By WNCT STAFF
KINSTON, N.C. – Kinston, North Carolina, there’s great barbecue, a wonderful waterpark to enjoy, and packed with plenty to occupy a visitor’s time. 9 On Your Side has showcased several areas already; Grangier Stadium and the Global Transpark among them. But despite those important spots, Kinston is more than just a town. It’s a historical mecca. To see and learn as much about the area and what it offers as possible, a great place to start is the Kinston-Lenoir Visitor and Information Center. Lucy Marston helped us find some of the best spots Kinston has to offer, including the nature center, Neuseway Nature Park, planetarium, miniature train, playground fossil dig and Harmony Hall.
CSS Neuse Center
At the CSS Neuse Center, visitors will find what’s left of the famous Civil War ironclad gunboat. It was the Navy’s unfortunate effort to control the lower Neuse and retake New Bern. It’s the largest non-building artifact owned by the State of North Carolina. The 150-year-old boat’s remnants weigh 105 tons. The CSS Neuse launched in April 1864, but didn’t make it a year. The navy ordered it destroyed to prevent its capture. The center is a great place to take the family and learn a little Civil War history.
Harmony Hall is the oldest house in Kinston and it’s related to the history of Kinston because of Richard Caswell, North Carolina’s first elected governor. His brother-in-law built the house in 1772. Governor Caswell never lived in the home, but bought it twice for different sons. Harriett Cobb Peebles, the great-granddaughter of the builder bought the house back. She was said to be a tough, colorful woman, unafraid. And frugal too, when it came to buying fabric to furnish the place. Just a short walk outside is a milk house where they kept the milk cool. There’s also a one room schoolhouse called the Hargett School. It was built in 1900 and used until 1926. It’s been perfectly preserved, right down to the original chalkboards. Harmony Hall, a home rich in history that 9 On Your Side’s short visit barely had time to touch.
And what’s a visit to Kinston without a stop at Kings Barbecue? For more than 75 years, the King family has been serving eastern North Carolina, helping make that vinegar based pork a way of life. “We’ve been here for over 70 years,” explained Wilbur King Jr. “My grandfather started here in 1976. So in that period of time, thousands and thousands of people have passed by here and stopped by here. So consequently, people know us more than they may a new guy on the block because we just been here so long.” “It’s a North Carolina BBQ, he added. “It’s very different than anywhere else in the world. See BBQ here is a noun, everywhere else it’s a verb. In other places, BBQ means to do something to something. Here it means to cook a pig and eat it.” “True vinegar-based BBQ sauce is indigenous to eastern North Carolina,” said King. “Today, we ship something to somebody in these United States every single day. During the month of December, we ship over 8,000 packages as Christmas presents. If you had told me when we started, I’d be in absolute shock. We send 8000 packages in a year, let alone a month.” “Over the 70 plus years we’ve been here, we’ve provided a tremendous number of jobs,” he said. “And a lot of those jobs were young people. A lot of times they were kids that never worked before this became their first experience away from home on their own.” “It’s always been a family business; my dad, my mom, my uncle and his wife and the children,” King added. “It’s always been a family thing. I sold the business to Joe Hargett in 2006. Joe started working here as a bus boy, he’s got 30 plus years here now.” “I tell people it’s still a family business,” he said. “It’s just not Kings. It’s still the same name. It’s the Hargett family now.” You can still catch Wilbur in the restaurant most days, where he’s a consultant on day-to-day operations. And Joe is keeping Kings all in the family, grooming his son Kristopher, who’s been working at Kings since he was a teenager.
Kinston’s mayor BJ Murphy was born and bred in Kinston, attending public schools, graduating from Kinston High School, and pursuing higher education, first at Lenoir Community College, and later, East Carolina University. There he received his Bachelor of Science in Business Administration. Murphy worked as an intern at Pride of Kinston and worked part time at the Community Council for the Arts as the Marketing and Public Relations Coordinator while still in college. He first ran for mayor of Kinston in 2005, losing by just 300 votes in a hard fought race. Murphy was elected as the city’s first Republican mayor in over 140 years and the youngest in the city’s history.
The city of Kinston packs in three centuries of history and a whole lot more. On West Vernon Avenue, visitors can explore the celebrated life of one of North Carolina’s earliest leaders at the Governor Richard Caswell Museum. Caswell and several of his family members are buried behind the memorial. He was elected governor back in 1776. Also at the museum, visitors can find the signature of a famous person on display in one of Caswell’s lawbook.
Neuseway Nature Park
There’s also a lot to do at the Neuseway Nature Park. From Oliver the talking African Grey Parrot to snakes, it’s the perfect place see exhibits that include plants and animals native to North Carolina. There’s also a planetarium and health and science museum, campgrounds, and community fishing options. You can even go canoeing or hop on the Big Daddy Express for only a dollar. And it’s that type of setting that keeps thousands of visitors coming back each year.