Explored in the late 1500s it was finally settled in 1690. James Bonner started the town on his own farm in the 1770s. After serving in the Continental Army, Bonner returned home and in 1776 renamed his town, originally called ''Forks of the Tar,'' for his commanding general, Washington. The town boasts that it is the ''original Washington.'' It was a major shipping port playing an important role in supplying the colonists when the British held Savannah, Charles Town and Wilmington under siege. Prized for its good waters it became a major commercial and cultural center for nearly a century.
The little town of Belhaven may be a blink-and-you'll-miss-it town, but Eastern North Carolina visitors who decide to take the long way home along US Highway 264 will be rewarded with a visit to a picturesque waterfront town that is filled with historical and coastal charm. This small community of less than 2,000 residents has a prime location on the north shore of the Pungo River, just eight miles away from the massive Pamlico Sound which separates North Carolina's Inner Banks from its Outer Banks. As a result, visitors here will find exceptional fishing, incredible open water views, and a hardy, salty culture that is typical of North Carolina's life on the water.
The town of Belhaven grew from a strong local fishing industry, a distinction due solely to its location, and was officially established in 1899. At the time, the town consisted of a thriving waterfront downtown surrounded by outlaying farms and plantations. Today, the small downtown is still the heart of the town's activity, and visitors passing through will find a number of historic buildings and homes, shops, restaurants, and museums that still stand tall in the center of the community.
The Belhaven Memorial Museum is one of the most prominent structures in the area, and is a towering three-story brick structure with an almost church-like appearance and a tower that looms over the neighboring homes and buildings. Home to a very unique collection of scientific and historical artifacts that was collected over the decades by its original owner, the museum is a one-of-a-kind destination with exhibits that can't be found anywhere else in North Carolina.
Another sure stop for history lovers is the River Forest Manor, a stately Victorian home that was built in 1899 and showcases a variety of era antiques. A museum is located on site which chronicles the history of Belhaven, as well as features information on upcoming events and area attractions.
With a location that's adjacent to the Intercoastal Waterway, many of Belhaven's visitors travel to the town via a seaworthy vessel, and the town boasts two yacht clubs to provide a both a place to dock and to enjoy a little time on or offshore. The Belhaven Yacht Club and the River Rat Yacht Club are both located next to the Intracoastal Waterway, and offer marina docking, fun events for members and visitors alike, and a community of maritime fans that will make any new member or passer-by feel welcome and right at home.
Water sports make a big splash in Belhaven, and visitors will find ample ways to enjoy the fun. Sailing, power boating, paddling, and waterskiing or wakeboarding are all popular pastimes here, and there are a number of private and community launches available to set out on a waterfront adventure. With brackish and slightly salty waters surrounding the town, fishing is also a popular pastime, and visitors will find plenty of waterfront locales to cast out a line in the hopes of reeling in flounder, bass, mullets, and a number of other Inner Banks species.
The deserted areas surrounding Belhaven are also popular hunting grounds, as the region is home to a number of waterfowl, small game, and white-tailed deer. Birders will find plenty of venues to check out the natural scenery, as thousands of migrating and native species rest along the waterfront. Bird watchers should be on the lookout for quail, tundra swan and most all varieties of ducks and geese, especially along the waterways, creeks, canals, and open expanses of riverfront that nearly border the community in its entirety.
Visitors who are brand new to the area can stop by the Belhaven Chamber of Commerce, located on Main Street, for a quick primer on all the scenic and historical spots to see. In operation since 1952, the Belhaven Chamber of Commerce is open Monday through Friday, 10:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m., to answer any questions about Belhaven attractions, dining or accommodations.
While there are no major hotels or motels in the area, visitors have the option to stay at two inviting Bed and Breakfasts, the Belhaven Inn Bed and Breakfast and the Belhaven Water Street Bed and Breakfast. Both of these accommodations are located in converted historical homes in the heart of town, and feature friendly innkeepers and impeccable southern hospitality to make newcomers feel welcome. Other regional attractions, like the Historical Town of Bath or Lake Mattamuskeet, are also located just a few miles away, ensuring that guests can enjoy easy access to all the attractions within the region.
At its core, Belhaven is a small coastal community that treasures its historical and present fishing and maritime industries, a heritage that is evident in virtually every corner of town. From the marina docks where vessels coasting through the Intracoastal Waterway dock for a night or two to the waterfront fishing holes and shrimping boats located just yards away from the downtown streets, Belhaven is truly all about small town life on the water. Small, scenic, and genuinely hospitable, Belhaven is a perfect small-town getaway for anyone who appreciates a salty life on the water.