum, with its cannon balls and other artifacts. Then there’s the God’s Creation Wildlife Museum at 111 Water St. There, you can see an impressive array of mounted and model animals from four continents. Water Street, Plymouth. Maritime museum: 252- 217-2204. Port O’ Plymouth: 252-793-1377. Wildlife museum: 252-793-6600.

Whalehead Club,


This 21,000-square-foot lodge harkens to another time – the Outer Banks of 1925 encountered by Edward Collings Knight Jr., the wealthy railroad executive and amateur artist who built the Whalehead. It’s a splendid five-story ornamental art noveau winter home, where Knight and his wife spend six months each year. But in 1933, they left just three weeks after their arrival, an abrupt and unexplained departure. That mystery lingers today as the daring take one of two ghost tours offered at the mansion-turned museum. Pirates and seafarers are the subject of ghost stories told on the Whalehead grounds and in the 39-acre Currituck Heritage Park. Inside the old hunting lodge, the stories are spookier. Paranormal researchers have documented abnormal activity inside the club and on park grounds. 1100 Club Road, Corolla. 252-453-9040.

Shop & Browse

Layden’s Supermarket, Belvidere

An old-fashioned country store with an impressive selection of smoked pig parts and store-made candies. Specialties include country ham, sausage and hoop cheese 1478 Belvidere Road, Belvidere. 252-297-2875.

Eat & Drink

Grapevine Cafe,


A classic small-town diner, where owner Barbara Outland calls everyone “sugar.” Her menu is full of Southern diner staples: open-faced roast beef sandwiches smothered in gravy, hamburger steaks and fried catfish. The daily specials come with a choice of a dozen or so sides such as butter beans, corn pudding and fried okra. On Sundays, Grapevine sets out a 50-item buffet for the after-church crowd, and the restaurant’s country breakfast menu has an “amen corner” gathering by 6 a.m. W. Main St., Woodland. 252-587-0345.

La Tiendita Carniseria Y Taqueria,

Elizabeth City

No Tex-Mex here. This restaurant has built a reputation locally for its tortas, tacos and tamales, which Tina Preciado makes every Sunday. 211 S. Hughes Blvd., Elizabeth City. 252-338-5376.

Nothin’ Fancy Cafe & Market, Edenton

This restaurant specializes in Southern cooking with an emphasis on fresh vegetables. But when co-owner Gail Singh recognized she didn’t have a good meatloaf recipe, she borrowed one from the mother of her daughter’s friend. It’s a “Northern” recipe, she says, and appears on the menu as Cathy’s Mom’s Meatloaf. Dessert selection changes every day. And if you’re itching to shop while you wait for your food, the dining room is lined with antiques and gifts. 701-C North Broad St., Edenton. 252-482-1909.

Toyama, Elizabeth City

This Japanese restaurant and sushi bar has an avid local following. 218 N. Poindexter St., Elizabeth City. 252-338-5021.