Have you ever wanted to sell everything you own and just "take off?" Travel the country's back roads, paddle down a meandering stream, experience breath-taking mountain views, walk among 100-year old trees, and just marvel at America's beauty? That is the dream that my partner, Betsy, and I decided to make a reality. This blog describes our adventure. The food we eat, people we meet, sights we see, and the enjoyment we find in traveling.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Bear With Us!

Where in North Carolina can you find the birthplace of Pepsi-Cola, home of the first printer and newspaper, the first capital, and 50 fiberglass 7-foot tall bears? If you guess New Bern you are correct. I can hear you now…. “where?” New Bern lies in the central part of North Carolina’s east coast. (Kind of confusing I know.) It is bordered by the Neuse River on the north and east and the Croatan National Forest and Trent River on the south.

This picturesque little waterfront town was born in 1710 by Swiss Immigrants and Germans fleeing persecution. In memory of their home town in Switzerland, Bern (which means bear), the immigrants named it New Bern. Beautiful historic homes, buildings, cemeteries, and churches set around a picturesque seaport make this town attractive. Charming shops, restaurants, and gardens are mixed with interesting museums, water activities, hotels, and B&B's that are successful in luring tourists. New Bern residents take pride in their town and it shows.

We spent one morning walking the tree-lined streets and admiring the historic homes. Homes date back to the early 1700’s and display a myriad of architectural styles, all reflecting the periods in which they were built. Actively managed as a historical district, strict building codes are enforced and 200-300 year old houses are in near pristine condition.

First fire engine in New
When in New Bern, one should not dismiss a visit to the Fireman’s Museum. Much to our surprise we received a guided tour which kept us captivated and eagerly involved in fire history. Andy Acasio gave us a thorough tour and explanation of the museums exhibits and artifacts. On display were early steam pumpers, an extensive collection of early firefighting equipment, photographs, and even a mounted head of “Fred” the fire horse. Fred was the beloved fire horse that raced the pumper and firemen to town blazes. Fred was able to recognize different fire-house alarms. This was important to his role as a fire horse because when not attending fires he pulled the sanitation truck. When an alarm sounded, he was unhitched, and galloped to the fire house in need. He was on the job protecting the town for 28 years until he had a heart attack while answering an alarm.

What we now call Pepsi-Cola actually started out as “Brad’s Drink.” Caleb Bradham was a medical school dropout that moved to New Bern when his father’s business went bankrupt and he could no longer afford tuition. After a short time as a school teacher, he opened a drug store in downtown. Like many other drug stores of the time, it housed a soda fountain. In 1893, Bradham invented a concoction of carbonated water, sugar, pepsin, kola nut extract, vanilla and “rare oils” which became known as “Brad’s Drink.” The drink was renamed in 1898 to highlight two of the ingredients - pepsin and cola. These two ingredients were believed to aid in digestion and the drink was coined as “healthy.” After enjoying years of success, the company went bankrupt in 1923 and the assets were sold for $30,000. Obviously, the soft drink survived new ownership (multiple times) and is now part of a successful global company.
The original location of the drugstore where Pepsi-Cola was invented.

"Freedom Bearer"
Finally, we get to the subject of the bears that stand tall along the sidewalks of New Bern. In order to celebrate the city’s 300th anniversary, local artists and corporate/civic sponsors placed life-size, hand-painted, fiberglass bears throughout the city. The Bear was selected for this project since it is the symbol of the town bestowed on New Bern by the Swiss founders. The whimsical bears invite on-lookers to study them to gain insight into the town’s history and personality. Bears are cleverly painted and named after fore-fathers, virtues, and scenes of the area. Bear paws are painted on the sidewalks to guide visitors to the next town mascot. The bears are a definite photo-op for tourists and reflect the pride townspeople have in their city.

New Bern was only going to be a day-trip for us. But we were fascinated by its history, nearness to water, cleanliness and ambiance. We are so glad we stayed for three days. We both said, “we could live in this town.”

More pictures below.

Three of these bears where given to the city by the town of Bern, Switzerland.  Not as cute
and welcoming as the fiberglass bears.

County court house.

Protestant church established in 1817.
Grounds of Christ Episcopal Church (founded in 1715).  Proudly on display
are Communion Silver given by King George II in 1752.

The oldest chartered school in the state.  Built in 1806.

A re-creation of a classroom inside the school house.
Historic downtown home.

Historic downtown home.

Mitchell's Hardware store....way more than just hardware!

Betsy and Elvis outside a downtown antique store.

Downtown New Bern.

"Mitchell's Bear"

"Captain Black B'eard"

"Bearon de Graffenried"  Named in honor of Baron Christofer de Graffenried - the
town's Swiss founder.

"Coloniel Bearman"

"Flag Bearer"  This bear displayed the New Bern flag, the NC state flag, and the US flag.

"Flag Bearer"


  1. Thanks for another outstanding post! I am somewhat familiar with the area but apparently I have missed some great history. Along with “missed” history, I was not aware of how pretty New Bern is. Next time we are traveling through the area, I think a visit to New Bern will be required.


  2. I'm intrigued. How was it the first capital?

  3. Debra - Although New Bern was the second city founded in NC, it was declared the first capitol (of NC)by the Royal Governor William Tryon.


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