Historic Halifax, North Carolina: The City That Time Forgot

Lisa Fritscher December 13, 2010 1 Comment

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Halifax North Carolina restored historic buildings

You can tour Halifax's restored historic buildings

Dad and I took an RV trip up the East Coast last summer. With no particular schedule, we had plenty of time to explore small towns as well as bigger cities. Halifax, North Carolina had never been on our radar, but when we ended up camped close by, I went online to see what was there.

History of Halifax

As it turns out, Halifax was a pretty big deal in the founding of the United States. On April 12, 1776, North Carolina’s Fourth Provincial Congress passed a unanimous resolution called the Halifax Resolves. It was the first official call for independence from England, setting the groundwork for what would become the American Revolution. Located on the banks of the Roanoke River, the city was an important center of commerce thanks to its river port and location at a crossroads of the North-South and East-West trade routes. Halifax remained prosperous until 1830, when the new railroad bypassed the city, effectively cutting it off from modern commerce.

Halifax Today

Today Halifax has a small but proud population of roughly 300. The town is quaint and charming, and fiercely dedicated to preserving its past. Nearly a dozen historic buildings are open to the public for both guided walking tours and individual exploration. Locals are friendly and welcoming, and visitors are invited to explore the town on foot.

What We Found

Halifax North Carolina slave cemetery

The abandoned slave cemetery is worth the hike

Unfortunately, Dad and I were in town on a Monday. The historic buildings are closed on Monday and Tuesday, so we were unable to get inside. However, we did pick up a self-guided walking map outside the Visitor Center. We were able to wander around and take photos through the windows while reading short blurbs about each building’s significance.

Of particular interest is an abandoned Halifax slave cemetery. The walking trail is not well-marked and requires a hike through the woods, so keep a close eye on your kids. Nature has largely reclaimed the cemetery, but a few headstones remain. Interestingly, it is not just the slave cemetery that was not kept up in decades past. In 1793, the town church was built on top of the main cemetery, completely covering numerous graves!

Halifax North Carolina amphitheater

We happened upon this ruined amphitheater

We also happened upon a ruined amphitheater. I have been unable to track down exactly what the purpose was or what shows might have been presented there. It’s an outdoor space with carved wooden benches overlooking a concrete stage. The remaining spotlights would seem to date the theater to around the 1960s although, of course, it’s possible that those are not the original lights. The look and style of the theater seating, with its concrete steps and metal hand rails, could easily suggest a date in the 1940s or even the late 1930s. The construction seems almost reminiscent of the Civilian Conservation Corps, which was responsible for a variety of public works projects after the Great Depression. Whatever its former purpose, the amphitheater was a truly fascinating discovery!

Halifax North Carolina Grand Master Mason

The gravesite of the only Grand Master Mason in the US

Halifax is also home to two memorials. One is the gravesite of the only Masonic Grand Master in the United States, Joseph Montfort. The grave is in front of the Masonic Lodge that Montfort founded. The other is a tribute to the victims of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. A plaque at the base of the flag pole reads “In Honor and Remembrance of the heroes and victims of September 11, 2001 and to celebrate the enduring spirit of all Americans.”

Halifax North Carolina industrial waterfront

This quiet oasis was once an industrial waterfront

Be sure to drive out to the riverbank, where the old port once stood. Looking around at the trees and grass, it is hard to believe that this was once an industrial waterfront. Today it is a sort of oasis, hidden in the woods and protected from traffic noise. Use extra caution on the access road, though, as it is truly a bumpy ride! A private home is located next to the port site.

Was It Worth the Trip?

Halifax tribute to September 11 victims

A tribute to those who lost their lives in the Sept 11 terrorist attacks

Halifax is never likely to be a major tourist draw, luring people to spend an entire vacation in town. However, for those who happen to find themselves nearby, Halifax is wonderfully charming. It’s a safe and friendly community full of people who are glad to tell newcomers about the past. The low number of historic buildings and compact nature of the town make it a great place to take smaller kids who might be overwhelmed by a sprawling history museum or bustling large city. Plan to spend a couple of hours exploring the historic buildings either on a guided tour or on your own, and then let your kids stretch their legs while searching for the slave cemetery or playing by the river. It’s a low-cost family outing that can easily last all day.

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avatarAbout the Author:

Lisa is a full-time travel writer. She lives in an RV with her disabled father and writes about their experiences. Although she has no children of her own, Lisa loves being an Aunt to her own relatives and the children of all her friends. You can follow her adventures on her blog, Travel Confessions.

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One Comments to “Historic Halifax, North Carolina: The City That Time Forgot”
  1. avatar Roadside Attractions - American Historic Sites says:

    [...] United States is dotted with towns that time forgot. One example is historic Halifax, North Carolina. Hugely important in the Revolutionary War as the first colonial town to call for independence, [...]