History of New Bern

To really appreciate the New Bern of today, it's important to know the New Bern of yesterday.

New Bern was originally settled in 1710 by Swiss and German immigrants who named it after Bern, the capital of Switzerland. The town was officially founded by Swiss Baron Christoph DeGraffenried. Just like its mother city, New Bern is distinguished by its imposing clock tower above City Hall. The city emblem, as in old Bern, is a black bear going up a golden road, and the symbol appears frequently throughout the city.

New Bern has been fought over by Native Americans, the Swiss, the British, Colonials, Yankees and Rebels. After each skirmish, it pulled itself up by its bootstraps and plodded onward. The result is a panoply of American history along tree-lined streets --an odd mix that makes the town quite picturesque. Historic markers point out the houses where the first elected assembly in the colonies met in defiance of the crown in 1774, where a signer of the U.S. Constitution lived, and where George Washington slept -- twice. Markers also show you the office of jurist William Gaston, the first chief justice of the state Supreme Court and composer of the state song.

The second-oldest city in North Carolina, New Bern is the site of many firsts. It was in New Bern that the first state printing press was set up and the first book and newspaper were published. The state's first public school opened here. The first official celebration of George Washington's birthday was held in New Bern, and it was here that the world's first practical torpedo was assembled and detonated. In the 1890s C. D. Bradham, a New Bern pharmacist, invented Brad's Drink, now known as Pepsi-Cola. At Middle and Pollock, near the historical marker, you're going to find it hard to resist ordering Brad's Drink at The Birthplace of Pepsi Cola store.

Without question, New Bern's centerpiece is Tryon Palace, the lavish Georgian brick mansion named after William Tryon, the British Colonial governor who had it built in 1770. After the Revolutionary War, the palace served as the home of the state capital until 1795.

But even before all that, before the palace, the school and the white man's voice, this site on the Neuse and Trent rivers captured the interest of the Tuscarora Indians. It is believed the Indians had hunting camps and villages here for thousands of years.

New Bern sits at the confluence of the Neuse and Trent rivers. Joined by the Trent River, the Neuse widens to 4 miles across, making it the widest river in the United States. New Bern has three historic districts with homes, stores and churches dating back to the early 18th century. Within easy walking distance of the waterfront are more than 150 homes and buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

above excerpts reprinted with permission from Insiders' Guide vf/9-20-04