Gems at the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh, N.C.
Tuesday, December 10, 2019, 8am by visitRaleigh
Nestled amidst historic buildings in Raleigh’s Capital District, you’ll find the stately North Carolina Museum of History. First founded in 1902 (and just steps from the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and the North Carolina State Capitol) the museum is chock full of gems and fun finds that are sure to delight visitors of all ages!
The Wright stuff
From the moment you walk through the doors, you’ll discover a plethora of intriguing artifacts and engaging activities hiding in plain sight. Look to the sky in the main lobby to spot a replica of the 1902 Glider (a 32-foot wingspan plane with no engine that was used as the design structure for later engine-powered planes) that Orville and Wilbur Wright used to test the skies near Kitty Hawk, N.C. Follow the Wright brothers’ quest to take flight to the Story of North Carolina exhibi, and you'll find a replica of the 1903 Flyer, the first successful heavier-than-air powered aircraft that earned the "First in Flight" moniker for the state. The museum features replicas of three of the four planes the famous brothers used to make aviation history, each carefully constructed for historical accuracy.
A history rich in sports
Peak around the main lobby and you’re sure to spot NASCAR legend and N.C.-native Dale Earnhardt’s race car. For the history of NASCAR and other fun sports artifacts, cruise up to the third floor of the museum where you'll find the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame, featuring champion driver Richard Petty’s stock car (photo below is of Petty's car arriving at the museum in 1993), the icons of Tobacco Road rivalries such as Michael Jordan and Mike Krzyzewski plus a host of other legends that sports fans won't want to miss.
Pirates of the Carolinas
When it comes to Old North State legends, none is richer than the infamous pirate Blackbeard. Discover Blackbeard’s adventures in the Story of North Carolina exhibit (pictured in header), where you’ll find another museum hidden treasure—a scale model of Queen Anne’s Revenge, the 18th-century vessel used as Blackbeard’s flagship. Tales of the treacherous N.C. coastline and the infamous pirates who roamed there abound and are sure to intrigue buccaneers and old salts alike.
Fred Olds was the father of the museum. As a journalist in the 1880s and 1890s, he wrote newspaper stories about N.C.'s history. Olds asked readers to bring him their artifacts from the state's past. He amassed nearly three hundred objects, the basis for the Hall of History, which opened in 1902. For the next 32 years, Olds ran the museum. He visited every county in the state at least three times and collected almost 30,000 artifacts. Today, his legacy lives on in the modern North Carolina Museum of History where you'll find a statue of the founder outside the museum entrance.
Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, Millennials and more will delight in Toy Boom!, an interactive exhibit of toys from the ‘50s and 60s. Relive your childhood with your children and grandchildren with fun hands-on activities including a larger-than-life Twister board, a giant Lite-Brite wall, an Etch A Sketch station, working Hot Wheels racing tracks and more! On exhibit now through January 2021, this engaging display of timeless toys is sure to bring out the kid in everyone.
Walk through history
Seize the chance to experience history firsthand with a walk through one of the oldest North Carolinian homes right inside the museum. The home Solomon Robson built for his family in Pitt County in 1742 has been preserved, moved and reconstructed within the Story of North Carolina exhibit to give visitors an authentic experience. Insider tip: Younger visitors can participate in a fun activity while exploring this historic N.C. home.
A 1920s soda fountain and pharmacy
Imagine sipping a root beer float at the soda fountain or watching the pharmacist mix remedies with a mortar and pestle. Drugstores like this life-size recreation, featuring original fixtures from the former J.C. Brantley Drugstore in downtown Raleigh, were once a constant center of activity in N.C. Children will rush to a candy counter filled with jelly beans, candy corn, peppermint sticks and other treats (most of which are available in the Museum Shop!). Enticing games, wooden train sets, doll furniture, books and toys also will attract attention.
The J.C. Brantley Drugstore fixtures—such as the massive marble counter at the soda fountain, large ornate mirrors and mahogany cabinets—date to the 1890s, when the drugstore (originally the O.G. King Drugstore) first opened its doors on Fayetteville St.
Civil War collection
Civil War buffs won’t want to miss the story of North Carolina in the War Between the States, told through the museum’s extensive collection commemorating this period in history. The Museum of History has the third-largest collection of Civil War artifacts in the world. From battle memorabilia to treasured personal items of N.C. soldiers and families, the collection provides a personal glimpse of the heartache and heroism brought on by the war that divided families as well as the nation.
Making civil rights history
From the Civil War to the civil rights movement, North Carolina has been an important historic battleground. To that end, the museum is also the permanent home of the Salisbury Woolworth’s lunch counter, the site of the second civil rights sit-in that occurred in Salisbury, N.C., in 1960, shortly after the initial Greensboro sit-in. Enjoy a unique opportunity to step back in time to the actual setting of one of the heroic civil rights stands that changed our nation.
The fabric of N.C. history
Uncover the stories behind the museum’s remarkable collection of local quilts with the one-of-a-kind Quilt Speak exhibit. This outstanding collection of quilts from the last 200 years are fascinating expressions of their makers’ lives, telling the stories of women long silenced by illiteracy, gender inequity and racial oppression. Tip: Catch this unforgettable exhibit now through March 2020.
Take a break from exploring to grab a bite or simply stop in for lunch at the museum’s restaurant, Sweet Tea & Cornbread Grill and Eatery. Run by Tonya Council, granddaughter of N.C. culinary icon Mama Dip, the restaurant features Southern comfort fare with signature dishes such as fried green tomatoes and chicken pot pie. Serving hours are Mon.-Sat. from 11am-3pm. Insider tips: Check for daily specials sure to please your palate, and museum members receive a 10% discount.
Meet at the museum
From the expansive lobby to a well-equipped auditorium that seats 300 attendees, the museum boasts a variety of great spaces available for hosting meetings, weddings, parties and events of all types and sizes. Plan your next meeting or event at the museum and make history!
Before you leave the museum, you’ll want to explore the enchanting Museum Shop with all things North Carolina. The shop’s eclectic selection of North Carolina merchandise includes everything from wines, jams and Cheerwine to pottery, jewelry, toys, books and art for all ages. Shop for unique gifts or take home a treasure of your own. Insider tip: Museum members receive a 10% discount.
Upcoming events not to miss in Raleigh, N.C.
- Raleigh Little Theatre presents Cinderella, Through Dec. 22
- Theatre In The Park presents A Christmas Carol, Dec. 11-15
- Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Musical, through Dec. 24
- NCAA Men's College Cup, Dec. 13 and 15
- The Justice Theater Project presents Langston Hughes' Black Nativity, Dec. 15-17
- North Carolina Master Chorale presents Joy of the Season, Dec. 17
- Carolina Ballet presents The Nutcracker, Dec. 18-29
- WRAL First Night Raleigh 2020, Dec. 31
- Kate Rhudy at The Pour House Music Hall, Jan. 3
- Mick Foley: The Nice Day Tour, Jan. 8
- Raleigh Little Theatre presents The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Jan. 17-Feb. 2
- The Music of Elton John by the North Carolina Symphony, Jan. 17-18
- Triangle Restaurant Week, Jan. 20-26
- North Carolina Opera presents Leoncavallo - Paggliacci, Jan. 24 and 26
- UFC Fight Night, Jan. 25
- 19th Annual African American Cultural Celebration, Jan. 25
- Astronomy Days at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, Jan. 25-26
- Carolina Ballet presents Rhapsody in Blue, Jan. 30-Feb. 16