Historic Halifax, NC

On my way to visit family, I stopped in Historic Halifax, North Carolina, which houses a Visitor Center and several restored buildings dating from the town’s long-gone prosperous heyday. The Visitor Center houses a small museum and theater, where a 13-minute film is shown explaining the significance of the town from its beginning as a river port in the colonial era to its participation in the Revolutionary War to its business and cultural decline in the 1830s. The museum features colonial lifestyle, clothing, ships, and artifact exhibits (with the seemingly obligatory questions pasted onto boards that can be lifted for the answers) along with exhibits on the underground railroad and the nation’s first black southern published poet George Moses Horton. 

The best exhibit showcases colonial house-building techniques with a corner of a house built inside the museum. The outside clapboard; interior wall joists, lath strips, and plaster; floor boards, and chimney bricking are displayed and explained.

A free guided all-day tour of the historic district, including the interiors of two renovated houses (c. 1760 and c. 1808), is available starting at 10 am and lasting until about 4:30 pm. Tours of individual buildings are available at scheduled times. I was unable to take the tour, but I did drive around and read some of the outdoor signs near the buildings including the jail (1838), which was open; the clerk’s office (1832); and the Montfort Archaeology Building, which is built over the excavated foundations of a c. 1762 home. Most buildings have been extensively restored to the point of being rebuilt, and several have been moved from their original locations. 

Outside the jail are recreations of colonial punishment devices—a pillory and stocks—that one can try out and get your picture taken in. From this I learned that the device in which the victim places his or her head and hands is a pillory (I've always called it stocks); stocks are the device in which the victim places only his or her ankles and usually must sit on a pointed log.  Inside the jail, part of the exterior wall was removed to show how it was built. This jail was built to be fire proof because the previous two jails were destroyed by fires set by escaping prisoners. The jail consists of cells and signs explaining how the configuration and space use.

The brochure states that there's a self-guided tour of the underground railroad trail, but I was unable to find the beginning of the trail. I fully intended to go back and tour the Owens and Sally-Billy houses, go inside the Archaeology Building, and actually find the underground railroad trail.

Visitor Center hours: Tuesday–Saturday, 9 am to 5 pm; free maps for self-guided tours are available on the Visitor Center gate.

Visited June 14, 2014